John Walker's Electronic House

On Why Reviews Should Be Subjective

by on Dec.11, 2008, under The Rest

Discussions about games writing and the nature of critiquing videogames seems to come in waves, and once again we’re at high tide. I’m sure it’s the same for writers/journalists reviewing other luxury items (“How far should you drive a Mondeo before you review it?”), but it obviously only appears on my radar when it’s about gaming.

One aspect that always comes up, and I think is possible the most/least interesting part of it all, is the debate over objective/subjective reviewing. This is at its least interesting when it’s the discussion over whether reviewing can be objective, and at its most interesting when it’s over whether it should be. I want to make an argument for why reviews should be subjective, and why objective reviewing is deceptive.

Those in favour of the objective review have, at face value, some strong logic. You are not the reviewer (unless you’re me, but I don’t think you are), and so will not have the same personality, history, expectations and tastes that I have. My describing my personal relationship with the game is ultimately of no use to you, because your relationship will be unique. You want to know the facts, ma’am. Describe the game, explain to me if it works, how well it works, and give me all the information I’ll need to know if it’s the sort of game I’ll want to play.

I think there’s a big problem with this. At its peak I believe it misses out something extremely significant that should be present in a review of a game. In its troughs, it’s in constant danger of being little more than, “If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this sort of thing.” The very worst level of games criticism. But it’s unfair to use the latter example – bad reviewing is bad reviewing, no matter the approach. It’s the former that I want to try and address.

I can think of no better example why it’s a problem than this wonderful piece on IGN. There’s a real sadness here. Michael Thomsen’s fantastic article about Gears of War 2 is prefaced with an apology that there should be such a piece of writing on IGN. (I want to be a bit more careful here – I have friends and colleagues who write intelligently and eloquently for the site – but it’s not a site known for its experimental pieces. Let’s be honest here – it’s a site that’s the butt of a lot of jokes.) He begins by writing,

“The average review tends to treat a game as an objective product, evaluating its merits based on a series of frequently technical categories, like sound, framerate, gameplay interface, value, variety of modes, and overall fun factor. This typically doesn’t leave much room to look at a game’s thematic elements or how well they are integrated with the game’s technical components. To that end, Contrarian Corner is intended to be a place for a more holistic discussion of games which have been the recipient of either an abundance of single-minded praise, or an undue amount of criticism. Our intent is not to contradict or undercut our own reviews, but rather to expand the spectrum of discussion on some of the most important games of each year.”

Thomsen goes on to write an insightful and challenging piece that includes the nature of the FPS, and the role a narrative plays in a mercenary genre. He writes one of the most interesting and useful reviews of Gears of War 2 that I’ve read. But not before distancing both himself and the site from the article.

The idea that an “average review” does not include thematic elements (story impact, atmosphere, artistic direction, emotion, and personal response) is of enormous concern to me. To think that what’s left over, the “technical components,” are what we should want to see reviewed in a game, in isolation, is tremendously troubling.

(A quick aside to remove myself from one particular area: Despite all the remarkable good Kieron Gillen has done for the games industry, and personally for my career and abilities as a writer, his testicles can never be kicked hard enough for coining the phrase “New Games Journalism”. It’s not his fault, of course. He specifically and accurately applied the phrase in the context of travel reportage for the imagination. However, it has come to be a catch-all phrase applied to anything that deviates from the standard “technical components” review, and more often used to label what should simply be described as “bad writing”. So while the lazy and the stupid might want to apply the NGJ label to the sort of reviewing I’m talking about, it’s incorrect, and entirely unhelpful. Sure, Kieron’s testicles are innocent, but I don’t know where else to kick).

I believe that the objective review is ultimately dishonest. It’s a denial of the reality of the experience of playing the game. This isn’t because it’s not possible to separate your emotional experience from the technical competence of the product – I believe it is possible – but because it’s to deliberately ignore one of the most important factors not only of the game’s design, but also its purpose.

When people create a game, they intend for the player to respond emotionally. Normally this is the intention for the player to have fun. But it’s often more complicated than that. Even the most corporate, giganto-budget console sequels aren’t designed to be experienced objectively. Gears of War 2 is a fantastic example. However abortive the results might be, there was a reason for Epic to include the information about your character and his partner. They wrote a story about love, in a game about shooting things. Characters in the game cry. Now, you may well respond to this by trying to work out which button skips the cutscenes, but as a reviewer it’s of the utmost importance that this is part of the critique.

If the attempts to create sadness fail, that’s of significance to the review. Certainly not as much as if the guns don’t aim correctly, or the AI constantly kills you unfairly, but it’s there, and it’s important. These attempts to write objectively about emotional experiences become ludicrous. You could try and machine-like explain why the story fails technically, but you’re still in denial that you were a person playing a game.

And this is the crucial point, and why I believe exposing your subjectivity in a review is so valuable: The critic is a person playing a game, and the reader is a person playing a game. That’s a big thing to have in common, and to refuse to acknowledge. No one is experiencing the game objectively, as hard as they might try, and so to hide your humanity, to pretend that your resonance with the game is not of importance, is surely to fail to review the experience of playing it?

A reasonable response to this is to suggest that the reviewer could be bringing their own, uniquely personal situations to the experience, which is of no relevance to the reader. But again I strongly disagree. So long as there is honesty, I think there is a greater clarity in the review. Let me take this to an extreme. If I were to review Gears of War 2 just after I broke up with my girlfriend, or after my cat died, it’s going to change how I respond to the game. It might change how I feel about something. And if I tell you that, if I say, “After losing my cat, the experience of… caused me to feel…” then I’m offering you something that a technical checklist could never come close to.

But your cat hasn’t jut died, and you certainly won’t feel the same in that moment. Of course not. But you’re a human being, and you have empathy. You know what it’s like to feel loss, and you know what it’s like to play games. These two things you know being put together will provide you with an insight that’s simply impossible when writing a review that deliberately ignores “thematic elements”. Your brain is complex enough that it can translate someone’s personal experience into something meaningful to you. So with this extreme example in mind, apply it to more subtle, less overwrought situations.

Explaining quite how utterly pissed off I got with the incessant narrating voice in Skate It was crucial to my recent review for Eurogamer. There’s some deeply peculiar reviews out there for this game, giving it enormously high scores despite listing its many faults, and almost none mention how utterly infuriating the character is. (And nor do they state that he’s great, either – they might remember to mention that he’s there at all.) Those that do raise the issue of quite how maddening and stupid this part of the game is do so almost meekly, worried that mentioning it is somehow wrong. It’s not wrong! Good grief, I removed a sentence from my review wishing cancer upon his imaginary family. (It was toned down to boils, to avoid being unnecessarily upsetting.) To have not mentioned him, and indeed the very many other infuriating aspects of a mediocre game, was essential when communicating the experience of playing it. I wonder whether reviewers who force themselves (or are forced by their employers) to review in this stunted objective fashion, found themselves giving far higher scores than their experiences reflected, simply because when described as a technical object, it’s impossible to justify why playing it is so damned annoying.

I’ve never known how to write a review without expressing my connection to the game. I hope, and my various employers can say otherwise, that I’ve found a way to do this over the last decade that effectively communicates all the necessary “technical” aspects of the game, while still presenting an honest, emotional and human response. And without exception, my favourite pieces of writing about gaming – those that I aspire to – have done the same, and likely to a far greater degree.

People are unavoidably people, and deliberately pretending this isn’t the case when reviewing strikes me as madness. Clearly reviews must chronicle a game’s technical achievements and failings in order to review it, but it cannot end there. To end there is to review only a portion of the game. If you reviewed the film Shadowlands, you’d likely say, “And bring tissues for the ending,” or some such hint that it’s a weeper. You’d be very unlikely to write, “It has an ending, where it successfully stops once the film is over.” So why on Earth are we limiting game reviews in such a way?

Disclaimer: I’m not talking exclusively about story here at all. Clearly those that know me will want to tarnish broadly with that brush. I’m talking about everything included under those “thematic elements”. And, again, I’m not talking about “games that make you cry”, or something so easily pigeon-holed and dismissed. (Only yesterday I saw someone use the phrase “doing a John Walker” to describe crying at a game – what a strange form of infamy.) I’m talking about the much broader, unanimously experienced emotional relationship you have with a game when you play it, whether it’s a sliding tile puzzle game, bouncy-happy platform game, visceral first-person shooter, or an epic narrative adventure. Or anything in-between.

17 Comments for this entry

  • Jonny Robson

    Interesting stuff, John.

    I completely agree that there should be a certain amount of personal experience and opinion in a review, rather than looking at it completely objectively. It’s particularly helpful if you know the writer. For example, if Rev Stu likes/dislikes something I generally sit up and listen a little more because I feel we have fairly similar tastes in video games (going by what I enjoy and what he has praised historically).

    “The idea that an “average review” does not include thematic elements (story impact, atmosphere, artistic direction, emotion, and personal response) is of enormous concern to me. To think that what’s left over, the “technical components,” are what we should want to see reviewed in a game, in isolation, is tremendously troubling.”

    It’s undeniable that a review going through the technical flaws and achievements in a video game with no opinion or personal experience would be incredibly dull and not at all useful. I think the ideal for me is somewhere in between the technical and the personal. I could have just as easily written an article whinging about reviews that are too technical, but I can’t see as many examples around.

  • Jaxtrasi

    Last night we watched The Dark Knight. I really like The Dark Knight – although it’s not nearly as good the second time through – but the guy who hadn’t seen it at the cinema hated it so much he walked out an hour before the end. Afterwards, obviously, we interrogated him as to why. Here are the facts:

    The film is very, very long
    The film could have many sections shortened or edited down with no loss of content
    The film has a very insistent, omnipresent soundtrack
    The film has no light relief at all, bar Bale’s Batman voice which is presumably not intended to be comical
    The fight sequences are brief and slow-paced by modern standards

    The tentative theory we’ve come up with is that for this guy, this combination of factors is unacceptable. Had we explained it to him in those terms, he would have known not to watch it at all, and we would have known not to pressure him into it. In the future, we’ll be able to make better film recommendations based on what are – relatively speaking – purely objective criteria.

    Personally I’ve stopped looking to games reviews as buyer’s guides. When I’m reading a review, I’m either looking to be entertained by the writing, or I’m looking for confirmation of my own existing opinions in a bad-person sort of way. After buying Dungeon Siege (after Rossignol), The Thing (after Cobbett) and Black & White (after I don’t remember who, but I blame the entire collective reviewing industry) I pretty much gave up.

    I find, as an extremely picky person, that someone else’s subjective view on a game is pretty useless to me as a buyer’s guide, even if I have a good deal of insight into that writer’s personal preferences. Tom’s GalCiv2 diaries made me want to play GalCiv2, but they didn’t make me enjoy any more.

    Do I have a point?

    I will, because I can, arbitrarily divide objectivity into three bands. Pure objectivity, which allows you to express only quantitive or close to quantitative information, and which tends to be useless; estimated public objectivity, i.e. an attempt to assess how the artefact compares with the writer’s understanding of an average opinion on the subject; and pure subjectivity, where the writer offers you his personal, unadulterated opinion on the subject.

    I would argue, as have others before, that the value of a reviewer (judged as a buyer’s guide writer, and not an entertainment writer) is their ability to perform the middle one. This is true of any creative endeavour – your handle on what people actually wants determines whether people want what you create – and clearly true of the other half of the review, which is to say the actual writing.

    What value the “average” opinion has is itself a matter of opinion. I’d say, speaking professionally, that it’s of immense value because it pays the bills. That a vocal minority – the sort of vocal minority who read and write blogs about games and game reviews – tend not to fit into that average category doesn’t really matter that much. They are never going to find a review – objective, pseudo-objective or subjective – a useful buyer’s guide because they’re just argumentative people. I’d go so far as to say that the intended audience are the people who don’t really have a strong opinion of their own, the ones who are just following the zeitgeist and that that is who the mainstream games press is talking to, just as its who the mainstream games industry is talking to.

    So. If you’re writing for the mainstream, write for the mainstream, and write pseudo-objectively from the point of view of the mainstream. If you’re writing for the iconoclasts, write for the iconoclasts, and don’t sweat objective vs subjective because they disagree with every word you say anyway. Having argued myself to here, that sounds like exactly what IGN did. So good for them.

  • The Poisoned Sponge

    I think Jonny is right in saying that identifying with a writer is important to fully appreciating the review as merely a buyer’s guide to the game, but I do think that reviews aren’t like that so much any more. Most gamers don’t tend to look at reviews just to see whether they should buy a game, and if they do then it’s just looking for the score. Very often I’ll play a game and then look at the review, just to see if the reviewer had differing opinions to mine. So to just have a list of technical achievements is a bit of a dead horse.

    To draw the comparison to film reviews, I’ve only very rarely read such a review where the writer commented on the camera work, or the musical score, unless those aspects were exceptional or flawed. Similarly, I think games writing is at it’s best when it focuses on the experience, and only really tells you about the technical aspects when they are above or below the norm. If a game is a third person shooter, you know it’s going to be a game where you control an avatar and shoot at enemies. I don’t need to know that unless it breaks from that form. I do, however, want to know if the protagonist has an utterly inane voice, or if the animations are so shoddy it would become a problem. So on and so forth.

  • Jonny Robson

    re: “I’ll play a game and then look at the review”

    I think that’s very much a sign of the times, Sponge. Back when magazines were the only source of gaming information, reviews were often published quite a while before you could get hold of a game from your local retailer, which was usually a little slow getting new stock in. Now, an “exclusive” review is published online around a week before the game ships, so quite often if you pick a title up on release, you’ve played it before most reviews are around anyway.

    Or something.

  • botherer

    I think I’ve tried to argue exclusively of the idea of being familiar with a writer. Clearly that can help, whether it’s because you mostly agree/disagree with that person. But I believe discussing a personal relationship with a game does not, and absolutely should not, depend upon the reader’s familiarity with the writer.

    Also, while a lot of people now say they don’t use reviews as buyer’s guides, I don’t think this is predominantly the case. And I know for certain that my writing personal reviews of great games has led to many copies of them being sold. World Of Goo on RPS saw a lot of people saying they would now buy the game, whether it was because of the Verdict, the podcasts, or the general enthusiasm in related posts. And games like Slitherlink sold out online after my extremely personal Eurogamer review. It definitely works as a means of conveying the significance of game. I suspect the reverse has been true when I’ve explained by negative response to poor games.

  • Jaxtrasi

    Isn’t that straying a little away from “review as buyer’s guide” into “review as platform for the reviewer to bend the world to his vision”? I think there’s a world of difference between helping someone to find something they will enjoy, and convincing someone they will enjoy something that they might otherwise not have. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, of course.

  • The_B

    I can’t say I’m anywhere close to resembling a ‘professional’ writer, games journalist or even ‘student that likes writing a lot about games and trying desperately to get his foot in the tiny crack depite the realtivly small size of the door and all the other feet trying to get in. But what I do know, and have learned, is that primarily I want to write pieces that entertain and inform people. And I can’t for the life of me see why or even how people can simply put any sort of experiences with anything in an entertainment medium, let alone games, as some sort of sterile product that can only be looked at in a medical fashion. Heck, one of my assignments last year was to write a critique on a game – and what seemed to everybody was that drilled into us again and again was the concept of making sure it was professional and looking at the game from a non ‘personal’ viewpoint. And I think many of my fellow students misinterpreted that in exactly the same way as many misinterpret the definition of what a review should have. I ended up with a first for that piece. Yeah it’s blowing my own trumpet a bit and perhaps coming off a bit elitist, but it’s exactly the stuff you’ve mentioned John that when I look at my own writing, even if I can’t ever feel 100% perfectly happy for it as is the nature of writing anything, I know that I must be doing something right.

  • Fede

    I agree with you when you say that “the objective review is ultimately dishonest“.
    I’d argue that an objective review maybe cannot even exist (I’m not sure about it, so I’d like, if possible, to see an example of what you call an objective review).

    When I had to grade my first schoolwork I found out that not even math is completely objective, you always have to round off when there is a mistake that compromises only the final result but not all the passages in between, and as it’s possible to do a mistake in countless ways there are almost infinite shades of grey between the “correct” white and the “completely incorrect” black. And another almost infinite number of possible philosophies on how to evaluate all these shades of grey. It’s also hard to judge if it’s better to avoid an exercise or to fail miserably while trying to get it right.

    I believe you can say exactly the same about reviews and games (but keeping in mind that it’s still easier to grade a schoolwork).

  • Rossignol

    Long form reviews have never been purely the “buyer’s guides” to which the “objective review” camp seems to aspire. They’re a large part that, but the larger part seems to be a mass of other things: entertainment, validation of interest in the particular genre, format, and habit of gaming, opinion-forming analysis and description, and so on. The truth is that most of the people who read long-form games journalism do so because the subject of games interests them broadly, and not narrowly on a “what should I spend money on” basis. Not to mention that most of them have a very good idea what games they’re going to like and dislike, or have invested particular interest in certain types of games that they will buy anyway.

    Of course we *do* buy games on the recommendation of reviewers, I’ve done so plenty of times. But I’ve taken other things from them too, and that’s impossible to ignore.

  • dr_demento

    I agree with your views on subjective reporting, but it also introduces a large element of dialogue into gmes reviewing. Reading the IGN GoW2 piece brought this out perfectly; his subjective review was excellent and fascinating, but (having played the game myself and thus having my own, equally subjective opinion of it) it particularly provoked me to ranting at the screen. I have a different opinion of GoW2’s plot (think Severance: horror and comedy, simultaneous, separate and equally effective) and a subjective reviewer disagreed with it. But then, that’s what subjectivity – and criticism – is all about: dialogue and reaction, hopefully reaching a steady-state, balanced opinion when everyone understands all the viewpoints on a work and can see it in whichever light they choose.

  • Ben Abraham

    This is a fantastic argument for, essentially, writing that results in a more informative and more INTERESTING read. It still baffles me that anyone would argue against this kind of review, writing it off as “wangsty” or “overthought” – God, if anything it is LESS pretentious for it’s admittance that, oh right, reviewers are human beings and nor objective, god-like scoring machines. Gosh!

    Ahem. Great piece Walker.

  • Tom Camfield

    I may disagree –

    Three examples of reviewing criteria:

    What I think other people will feel about it (1) (Jax’s second reviewer?)
    How I felt about it (2) (John’s subjective review?)
    How it rates compared to other stuff I have played (3).

    Methods 1 & 2 (as above) tend towards “if you like this kind of thing, you’ll love this!! // I like this kind of thing, I love this!!”, which is not very useful. Asking: “as a shoot-em-up, is this better than Goldeneye?” is, on the other hand, very useful, because if it isn’t better than Goldeneye, then they should probably play Goldeneye instead.

    See, for example,
    It’s pretty clear that fans of Croydon Town Hall will love PGR3 (1), and it’s clear that Stu loves Outrun 2 and Ridge Racer 6 (2), but the review isn’t based on either of these things, but on how PGR3 compares to loads of other racers (3).

    This is so much more informative than talking about how a game made you feel, which is personal, or how you think it will make other people feel, which is a leap of imagination.
    This is comparing not against woolly objective criteria, but other games (actual objects). And while it contains personal opinion, anyone can deduct these personal preferences because Stu makes them very clear: he does not like Croydon Town Hall, he does not like GT4 license tests, if the reader likes both, then they’d probably like PGR3.

    [This, Jonny Robson, is what I think I was thinking of when I mentioned Fallout 3 in previous conversations. Is it fantastic compared to Fallout 2 or Morrowind? Sure, as a stand alone title it may be good, but why should the reader spend time or money on something that’s good but not as good as a couple of other games. The critic should surely point them towards the truly fantastic (which may be Fallout 3 for all I know) before lesser titles. – While the Fallout 3 review on your site does mention plenty of other titles there is not the necessary critical smashing of one game against the other to see who bests whom, which I think is the missing ingredient in most reviews today.)

  • SuperNashwan

    I don’t use reviews any more at all, because by and large the games I like tend to rely on this more personal response to narrative or aesthetic. The best guide I have are the people on rllmuk who I know share similar tastes and the occasional reviewer who also seem to be ‘right’ a lot (John Walker and Richard Cobbett for me, strangely definitely not KG or Jim Rossignol despite enjoying their writing). Forums where people write with some degree of intelligence are great if you can find them because they do offer much more opportunity to see what people’s _experience_ of a game has been.
    That said, I think the emotional response to things that John says are non-technical here can actually be intelligently analysed and critiqued just as with ‘are the graphics good?’ but that it would require both the reviewer and reader to understand the jargon and accepted wisdom of several more fields of discussion beyond what is reasonable. Games reviewers already tread a fine line with what they can expect their audience to understand in shorthand phrases, so it’s a little much to then also explain what’s right/wrong with the characterisation, acting, dialogue, narrative, music cues etc etc for all the many elements (and their interaction!) that make up modern gaming.
    I think the key thing to making a ‘personal experience’ review work is explaining why you reacted in that way to the game, because a lot of (bad) reviewers simply make a statement like ‘the story was engaging’. Great you engaged with the story, but will I? Hence my hate of the constant use of ‘visceral’ as a shameful shortcut for the reviewer to dodge any meaningful attempts to explain how they engaged with the game. Anyone writing anything approaching ‘the gameplay is visceral’ deserves to be sacked. In the face.

  • Jonny


    The Fallout 3 review wasn’t written by me! :)

  • Viperion

    I personally don’t trust a single, stand-alone review about a single game as my impetus to play a game. Rather, I trust a review to tell me that I might like a game. I especially trust a review from a reviewer who generally gives games scores similar to what I might. So, if a reviewer adores Total Annihilation, Deus Ex, SupCom and STALKER, and says 80% on CnC3, Gears of War, Spore, and says AVOID about Extreme Paint Brawl, I’m probably going to be more likely to agree with that reviewer’s scores are on other games. To me, reviews of games are like reviews of art – it’s 60% objective and 40% subjective. I know people that agree with me that TA or DX were technically well put together, but they don’t like them. I could have just those two games, flaws and all, for a year and be pretty happy.

    Games aren’t microwaves, and Consumer Reports doing a game review would make me want to vomit repeatedly. Games and the individual’s response to them are fundamentally subjective, and I appreciate that you try to express that, Walker.

  • Lu-Tze

    @The_B: Not to impugn your first, but an attempt at an objective review of an attempt at an objective review seems like the most perverse thing ever.

    @Tom: The problem with giving some kind of “is better than/is worse than” review is that it assumes some kind of prior knowledge and experience. It’s a valid way to review a game for the hardcore gamers as they are likely to have experience with other related titles, but might tell someone who is more casual or mainstream nothing.

    To actually express an opinion on the matter at hand… I think that games reviewing is interesting when compared to book or film reviewing. In a sense, all 3 are pretty much identical, you can attribute a certain degree of objective criticism to a piece within it’s own genre and style, and beyond that it’s largely subjective on how well that piece speaks to you and what it invokes. Where it becomes interesting with games is that they have such a short lifespan. Look at, for example, 2001. This year saw the release of films like Lord of the Rings, Ali, A Beautiful Mind, Training Day and so on. None of these have really aged since then, and one someone’s recommendation I could still enjoy them as if they were brand new. Conversely for games we saw Max Payne, GTA3, Halo, Tony Hawks 3 and so many others… I wish I could say the same for many of these and that I wasn’t being a huge graphics snob but the experience is significantly reduced due to advances since then. You have to flip a big switch in your brain that says “this is old, it’s ok that it looks like this” before playing them. Books seem to be the most resilient to this, although many are “of their time” and lose impact the further we stray from the circumstances under which they were written.

    I think what i’m saying is, whilst films and books can get away with subjective reviews, people finding out about them years later through word of mouth and such, the same isn’t true of games. There’s a lot of pressure on journalists to get it right, and get it right on time. Not just that, the financial investment for seeing a film is significantly less than that of purchasing a video game. As well as the month or so following release being akin to going to see a film with your friends, it’s the period when you can experience it together, either through shared stories or multiplayer. We set a lot more expectation on games reviews than we do on other similar industries, and when they fail us it has far more of an impact.

    Personally, I take an approach similar to that of films, I pick and choose from the big hyped releases based on what I think appeals to me and looks good in trailers. If there’s a large undercurrent of terrible reviews, i’ll steer clear of it, but probably still end up getting it later when it’s far cheaper. Other than that, I read reviews largely to fill in gaps in my experience, and for their entertainment value as a review itself. For the former, a nice objective “this is the score” review suits me fine. For the latter, it’s infrequent posts on blogs such as this, or weekly articles like Zero Punctuation where i’m not seeking out the review, but it’s being presented to me as part of my regular enjoyment of games writing in general.

  • Tom Camfield

    @Johnny, I know, sorry! it wasn’t meant as a criticism of you or of anything else.

    Indeed, back to the topic, it’s not really meant as a criticism at all – I can see the wide appeal of writing to the audience or from the critics own feelings, the former is good business wise and the latter tends to create great writing. But *I* want something more critically engaged because that’s the type of writing most useful to me – I want to know if Fallout 3 is better than Morrowind or Oblivion or Fallout or Fallout 2 because I’ve played all those other games and if it’s not a step up from them then I might as well read a book or watch a movie or play Yoshi’s Island again – I have a lot of alternatives and I want to know how best to spend my time.

    Besides that I think real critical engagement would make for better reviews and that rather than wondering whether the writer should be more objective or more subjective, being more critically engaged with the form would definitely improve a review qua review. (“improve a review qua review” – improve the review in the capacity of it functioning as a review, definition fans)

    @ Lu-Tze, might not help people who haven’t played many games, but a blessing to those who have, and see above – I want these types of review because they’re most helpful to me!

    But I also think that GTA3 is better than San Andreas and the 80s one, and that Halo is better than its sequels, same with Advance Wars, Monkey Island, probably many others too, and I still play all of these older games quite happily. And I think that reviewers, if they want to go down the route of making better reviews (rather than simply creating better writing) have to start acknowledging that – just like movie sequels are often rubbish compared to the original – games don’t always improve on the ones before, and gamers should be pointed towards those better older games rather than being fobbed off on something simply because it is new and has caught the enthusiasm of the hour.

    Also: books, films, games, many of them are only good ‘for their time’ and part of the point of arguing towards the kind of “historical review” is to get rid of this ‘for their time’ aspect and be able to give a clearer picture of how good a game is without getting lost in hype or the general enthusiasms of the day.

    (As an aside – Pro Evo is generally fun even though the general game mechanics are falling down with each new installment, but if you review a game based on how great it is to hang out with your mates (the funnest part of pro nowadays), you’re not really reviewing a game but talking about an experience you had, which may be unique to you and your mates. This is a problem NGJ as travel brochure can fall into – great writing, but might not express an experience that someone, say, without mates who like football, can actually have.)

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