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Section 1 - Graphic Quality

The first thing people are influenced by is how "Pretty" the game looks. However we choose to look a little deeper. For example how many camera angles are available in the game. If it is a racing simulator you should atleast have incar, chase , roof, bonnet and external drive by. For a RTS game you need the ability to rotate the map plus change the angle and altitude of the camera (zoom in/out and tilt).

For First Person Shooter (FPS) games you're pretty much stuck with one view point, but for 3rd Person Shooters (3PS) how often is your view obscured by the surroundings and can you adjust the camera angle.

Performance issues will also be discussed, such as frame rate.

Another key aspect to graphics are the intro / movie / dialogue sequences. How well are they presented, are they interactive, can you skip them if necessary and how is the lip sync. Being forced to sit through all these sequences every time can be a real pain and will certainly impact on the re-playability of the game. There are other aspects too such as death cams or crash cams. Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2010 is a good example where by causing another car to crash you are forced to watch the crash in slow motion and at the same time lose the ability to steer your own car or even see where you are heading!

Key Points
  • Graphics Quality
  • Camera Angles
  • Frame Rate
  • Vision Range (is it configurable or does the game just resort to FOG or Dust to obscure distance)
  • In Game animations of characters, lip sync, weapon reloading animation actions etc. and do they hinder game play

Section 2 - Game Play

In every single player game you are facing computer controlled opponents and often have computer controlled team mates (called NPC's). This section will focus on the intelligence of the AI, how is their path finding abilities and will they seek medical help when injured or do they just blindly run into combat, disregard your orders or in general just become a complete pain in the neck. Many games will make you fail the mission if you fail to keep specific NPC's alive, so having brain dead AI certainly detracts from the games enjoyment.

Touching briefly on level design here as well, this section will also cover how blatantly obvious things are. If every time you see a chest high wall you encounter enemies, then that becomes quite boring. Same is if every time you find a good weapon and pick it up, the scripting kicks in surrounding you with instantly spawning enemies. So Game Play is a vital aspect of the game. How bad / blatant is the scripting and how obvious is the spawning.

All other aspects of the game play will be covered here, that will give you an insight to just what the game offers and what you can do in the game.

Key Points
  • AI Skill Level (what options are offered and how does skill level affect AI are they just faster more accurate or more intelligent?)
  • NPC Skill Level
  • Path finding ability
  • Obvious Scripting
  • Obvious "Action Ahead" aspects (such as chest high walls)
  • Obvious Spawning
  • What you can do in the game, what the game offers

Section 3 - Game Design

This covers any new or interesting ideas that this game has included, such as mini games or unique weapons and armour. What is the level of complexity offered to the player, such as upgrading weapons and armour or indeed their own character. Are you offered any control over your inventory (or if an inventory even exists). What features are provided to help you navigate through the game, such as Radar or Compass.

Do you have an ingame map and how easy is it to see where you are or where your objective is. Can you add your own comments or notes to the map (such as points of interest, like locked doors you can't open just yet). Is there subtitles, and is there a log or journal that records all conversations so that you can review if required at a later date (quite important for RPG based games).

If the game includes providing updates to the player, usually as conversations, movies or animation can you skip them, or are you forced to watch them each time. This is very important for replayability.

How does the game handle saving. Is it auto checkpoint saving, or does it allow user Quick Save or manual save?

Anything else about how the game is designed will also be included in this section.

Key Points
  • New or Unique Features (or is this game a cookie cutter design)
  • Player objects and the ability to upgrade / swap or modify
  • Inventory handling
  • Player upgrading, such as assigning skill points (primarily for RPG)
  • Map quality
  • Additional features such as logs, journals, PDA's.
  • Non Skippable Events
  • Game Saving method

Section 4 - Plot / Story

What is the plot of the game, does it make sense. Is the story believable. Infact it can be as simple as : does the story make sense. Often when playing a game you get the feeling "What am I doing here". Are there any sub plots which you can uncover that could provide additional side missions.

Does this game have a Be Good or Be Evil meter and if so is it even remotely clear as to how it operates or if indeed it has any influence on the current or future missions. Many games have the good vs evil meters where murder adds to your evil, yet you can simply offset that by giving away items? To me that seems quite unbalanced. Giving someone a bottle of free water should have considerably less impact on this meter compared to murdering them.

Does how you play the game influence the ending? Are there multiple endings available.

Key Points
  • Interesting Plot
  • Believable / Understandable Story
  • Players influence based on actions
  • Multiple Outcomes / Endings

Section 5 - Level Design

What type of game is this, such as sandbox or fixed level. Are the levels designed like a drainpipe where you are only ever presented with one path, or do you have numerous paths available. Your ability to intereact with the levels, such as puzzles, switches, doors, breakable objects for scavenging, set booby traps or drive vehicles you find. Can you damage the environment, such as blow up buildings, leave bullet holes in walls, kick in doors or blow up cars.

What level of diversity are you provided with, or does the game reuse the same maps and textures for every level. Is there consistency with the each level. By this we don't mean reuse the same textures, but keep along the same theme. Some games you start off in a building and then next level you could be on some alien planet, with the two levels seemingly unrelated.

Key Points
  • Level Design Type (sandbox, fixed level)
  • Ability to Interact with the environment
  • Ability to Damage the environment
  • Level Diversity
  • Level Consistency

Section 6 - Configuration

Do you have the ability to adjust numerous settings with graphics (such as gamma, contrast, anti aliasing). Sound Effects, can you configure for multiple speaker setup. Controllers, can you adjust the sensitivity and force feedback of the controller and can you assign any option to any button.

Keyboard, can you bind any key to any action. Many games seem to have a problem assigning actions to keypad keys, or they refuse to allow you to configure actions to certain keys (such as enter or space). Many games allow you to configure actions to other keys yet in the game that key just doesn't function. So is the configuration screen intelligent enough to alert you to these issues. If a key or button has already been assigned and you attempt to assign another action to that same key or button will the game be stupid enough to simply let you do it without alerting you, or will it be smart enough to alert you to the fact that key has already been assigned AND to display what action it has been assigned to.

Then when playing, if there is ingame help / tutorials and it asks you to perform a certain action, then shows you which key you have to press, does that display show the default key or the actual key you have assigned to that task! That is an important aspect.

Key Points
  • Level of configuration
  • Intelligence when binding actions to keys or buttons
  • Ingame help showing you the actual key/button assigned to the task rather than just showing the default key

Section 7 - Sound Effects

Are the sound effects realistic. Does each gun sound the same or is each gun unique, especially after you modify it (make it more powerful for example). If it is a car racing game how realistic does it sound.

Do other sound effects drown out any dialogue, such as explosions. Reloading a weapon should include a few different sounds, or does the game just provide a single sound.

Key Points
  • Quality and Realism
  • Diversity

Section 8 - Music

Is the music complementary of the game design and/or does it add to the atmosphere of the levels.

Can you turn it off, or can you add your own .MP3 music to the game. Is music used to enhance the atmosphere of the game or does it telegraph the fact that you're about to be attacked.

Key Points
  • Relevance
  • Ability to Change or add your own
  • Ability to turn off

Section 9 - Navigation

First and foremost does the game support the use of the mouse. If the game has been ported from a Console then chances are the answer will be NO and that just doesn't make sense at all. How easy is it to navigate through the menu and is it intuitive. Is there a natural progression to the menu and are you required to do lots of cursor movement. For example a game that does support the mouse might have the select button on the bottom left of the screen, but then the return to previous screen button on the far right. So you're forced to constantly move the complete width of the screen on numerous occasions, rather than just having all navigation type buttons grouped together.

When in the game it is the same thing, can you double click on an option to select or are you forced to single click to highlight and then navigate down to a Select or OK type button to activate. This extra navigation is really not necessary.

Is the navigation consistent. For example in Mass Effect 2 you can use the mouse click on all the options to reach the Start scanning planet screen, but now there is no on screen option to return to the previous screen (planet info), you are forced to press ESC so you can return, then on that planet info screen there is a return to the previous screen (planet select), however if you press ESC on the planet info screen, instead of returning you to planet select screen, it exits the whole star map section in the game. Why would ESC allow return on the first instance but on the second instance (in the same ingame sequence) totally exit the sequence?

Another example is Fallout New Vegas. On most screens it is E to Exit, yet when you get to other areas, it is now changed to X to Exit. E and X are not keys you can reconfigure either.

Final aspect is how many keypress's does the game force you to perform before you even get to the main menu, and then how many to actually start playing the game. For some unknown reason there seems to be a trend for games to require you to press any key or enter 4 or 5 times before you're even shown the main menu?

Key Points
  • Menu quality
  • Menu Navigation
  • Mouse Supported
  • Required amount of cursor activity
  • Consistency for navigation
  • Number of actions required to reach the menu, or start playing

Section 10 - Secrets / Rewards / Easter Eggs

Does the game reward you for your ability to explore the game environment. These rewards could be additional missions, sub plots, ammo or equipment, or indeed other resources such as armour, intelligence information or awards. An example of an Award could be that you have achieved a certain number of kills with a specific weapon.

Does the game include any subliminal puns or humour which may not be evident to the standard game player if they just focus on the primary objective.

Easter Eggs are special features of a game that are usually very difficult to discover and often don't actually have any relevance to the game you're currently playing. When you discover one they could simply provide you with information, comments, phrases, pictures or other strange / funny cut sequences. Often what you uncover are cliches of other releases, movies or celebrities. The game may reward you if you uncover all available Easter Eggs, however they are not related to the main objectives and usually do not enhance your character or provide rewards that are actually beneficial.

Key Points
  • Rewards for exploration
  • Amount of sub missions or additional objectives
  • Level of subliminal puns or humour
  • The inclusion of Easter Eggs

How We Review Games

Games are often quite complex and cover a large range of features. They also have to be easy to use, configure and be fun to play.

So creating a review like we do, where the game is broken down into 10 key sections, we can focus our attention on each of these and present you with what we consider to be the good and the bad aspects the game presents to the player. Each section is individually rated so that if you wish, you can simply formulate your own opinion of the game and its worthiness to play by considering just the sections you are interested in, or of all the sections.

The beauty of using so many sections is that the rating score can be more accurate and not influenced too heavily by one section, even if that section rates high or low. Each sections rating is weighted based on importance and this weighting is listed on the review next to the rating.

There are so many things which can make a game enjoyable or just frustrating to play and we will endeavor to discuss all of these within the relevant section, to provide you with a more balanced, realistic and meaningful rating of the game.

How we Review Movies

Budget for movies is usually extremely high, but that doesn't often mean the movie is worthy of a high rating. There are numerous factors at we consider make a movie entertaining or not. So instead of simply being awe struck by the special effects, we have chosen to break the movie down into 6 sections so we can focus our attention on each of these and present you with what we consider to be the good and the bad aspects the movie presents to the viewer.

Each section is individually rated so that if you wish, you can simply formulate your own opinion of the movie and its worthiness to see by considering just the sections you are interested in, or of all the sections.

The beauty of using so many sections is that the rating score can be more accurate and not influenced too heavily by one section, even if that section rates high or low. Each sections rating is weighted based on importance and this weighting is listed on the review next to the rating.

Just because your favourite actor is in the movie, or your favourite director is involved, there are other aspects that also play a vital role in the success of a film. Unfortunately the way movies are deemed successful seems to be more about the special effects than any real substance. Good example of this are Avatar and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Both of those are significantly lacking in plot and story, or even consistency, yet both rely heavily upon special effects and both had high Gross return. Neither rated that high on IMDB (8.2 and 5.9 respectively as of today). Using Our review methods they would possibly score even lower because the "wow" factor with all the special effects only accounts for 10% of the total rating score and lets not forget that we also rate the acting / cast as well, which accounts for 20% of the total score and both of those films showed less than stellar performances.

Hopefully by rating and discussing each of the 6 sections in detail will provide you with a more balanced, realistic and meaningful rating of the movie.

Section 1 - Cinematography

This covers the primary aspect of any movie. How well is it shot, are the locations fitting to the scenes and what is the quality of the editing. If the movie uses a high amount of computer graphics how is this blended in. This also incorporates titles, sub titles or any other text information displayed. How easy is it to read.

One major area is how different scenes are edited together. Does this movie have scene changes blend together or are they just blatant cuts. it is always good to see how well some movies can handle scene changes.

Another aspect is the lighting. Too many movies these days can't afford decent lighting with most of the characters being draped in shadows for no reason.

Key Points
  • Quality of camera work (such as steady cam vs nauseating shaky camy
  • Filming Locations
  • Handling of Scene Changes
  • Integration and usage of Computer Animation
  • Lighting / Exposure and Contrast
  • Editing, subtitles, information or other on screen text displays

Section 2 - Plot / Story

A big aspect is the plot or the story, is it believable and how well is it constructed. Depending on the type of film the plot will play a different role.

For an action film the plot and story are usually relegated to the background, because they hope all the action sequences and computer graphics will carry the movie to epic status (such as Avatar relied purely on special effects). However for a drama or murder mystery then it is paramount that they handle it correctly, to make it interesting but not too contrived.

The Plot is usually the basis for the whole movie. What is the movie trying to convey, or portray. Often the plot will contain twists or outcomes that you did not forsee, but it's paramount that it still be plausible. If it is a SciFi type movie then it should contain sufficient amount Sci (that being Science) and not just all Fi (that being Fiction).

The Story is usually about the character and should provide enough information so that the audience can relate to the character, in whatever way the movie chooses (ie good guy, bad guy, misunderstood guy. etc.). Important aspects for a story would be character foundation. It's often vital to cover the key questions asked by the audience. "Who is this person?", "How did they get here?", "How did they become the person they are? (ie skills, experiences)" and "Why should I care about this person?".

Key Points
  • Is the Plot believable
  • Is the Story Interesting

Section 3 - Acting

There are two main aspects for Acting.
FIRST how well do the actors perform, are they merely cardboard cutouts being pushed around the scenes, or do they portray the convictions of their characters.

SECOND how well was the movie cast. Does the cast actually fit the role. Many instances of movies they have simply cast the wrong type of actor for the role. Often they try and make characters funny, and yet the actor themselves can not convey this, so the whole performance can come off looking quite stiff and unbelievable.

Many actors have been type cast into certain roles, that is probably due to the quality of their acting and the limited range they can portray. Most just don't have the range of acting skill to be good at playing all character types.

Key Points
  • Quality of performances by the actors
  • Quality of the casting to choose the right actor for the role

Section 4 - Concept

Does this movie introduce any new concepts or is it a run of the mill, done a dozen times before blatant ripoff. Also worth considering is how well does the concept hold water. There are so many films that aim higher than their actors or scripts can deliver, so it's important to consider if the concept they are projecting is actually believable.

If they base it around science or technology do they even attempt to take just a few minutes to try and explain it to the audience. This was always an issue with Star Trek. They would spend the majority of the episode/movie getting into trouble and then only the last few minutes getting out of it but using some undisclosed technology babble, or creating some unique device to resolve the problem. This makes for very bland viewing. Any Science Fiction (SciFi) movie should have a balance of Science AND Fiction. More often than not it's all just Fiction, but because it is set in a location primarily used by SciFi (such as space) it is automatically assigned to the genre of SciFi instead of Fiction or Fantasy!

If it's focus is on a specific characters abilities do they provide any back story to help us identify how that character became so special or developed such skills. It is important to create a basic understanding or attachment between the main character and the audience. If the movie fails to do this then the audience interest in that character will suffer or simply not exist at all.

Key Points
  • Film classification does it fit the actual content
  • Does the whole premise of the movie work
  • Is the baseline plot of the movie plausible
  • Is the plot or the technology that it centers around explained at all
  • Are the main characters developed.

Section 5 - Special Effects

How much emphasis is placed on special effects and how do they present. Are they used superfluously or do they actually advance and enhance the story or plot. iRobot would be a good example where the special effects not only enhance the story but also become the story and they are used to great effect.

Many movies include special effects that really don't enhance the movie at all. It is if they have been added simply as a draw card, or to try and keep interest in the movie when the story or plot is lacking.

Another key point with computer graphics and special effects is that they are often "Over the Top" and showcase skills or effects far beyond what is achievable in reality. Sure many of these movies are all classified as fiction, but when they incorporate real world items it would still be expected that those real world items behave normally. An example of this would be Superman. He has super powers that's all well and good, but his costume does not, yet it does not suffer any damage from fire, bullets or even get torn when he flies at great speed..

Weapon usage is also a form of special effect which many movies just don't handle correctly. Not only is this about the amount of bullets a specific type of weapon can be loaded with, but it is also quite evident when they fire too few rounds aswell. An example of this is a cop using a 9mm Pistol that can hold 16 rounds of ammunition. The cop draws their weapon and fires it for the first time. The script says shoot three rounds. The actor does this, but on firing the third round the slide of the pistol has now locked back. This indicates the weapon was ONLY loaded with 3 rounds of ammunition (or blanks in this case). That just looks stupid and destroys the immersion of the movie. Clearly the audience can see that this is not a cop because a real cop would never do that.

Key Points
  • Do the special effects look good
  • Do they complement the movie or are they just draw card / trailer filling fluff
  • Are they plausible when they encompass real world / modern day items

Section 6 - Sound / Audio

Audio plays a large in any movie and it's imperative that the audience can hear and understand what is being said. Just as important there should be some balance between the dialogue, music and sound effects.

It has to be one of the worst aspects with modern movies, the major discrepancy between sound effect and speech volumes. You can hardly hear the dialogue if the actor mumbles, has an accent / speech impediment or is also whispering. Often the whole dialogue is very quiet for no perceivable reason. What they are saying is important to hear, so you increase the volume only to then encounter sounds effects that literally blow your toupee off and knock your false teeth out. This is absolutely annoying and totally unnecessary.

Sure many movies want to blast you with loud noises periodically as a cheap scare tactic, but more often than not the disparity in the volumes just comes across as very poor quality editing and does absolutely NOT add any enjoyment to the movie at all.

Key Points
  • Sound effects are they accurate
  • Volume levels are they normalized
  • Dialogue can you hear it all clearly

How to Use this Section

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