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Pew Pew Pew! Red Alert 3 Scores Big

By AgmLauncher - 27th October 2008 - 14:32 PM

An open letter to game reviewers

Most games, and RTS games in particular, have more to them than lasers and girls. In fact there is more to them than whether theyíre new and innovative, whether YOU personally feel theyíre too hard to play. Here are some general rules of thumb and things to consider when reviewing games.

1. Realize that youíre old and slow, and your audience is young and fast.
I know, it hurts. Iím getting up there myself, but itís a reality you have to have face. At the end of the day, just because YOU canít do something that an intrepid young gamer can do, doesnít mean the game is at fault because of it. You should embrace the fact that the game is beyond your ability to play perfectly (at least without considerable practice). How fun would Rock Band or Guitar Hero be if the expert difficulty could be achieved with 100% accuracy on the first go by someone who is 90 years old?

2. Know the point of the genre youíre reviewing
And no, this doesnít mean harping on the ĎSí in RTS. Thereís more to it than strategy. Itís also done in real-time, meaning time management and doing things hyper-efficiently is as valuable a part of the game as making the right decisions. This isnít chess, this isnít Heroes of Might and Magic, this is RTS. Timeís a factor. Keep up, or get out of the way.

3. Know your stuff
It sounds obvious, but itís not being put into practice. I think the above example of not knowing the function of the space bar in Red Alert 3 is a powerful example of how lack of knowledge of the game youíre reviewing can significantly influence your opinion about it. This isnít an isolated case, it happens frequently, and it pisses off developers like you wouldnít believe. It also pisses off the people who read your reviews and know better.

4. Novelty and innovation are overrated
People like games in genres for a reason: theyíre all similar in some way. The more a developer messes with a winning formula, the more they alienate the people who like that formula in an effort to attract a few people who are willing to try out some Frankenstein hybrid game that is neither one thing, or another. At the end of the day, what matters most is execution of standard operating procedure, not rewriting it.

5. Gameplay first
Yes, imagine that, GAMEPLAY in a GAME coming first? Blasphemy! Stop reviewing games as if theyíre some sort of mildly interactive movie. Stop saying ďyouíll love the cinematics and the graphicsĒ. Tell you what, go on a date with the most retarded and obnoxious mildly attractive woman you can find, and then say to your friend that you had a good time. Thatís exactly what itís like when you say a game has a great storyline or great graphics. All fluff, no substance. Games will never be The Dark Knight. They never will be. Ever. The entire medium is not built to turn Master Chief into as thought provoking a character as The Joker, so why try? Instead, a game should be about puzzle solving and reward for challenging tasks. If a game fails to test a playerís cognitive skills and hand-eye coordination, then say so and donít give it a good score!

6. Multiplayer, singleplayer, and gameplay are all different
Both multiplayer and singleplayer (of almost any genre) are based off the gameís core gameplay. That is, the engine and how the controllable elements of the game interact with the environment. This is the fundamentally most important part of the game. Metal Gear Solid 4 and GTA 4 would be utterly trash if the basic gameplay mechanics sucked wind. The same is especially true of RTS. You canít have missions and a campaign if your unit behavior and fundamental gameplay mechanics donít even exist. Your singleplayer experience, no matter how well scripted, will be a frustration to play if your units donít respond or the way you control them is shallow and mindless. Multiplayer is just an interface. It has nothing to do with gameplay. Itís simply a collection of tools that allow you to interact with other players. Again, these tools would be pointless if there is no core gameplay to make use of after. Please, keep your reviews and comments about a game separated into these three distinct categories. Having a great singleplayer structure doesnít mean the core gameplay is good, and vice versa.

7. You have a moral obligation to be as accurate as possible
$50 might not sound like a lot, but when youíre 15 years old and your only income is an allowance, itís a fortune. And even when youíre older, $50 is a lot of beer or a good night out with some friends. People depend on your reviews when deciding whether they want to part with their $50 for the entertainment value of the game, or for something else. If youíre not accurate, or you leave out important details, then they could very well get ripped off. If you know your genre, and you know the game, then just put yourselves in the shoes of people who arenít fortunate enough to receive free copies of the game a week ahead of retail in order to try it out first.