the artistry and psychology of gaming


How to Read Game Reviews and Benefit from Them

How to Read Game Reviews and Benefit from Them

A few months ago we read David’s fascinating series of articles on reviewing games. While he focused on the challenges of writing reviews and relying on their certain unreliability, today I’m here to present you with a practical guide on how to read reviews in a way that really helps you decide what game to buy or not to buy. There are many problems you might face while reading reviews. Does the reviewer share your taste? Is s/he too harsh or on the other hand too lenient? Does the news organization review games more favorably because they advertise them? Are they hugely biased towards a certain series or a genre? All of these might be factors that make you doubt whether or not you can trust the review, but here you will find tips to your advantage.

1. Know Thyself.

The first step is to be aware of your own taste and biases. What is your favorite genre? What do you like more in a game? What do you hate in a game? Look at a list of your favorite games and find out. For example, if you look at my 12 games of all times you will find out that a majority of them are western RPGs, and all of them have elaborate and deep plots, and all of them have deep and challenging gameplays. Now you know my bias. Know yours.

2. Choose one site or magazine and be their loyal reader.

At the first glance this might seem a strange advice. You certainly have to broaden your horizons, and read many reviews, so that you can know different opinions as well? Yes and no. Yes, it’s very good if you are the loyal reader of many reviewers, but then again, do you have the time and energy for that? Maybe you do if you are solely interested in video games, but if you are like me, you are probably interested in politics, cinema, and literature as well, and you have to follow the news on them at a daily basis as well. So, most probably you don’t have the time to read all the gaming sites on  a daily basis.

So why not change your news source everyday? Why to stick to one or two? Simply because there are specific writers who write for a site, and they have their own taste, biases, opinions, definitions of what makes a good game. If you stick to a particular site you will eventually know each writer’s or the site’s overall taste and bias, and knowing this will empower you to see past it. This is just like politics, if you see something on FOX News or MSNBC you will take it with a grain of salt because you know their respective Republican and Democrat biases. But if you turn on a channel you don’t know what is its affiliation; chances are that the bias will influence you stronger.

Now that you know your own bias and the site’s bias you can compare them and decide if they match, and choose a site which is closer to your own opinions.

3. Take a look at aggregator sites.

An aggregator is a site which collects review scores from both offline and online sources to give an average rating. Sites such as these include Gamerankings, GameStats, Metacritic, and MobyGames. Looking at them will give you a fair idea of how the critics community as a whole thinks of a game and how critically successful the game is.

4. Read the whole review carefully.

Review scores have their own merits, but if you really want to have an idea of the game you’re about to buy it’s not enough to look at the scores or the occasional list of pros and cons. Reviewing a game is not an easy subject, and most of the time the point of the writer is accompanied by elaborations and explanations. So it won’t even suffice to read the first or the last paragraphs in which the writer summarizes his or her points. The more you summarize a game, the more simplified and therefore inaccurate your view of it will become. You have to read the whole article in order to grasp the whole idea, with all its buts and ifs. Only then you can decide if you like the game or not.

5. It doesn’t matter if the review is positive or negative.

No, it really doesn’t. What matters is why the review is negative or positive. You have to look at the reviewer’s justification for his/her judgment call and then decide whether you will also find that good or bad in a game as well. For example once I told a friend that I have loved Dragon Age II but unfortunately it had become much more linear and less challenging than the previous game. He readily answered that then he must love it. When reading reviews you must have the same spirit. If a critic really hates a game for the reasons you disagree with, then it’s actually a positive review for you.

6. Remember that reviewers are hardcore gamers.

Many people are casual gamers, and they too turn to media to decide what games to buy. Not every reader of game reviews is a hardcore and dedicated gamer. But every writer of such sites is. If you set aside your time to write on something, or if you earn a living by writing about something, then you must be passionate and deeply involved with that. You have to remember then what satisfies a reviewer is much different from what satisfies a casual gamer. I believe that each reviewer writes for other hardcore fans primarily. So when you hear me complaining about how easy a Call of Duty game is you have to remember that I have been spending my entire teenage and adult life playing extremely hard games and such a game is like a walk in the park for me, but it might be the game for you. Also keep in mind that….

7. Each reviewer is also most probably the fan of the genre and the series he writes about.

When there are many writers in any given site they share the games to review among themselves. It’s only natural that each person gets the genre or the series s/he’s most knowledgeable and therefore most passionate about. So even if you are a hardcore gamer yourself, it’s impossible that you equally love all genres and series, therefore you have to be double careful about what you read on the genres and series you’re not particularly a fan of. Here, I’m the Silent Hill and horror expert, Alice is the old games expert, and etc. But you have to be careful. I found Silent Hill: Downpour less scary than I wanted it to be. But how much of a fan of scary games you are? I have been reading, watching, and playing scary stuff from early childhood. I can watch extremely disturbing movies without any trace of disturbed feelings and most scary games bore me. Therefore you might find Downpour really scary.

8. Heed the reviewer with a different opinion.

This is an unfortunate yet inevitable aspect of any job based on opinions. People with the same taste and outlook deeply influence each other and start repeating what the others say. Convincing people is hard work, but an opinion will soon spread amongst peers. So when everyone hates a game and someone comes out who loves it, or when someone claims that a game is generally misunderstood, try to understand why. Usually you will not agree with these black sheep among the critics, but even these illuminate aspects you might not have known.

Well, that are 8 tips that came to my mind. What do you think we must keep in mind while reading video game reviews? Post them here in the comment sections.

One Comment

  1. Excellent; I think you hit most ever point. Personally, I tend to rely on negative reviews and gameplay videos. I generally tend to seek the lowest review of acceptable length and focus upon the negative points. As you said, if the reviewer complains mostly about things that either don’t bother me or that I like, that tells me that I’ll likely enjoy the game. There are reviewers, like Yahtzee and the Angry Video Game Nerd, that I frequent as a source of entertainment, and there are those that I use for their indended purpose: to decide whether or not I want to play a game. I tend to try to keep my reviews organized for the very purpose: that others might be able to more easily pick out things that matter to them.

    As for gameplay videos, I find that, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a thousand reviews. You can read reviews until you pass out, but watching how a game works sometimes can show what mere words cannot. It’s a bit of a shame that most of them are “Let’s Plays”, in which the poster constantly talks, thereby nagging at your mind as you try to form your own opinion.

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