Reviews are essentially subjective by nature so it stands to reason that when attempting to review a game one comes up with guidelines to ensure consistency and fairness when evaluating all games.
Since I purchase most of my games it stands to reason that I’ll largely purchase titles that I think I will favour. After all, I try my best not to waste my money on things I probably won’t enjoy playing and after all games are a form of entertainment.
Since this is a private blog it stands to reason I should inform you, dear visitor, what you can expect to encounter and determine whether to spend your time reading.
Firstly I play games to make me think. Rich environments and detailed worlds with vibrant characters are of most interest to me. I don’t need to like everything, in fact I welcome a game that challenges some concepts and ideas, but it must execute on such ideas well.
Secondly I play games of certain genres and so will write reviews and criticism based on what I find interesting in those genres, however I will occasionally move outside of my comfort zone to try new ways of playing and gaming to see what they offer. This is fairly prevalent as developers constantly mix genres and create new styles and hybrid games.
When assessing games I initially try to work out what is the intent or major theme of the game and from these analyze how this is produced via narrative and gameplay. Sometimes this is easy but at other times a games themes may be slightly obscure and hard to ascertain.
In such cases you may disagree… comments will be largely left open for you to express agreement or disagreement and offer varied insights. However I do reserve the right to remove comments that are personal attacks and not focused on the ideas expressed. I intend this to be a place of civil discourse.
When evaluating a game I use four varied areas with greater weight placed towards narrative and game play.
Narrative is varied aspects that reveal a games story. It manifests itself in various areas:
Plot – the overall events of the story and order in which they proceed. It is the motions of conflict and development that push a story to its conclusion
Character- Characters give a point to emotionally attach oneself to, how they interact with the world each other and themselves are where I find myself most invested. The creation of empathy through dialogue and events are where characterization reveals itself most strongly
World-building – The stage for the characters (and player to act upon) a world’s vibrancy and self sustained systems are the breeding grounds for conflict and advancement, as the stage to act upon a world with consistent internal logic is of manifold importance to the player, characters and story.
Controls – The primary method of interaction, controls should be fluid, easy to understand and accessible. Responsiveness to input immerses one in the world to make it feel acted upon.
Mechanics – The hidden workings of the world, mechanics are the structure and laws by which you can interact. Mechanics that are consistent, adaptable to play-styles and allow multiple play-styles all increase enjoyment and interaction.
Challenge – The difficulty or ease of a game. Challenges manifest in various ways whether it’s individual puzzles or bosses to overcome, and should progress gradually through the game without an excessively steep learning curve. It also relates to how the game encourages exploration of mechanics and ability to adjust difficulty to suit different player intentions.
Graphics are more than just screen resolutions and frames per second. The elements of design, whether of environments to create atmosphere or characters to showcase personality are also important aspects.
The modes and ways by which a game present itself to the viewer are of utmost importance, and should consistently meet with the narrative aspects as well as present a clear and understandable context for the player to understand, whether through a HUD or in game menus.
Audio in video games is often underreported since its hard to speak about without a musical background. However sounds are more than just soundtracks. From ambient audio to contextualised sounds to provide the player with information as well as vocal performances for characters, audio encompasses a range of aspects within games that aids the players immersion.
Since games are played on a wide variety of systems performance is sometimes hard to evaluate. Not to mention the various consoles as well as ports across such platforms. Understanding if a game will or won’t work well on your hardware is just as much a consideration as the other factors of play.
In order to maintain consistency across reviews as well as try to achieve some objectivity when comparing games a quantitative scoring system is used. Although I tried to eschew such systems in the past it is immensely difficult to try and compare to games without such a system. From the basis above is a rubric which reveals the scoring system I use when evaluating games.
Characters are basic stereotypes with no personality.
No or little worldbuilding.
Themes are non-existent.
Characters are stereotypes with no or little personality
No or little worldbuilding
Themes are non-existent
|Narrative is adequately expressed using a variety of techniques|
Characters are sympathetic but not engaging
Worldbuilding is basic
Themes are present but not always expanded on fully
|Narrative is well expressed, using a variety of techniques to move the plot forward|
Characters are developed through engaging dialogue, and individually characterised
Worldbuilding is coherent and advanced showing awareness of multiple elements of its geography, and societies.
Themes are present and integrated into plot, character side-arcs have relevance to overall themes
Themes are fully established and reflected in plot and through character development
|Narrative is excellently executed in all areas with believable and engaging characters that are fully realized across all aspects of their performance|
Characters are nuanced with believable interactions. Internal conflict is realized through interaction and dialogue
Worldbuliding is rich and nuanced and actively relates to the themes and helps establish external conflict
Themes are fully established in all area of the game and actively draw elements of the narrative together to create a functional whole
|Gameplay||Gameplay is mired by unresponsive controls and lack of interactivity|
Mechanics are the bare minimum to allow functionality
Challenge is extreme (too easy or too hard)
|Controls are functional though sometimes unresponsive|
Mechanics are obscure or difficult to grasp and don’t seem to have an actual impact on play
Challenge progression is erratic and doesn’t follow an established learning curve
|Controls are functional and normally responsive|
Mechanics are fully fleshed out but don’t make allowance for individual player styles
Challenge is decently executed with constant introductions of new elements to challenge the player continuously
|Controls are fluid and expressive whilst being responsive and intuitive|
Mechanics are well integrated and allow for optional playstyles and player choice with high adaptability
Challenge is well implemented with a steady progression curve whilst still offering higher challenges for more skilled players
|Controls are fluid, responsive and expressive.|
They are intuitive and easy to grasp
Mechanics offer diverse playstyles through adaptability
Mechanics enhance and complement the narrative elements
Challenge is excellently expressed throughout with an accurate learning curve and optional late game challenges or challenging playstyles
|Graphics||Graphics function on the most basic of levels|
Illustration and design lacks polish
Ambiance is at odds with the games goals
|Graphics show some development of atmosphere and character|
A few issues with performance and clipping
Ambiance isn’t always congruent with the games tone
Animations are poor
|Graphics are well implemented and showcase atmosphere and character of the environments|
Minor issues with performance, such as occasional stuttering
Creature or character designs are intriguing but not unique and often reskinned
Animations are decent
|Graphics are well integrated and effectively convey atmosphere and tone to the player|
Minor issues with performance due to dropping frame rates etc
Creature or character designs are detailed and distinct. Some recolouring or reskinning of enemies
Animations are well developed for all areas and add live and vibrancy
|Graphics are beautifuly incorporated showcasing the world clearly with great attention to detail|
Barely any issues with graphical performance
Creature and character designs are detailed and distinctive with great variety
Animations are beautifully incorporated giving unique identity to the character, monster or world
|Audio||Sound is absent or offers only the most basic generic sound effects|
Environmental audio ques are lacking
|Sound effects are present but don’t add to the actions they represent|
Environmental audio is constrained
The soundtrack is present but not atmospheric
Limited or no voice acting
|Sound effects are adequate to represent ingame actions and aid the player knowledge and awareness|
Enviromnetal audio is present and varied across areas adding to the ambiance
The soundtrack is present but does not offer variance
There is limited or no voice acting
|Sound effects add vibrancy to the actions and complement the players awareness of the environments|
Environmental audio is appropriate at all times and adds additional tone and atmosphere to the game
The soundtrack is fully developed with leitmotifs
Voice acting is decent, though occasionally bland or off tone
|Sound effects are surprising and distinctive adding greatly to the players awareness|
Environmental audio fully captures the world and adds to the sense of reality
The soundtrack is beautifully composed with multiple leitmotifs
Voice acting is skillfully done and appropriate to characters and their emotions at all times
|Performance/Optimization||Filled with bugs that impair the experience|
The game regularly crashes or is otherwise rendered unplayable
|Some bugs present that can occasionally hinder gameplay (corrupted saves, quests breaking etc) |
The game may occasionally stutter or freeze
|Very few bugs and if they occur are relatively minor. Capable of being patched|
A few balancing issues or amusing/funny exploits.
|A few relatively minor bugs are present and capable of patching|
Some balancing issues and relatively few exploits
|Hardly any bugs or if they are present are not noticeable|
|Overall||Not worth the purchase, should be declared shovelware and abandoned except in incidences of seeing how not to code a game||A poor game that may find some niche appeal in its genre.||An average game that will appeal to fans of the genre but not to a broader audience||An excellent game well worth a playthrough to fans of the genre and other gamers who might like to try the genre||A game of excellence, that should be played by anyone who enjoys games or appreciates the medium|