Over the years, video game analysis and video game reviews have evolved into a vast, mainstream field. Because both terms are similar, there seems to be confusion on what a game review is versus what an analysis is. The two words are often used interchangeably, but in reality, they do not have the same meaning. Although there are some similarities and some differences between game analysis and game reviews, only the analysis provides an in-depth and unbiased understanding of the game, and its mechanics.
In the early 2000’s, video gaming was emerging as a mainstream source of entertainment. New and powerful home gaming consoles (like the Xbox360 and PlayStation 3) were released at affordable prices. With the number of consoles rising, new genres of games became available. First person shooter games (FPS) originally created in the early nineties became popular in the early 2000s, with the rise of titles like Halo and Call of Duty. Reputable companies like IGN and Rock Paper Shotgun, published reviews of FPS games on a weekly basis. Their opinions offered consumers an insight into a game before a player made the decision whether to purchase the game or not. As an example on March 7, 2006, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter was released to the Xbox 360 console with critical acclaim. IGN’s Review of the game for the Xbox 360 platform averaged at 9.2/10 stars. For other consoles, their review scores fell shorter and averaged between 3.7/10 to 8.1/10 stars. IGN’s reviews, however, focused mainly on game-play cosmetics, mainly the graphics, and had little focus on the game’s storyline. According to Perry (2006). “The characters are superbly animated and detailed” (p. 3). The reviews told the player how to move around with the game’s controller, what the movements in the game felt like, and how to use the “in-game” map. IGN’s review of Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter felt more like a player’s guide, and frequently offered recommendations on how users should play the game, rather than focusing on why a gamer should or shouldn’t buy it. According to Ubisoft (2006), The reviews were influential enough to make the gamers favor the Xbox 360 over the rest of the gaming platforms. By the end of March 2006, Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter had sold more than 1.6 million copies, half of them were for the Xbox 360.
Moving forward six years, in 2012, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Phantoms, was released as a Free to Play (F2P) for Microsoft Windows and received reviews averaging 7/10 stars. The game was a short-lived MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) and was shut down two years later in 2014. Shortly after the game was released, IGN wrote and released a review of the game, praising its mechanics and combat scenes. According to Meunier (2012), “You truly don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the game” (p. 4). The review included numerous videos of gameplay and information about the storyline, but unfortunately not all parts reviewed were included in the free-to-play version. Despite being classified as a free-to-play game, the player had the option to spend real money on in game cosmetics and experience boosts. Gamers worldwide were assured by Ubisoft, the video game publisher of the Ghost Recon: Phantoms that it was a Free-To-Play game as no money was required to be spent to progress through the main storyline. Despite not costing money upfront, Free-To-Play video games often have exclusive elements only available via purchase and often displeasing gamers in the process. The early 2010’s reviews provide a more insightful, although sometimes biased summary of a video game and its mechanics. However (and to the detriment of the gamers) both, the Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter review and Ghost Recon: Phantoms review are missing a key aspect: An analytical review of the video game.
It wasn’t until March 10, 2017 that Rock Paper Shotgun published the first analytical review of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands. The website’s review first discusses problems that Ubisoft has had in the past (for instance releasing games with game breaking bugs, server failures and characters lacking firearms), then proceeds to the actual gameplay itself. The game’s environment is described as being an excellent representation of Bolivia, where the game takes place. According to Caldwell (2017), “It often made me stop during my checklist chores and shout to my team mates: look at that!” (p. 3). However, the review is mostly analytical as it also describes the many flaws that the game was plagued with, in particular, game bugs. For example, Brendan’s co-op partner insisted that he was driving a truck to a mission. Although the vehicle was moving, the character was outside the vehicle and was floating atop the roof. The author thoroughly disliked the game and through his analysis, it’s clear why he did not enjoy it based on his perception of the story line, the game mechanics and its flaws.
Reviews during the early 2000s of the Tom Clancy: Ghost Recon series focused on the way the game felt to play compared to the reviews of the series were a decade later which focus on analyzing the gameplay’s storyline, accompanying mechanics, and overall game experience. By the mid 2000’s, reviews were plentiful, but offered little insight into a videogame’s core mechanics. They simply offered a brief glance into the game’s story mode, soundtrack, and drabbled only slightly in the game’s mechanics. Game journalism was not viewed as seriously as it is today. Reviews were often published in magazines such as Game Informer, and users had to wait days, or even weeks, for these reviews to be published.
Today’s Video Game journalism is viewed respectfully by the consumers and they rely heavily on analysis before purchasing a video game. Websites like Rock, Paper, Shotgun and IGN are taken more seriously than they were in the mid 2000’s. They offer longer, and more detailed reviews, choosing to delve into the game’s mechanics and bugs, in addition to the story mode and soundtrack. Streaming services became available and this caused an explosion in all areas of technology. Now, viewers do not have to simply read about a video game review in a printed source. They could go onto a website like IGN or Rock, Paper, Shotgun and watch a user play through a game while offering their analytical review of it. Although print reviews are still popular, they are slowly weaned off in favor of streaming services and online access. According to Kain (2014), “More time is spent with a game post-release” (p. 4). Early Video Game reviews focused on the content during Alpha and Beta testing. Currently, analysis focuses on after store release. Users have access to video game journalism on a live basis, and they no longer have to wait for a magazine to arrive in the mail.
IGN was founded in 1997 as Imagine Games Network. The corporation’s purpose was to deliver their viewers media and video game journalism. Ownership from the company went back and forth until 2013, when it was made a subsidiary of J2 Global. Currently, the company’s headquarters are in San Francisco.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a UK based blog, authored by John Walker, Adam Smith, Alec Meer, and Jim Rossignol. It launched in the year 2007 with the intent of reporting on news in the video game industry. It primarily reports on PC games, but also reports on console games. In May 2017, the site was purchased by Eurogamer.
Ghost Recon is a series of video games published by Ubisoft entertainment. The first game was released in November of 2001, and the most recent entry in the series was released in March 2017. The games are published by Red Storm Entertainment, a subsidiary of Ubisoft Entertainment. I selected the Ghost Recon series as the subject of my paper because I found it to be “The Video Game” that defines the shooter genre. The first entry in the series emerged as the shooter genre was becoming popular. Thirteen years ago, I had my first exposure to the Tom Clancy: Ghost Recon series with the release of Ghost Recon 2. I found myself enjoying a few games that came out at later dates, but eventually stopped playing games in the series due to the PlayStation 2 being discontinued.
The series has been referenced in Game Developers Conference (GDC) talks and in academic articles about Level Design. The latest entry in the series, Ghost Recon: Wildlands, took over a year’s worth of research to complete. A team of researchers was sent to Bolivia and spent a week with a Bolivian Army squad. The game’s in game map and world is extremely detailed, with major landmarks and features an exact representation of Bolivian geography. Some events from the game’s trailer were from when the team of researchers spent time with the Bolivian Army. These events include the burning of cocaine labs, and live-fire ammunition tests.
In the last decade, video game reviews have been slowly shifting and evolving towards an analytical perspective. Game reviews from reputable websites such as Rock Paper Shotgun analyze specific moments and environments of the game in detail, evaluating not only the story line but also the characters, the functionality, the fluidity, and errors. The video game industry continues to expand and grow in many new ways achieving a level of sophistication unthinkable twenty years ago.