Thursday, January 8, 2009


Most video game magazines and websites are based around the concept of the review. The review is a short piece that serves primarily to inform the reader as to whether or not a game is worth their money. Mostly absent from the discourse on video games is honest criticism. A critique differs from a review in that it deconstructs the game, attempts to determine how it fits into a larger social context, and ultimately informs the reader as to whether or not they'll remember the game in a decade. A value judgment of quality or value is frequently implicit in a critique, but is not the point.

(I'm now going to use the terms "critique" and "review" interchangeably. Why? Because "critique" sounds too stuffy to keep using over and over again.)

There are precious few people doing games criticism. Ben Croshaw at Zero Punctuation does it; the folks at Action Button do it. I'm sure there are others, but they're the only ones I've found.

Aside from their obviously vast intelligence, the thing that most seems to separate ZP and AB from the rest of the dross is that they have no conflicted interests. They do not trade high marks for advertising dollars; they do not whine and grovel to get advance copies for preview; they do not feel beholden to the publishers, but rather to gamers. Most importantly, they seem perfectly happy to disagree with every eight-year-old fanboy who just knows that Halo 3 is the best game ever (since Halo 2).

So, I'm going to try my hand at criticism. I have a big library of games, too much free time, and the ability to string words together coherently. To keep me honest, I'm going to post my ground rules:

1) No scores. Not ever. A good game will get a couple thousand words describing in what ways it's good; a bad game will get a couple thousand words eviscerating it. A mediocre game will get a couple hundred words... because most mediocre games are such because they're me-too clones of other, better games.

2) I will ignore everybody else's opinion. My opinion may certainly align with that of others. But, I will never give a good review to a game just because that's what I'm supposed to do.

3) I will not grovel for preview copies. In fact, I won't do previews. If a publisher would like my honest opinion of a game I didn't otherwise intend to buy, they're welcome to send me a copy--and so are any readers, for that matter. But, it must be the final release version, in retail packaging. And, if they don't like the review, well, they can go fuck themselves.

4) I will choose games for review within genres that I actually enjoy. This, hopefully, will keep me from panning a game just because I don't get it. For instance, I'll probably never review a JRPG, party game, or an RTS... I just hate 'em all, and it wouldn't be fair.

5) I will critique primarily gameplay and art. Technical issues will only become a factor when they detract from the gameplay and art. By the way, I include writing under "art".

6) There will be spoilers. But, I will try to keep them to a minimum, and as vague as possible.

7) I make no promises to finish a game before reviewing it. Naturally, since I've bought the game, I'm going to try to squeeze maximum enjoyment out of it. But some games just piss me off too much to finish. I will, however, promise not to review something that I didn't get far enough in to get a feel for.

So, what's up first for review? Let's start with something I like. How about Fallout 3.


  1. Hi,

    If I do want to send you a final release version of a game I made, how should I get into touch?

    I promise the package will not be padded with dollar bills. :P

    - David Stark

  2. That's a good point. I've opened up my email address in my profile, and I'm going to put some contact info on the sidebar... just as soon as I get my Mirror's Edge review out of OpenOffice and into blogspot without a zillion lines of horrid, format-breaking HTML.


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