A Handy Guide To User Reviews - Jackalope38 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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A Handy Guide To User Reviews

"Eh, it's good, but it will never last." - Review of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa circa 1519


We have all been there. That initial reaction to a game, “This game is more entertaining than watching Matt Damon and Mark Walberg battle to the death in a modern gladiatorial arena,” or, “This game was the worst thing since going to school in the snow uphill both ways on broken legs.” We all have thoughts like this. What I would like to discuss is how these reactions are not reviews and how to craft a sentiment such as those that I just made up into a passable review.

First, before anything else, you need to actually play the game. Everyone who has ever reviewed a game knows that you need to actually play the game in order to write a review of it. Those who write reviews before playing games (and I know that you are out there because I have read your abysmal handiwork for myself) should know that anyone who reads these prereview opinions can spot them for fakes. Usually they are only the outpouring of fanboyism or irrational hatred for a game series and contain nothing insightful or valuable to a person seeking real review material.

Some reviewers even take notes while playing of things that they did or did not like, what is broken, what looks good or bad, awkward story, unit pathing, etc. Not every reviewer does this, but I would wager a vast majority do. A long twelve hour long campaign is hard to go back and play through if you want to churn out a review like a professional, so many take notes on the fly. It does change the way that you play and in some cases it can make a game less enjoyable, but if you really want to review a game like a pro: take notes.

So far, I have not even gotten to actually writing the review. When you sit down to write the review, think about why you liked or disliked a game and try to identify any bias you might have. Was the game a rerelease of an old game that you really loved as a child? You might be suffering from nostalgia goggles and reviewing it more favorably than it possibly deserves. Was the game from a series that is known for poor quality games? You might be coming to the table with a bunch of negative opinions because of the previous games that were badly made, not because the game you played was actually bad. Once you identify these risks, you can attempt to either move past them or at the very least mention that you might be biased and why in your review.

You aren't writing yet. Are you mad, bro/brah?

Now we get down to actually writing a review. There are many different approaches to writing reviews. One of the methods that I have seen in use in many user reviews is where the reviewer simply writes down everything he/she thought about a game in a stream of consciousness style. My gripe with this style is that it usually comes across as too messy and unreadable (especially if you don’t edit, but we will get to that later). Personally, I find it helpful to break up my reviews into different sections. This helps to focus my thoughts and present them in a relatively organized manner. I create sections for things like sound, art design/graphics, gameplay, replayability, etc. In these sections I typically describe what the game did well or did not do well (in my humble opinion, of course) and why. It is important to include why you thought highly of or vehemently disliked the reviewed game. You can create whatever different sections that you desire. As a general rule of thumb, I try and emulate the style of professional reviews (though I do not succeed every time).

Many people give scores to begin or end their reviews. I can see how this would be helpful, and I also give an overall score. However, what I think is more important is to ask the question: “Is this game fun?” More than anything else, this will tell your readers if the game you reviewed is worth playing. A numbered score does not mean much, just a numerical approximation of a title’s quality. If the game is fun, it does not matter overly much what the score you gave it was.

After you have written your review it is time to do some editing. Editing is one of the most frustrating parts of writing, but also one of the most essential. If you are going to take the time to write something, try to write it well. After you have finished reread what you have written, maybe even reading it out loud so as to catch any awkward phrasing or poor sentence constructions. Rereading will also help prevent spelling and grammar errors from making their way into your finished product. One of the biggest enemies of sounding intelligent is spelling. Misspelling words will make your review look bad and reflect negatively on yourself as well. tawKing leik dis do not win u moar imaginary points with people trying to read your review. Personally, I am a terrible speller. To counter act this personal failing I write my work in Microsoft Word and spellcheck everything before I put it out for others to read. It is simple, fast, and it saves your work from looking like it was written by a five year-old.

The final draft of your review should be longer than one or two paragraphs. It should detail what you found fun and what detracted from your experience. The review should give readers a clear idea of what to expect from the gameplay and presentation of the title in question. When you post your review, try and augment your review with screenshots or trailers that help illustrate your points. Visual stimulation helps break up a longer review and helps the reader understand where you are coming from. Appropriate screenshots and trailers can demonstrate many of the aspects of your review and prove to be very helpful when used in conjunction with a finished, in-depth, well thought out, high quality, superbly written, astronomically astounding, bamboozlingly incredible, review.

Good luck and happy writing! 

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