The other day, I had a brief exchange with someone who was involved with the production of Burger King's Sneak King. (This person shall go unnamed, to protect the innocent.)
The gist of the discussion was around a potential disparity between the content and tone of the text portion of the review as compared to the super-secret, highly-confidential numerical score. (For those who don't know, click and drag at the very end of the text review, and all will be revealed.)
This person's perception was that I was fairly favorable in the writing, but that my appreciation of the title did not sync with the low score.
Now before going any further, I think it's pretty safe to say that how reviews could/should be written is something that I don't think will ever be definitively decided. Everyone has their own take on it, and I'm not saying that anyone is right or wrong. Some may be tragically misguided, but not necessarily wrong.
In any event, it became fairly complex to illustrate the different criteria that I put a game through. Basically, I tend to break anything down into three categories:
1> Technical Elements
How are the graphics? What level of interactivity is offered? Is there customization? Are there all kinds of insane collision problems, or does the game crash whenever you explore the nooks and crannies? A game can't be a game unless it nails the nuts and bolts that need to be there holding everything together. Basically, what level of craftsmanship went into creating the product?
2> Intellectual Elements
Does the game bring anything new to the table? Is the writing fantastic, raising all kinds of interesting issues? Do I weep when the characters face tragedy, and do I cheer when the day is saved? Is there a radical reinterpretation of existing genre formulae, or perhaps, has a new genre been invented?
Now, some may find it odd that I factor cost into a game's evaluation, but I try to be a realist and it really bugs me when I read reviews of games that don't seem to factor in the actual cash-money cost of buying into the hot item du jour. Admittedly, we do receive free games here at GC, but the number of freebies I get is in the minority compared to the overall number I play each year. However, regardless of whether I get a freebie or whether I plunked down my own green, the cost-for-value ratio of a review subject is always kept in the front of my mind. I'm inclined to be way more lenient on something that costs $20 as opposed to something that's trying to bite me for $50.
Of course, there are exceptions to this formula, but this is the basic skeleton process of what I go through for each game that comes across my desk for review. After going through the steps, I tend to split things up again, this time in having a slightly different approach for the text as opposed to the numeric score.
For the text, I see this as my chance to really express my preferences, explain my experience, and try to illustrate or describe what the game was like to me as an individual with my own particular taste and history. This is also where I really try to make the case for a game if I liked it, especially if it had problems with any one area. Most often, I find that my taste leans towards interesting games that most often lack the production side, so I try to be a cheerleader for games that really need it. I like to support the creative side of the industry rather than the usual big-budget blockbusters, so trying to be persuasive is how I go about it.
However, in terms of numeric score, I kind of conceptualize the number as overall value for the average person who would be purchasing a particular piece of software. I'm very aware of my own foibles and idiosyncracies, and I know that something that really turns my crank would likely not win over the majority... therefore, I try to aim the number at a more neutral, objective mark even though I know it's impossible for any reviewer to be completely objective. Still, I try not to factor my own quirks too much into it, so hopefully someone who knows there opinion doesn't often sync with mine would be able to get some kind of value out of the number.
There's a little more to it than that (being familiar with each particular writer here at the site is a great help for getting the most out of each review) but this is the process in a nutshell. In the particular case of Sneak King, I'm perfectly aware that it's a pretty crap game any way you slice it (hence the low numeric), but the fringie in me was tickled by a few comedic bits and meta-commentary (hence the not-too-unfavorable text).
Is this the best possible way to review games? I don't know, but what I do know is that this is the way I do it. I think the system works pretty well most of the time, but when a game like Sneak King comes along containing highs and lows in equal amounts (the low retail cost of four dollars was a huge redeeming factor, by the way) it creates a situation where as a reviewer, I'm in a little bit of a quandary about what to do. Do I go objective and say it's junk? Do I go intellectual and appreciate the humor? Or, do I do what I did and go right down the middle-- happy text and sad number?
The adventure continues...