How to Write a Video Game Review

The wide world of video game reviews is a tricky business, one that we here at GamerSushi have not figured out. Clearly, we are doing something wrong when it comes to how we handle the beloved AAA franchises upon release, because we aren’t making buttloads of money and getting free video games. Perhaps it’s because we don’t give everything the standard 9.0 that seems to come along with being labeled a credible outlet. We will not name names, though.

Anyway, we thought we’d create a list of helpful tips for how to write a video game review, the industry way. And before you ask- yes, this post is for the lulz, as they say in some Eastern European countries.

So here it is. How to write a video game review:

The Opening. You can start this out one of two ways. The first option is to describe a moment of the game in hyper-detail. If it’s a racing game you might talk about how you shift to the next gear on the car, with the asphalt rolling beneath the tires of your brand new Make and Model, souped up to the max. If the game review is about a shooter, you might say something along the lines of how your squadmate calls out an enemy and you drop to prone, opening fire, the realistic rat-tat-tat of your gun-fanatic-name-dropping weapon filling your ears. This is Uber Modern Combat 5.

If you want to go the more traditional route, the other option is to start by talking about the game’s developer, or perhaps the previous entry in the series. You must do this even if we are talking about Space Marine shooter XVII. After all, the reader clicked on this review because they had no idea what the hell game this was to begin with, right?

Setting the Stage. Since we all know that stories are the most important parts of the video game experience, the key thing that the reader must understand first and foremost is all of the characters, their relationship to the gaming world and what the heck the game is about. Feel free to elaborate as much as possible, even more than the developers did if need be. When talking about gruff protagonists or scantily clad busty females, be sure to mention that they are not your everyday average video game Joes (even if they are), and go on to highlight how they are different (“this one has bigger swords/boobs than the last one”).

The Body. This is the meat of the review, and where you’re going to talk about the game in uncertain terms. You should claim that you are doing this is to avoid spoilers, but there are some other reasons: 1) You didn’t actually finish it. 2) You’re not confident in your ability to communicate the experience to the readers.

Both of these are OK! You played the game for at least 45 minutes or so, which was certainly long enough to form an opinion about it, so it’s totally cool that you’re rating it for others to determine whether or not it’s worth their purchase. And don’t let anyone tell you different. Also, if you never played the last entry of the series, you don’t need to mention it. It’ll only end poorly.

A few additional notes before you dive into the review. Some words and phrases that you want to gravitate towards include “really”, “very fun”, “visceral”, “gorgeous”, “stellar” and “breathtaking”. Think of your video game like Mexican food: it’s basically the same ingredients mixed around into different dishes.

The Components. Forget that gaming has changed, and that we’re in the year 2011. Your standard review should reflect the staples of gaming as gaming magazines defined them 20 years ago. Break the review up into a few specific components: graphics (sometimes called visuals by the fuddy duddies out there), sound, gameplay, replay value and fun. Don’t pay any mind to the fact that movies and other mediums don’t treat their experiences in such a way – this is just the way games are reviewed, darn it.

  • Gameplay. This is where you dive into the nebulous term so often bandied about by the industry. It envelopes pretty much whatever you want it to: the mechanics of the game itself, how it feels, UI, AI and every other kind of I you can imagine. Instead of critiquing the game on its own merits, it’s best to compare it to similar games and see how it stacks up. Obviously, for shooters, gaining XP in multiplayer means the developer spent years of work trying to emulate Call of Duty and failed miserably.
  • Graphics. The best thing to remember about graphics is that the word “gorgeous” is your friend. Also, “cinematic”. Give a few examples of why, but don’t worry about giving too many details either. For everything else, just say it looks last gen and pixelated. This is pretty much the easiest part of the whole review.
  • Sound. This is the paragraph where you comment on sound, even if you have no background or audio basis from which to speak about it. Feel free to use words like “pounding” and “realistic” to describe the same kinds of sound effects you hear in all games of this genre. The words “fully orchestrated” go along way to make you sound like you know what you’re talking about as well.
  • Replay Value. Does it have multiplayer? Branching paths? Set phasers to “high”. Everything else makes the game a rental only.
  • Fun. Another easy thing to tackle. The game was “a blast” and “kept you up for hours”, yes? Good!

The Score. This is a tricky thing to master. Giving out your score (and your justification) requires the steady hands of a surgeon and the deftness of a pick-pocket. For most video game Web sites, the scale for rating a game starts at the 8.0/B range, and only improves from there. Your safest bet is a 9.0./A. It’s a pretty good catch-all that placates fanboys and keeps people from getting too enraged whether they liked the game or hated it. Even if you raved about the game like it was genre-defining or expectation-smashing, just give it that safe and comfortable score so that everyone is OK.

If you’re feeling particularly gutsy, you can give it some totally arbitrary score like 9.7, 9.8, or 9.9. After all, nobody really knows what those decimal places mean at all. Except for you. And you’re the reviewer, aren’t you? Go you!


And there you have it. How to write a video game review, the industry way. I should make a handbook or something.

What do you guys think of this? Flame on!

Written by

I write about samurai girls and space marines. Writer for Smooth Few Films. Rooster Teeth Freelancer. Author of Red vs. Blue, The Ultimate Fan Guide, out NOW!

8 thoughts on “How to Write a Video Game Review”

  1. Dammit Anthony you beat me too it. I read the whole thing just waiting for the “L word” to appear.

  2. Hahaha great article! The opening part made me laugh because all I could think about was how every single Halo Reach review (and preview for that matter) mentioned the words “Bungie’s swan song” in the opening paragraph.

  3. The didnt actually finish part made me smile, it drives me crazy that some reviewers dont get the full effect of a story then complain or critique it.

    My least favorite part about reviews is when a site gets flak for giving a bunch of high scores in close succession and then gives a good game a lower score just to bring down their average. I know this happens.

  4. Some funny stuff, but let’s not get overboard with the whole “game reviewer conspiracy” thing. It’s unfortunate that a lot of reviewers don’t finish a game before they write the review, but there’s no one who rates a game lower just because they get flak for rating too high, and 9.0 is in no way a standard video game score.

    As formulaic as video game reviews are, they are written better than 99% of user reviews, which often start out decrying everyone who disagrees with them (“The people who say this game sucks don’t know what they’re talking about!” or “Don’t listen to the reviewers who tell you how great this game is!”) and then give the game either a 10 or 1. I mean, I didn’t like DA2, but it certainly doesn’t deserve all the 0s and 1s it’s received by Metacritic users. 6 or 7 is probably more like it. Professional game reviews are at least level-headed and not filled with hatred if a game falls slightly below their expectations.

    The truest phrase in this article is written snarkily, but is nonetheless the crux of the whole thing. “If you’re feeling particularly gutsy, you can give it some totally arbitrary score like 9.7, 9.8, or 9.9. After all, nobody really knows what those decimal places mean at all. Except for you. And you’re the reviewer, aren’t you? Go you!” That’s what reviews are. Someone’s opinion. Professional reviewers just say it a little better than non-pros.

    PS – I realize I’m taking this “for the lulz” post a little too seriously, but I think the hate towards game reviewers is a little undeserved.

    1. Well, I hope I didn’t communicate that I think there’s a conspiracy – I really don’t. I’m not one of those people that think that reviewers get paid to write good reviews. I just think most reviewers handle reviews a bit lazily.

  5. I was refering more to raider66’s comment. And also some user reviews I’ve read about how reviewers are paid to say good things. Nothing you said.

  6. Lol, the tropes of a game review. Sadly, most of these are commonplace in reviews today. I like the GamerSushi reviews as they tend to avoid the dislikable tropes and give an honest review. Also, if we disagree here on the site we don’t have fanboys/girls forcing their shit down our throats. That’s the thing that really bugs me on game sites. I sometimes can’t help but be distracted by them!

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