Jake Nantz

Jake Nantz

Everyone reads reviews. Not everyone lives and dies by them, but at some point in life, we've all listened to the advice or criticism found in a reviewer's opinion or friend's personal experience.


This article seeks to analyze the important parts of a general video game review and see what makes it solid. In the analysis, we'll focus on the aspects that make a review dependable, so readers know how to spot a good reviewer who approaches the game (and the review) like a professional. The goal is to show what makes a reviewer trustworthy when weighing that next $60 purchase. Along the way, we'll discuss some of the more common complaints that crop up in the torrid debate surrounding video game reviews.

Recently BioWare responded to the outcry for a more complete and comprehensive ending to Mass Effect 3. Most people appear to be satisfied with this new iteration, but there are still suggestions that the new ending remains inadequate because it's just a series of cinematics with a voiceover. Taking previous games into account, though, it's always been apparent as to what the new revision would be, and using the game story analysis skills that we've talked about before it's easy to analyze a game's story and design to determine the outcome.


See, game developers are notorious for reusing what works when they move on to their next project. Engines, models, art assets, sound, level design, and even story arcs and plots are all re-usable. Even when artfully concealed, developers will return to these tendencies and give you a glimpse of what might be ahead in your single-player campaign. Some will even reuse stuff that works in the same game, like the different platform-and-puzzle sequences in Naughty Dog's Uncharted series. Sometimes it works out well, other times it gets annoyingly repetitive (like the [Dragon Age] or TES games, and the building/dungeon level designs they reuse again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and … you get the point).

Video games in recent years have seen a trend toward greater depth in story development. Gaming has become more about immersion in a different world as technology advances and for most gamers this is best accomplished with a deep and encompassing story. While the gameplay mechanics of the Assassin's Creed franchise, or games in the Elder Scrolls universe (which we made even more immersive with our Skyrim Immersion Overhaul), or even the Mass Effect trilogy have arguably gotten better with each iteration, what keeps the buying public coming back is largely the storyline.


It's tough to maintain the momentum of block-busting titles that initiate a new series, though, and many of us feel disappointed -- likely a combination of nostalgia and fault of the designers -- in sequels to the originals. This can be avoided by instituting something as basic as the Three-Act Structure; developers who ignore story structuring in games do so at their own financial peril. Let's look into game design techniques and examples and the basics of story-writing for games, as well as some game story analysis techniques.

Note: We've italicized scene, motif, and other story or theme archetypes for clarity.

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