More than the high cost of games (and clothes for my growing daughter), my limited time to play games prohibits me from buying everything under the sun. As a result, I put high value into the information I can get out of game reviews. But it’s not enough to just look up a score – you need to properly break down a game review and figure out what it’s actually telling you.
It’s easy to get caught up in the feeling or tone of a review. A reviewer that had a bad time with a game can (and should, really) paint a pretty bleak picture of the title. But how they felt about it isn’t what you’re there for – it’s the look at what the game is that’s beneath the reviewer’s feelings. The very mechanics that they hated might be things you love in games (which, by the way, is totally okay – we don’t all have to love the same games). It’s important to take away what the game actually felt like more than how the reviewer reacted to that feel. You’re buying for you, so use their feelings as indicators of the prevalence of features/elements in the game, and not necessarily about their actual quality.
On the flipside, though, do pay close attention to the issues that irk the reviewer. It’s all well and good that they hate dating sim mechanics (that might be your jam), but the text running at an unbearably slow speed in a text heavy game is a very big deal for all but the most patient of players. The reviewer isn’t a big fan of platformers and they’re reviewing a game that’s about jumping around in a 3D space, yeah, that’s going to show in their review (as long as they’re being honest and not running down a checklist of game features). Even someone that hates platformers is right to be irritated with a protagonist that has an inadequate and difficult to control jump when that’s 90% of what the game is about. Make sure that you don’t dismiss issues out of hand on account of reviewer prejudice – just because they’re biased against a gameplay feature, that doesn’t mean it’s not bad.
A big thing that helps with both of the previous points: read a second review. Doesn’t need to be a huge one. Doesn’t even need to be as long as the first one you read. Heck, just check forum posts to see if that the thing they hated (and you’re not excited about) can be turned off in a menu. Reviewers are just human, after all, so assume errors and fact check. Don’t buy trash on account of an inaccurately positive review, and don’t miss out on a masterpiece on account of a review that brutal on the basis of the reviewer making no effort.
One final caution: remember that the feeling of playing a game and the appearance of a game while it’s being played are by no means the same thing. Screenshots are easily misleading, and even video can fool you. There’s no substitute for actually playing the game, but words can do more to express the feel of play than the graphics on screen. Sure, it looks smooth, but input lag and unresponsive controls still happen. Just please, don’t assume that the game plays like it looks – you can be easily surprised.
Finally, find a reviewer that you like. Get to know their tastes, and the known biases will give you a massive insight into the reality of the game (or how you’d feel about it). Or, just play demos to see if you like games and read reviews for fun. Seriously. Go to actionbutton.net, you’ll have a great time.