I’ve been reviewing games for about 4 years now and since I’m not exactly a top tier reviewer I’ve had to employ other tactics to get my reviews in front of other people. Primarily this just used to be via my Twitter and Facebook accounts however after I noticed my reviews getting submitted to other sites (by other people, no less!) I decided to start doing that process myself rather than wait for some unknown individual to do it for me. Primarily I used to just post to N4G and Reddit however after the launch of Steam Communities I started posting my reviews on there, figuring that people who were buying the game would likely sift through there before purchasing. Seems I wasn’t the only one doing this as Valve has decided to formalize the idea in Steam Reviews.
It’s essentially just another part of the Steam Community Hub that every game has (which now includes things like game guides and trading posts) where users can leave and rate reviews for that particular title. If this sounds similar to the recommendations that steam has had for ages you’d be right and this new review system will be replacing it wholesale. All your old recommendations will be upgraded to reviews however which means that it’s somewhat useful right off the bat (although unlikely to have anything negative due to the way the old system worked) and none of the work anyone put in gets lost in the transition.
One of the marked improvements that the Steam platform can give to reviews like this is that users will not be able to review a game they haven’t played. This doesn’t extend to needing to own the game either so if you played a game on a free weekend or got a title shared to you from a friend you’ll be eligible to write a review on the Steam page for it. Whilst this won’t entirely eliminate the bad review train that tends to happen with certain titles it does limit the scope to people who’ve actually had a crack at the game rather than anyone who feels like jumping on a bandwagon.
Currently they’re just worded reviews with no score indicator on them however that’s apparently set to change during the beta. Whilst some will lament their inclusion I still believe that they have some value so long as we, the gaming community, use them appropriately. Since I’ll be actively participating in this open beta (I’ve still got a ton of reviews on my blog that haven’t made their way onto Steam in one way or another) I’ll be submitting feedback to encourage use along those lines so that games can more easily compared against each other, rather than some subjective view of perfection. How this will come about I can not be entirely sure but if anyone can change the way scores are used in the wider gaming world its Valve and Steam is the platform to do it.
Whether this will translate into more exposure for small time reviewers like myself will be something of interest as whilst I’ve had a few people come to read my review from Steam it pales in comparison to other platforms. Steam Reviews could change that as they’ll be given a prominent location in the Community Hub rather than being lost in the wash of the general discussion forum. That’s really a side benefit for people like me however as the real value here will be from getting a much better view of what the gaming community thinks of a title, hopefully free from much of the bandwagoning that’s made Metacritic what it is today.
Review scores have always troubled me. Ever since I found out how the industry uses them to judge bonuses for developers (something I knew long before that article was published thanks to friends working in the industry) the score I ended up giving the game always had a level of gravitas attached to it, even if I knew only a couple dozen people read the review. I tried to clarify my position in an attempt to give more insight into how the final score was constructed but still that nagging feeling remained. Since then I’ve had many discussions with friends about review scores in general and I’ve come to the conclusion that they’re staying around but there’s a set of rules around their use.
For starters I think the biggest issue with review scores in general is when they’re used in aggregate to compare titles on the same medium (games/movies/books/etc.). The problem with this is that it ignores the unique perspective and thought process that goes into curating that score, something that’s intensely personal and becomes meaningless when stripped of its context. For instance my preference to start games out with perfect scores and then take points off is likely not the same process other reviewers go through and thus my 8.5/10 does not compare to the same score elsewhere. Indeed I try incredibly hard to lay out any personal bias on the table so that when you do see that final score you can make a decision as to how valid that is compared to your viewpoint or other reviewers you might follow.
Following on from this its logical to then assume that scores bear no correlation between different game genres. It’s impossible to compare something like MirrorMoon EP to Payday 2 using only the review score because their commonalities end almost as soon as they begin. However I feel comparing MirrorMoon EP to say Kairo quite valid as they’re quite similar in many regards and whilst their differences are nuanced if you wanted a general idea of how they compared to each other the review score is then appropriate. I’ve been told that this kind of philosophy is what drove the late and great Roger Ebert’s review scores for movies and I believe that it’s very applicable to the world of gaming.
Of course I can really only enforce these rules here where I have total control over how the content is presented but I think some generalization of these ideas applied widely would go a long way to reversing some of the damage that review scores have done to various parts of the industry. They’re still not ideal of course, nothing that boils down hours upon hours of invested time to a single digit is, but if we as consumers become more nuanced in the way we use reviews then they might start to become meaningful. This would have to go hand in hand with turning down our usage of review aggregators as they’re arguably the primary source of most of the complaints that center around review scores.
I don’t see that happening anytime soon but I can at least do my part to improve the situation.
It’s really no secret that the earlier that a game review gets out the more likely it is that more people will read it. For the most part it’s held true for the reviews I’ve done as people tend to look for info about the game mostly before or just after its release, usually to scope out whether they should buy it or not. Being one of the unwashed masses I’m not privy to early releases of games (except for one solitary exception with Modern Warfare 3) so all my game reviews usually come out weeks after the major sites have already posted theirs, usually with 1 or 2 follow ups afterwards. Still I continue to write them because they’re the easiest writing I’ve ever done and I have an incredibly fun time doing so. Some of my reviews have also been decently popular so I know there’s some value in them for my readers out there.
As to what value people were actually getting from my late in the piece reviews though wasn’t all that clear to me. Of course there are some who use them to inform their purchasing decisions (although no one’s told me of that) and a few will just be my regular readers catching up on my latest ramblings. I knew quite a few people stumbled onto my site when they were looking for wallpapers for particular games or screenshots of certain characters which might not be available anywhere else. However after reading a couple early reviews of certain games I started to realize why reviews like mine are important.
They give the companies a chance to fix broken things.
Take for instance this weeks review of Dead Island. I didn’t get the game on launch day because of the price but I happily snapped it up about a week after it was released. Had I got it on launch day and attempted to play it I would’ve been greeted with the developer build which was buggy, filled with odd shortcuts like turning on no-clip and overall a relatively unpleasant experience. Since I tend to avoid game reviews for games I myself intend to review I wouldn’t have known about these issues and would’ve panned the game for releasing such a half assed game. Coming into it later than the usual flood of reviews meant I got to experience the game as intended and I believe my review reflects a more accurate picture of what the game developers hoped to release.
Another game I was hoping to review in the future was Rage and of course my platform of choice will be the PC. However according to initial reports its sounding an awful lot like the Dead Island release, with the game being horribly buggy and glitchy. Since I’m still waiting on my pre-order keys to arrive (and the fact that I have probably 3 other games I could be playing at the moment) I haven’t been able to give Rage a go yet, but it seems like giving the game a miss for a week or so might be the best option, just so that I’m not reviewing the current mess that everyone is complaining about.
Delayed reviews then, whilst probably not garnering the same amount of press as their day 1 counterparts, serve to showcase what the game is capable of once you get past the initial bumps. It’s a good thing for small timers like myself who don’t have the privilege of getting early access too, as we have the luxury of taking our time with the games and making sure the experience we’re getting is the best the developers could deliver. If the game is still a smoking wreck at that point then it deserves what’s coming to it, but realistically if it’s an honest mistake (like Dead Island was) then it should be easy to fix it.
Of course I wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to review a game before it was released if I was given the opportunity, hint hint 😉
My main PC at home is starting to get a little long in the tooth, having been ordered back in the middle of 2008 and only receiving upgrades of a graphics card and a hard drive since then. Like all PCs I’ve had it suffered a myriad of problems that I just usually put up with until I stumbled across a work around, but I think the vast majority of them can be traced to a faulty motherboard (Can’t put more than 4GB of RAM in it or it won’t post) and a batch of faulty hard drives (that would randomly park the heads causing it to freeze). At the time I had the wonderful idea of buying the absolute latest so I could upgrade cheaply for the next few years, but thanks to the consolization of games I found that wasn’t really necessary.
To be honest it’s not even really necessary now either, with all the latest games still running at full resolution and most at high settings to boot. I am starting to lag on the technology front however with my graphics card not supporting DirectX 11 and everything but the RAM being 2 generations behind (yes, I have a Core 2 Duo). So I took it upon myself to build a rig that combined the best performance available of the day rather than trying to focus on future compatibility. Luckily for me it looks like those two are coinciding.
Just because like any good geek I love talking shop when it comes to building new PCs here are the specs of the potential beast in making:
The first couple choices I made for this rig were easy. Hands down the best performance out there is with the new Sandy Bridge i7 chips with the 2600K being the top of the lot thanks to its unlocked multiplier and hyperthreading, which chips below the 2600 lack. The choice of graphics cards was a little harder as whilst the Radeon comes out leagues ahead on a price to performance ratio the NVIDIA cards still had a slight performance lead overall, but hardly enough to justify the price. Knowing that I wanted to take advantage of the new SATA 6Gbps range of drives that were coming out my motherboard choice was almost made for me as the Asrock P67 seems to be one of the few that has more than 4 of the ports available (it has 6, in fact).
The choice of SSD however, whilst extremely easy at the time, became more complicated recently.
You see back in the initial pre-production review round the OCZ Vertex 3 came out shooting, blasting away all the competition in a seemingly unfair comparison to its predecessors. I was instantly sold especially considering the price was looking to be quite reasonable, around the $300 mark for a 120GB drive. Sure I could opt for the bigger drive and dump my most frequently played games on it but in reality a RAID10 array of SATA 6Gbps drives should be close enough without having to overspend on the SSD. Like any pre-production reviews I made sure to keep my ear to the ground just in case something changed once they started churning them out.
Of course, something did.
The first production review that grabbed my attention was from AnandTech, renowned for their deep understanding of SSDs and producing honest and accurate reviews. The results for my drive size of choice, the 120GB, were decidedly mixed on a few levels with it falling down in several places where the 240GB version didn’t suffer any such problems. Another review confirmed the figures were in the right ballpark although unfortunately lacking a comparison to the 240GB version. The reasons behind the performance discrepancies are simple, whilst functionally the same drives the differences come from the number of NAND chips used to create the drive. The 240GB version has double the amount of the 120GB version which allows for higher throughput and additionally grants the drive a larger scratch space that it can use to optimize its performance¹.
So of course I started to rethink my position. The main reason for getting a real SSD over something like the PCIe bound RevoDrive was that I could use it down the line as a jumbo flash drive if I wanted to and I wouldn’t have to sacrifice one of my PCIe lanes to use it. The obvious competitor to the OCZ Vertex 3 would be something like the Intel 510 SSD but the reviews haven’t been very kind to this device, putting it barely in competition with previous generation devices.
After considering all my options I think I’ll still end up going with the OCZ Vertex 3 at the 120GB size. Whilst it might not be the kind of performance in every category it does provide tremendous value when compared to a lot of other SSDs and it will be in another league when compared to my current spinning rust hard drive. Once I get around to putting this new rig together you can rest assured I’ll put the whole thing through its paces, if at the very least to see how the OCZ Vertex 3 stacks up against the numbers that have already been presented.
¹Ever wondered why some SSDs are odd sizes? They are in fact good old fashioned binary sizes (128GB and 256GB respectively) however the drive reserves a portion of that (8GB and 16GB) to use as scratch space to write and optimize data before committing it. Some drives also use it as a buffer for when flash cells become unwritable (flash cells don’t usually die, you just can’t write to them anymore) so that the drive’s capacity doesn’t degrade.
It’s been just on 5 months since I took it upon myself to start reviewing some of the more well known gaming titles and for the most part its been pretty enjoyable. Up until about a month ago I was able to play my way through an A list title every week or two and usually got the review out the following Monday morning. They’re great blog fodder as it’s something that I’ve been passionate about for many years and they’re probably some of the easiest writing I’ve ever done. Casting an eye back over them though I see that for the most part my reviews are overwhelmingly positive with no game scoring below an 8 out of 10 and most criticisms are forgiven rather quickly. After a while I began to hope for a really bad game to cross my path so I could slam it on my blog, just for something different.
After actually seeking a bad game out it all became clear why I’d rarely ever review one, I just can’t finish the bastards.
Take for instance Bayonetta. If you’re in the business of knowing about games you would’ve likely heard of it a long time ago as the new IP title from the famous Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya which managed to achieve the coveted 40/40 score from Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu. I’d heard about it a long time before the first review came out and was intrigued by the buzz that was surrounding this little known game and ended up buying myself a copy about a week after it came out. After coming off a high of finishing Assassin’s Creed II I was ready, willing and able to sink my teeth into another blockbuster title. What followed however was a cheezy, hyper-sexualized game with an impossibly proportioned librarian nymph who’s battle suit is made from her own hair which she uses to smite angels. I’ve never been much of a fan of hack and slash games but I was willing to give the game a go considering its extremely glowing reviews but after about 4 hours of game play I just couldn’t really force myself to continue playing. Sure I wanted to get my monies worth (I just paid for the equivalent of 5 movie tickets for 4 hours of entertainment, geeze) but in the end Bayonetta sits next to my PS3 gathering dust, begging me to put it out of its misery.
That’s not the only example either. In fact the majority of games that I’ve come across recently have been rather sub par when compared to the first quarters releases. Here’s a list of the games I’ve tried to play and had to put down for one reason or another:
The end result of all this? I caved and restarted my World of Warcraft subscription. I was instantly hooked as things that used to take hours to get organised and completed now take less than 20 minutes and it seems my dreams of good loot raining from the sky have come true. Its so easy to get gratification that I instantly dropped any idea of powering through any of the 4 titles I mentioned in favour of spending some quality time with my little hunter avatar. I feel infinitely dirty for doing so, but it’s the good kind of dirty.
It really goes to show just how good the first couple months of this year was for us gamers and looking back over all my reviews I stand by all the scores I gave out. It’s disappointing to not be able to write a review of a good game every other week but when I just can’t bring myself to finish one it tells me that it’s probably not deserving of a review, even a bad one. I’ve got high hopes of writing another good review soon (Just Cause 2 is looking like a prime candidate) but until then I’m going to go wallow in my addiction to World of Warcraft once again.n