The Essential Guide to Game Reviewing – Part 3!

Day three and the lessons are almost over. Soon it’ll be time for you to step out into the big wide world, articles tucked under your arm and any trace of naivety gone from your mind. Well… almost all. Oh well, on with the show!

Step 3: Reviewing the game

Hold on a second, you can’t jump straight into the review, not if you’re still a review virgin, the pain will be far too much! Sure you’ve played the game and made your notes but you haven’t actually planned the review yet. You don’t necessarily have to, but it will make the experience a whole lot more pleasurable. Let’s get your second document open shall we?

First, you need to plan what each paragraph is going to be. No-one wants to see a huge block of text, so try to put one or two small thoughts into each one. Usually, these are decided by the genre of game that you’re performing your verbal autopsy on. Confused? Good, that’s how we like it. Nah, I’ll give you an example:

Let’s say you’re reviewing Silent Hill 2, which is a ‘typical’ horror game filled with mind-bending puzzles, your paragraphs will talk about the most important parts of the game. These are:

The plot – why the hell is someone walking around in the worst town ever imaginable?
The annoying-as-f*** escort mission – this is valuable to the story so should be commented on
The combat – what are these crazy, mutilated freaks and how easy is it to kill them?
The puzzles – how you should be prepared to rip your hair out in anger
The Endings – multiple endings were considered fairly unique at this time and so should be written about
The sound – or lack of such. Hence the name Silent Hill. Duh.
The graphics – the blocky goodness yet still hauntingly amazing.

Now each of these ‘subheadings’ will change for each genre you play, as well as each individual game (if they show any innovative ideas of course, if not, screw them!). That is, all but the last two; no matter what game you play, it will offer some style of graphics and sound, even if they are awfully cringeworthy. If you’re still confused, check out the most recent reviews published around Cubed Gamers as each of them splits the games into these smaller categories.

Great, you’ve got your paragraphs; now pick out a couple of your notes from playing the game and try to roll it into one flow of thought. Once again, this may be confusing so once again, an example will be given from Silent Hill 2.

Individual notes (on combat): Melee attacks are difficult and stupid.
There are too many monsters and you die easily

Flowing thought: Usually, you’ll have to choose between your flight or fight instinct and Konami obviously geared the game towards you choosing the former, with the vast amount of monsters out to mock James’ fighting skills.

That wasn’t too difficult now was it? If it was, don’t worry, this is probably your first ever review and I for one remember mine being complete and utter shambles. You’ll understand eventually, all it requires is a little practice and perseverance.

That’s it; you’ve done your first paragraph! I’m so proud of my students, growing up so quickly! But don’t get emotional too soon as you’re only part way there, you have plenty more to write yet. As well as making each single paragraph flow, you have to make the whole bunch of paragraphs flow or ‘link’ together. Boy, it really feels like school now doesn’t it? Don’t worry, no-one’s going to throw a board rubber at your innocent yet mischievous face here. So how do you link the difficult paragraphs? Why don’t we look at an example together?

Paragraph one: Combat in Silent Hill 2 is difficult and usually avoided.
Paragraph two: It doesn’t have any music, only your footsteps and monster’s squeals.

How on Earth can they link together? Combat has nothing to do with the sound in the game, unless you start with describing the sound effects of your weapon. And no-one wants to read about that. But keep in mind that Silent Hill is a horror series and play on that a bit. Take a look:

Usually, you’ll have to choose between your flight or fight instinct and Konami obviously geared the game towards you choosing the former, with the vast amount of monsters out to mock James’ fighting skills. As you’re taking flight, your heart starts racing along with James’, you daren’t take your eyes off the screen and you’re kept on the edge of your seat.

That’s not the only thing that does so either, as the only sounds you hear in these moments are the pounding of both yours and the monster’s feet, which you’ll soon learn is the most terrifying sound possible. You know that they’re nearby but there’s no other music to tell you whether they’re close enough to fight or not.

Sure, this may be difficult in some cases but usually each paragraph will have a hidden link to the genre of game, seeing as that’s what you decided your paragraphs from. Remember, even if it sounds like you’re smearing your own crap over the screen, it’ll sound incredible to someone else, so don’t delete anything you’re not happy with without consulting a friend or a fellow gamer.

So now you have your main body of text which talks through all the major aspects of the game and includes a handful of your notes. Yes, it seems like you’re throwing some of your precious life away with the extra notes that haven’t been mentioned but it’s not. Well, actually it sort of is but you never know if they could be valuable at a later date, such as your editing stages.

To finish off (if you’ve not already done so), you should add an introduction and a conclusion, just to give structure to your ideas. The introduction is easy, especially as you’ve lived through the apocalypse of reviewing; now you’ve just got to repopulate the world if you know what I mean. People reading your review have probably never played this game before and so it’s important that you give them an idea of what the game is like. Most introductions usually just say whether the game is a spin-off or sequel and what it feels like in the case of other series’ they may be more familiar with, yet still in an entertaining way. Need an example? I thought so. This is something I prepared earlier:

It was just three years ago that Harry Mason was on our screens, creeping through the dark streets of Silent Hill. Audiences were kept enthralled and terrified by the mix of psychological horror and sadistic monsters, all of which is carried over into Silent Hill 2. When you play the long-awaited sequel, you’ll be wetting yourself even faster. The horrifying survive-a-thon has more disconcerting enemies and fiendish puzzles that increase the difficulty of the prequel by a long shot.

The observant among you will probably be yelling about how this introduction doesn’t compare it to any existing series. You know why? Because Silent Hill isn’t like any other series, apart from Resident Evil and no-one wants to compare the glory of the lakeside town to the zombie-shooting, testosterone-filled heap of junk. Instead, the game has been described using ‘survive-a-thon’ and ‘fiendish puzzles’ which give the reader a good idea of what it’s like anyway. It’s up to personal preference how you describe your game.

Even easier is the conclusion, where you’re just summing up your thoughts, usually in the format of ‘sure it has problems but it’s fun and you’ll replay it in years to come’ or ‘waste of anyone’s time and you’d have more fun burning ants with a magnifying glass’ but, you know, in a more unique and interesting way. Finally, give the game a score out of 10 (or 5 or 100 if you really want but 10 is the most popular choice and the easiest to rate something out of). Just to note, you don’t have to give a game a score. Sometimes your opinion can be too complex to express with a simple number!

Remember, 7 does not mean ‘average’ in this case, no matter what magazines say. While you’re working independently, don’t fall into that trap, as most publications are afraid to give lower due to all the free stuff they receive. On a scale of 1 to 10, 5 is in the middle and so 5 should mean average. 1 means that it’s absolutely awful and that by no means should anyone ever play it and 10 means it’s incredible and nothing at all needs changing to make it any more enjoyable. Apart from that, happy rating! Oh, and try to end on a funny note, even if it’s groan worthy. For example, Silent Hill 2 could end with either:

Terrifyingly bad. or scarily good.

Yes, these are beyond terrible but do the job of rounding the game off nicely.

That’s it, you’re done, now just send it off to someone else to proofread and ask them whether you’ve written too much and not enough. While you’re hoping for the former (if any), remember all the spare notes that you have if they tell you that you’ve not written enough as they’re easy enough to add in, just to fill out some space. An anecdote of a funny glitch or bug is always embraced by the gaming community, because as with all human beings, we love when we see something fail.

Optional: If you want to sound super clever in your reviews, try adding some alliteration or a lexical field. They make your piece sound extremely well planned and people will think you’re part of MENSA or something. Don’t know what these are? Well that’s why you have the best teacher in the whole world isn’t it?

Alliteration is just where your words all start with the same letter. For example:

carnivorous creatures or senseless survivors.

It’s easy you see and can be done as you’re writing the review or later on when you’re doing your final edit. Stuck for words? Remember that beautiful book you call the thesaurus? Well it’s going to be your very best friend from now on.

A lexical field, otherwise known as a semantic field is a bunch of words that all relate to the same topic. Say that horror is our topic; our words would go something like this:

  • Maul
  •  Blood
  •  Terror
  •  Monsters
  •  Gore
  •  Slash

And so on. You can then slot these into your review, maybe as part of jokes, as seen above in the ending of ‘scarily good’. These keep the audience interested and act as a constant reminder of what sort of game you’re actually talking about. Remember that synonyms will go a long, long way here.

That’s it then, grab your writing tools and head off into the world. If you get famous, don’t forget to mention who taught you everything you know! Also, keep me up to date with your successes, either in the comments or on my email.

-Sian (sian@cubedgamers.com)

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Sian Bradley

Sian is a co-founder of Cubed Gamers, having been around since 2011. When she isn’t helping to manage the site, she’s exploring every nook and cranny in games to create guides you didn’t know you needed.

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