What Should be in a Review?

How would you sum up what you want from a game review?

Ostensibly the purpose of a game review is to tell the reader whether the game is good or not, with or without existing knowledge of the game. (usually without, but it becomes more of a tastemaking thing over time instead of a consumer awareness thing). The goal is either to give a consumer enough information to make a purchasing decision, or to justify/influence a player’s opinion of a game they’re familiar with.

Assuming this is the job of game reviews, then the question is, what are all the things necessary to accomplish this? Assuming the reader has no knowledge of the game beforehand, the review must make clear how the game plays. Thanks to streaming video, we can do this much more easily than we used to be able to, but everything about a game’s operation is not clear from video alone.

From there, I think it’s about evaluating the way the game is played, and the content that is played through in a way that is made clear through predefined criteria. You need to establish what traits make a game good and how this game lives up to that. If this game violates norms, you need to argue for how it redefines what makes a game good, and not in a localized way that explains this one game without offering a broader, more general, explanation for games categorically.

Beyond that, there’s probably a bunch of really specific examples of what I’d like to see out of game reviews that are hard to sum up generally. I’d like to hear less of, “This mechanic feels loose and difficult to control” and more of, “This mechanic functions exactly this way, which may produce a loose feeling.” I want to see more of the scientific process going into game reviews, more evidentialism. Cite examples and use them to build conclusions. Do not mix opinions and observations. Do not attempt to tell us how you feel about something in the process of describing it. Describe it first, then explain why it does or doesn’t work.

Beyond that, try to get at the heart of the game. What’s the central enjoyable thing the game is about?

Have you talked about what you think makes a good review? Is it anything besides a precise description of mechanics and an evaluation of depth?

Yes, I answered that in this older ask:

It’s about user experience, depth, challenge, game feel, and maybe a couple other things.

Novacanoo wrote a summary of what guidelines he inferred for reviews from my critique of his review:

Oh yeah, I’ve updated that. http://pastebin.com/CjuxfCbn The first and second points are now somewhat contradictory, but that’s the eternal struggle.

That’s cool, thanks for the update. Don’t totally agree about the judging intention thing. I’ve gone over that in other asks.

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