November 3, 2010


   I read a lot of reviews. I write some myself. Even though I hope that reviews are helpful and insightful recent event have reminded me that they are mostly useless.
   I read a lot of review written by Orson Scott Card on his website Uncle Orson Reviews Everything. I also read reviews of video games in Game Informer magazine that comes with my annual membership to Game Stop's rewards/discount program. Most of what I am going to say is in regards to these two publications but also applies to many others I read online.
   A few months ago I read a review posted by Card about the movie Avatar: The Last Airbender. The review was rather scathing. He talked about how things were added to the movie and other things were taken out that he thought were not valid decision. He talked about how it wasn't true to the cartoon. At the end of the article he then stated that he wasn't going to watch this particular movie as it wasn't worth his dollar.
   At this point I have to admit that when I started this blog I intentionally copied the style and form of Uncle Orson Reviews Everything. Being a fan I thought that I would copy a format that worked rather than reinvent the blog. I say this because I know that Card is a good writer and I know he knows better than this. Any writing class student knows that you cannot expect your writers to take you seriously if you are going to make statements about something which you don't know about first hand or have direct experience with.
   If Roger Ebert reviewed movies that he didn't actually watch his career as a writer would likely be flushed down the toilet. As a movie reviewer he would most definitely lose credibility.
   Now I can handle a scathing review now and then from writers I respect. I think the point of reading a review is simply so you can get some idea about whether or not to use or try one product or another. Luckily in this case I had already watched the movie and knew more or less what he may point at as the largest flaws in the movie. I was wrong.
   I thought he would spend time discussing the problem some of the actors had delivering dialog or how some parts of the story were rather rushed or possibly how the relationships of the main characters were not as well developed as they could be. Instead he spent most of his energy talking about parts that were left out and parts that were added.
   Right now I am watching the cartoon over from the beginning. As I am watching it I keep asking myself what I would change about the movie if I were to make it. Honestly, the only thing I would do is cut out all or most of the parts where the protagonist team are traveling to the North Pole. I would instead spend that time trying to build the relationships with the characters. Other than that the only thing I would have done is spend more time with the actors helping their dialog feel more natural.
   But I actually watched the movie and the cartoon. I find the two to be both different and compatible from a fan's point of view. I very much enjoy both for what they are. And what they are is kids shows with stories that are good.
   I still read Card's reviews. I still enjoy them. I just see how the value of them is far reduced in my mind.
Another review I read more recently was a scathing review of the video game Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. My wife got me the first one two years ago when it came out and I have enjoyed it very much. I am currently playing it through for the third time. My love of the first game gave me ample reason to be interested in the follow up.
   The review for this game was rather short and simple. It said that the game plays much the same as the first one and that was the most enjoyable part. The reviewer also made sure to insert the idea in there that some of the controls were still bad. He then talked about how poor the story is, how short the game is and how easy it is. That's all. I came away feeling rather uncertain about if I should get the second game or not.
   Then a few days later the demo for the game was released on PlayStation Network. I was rather surprised at how wrong the review was.
   The controls are basically the same. The targeting system is very close to the way it is in the first game. At the time that game came out there were a lot of complaints about the targeting system. I found the system rather intuitive personally. It took me less time to figure out than the system for highly praised Uncharted 2: Drake's Fortune, which I found to be rather tedious and unresponsive. Anyway, they didn't change this system much. They just made it easier to see what it is that you are targeting. But it was reviewed poorly.
   The story the writer was being negative about is pretty straight forward. It's about a man trying to rescue his love (at least to the point I have made it to). It's nothing new but it is moves the game forward. Remember this is video games not Shakespeare. How good does the story need to be? If it moves the action along is it not doing exactly the job it is there for?
   The game may be short. I am not sure because I have not finished it yet.
   As for the game being easy I must again disagree. There are parts that are very difficult. I am currently stuck in one place that I have played about 7 times over without being able to figure out how to overcome the obstacles. In addition to this there are a number of parts where you have to not just fight your way through but puzzle out a way to do so, though usually with a bit of help in the form of non-specific advice.
   In all I have been very pleased with the game. It build upon the first one and has some aspects that are vast improvements and some that are minor improvements. In many ways it is just a continuation of the first game.
   What I find to be the biggest flaws of negative reviews is their lack of total insight into the product itself. So many people spend their written lines just pointing out the parts that are not perfect. Since when does something need to be perfect. A game like Force Unleashed 2 is not perfect but how amazing does something need to be in order for it to get a good review?
   I think reviewers should try to review products in a more positive light. Instead of telling us what an iPad is not good for why not help people understand how something like that might improve their lives. If you are going to point out the flaws of a video game help us know what audience it would appeal to (like me and the other Star Wars fans). I can think of two reviews of my own as examples. In my review on toothbrushes I put some toothbrushes down but before the end I give an example of a toothbrush that is worth using. In one of my movie reviews I compare two movies that are both good but explain why one is better than the other, which may not technically be a review.
   I would hope the few people that read my words find that when I talk about products I may lead you to think about trying one or at least opening your mind to one that you may not have thought about before.
   Also, I hope my blog is not only about reviewing products.
   Which reminds me, I have been thinking of starting a serial. Basically a short story that will be posted in segments on here. It may be too ambitious for my lazy inner writer. But what do you think?