Cracking open your new copy of Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, you revel in the smell of the newly manufactured packaging – grinning uncontrollably with anticipation. You put the cartridge in and power through a few levels, stopping only to alert your Facebook friends that it’s melting your brain with awesomeness. Later in the evening, nearly ready to retire to the study in your smoking jacket (you sophisticated devil), you decide to peruse some of the game’s reviews.
Oh, fret not – I can hear you incredulously shouting, “Why would I read the review after I’ve played the game!?”
And again, fret not, for I will tell you…
Games are reviewed so players can make informed decisions about their purchases, which ostensibly places reviews in the category of “Research.” But if you’ve already bought the game, none of that matters. You’re committed – you’ve said “yes to the dress.” So you, at home in your Sonic PJ’s and minus $60, are presumably happy as a raccoon at a burglar convention (“I’ve found my people!!” he thinks to himself).
Researching the game after you’ve played only furthers your part in a dialogue that already exists, and elevates you to the point of “educated consumer.” You formulate an opinion about the structure, look, and feel of every game you play, and regardless of whether or not you think the game is amazing or atrocious, it’s fun to see if your thoughts match up with others.
“Can you believe you couldn’t skip that cuscene? What is this, 2009!?” you’ll read.
“Man, that part with the zombies was doooope! I was all, ‘Pew-pew-pew,’ and they were all, ‘Ah, no… we’re just here for your brains and stuff! Noooo…’” they’ll say..
What used to exist in the form of eighth graders trading secrets about warp whistles on the playground (not a euphemism) has now evolved into multiple page discussions in online game forums. It’s interesting that the latter didn’t exist fifteen or twenty years ago – not only because there was a lack of decent game journalism but also because the conversations that were happening didn’t have the confines of the Internet within which to proliferate.
One thing that has remained constant since the dawn of game journalism is that the most productive conversations tend to be spawned by the journalists and enthusiast press themselves. Think of the comments to most reviews on any gaming website: the dialogue is always between people who play games, but it’s these reviews and opinions by writers that tend to center the conversations.
Though hotly debated in some circles, Metacritic does play a very important role for many as a mediator in this sea of differing opinions. Either by happy accident or by design, when making the decision to buy a title its aggregated reviews can sometimes be the easiest way to find out the best and worst about it. After you’ve played the game and credits have rolled, Metacritic can then provide its own meta-challenge wherein you try to match your thoughts with professionals’.
For example, if you loved the gameplay but someone else (a critic, let’s say) didn’t, it can be humbling and compelling to read that person’s viewpoint. Conversely, if you hated the story a particular game had to offer, a reviewer’s take may shed new light on subtleties in the character relationships that might open up your understanding of the plot… or, lack thereof.
If you read reviews differently, especially after you’ve played, and it will drastically change what you get out of them. Perhaps the best thing you can do is become familiar with the reviewers at your favorite sites and find out whose taste is similar to yours. If you love role playing games, find a writer who is passionate about them and read their reviews; find out if they’re appropriately articulating what you find to be core experiences.
It’s also just as useful to find those whose tastes don’t match yours as well. If the person who reviews fighting games for an outlet is suddenly tasked with reviewing Kingdoms of Amular: Reckoning, that review will be more likely to hone in on the aspects of the game or its systems that might not function as well – things that might seem trivial to a seasoned RPG player and might thus be side-stepped in their review.
Reviews should be used to educate; to guide you towards the good and keep you from the bad. Learn to trust those who review games, because it’s their job to know these games inside and out, and on some level they all know that they have a duty to the public to be brutally honest about these titles. Online reviews especially can provide plenty of external links and may also be rich with detail and analysis – sometimes exploring facets of a game you didn’t even realize existed. The idea isn’t to become an expert on a title, but to get a sense of what each game has to offer. Ideally, you’ll become the well-rounded, educated consumer that most people on message boards think they are.