Reviews: How do they work?

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  • POSTED BY elheber on Mar 07, 2016

    I’ve been reading game reviews for a damn long time. Elementary school, in fact. And few things irk me more than seeing something called a “Spoiler Free Review” as if there should be any other kind. But to be perfectly honest, there should be (and there is) another kind.

    BUYER’S GUIDE vs. CRITIQUE

    When you read a review for a car, you’re essentially reading a buyer’s guide. Since you can’t as easily try out all the cars and the critic is an expert, he helps you decide which car to look further into and ultimately purchase. The critic could tell you how the carpet feels voluptuous and how the sunroof is a little too far back; however, given this is a buyer’s guide, he chooses to only tell you the things that could influence your purchase. He keeps it short and focused because your time is valuable and you have to get through a lot of cars.

    When you read a review for a play, (I don’t blame you if you haven’t) what you’re reading is a critique. The persons this critic is writing for is the stage director, the playwright and the actors who eagerly got up early the morning after opening to see what people think. This critic, in other words, is meant to speak for the public. If it wasn’t for the limited space in the newspaper or magazine, they would go down the line listing all the good and all the bad. John Q. Public will probably enjoy the play even if the acting was a little dry in Act 2, but the critic will point out the dry acting in vivid detail anyway. Why? Because this review is meant to push the art forward.

    The buyer’s guide and the critique should not be confused. They serve entirely different purposes. One serves to recommend and the other serves to rate. One informs the consumer and the other informs the producer. They are both essential but they are vastly different…

    …and they’re both called “reviews.”


    Which is which:

    • -Bubba’s BBQ is the only place in town that smokes 5 different woods. Be wary, though, they start running out of some selections by 6pm, and it only has outside seating which can get quite chilly even under the patio heat lamps.
    • -Bubba’s BBQ’s hickory and applewood ribs were rather dry. However, the smoke flavor was bold on every meat down to the bone. Chef Smith, born and raised in Texas, uses authentic seasoning that pair well with the seasonal craft beers.

    I don’t know if it’s because it’s been happening more or if I’ve just been noticing it more, but it’s increasingly more common to see reviews that forget their purpose. You’ll see a movie review on YouTube where the guy says, “and then there’s this one part -I’m not going to spoil anything, but things do get weird with the dialogue when Bob meets Jane.” How does that help you know if you should buy a ticket? You’ll see a game review from a major publication dedicate a paragraph to an out-of-place mini-game in one quest in an RPG, but they fearfully tiptoe around the details of a plot hole. Unless the mini-game problem was only an example of a larger issue, it wouldn’t influence anyone away from getting the game.

    If your intent is to recommend a game you can leave out all sorts of information. If someone loves a game, he can forgive its minor flaws. You can leave that in the cutting room floor to give you more space to talk about all the things that might be important to the reader’s decision. “Why would someone love this game?” That’s where you dig.

    I am not knocking critique-style reviews for video games.

    Although buyer’s guides are the norm for video game reviews, there’s still a large place for the detailed analysis of video game critiques. Just know which one you’re doing and stick to it. It doesn’t mean you have to spoil the story; but if you need to critique something in it, don’t be afraid to (as long as it was clear that your review isn’t meant to serve recommendation). A lot of people, including myself, enjoy the minutia of game design and to read & discuss games we’ve played. It therefore helps to know your audience, because if you’re writing a critique then it means you have the freedom to dive into the background/history of the development in your review. That shit is fascinating to the people who like to read critiques, myself one of them.

    Courtesy GiantBomb

    “Bayonetta’s hair is pulled up, accentuating her ass. That was literally the reason. Earlier designs had her hair down, but during the game it would cover too much of her body, so that early design is now only used when she’s in her ‘Serious Mode.’ “

    I’d love reading that. When you know you’re making a critique, you have less fear of spoiling and know you can include other, more interesting information. There’s a YouTuber, yourmoviesucks.org, who perfectly understands he’s making movie critiques. Notice how, since he knows the purpose, he can fill his reviews with all sorts of entertaining yet relevant information such as behind-the-scenes information.

    HOLY SHIT, that reminds me: BAD GAMES! Bad games, along with bad movies/books/shows/etc., are made for critiques. Since you can’t recommend it anyway, screw the buyer’s guide! You can just lay into that game with impunity.

    Knowing what type of review you’re making, and sticking to it, frees you from constraints and it serves your intended audience better.

    I have to make it clear that I’m not directing this at anyone here or anyone in particular. I’ve had these thoughts kicking around for a long time and it’s a response to general trends I’ve noticed from all over. More importantly, I’m a strong believer that every writer should be free to express their own style; so if you are inclined to do it your way, keep doing it your way. An art teacher in college, when teaching us to draw the human form the “normal” or “classical” way said that we don’t have to draw it this way, but we have to know how to draw it this way if we want to deviate. If you don’t know where the line is, how can you color outside of it with purpose? Nothing I’ve said is a strict rule.

    • This topic was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by elheber.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by elheber.
    • This topic was modified 6 years, 3 months ago by elheber. Reason: The formatting is strange

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    "A closet intellectual, he acts dumb to impress women."

    POSTED BY Joel Castro on Mar 24, 2016

    I think there needs to be a separation between reviews and critiques, and that video games in their current form should always fall under critique instead of review. I’d go further into this, but I’m literally writing this before I have to go. I’ll elaborate later.

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