I endeavour not to rate games bad or good. That would be too black and white, for many bad games have redeeming properties, and many good games nearly fatal flaws. Instead I have my own, rather complex way of judging games: By how they communicate what kind of experience they offer, and how well they offer it.
When I look at a game I attempt to see what the designers want me to experience. Let’s take a strategy game. Do the designers wish to give me the feeling of being a field officer, making snap decisions based on incoming field data, like in many real time strategies? Or do the designers want me to feel like a supreme general, devising long-term plans, carefully considering each option before launching my plan into action, snaring my enemies and crushing their hopes, like Fantasy Wars and other turn-based strategy games?
When I finally realize the goals of the designers I can judge how well they have reached them. Do I feel like an unstoppable virus-man, hellbent on seeking answers and punishing the bad guys? Does the real world fade away as immersion grips me in a vice-like grip, letting me go only as the sun’s first rays filter through the curtains? If not, why? Which parts of the game prevent me from reaching the experience that was promised?
An excellent game would succeed on both: The game would make a promise to me and keep it. Space Rangers, for example, succeeds well, mostly due to luck. Pelit, finland’s best gaming magazine, was my first source of information about the game. It gave me a fairly good explanation about the game and rated it well enough to pique my interest. The pretty graphics kept my attention on the promises the game sent me: Be an intergalactic trader/warrior/smuggler in a randomly generated, fully dynamic world. And the game delivered.
Some games fail at that point. Mass Effect 2 tried to fix many of the things that were lacking in its predecessor. However, it severely cut down on the roleplaying aspects, reducing statbuilding to a very simple chore, added that uncalled for mission structure and sillified the plot. However, it never managed to be a bad game, just not as good as it could be.
Other games fail to describe what they want. Prototype is a fairly good game; The combat works, the superpowers are fun and manhattan large. But it seemed to be a very tight experience, with a tight plot, lots of intrigue and bloody-minded vengeance, which it ultimately was not. The statbuilding required Evolution Points, most of which were gained from unrelated challenges peppered around manhattan. Those were quite fun, but they diluted the main plot, most of which I forgot while trying to get more EP from faffing about. If the game had communicated its gameplay differently, perhaps I would have appreciated it more.
Hmm. This was supposed to be an intro for my game review, but apparently it got out of hand. Perhaps I will indulge you next time.