Welcome back class 1337. Quickly, sit down and get ready to write down everything I say as it’s all important stuff! If you missed lesson one, read all about it here. All up to date? Let’s begin!
Step 2: Playing the Game
No matter how you obtained it, hopefully you’re now sat in your comfy gaming chair with your shiny new game. Well don’t. You look like you’re special, take the disc out of the case and put it into the console that you’re playing it on. That’s the easy part; now make sure you have a pen and some paper or a keyboard nearby.
What? You thought you were just going to play the game and then smash your keys down in some kind of garbled mess before putting it on the internet? Maybe that was true before but right now you’re in Journalism Land and Journalism Land expects you to be professional at all times. Before we begin, it’s mandatory to issue a warning which many other writers fail to mention: if you enjoy playing games in the majority of your spare time stop right now. I’m not saying give up on your idea but just consider if you could go about your life without settling down in the evenings with your favourite game. If you couldn’t then stop reading this guide and be on your merry way. If you wouldn’t mind that much or think that you’re too tough for any problems that game reviewing may throw at you, then please, be my guest and read on.
That warning may have sounded stupid to you, but bear in mind that you’re going to have to play each game you’re criticising so slowly and carefully that you’ll feel like the only snail in a bunny marathon by the end of it. On top of that, you’re going to have to consider each tiny detail that would usually go fairly unnoticed by the average gamer. And the cherry on the cake? When you’re not playing the game you want to review, you’re writing about it (if you’re a student or someone with a full time job. If this is your full time job or you only work short hours, this point doesn’t apply to you, hurrah!), which means that on top of studying and working, you have little to no spare time. That’s not even an exaggeration either.
Still up for it? Awesome! Reward your commitment with some chocolate. You deserve it! As you’re chewing away, grab your controller and get ready to play. But before you do, take some time out to peer through the jungle that is the menu. Don’t worry if this seems like a brand new place, to many gamers, it very much is, but right now, you have to get accustomed to it, watch the credits for a few minutes, change some settings and while you do, take some notes. The level of notes that you do decide to take differs for each person but as the middle ground, you should be noting down if it’s easy or difficult to do so, if each button press flows into the next or whether you’re already smashing the screen into tiny pieces with your angry, distressed fist. Don’t go overboard here though as, sure, the menu is an important part of the game but it’s not the most vital thing you’re going to see in the next few days.
Next stop is the main game and there are a few major points that you should cover in your notes.
First point: the plot. “What’s this game all about?” is most likely the first question that will jump into people’s minds before reading your review and is one that you should definitely answer. Imagine you’re an advertisement for a moment; you have to give enough detail to keep people interested but hold enough back to make people want to play it for themselves. It may seem easy but be sure to spend enough time to get that balance right. However, if the game has no story or if the story is about as interesting as watching water drip out of your tap, feel free to write that down instead but be sure to add some notes on why it’s that way or how it could be changed. Don’t fall into the trap of just bashing a game without giving valid reasons, that’s what separates the internet nerds and the semi-professional internet nerds. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to point out anything bad to do with the plot (or any of the game really) because it’s your job and even if the developers do read it, they’re not expecting to be perfect and would probably like to hear where to improve next time rather than a review that claims the game is the second coming of Jesus.
Second point: The gameplay. This covers a wide variety of factors such as controls, interactivity and challenge. It’s the most obvious aspect of the game but also the most complicated to write about. Therefore, take it slow; don’t try to cram everything into your notes straight away because you can always come back to the game later. For now, just try to note down anything special, whether it stands out because it’s really bad or because it’s innovative and adds something special to the game. The main questions to ask yourself are ‘Do the controls interrupt the immersion of the game?’, ‘Is it too challenging or not challenging enough?’ ‘Can I actually do much in the game?’ and ‘Is this truly enjoyable or is something missing?’ Answer these in your notes and you’ll find the rest of the review a breeze.
Lastly is the technological side of things. Possibly the least recognised aspect by the average gamer but also one that can make or break a game in a heartbeat. Sound is the easiest part of this as you just need to listen out and see if the music fits the mood (with a wide variety to pull at different emotions), if the sound effects are correct and at the right level (for an example of sound effects being too loud and extremely bad, play Final Fantasy XIII for a few minutes) and whether the voice acting is believable (if there is none, then whether this was a good choice or leaves something to be desired from the game). A few scribbles into your notepad will be more than fine for this.
Graphics are important and are a lot more in depth than just ‘does it look pretty?’. Here’s where you’re going to look at textures and whether there’s any missing or any faults. Depending on your level of geekiness, this may require some extra research into specific problems such as texture pop-in and draw distance, though once you’ve learned about them once; you’ll never fail to point them out, even if you’re not playing a game to review it. As well as general aesthetics and realism of the items within the game, you have to delve even further into animations. Are they stiff or do they flow nicely? Do you encounter any bugs or glitches with them? Again, note down what jumps out at you as well as the niggly bits that yell in their teeny voice: “Hey! I’m over here, I’m clever too!”
If it all gets a bit too much for you, put the game down and pick it up the next day, as nothing is worse than a review written by a distressed journalist. Once you’ve played through the majority of the game (try to aim for completing it, but with some games such as RPGs, this isn’t the most possible thing in the world) you can put your pen down, switch off the computer and relax, with a nice, well earned drink and snack.
Don’t relax too much though as you’re expected to attend the next lesson tomorrow about writing the review. Moaning won’t help you as it’s the most important part of all. Really, it doesn’t get much more difficult than this. Sleep tight kids!
-Sian. That’s Mrs Sian to you!