Commentary

08/21/2012

The Nature Of Our Reviews

How we look at games.

By: James Hawkins

Filed Under: Review

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Early last week, we published Ryan Winslett’s review of Darksiders II. He loved the game, praised it for its considerable mass, its dark feel, and its emphasis on exploration. He believed that it was a headline game in the action-adventure genre, a game that stood alongside many of the other stellar titles of this generation. He scored it an “8″.

The review hit N4G. It drew a strong audience, with a dozen or so commenters, many of whom appeared to enjoy the review itself, but had some contention with the numeric score. Here’s a sample, from commenter Captain Qwark 9:

“this was a solid review and an 8 is a damn good score but i cant help but feel it read as a 9.

this…….. “Now I get to use them in a massive new adventure so full of character and energy that it has no trouble standing alongside the greatest titles in the genre, including those it cribs so heavily from.”

had it read “DS2 is so good it sits just slightly under its inspirations” then an 8 would be appropriate….however alongside means it should sit with the rest at 9′s and 10′s.

no matter though, review was well written. 8 is great and as soon as my stupid shift ends, i will be lost in this game from start to finish just as i was with the first”

Qwark continued, after a few others joined in agreement:

so how/where did we lose two points becuase the review is purely positive and with nothing wrong with it, tech thats considered “perfect” or a “10″……but we got an 8. so unless his scoring system is 8/8 something is off with what he is trying to tell us about the game becuase we lost 2 points…..where did they go?

And I began to think about this article you’re reading now.

Video game reviews are generally dressed-up consumer product surveys, and the games culture has been trained to read them as such. Games that deliver on all the mechanical functions are typically met with high praise, as if the star rating is more indicative of consumer satisfaction than an appraisal and exploration of the experience. That’s why AAA titles, who have broad budgets and limitlessly talented crafters, are rewarded with resoundingly positive scores, and why entitled game developers get up-in-arms over less-than-perfect review scores. That’s also why game developers whose core competency is storytelling and risk-taking endure an emotional trip through the ringer for their unpolished work, despite all efforts to position themselves as separate from the AAA status quo.

This product survey mentality is the reason we so rarely see well-funded games dip below the typical “7/10” (or equivalent) score range. The nature of the industry is so competitive that games which cannot compete on a technical level will likely never see release, and thus, many game publications don’t need extend their review scores below a reasonably high number. And readers see red flags waving if they read a review with a lower score.

Our philosophy is to review video games based on the experience they have the potential to deliver, and in rare cases, the impact they have on the progression of the medium as a whole. At Bit Creature, you will see most of our reviews are conducted through an established “I”, where we explore the moments that resonate with us.

The commenters on Ryan’s article deserve to be offered some insight into his decision. As a product, Darksiders II is  pretty near perfect, and doesn’t deserve any points knocked off. But we don’t really care about Darksiders II as a product, we care about it as an interactive experience. The problem with assigning all games a perfunctory 10/10 score until they prove us otherwise would be disingenuous, because we’d be giving the game credit for something it hasn’t earned – and can’t earn, without being played.

As you’ll see in a moment, we assign the 8/10 score to games that stand alongside the best their genre has to offer. They are robust, grand experiences that we enjoy and highly recommend to like-minded readers. The only knock is that they don’t deliver a transcendent experience, or shift the way we perceive the power and potential of video games. 9s and 10s are games that rise above the best and into a complete echelon of their own. And we’re totally aware that all of this is antithetical to what is typically perceived as fair and unbiased, and that reviews are subjective and relative, but the numbers are just meant to be loose summaries.

We strive to produce articles that our readers can only find on our site, and to accomplish this, we feel that reviews are best served as audits of our personal journeys. The tangibles may be there – the gameplay, the graphics, the aesthetic quality – but only as pieces of the whole experience. Video games are not mechanisms. They are meant to entertain and delight and to hit us where we feel something.

Here’s a breakdown of our 10-point scale. You’ll find a link to these descriptions on each Bit Creature review.

10 – These are keystone works that spark a paradigm shift in the medium

While longevity is the determining factor in how games redefine the medium, we sometimes encounter an experience so uniquely powerful it feels as though anyone in the world could feel it, too. These games have the potential to change the trajectory of video games with their innovation, storytelling, and creativity.

9 – These are disruptive titles that define their generation

Each era of consoles brings a new capacity for players to interact with video games. These titles push the limits of how video game stories are told, how we play them, and employ unprecedented, provocative ideas in their construction.

8 – These are headline titles within their genre

Though video game genres are constantly blending, each game exhibits fundamental characteristics of traditional type. These games take the soul of the genre to its threshold, conveying imaginative experiences and memorable applications of the conventions.

7 – These are notable titles within their genre

These games provide solid, engaging experiences by capitalizing on thoroughly-conceived ideas and deft execution.

6 – These are praiseworthy and flawed

Though flaws can often make games more endearing, sometimes they hamper the overall experience and make us long for what could’ve been. If that’s the case, however, they are worthy of praise for giving us a reason to long.

5 – These do as much right as they do wrong

These games measure up to the status quo by providing commercially safe entertainment without an ambitious reach, or bland but workable interaction.

4 – These have moments of good among foundational flaws

Instances of beauty or intrigue can make entire games worth playing, but oftentimes they are shrouded by a flawed premise, shallow experience, or disjointed progression. These titles have value – yes – but the lengths to which one must go to find that value may be too great.

3 – These are functional, though heavily flawed

On the most basic level, a video game must be playable to be successful. These games can be played from start to finish, but players must be forewarned that the experience may yield tremendous frustration.

2 – These are nearly unplayable

Sometimes we encounter a game that managed to achieve gold status, however all signs indicate that may have been a mistake.

1 – These have been made examples

This is a very special rating. Only games that are truly repugnant and valueless will be tagged with a “1″.

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Filed Under: Review

About the Author:
James Hawkins is the founder of Bit Creature. He's a published poet, dabbling sportswriter, and former Senior Editor of Village Voice Media's Joystick Division.