By Al Giovetti
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How to Write a Game Review
by Al Giovetti
Thank you for helping me with my reviews.
First thing you want to do is to look in the game magazines at other reviews.
Look at my reviews in my site, not the new ones but the old ones. Look at the
reviews written in the PC magazines, like Computer Gaming World, PC Games,
Most game reviews are divided into several sections of information. You can
have short or long reviews.
There are several things that are needed even with short reviews. These
things include the genre of the game, URL of the website of the company, the
phone number, the company name, the price, system requirements, etc. Many
times I leave these things blank on my reviews because of time.
The topic areas that longer reviews have comments on include the:
- history of the game, the company, and the game designers and how that
relates to the game
- the game play, how the game plays,
- the interface, how the game is controlled and how the screen is laid out,
keyboard, mouse, joystick, game pad, and other controller support.
- the artificial intelligence, how tough is the enemy and what do they do to
try to defeat you. If there are friendly computer controlled units, how smart
are they and why.
- the item inventory system, if any.
- the magic system, if any.
- the combat system if a separate module from the game
- Is there a plot? What is the plot? How does the game start? Who are the
protagonists (heroes) and antagonists (bad guys)? Can you play from both or
all three sides (Like star craft there are the humans, the protoss, and the
other guys so you would describe each one, their goals, and their methods and
what the eventual outcome of playing the game to its conclusions)? Is the
plot linear or branching (In games like Blade Runner or Heavy Gear, you often
can make choices at what we call plot decision points, and if you make the
correct choice the plot will go in one direction or another. In a linear
game, if you make the wrong choices the game will be over, in a branching plot
you will be allowed to make choices that will lead the game in a different
direction with different results. For example, in one of the later cinematic
games in the Wing Commander series, Colonel Blake, played by Mark Hammill, can
enter a relationship with his wing lady or his female mechanic or no one. The
game player is given the opportunity to have Blake kiss one or the other of
them. Once there is a kiss, everyone on board will know of it quickly due to
gossip. If Blake takes up with the mechanic she makes sure his plane runs
really good, but the wing lady is upset and will not support him in battle as
well as before. If he takes up with his wing lady, she will fight like a
banshee, but his female mechanic will not fix his plane very well and it will
be prone to mechanical failure. If he takes up with neather one, they both
will play kind of average not giving extra help or hinderance. You can see
that a branching plot line can have many interesting choices.
- graphics: what are they like? How many pixels, what screen resolution,
what does the art look like? are there predominant colors. Do they use wire
frames, polygons, etc. Are the character skins textured, and how? For
example in Myth one of the predominant features is that blood spurts and
permanently stains the battlefield red. Heads come off and roll down hills
and away from bodies. When bombs go off, body parts, including arms, legs,
and torsos, fly in all directions accompanied by gore. Body parts lay on the
battle field for a long while after each skirmish.
- animation: are their true physics features? (do objects move like they
do in the real world), does light effects have reflections and effects of
shading, filling and other light effects. Do lights glow and cause shadows.
Are there sprites which move around the screen and if there are are they three
or two dimensional sprites. For example "dynamic lighting" is where the
lights glow, power weapon beams glow casting shadows and illuminating objects
- music score: who composed the music? what style of music? are the
performing artists famous? what else are the artists known for? Is the music
context sensitive, which means does the music change as the action in the game
changes? Do characters, monsters, enemy units, etc. who appear have their own
- human speech: Are there voice actors? Do the voices used work in the
game? Do they sound right? Do they do anything interesting? Are they funny?
- Humor is very important in games. If a game has a sense of humor,
mention the jokes and what you liked about them.
- sound effects: How were they done? For example in Full Throttle the game
design team digitally recorded the sounds of Harley Davidson motorcycles in
various stages of throttle and driving conditions. "Foley sound effects people
are the people who create sounds for the movies by walking in gravel pits,
clapping coconuts together to simulate horses moving, opening and closing
little doors, falling on the floor, shaking plate metal to simulate thunder,
etc. The Foley artist creates the sound each time for each production making
each sound unique and not repetitive.
Were the sound effects convincing? Did you like them? Were they funny? Why?
- game utilities: how are the save games managed? how many are
permitted? are they only limited by hard disk space? were there enough to
save everywhere needed? Were theire game editors which edit mechs, terrain,
etc. Does the game editor let you design the game or does the game editor
randomize features and automate the design process? Are there difficulty
settings, and if so, how do they work and affect game play?
- Multiplayer features: Is this a game played over the internet, null or
phone modem, hot seat type game (where two or more people play on the same
computer one at a time taking turns), split screen (many games allow
simultaneous play on a split screen) or network? How many people can play in
each mode of play? Is there cooperative and competitive play, and how does it
work? If there is cooperative play can you only play against other humans or
can you play the plot of the game? If there is competitive play are there
various scenerios specifically designed for this type of play?
Whenever you say something about anything, you need to not only give your
conclusions but the observations that lead to the conclusions. For example:
The enemy unit artificial intelligence is quite good, when attacking you they
avoid terrain features so that they do not get stuck, and they do not approach
you in a straight line but use cover and zig zag when fired on. If they are
damaged they retreat and heal to return later to renew the attack.
Many of the details can only be obtained by writing to the company and asking
them questions, beyond the normal stuff that you might find in a faq file.
Much of the information can only be learned by asking questions of the
company. Don't be afraid to ask people who know different subject areas to
help you. For example, my wife knows music so I always asked her to listen to
the music tracks and help me with that portion of the game.
I know this is a lot of stuff, but there is even more stuff to consider with a
game review. I hope I have given you some ideas for ways to beef up the
Thanks for helping me out.