What you should look for when reviewing video games

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March 11, 2021
5 minute read

The gaming industry is thriving. With more people starting to write reviews, there’s a huge opportunity to stand out as a trusted source. Many reviews are confusing and hard to navigate, but this is easily fixed by following a few best practices. You don’t need to be a great writer to write a great review, you simply need to know what to look out for.

Whether you review video games for fun or are looking to turn it into a paying gig, here are some tips that will help you write a review that’s polished, personal, and truly useful for your reader.

1. Play the game for 7-10 hours

Most gaming publications don’t provide reviewers with advanced copies, so you’ll likely have to wait until release day to get a copy of the game. Since most gamers want to read reviews within a week of release, this doesn’t leave much time to play the game and put together a review.

However, most people agree that 7-10 hours of play is all it takes to get a strong enough sense of the game to write a useful review on it. If you haven’t finished the game at the time of writing the review, be sure to say so. Be honest with your reader. It helps them make an informed decision. You can always write a more detailed review later, especially if it becomes a highly-rated game.

2. Take notes while you’re playing

Develop the habit of taking notes as you play. This will make your life easier when it comes to sitting down to write your review. A great review is specific. Instead of simply listing features, it gives the reader examples and comparisons. By jotting down notes as you go, you’ll be able to note specific examples within the game to illustrate your points and make your review more engaging.

For instance, instead of noting, “The sound is bad”, note, “The explosion sound effects are distracting because they lag.” Then you’ll be able to explain why and how this distraction affected your experience playing the game.

Here are some helpful prompts to keep in mind as you play:

  • What elements are engaging or distracting?
  • How did the game live up to preview footage?
  • What is done well?
  • What could be improved?
  • Are there any obvious problems or glitches?
  • Do any parts surprise you?
  • What other games does it remind you of?

3. Compile your notes and write your review

Organize your review into sections so it’s easy for your reader to navigate. You don’t need to be a graphics or sound expert to write a great review. Your personal reactions, impressions, and experience is what will be valuable to other gamers.

In general, your review should cover the following elements of the game:

Control and gameplay

  • How easy or difficult is it to control the game? Let the reader know by giving examples. If there’s an area you struggle with chances are they will too.
  • This is also where you can include the control setups that were most useful for you and other tips that would make a gamers experience more enjoyable.

Graphics

  • Graphics are an extremely important element of any game. Note your initial reactions to them. Do the graphics keep you immersed in the game or are they distracting? Evaluate graphics based on clarity, believability, and performance.

Sound

  • While sound is often seen as secondary to graphics, it’s a vital element and what can separate a good game from a great one. Again, judge sounds by how realistic and clear they are. If they contribute to or detract from your experience, note that.

Story and characters

  • Story is what puts characters into context. This is the heart of the game and what makes you invested in playing it. Does the story flow well or is it awkward? Explain the style by giving examples of other games it reminds you of. This will help the reader judge if they’ll enjoy it or not.

Replayability

  • Gamers want to know if they’ll be able to play a game repeatedly. Give the reader a sense of game length and addictiveness based on your initial playing experience. This helps people decide if the game is worth investing their time and money into.

Your personal opinion

  • Finally, include your personal take on the game. Share what you liked and disliked, and what you think could be improved about the game overall. Be specific. If you didn’t like part of the game explain why by giving an example.
  • Be honest. Disclose if you received the game for free or are being paid to write the review.

These six elements will make up the body content of your review. After that, you’ll want to write a short introduction and conclusion that highlights and summarizes your overall thoughts. Make sure the intro hooks your reader and the conclusion offers clear takeaways.

4. Edit and polish your review

Whether you’re self-publishing your review or submitting it to a publication, take the time to edit and clean it up. Grammar errors are one of the most common video game writing mistakes, and having these in your work can put a dent in your credibility.

Here’s what to look out for when editing:

  • In terms of article length, your review should be around 1000 words. If you’re writing for a publication they may specify desired length, but 1000 words is a good benchmark to aim for.
  • Break up long paragraphs and use subheadings. This will make your review easy to read and navigate.
  • Make sure there are no spoilers. While examples are important, don’t give away the plot of the game.
  • Be concise. Don’t repeat yourself or say in three sentences what you could say in one.
  • Use an editing software, like Grammarly, to correct any spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Read your article out loud and fix any awkward sentences. The goal is to write like you talk.

Keep practicing

That’s it! That’s all you need to know to write a great video game review. Keep your process simple and focused by following this basic outline every time. With practice you’ll become a stronger, more efficient writer. And who knows, you might end up making great money doing it!

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