How to Write a Review

This article was published on 03/31/2016.

I've been writing video game reviews for well over a decade. As of this moment, I have published nearly 270 reviews online. Suffice it to say, I have a lot of experience when it comes to reviewing games. Therefore, I decided to write a tutorial on how to write game reviews. Now, it should be noted that I don't claim to be an authority on review writing. Further, I'm not saying that all reviews must be written in this way. There are multiple ways to skin a cat, and likewise, there is more than one way to write a review. This is merely my own, personal method for writing game reviews. It's what works for me, and maybe, it may work for you. If it doesn't, then I'm deeply sorry.

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The first step is to pick a game. This should be the easiest part, but for some people, it can be the hardest. Personally, I have already put together a colossal list of games I'd like to review, so I just pick whatever I feel like doing from that list. If you don't have such a luxury and are unsure of what to review, then you'll have to find ways to narrow it down. Do you want to review modern games or retro ones? Do you prefer doing console games or PC games? These are the questions you should ask yourself when picking a game to review. Ultimately, though, try to review a game you feel strongly about. That doesn't necessarily mean only review games you like; bad games can sometimes make for great reviews. The important thing is that it needs to be a game you have a lot to say about, whether those things are good or bad. If you are especially passionate about a game, be it intense love or unbridled hatred, then the words should practically write themselves.

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Now that you've picked a game, you may be itching to play it. Before that, however, you should take the time to do some preliminary research on it. Thankfully, researching stuff is easy in this day and age, what with the wonders of the Internet. Wikipedia is a convenient place to embark on this research, as it tends to compile information from many parts of the Internet in one space. Always remember to check the sources at the bottom of the page to verify the authenticity of the information you're gathering, though. As for the nature of the info, it should include basic stuff like the game's release date, what platforms it was released on, what series or franchise it's a part of, who developed and published it, and so on. Even if it's a game you're already intimately familiar with, you may still learn a thing or two. In the event that you don't learn anything new, at least you verified that there's nothing about it you don't already know.

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With all of that out of the way, it's now time to begin playing the game. I don't need to walk you through that part, do I? There are a couple of things to keep in mind, though. Playing a game for a review is different than merely playing a game for pleasure. You have to have a different mindset when approaching the game. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the ride, you must carefully analyze everything, paying attention to the smallest of details. In a way, playing the game is another form of research, because you're technically collecting information about the game itself. On top of criticizing it, your review must explain the game to the reader, and that can only be done if you know what the game is like. Also, it helps to write notes while you're playing the game. This will make the playing process far less enjoyable, but it'll do wonders for your review. If you wait until after finishing a game to begin writing things, you'll probably forget a ton of stuff, which will often result in writer's block. This is especially true for long games. Trust me; I know from experience.

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While I'm listing this as a separate step, you should ideally be doing this at the same time as the previous step. I'm talking about taking screenshots. As you play through the game, make sure to take as many screenshots as possible. Shoot for anything that catches your eye; cut scenes, boss fights, cities, towns, jungles, deserts, whatever. Try to capture as many different environments as possible, in addition to showing game play. Show the game at its best, at its worst, and whatever else you feel is important. By the time you've completed the game, you should have plenty of screenshots; hopefully, more than you need. Once you're done with the review, you can go back and pick the screenshots you want, and then delete the excess. Alternatively, you can wait until after you've finished the review before you start taking screenshots, but personally, I find it's best to do it before that. This way, I avoid having to replay the game. You know what they say: a picture is worth a thousand words.

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At this point, you should use the notes you made while playing the game to create an outline for your review. Many high schools, colleges, and universities teach you to do this for things like research papers, but it also works for game reviews. Personally, I like to get a head start on this while I'm in the process of playing through a game, but it's preferable to wait until after beating a game before doing an outline. The point of an outline is to plan the overall structure of your review. Basically, it's to organize all your points in a manner that makes sense, so that the review doesn't come off as a disjointed mess. Generally, outlines can consist of bullet point lists of all the points you want to make. Each item in the outline can either be a single word or an entire sentence; whatever helps you remember the listed point. For example, you can write "the graphics are pretty good" as a point, which should remind you to discuss the game's visuals in your review. Doing all this may seem unnecessary, but it goes a long way towards making your review feel more professional.

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You're now ready to finally write the review. It's at this point that many people will develop a bad case of writer's block, putting them at a complete standstill. Luckily, if you followed the directions in this tutorial, you should already have all the tools at your disposal to shatter this metaphorical block. I'm talking about the outline, of course. Blank pages are known for triggering writer's block in many individuals, but with an outline, that shouldn't be a problem. The reason for that is simple: if you wrote an outline, then there should already be something on your page. All you have to do now is take the outline and expand it to a full review. This is all merely psychological trickery, but then, writer's block is mostly a psychological phenomenon, so it works. At least, it works for me. Anyway, if the outline is a list, and every item on that list is a complete sentence, then you merely have to add enough sentences to each of those items to transform them into whole paragraphs. Do that for the whole outline, and you have a full fledged review.

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This is the moment you've been waiting for; the culmination of all your efforts. But wait, we're not done yet! Once the review has been completely written, you should take the time to read it. Why, you ask? Well, to look for errors and typos. Even if you're absolutely certain that there are no mistakes, you should still take the time to read it. Typos have the tendency to sneak up on you when you least expect it. Don't skim; read your review as slowly as possible, one word at a time. You may also want to go over it multiple times, just to be sure. Ideally, you should get an unbiased third-party to search your review for errors. Being that you're the writer, you know what you're trying to convey with your words, and this could potentially cause you to overlook your mistakes. That's why it helps to have someone else look at your stuff, because all they have to go by is the words you've written, so if something's not adding up, they'll notice it easier.

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When I first began writing reviews, they were nothing more than my inane ramblings. I would write stuff as it popped into my head, with no rhyme or reason to any of it. As a result of that, my reviews were disorganized, sloppy, and downright gross. Being that I was a rookie, I made countless rookie mistakes. I can't even begin to count the amount of times I stared at a blank page for hours on end, struggling with writer's block. However, I have come a long way, and have developed the review method you see before you. This is the method I've been using to produce reviews for many years. If you don't like it, then feel free to do it your own way.

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