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Game Informer

A video game magazine that provides news, previews and reviews of the latest in gaming

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Great For News and Previews Bad for Reviews

  • Aug 20, 2009
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Every gamer knows what Game Informer is.  It's the world's bestselling video game magazine.  It often holds the number one spot among game magazine sales.  It's even among the top 100 bestselling magazines of all time.  With this in mind, you'd expect that Game Informer would be perhaps one of the best magazines out there.  Well, yes and no.  There are certain things that it is good for.  In the sense that it can give a unique perspective on the video game industry or give a good dose of news to those who need it.  But with only coming around monthly, sometimes it can be behind.  And when you can go on the website and read everything you get in the magazine for free (and even more that isn't in an issue) some may wonder if Game Informer is actually worth buying at all.  In some respects it is.  Most people would prefer a magazine simply for the fact that not everyone has that instant access to a computer (not to mention carrying a magazine around beats the hell out of talking to the guy next to you in the waiting room at the Doctor's office).

That's right, taking THAT into the Doctor's office!

So let's talk about Game Informer for a minute.  Because in truth, in keeping gamers in the loop, Game Informer can be quite a good magazine.  Their news stories are part of what makes it fun.  Since the world is always changing and since gaming is always changing at a rapid pace, so too is Game Informer.  The magazine has undergone a lot of changes over the years, but one thing remains true: It does provide the news that gamers want.  And it does it in a way that it isn't so biased.  This is because Game Informer in some of their stories will actually go to the gaming public.  They've recently been doing polling to find out things such as what developer gamers prefer, which system gamers own that breaks down the most (and which one they're willing to buy again should it happen) and even do a comparison of the consoles themselves.  But Game Informer, in covering each console, realizes that each console has their own strengths and weaknesses.  You won't find them "bashing" any one console or another.  And you certainly won't find them complaining that the Wii version of a game doesn't look nearly as good at the 360 version.  The staff at Game Informer knows better than to complain about an apple for not being an orange.  This is something even premiere websites don't quite do.  

On the other hand, sometimes their news can be a bit behind.  Since it's monthly this means that by the time Game Informer gets to certain news stories or provides coverage of something... you could've already found out about it from places such as IGN, Gamespot, Gamespy, etc. etc.  This is understandable.  How exactly do you keep one step ahead of the curb when your news is separated by four weeks at a time?  Well, sometimes Game Informer does come through.  They broke the story on Bully long before any website did.  They also make up for it by giving remarkable in depth previews of certain games.  Showing us a gaggle of screenshots and a gaggle of news coverage.  Their cover stories, in particular, are always amazing and mind-blowing.  And sometimes those other gaming websites won't get on it very fast... if at all.  When Game Informer manages to get an exclusive, they do a bang up job with it.  And when they get exclusive previews, they're among the best.

Other times their previews can be a bit lacking.  Sometimes there just isn't enough new info about a game out there.  Sometimes you'll get a preview that's a mere paragraph long because that's all they can really get.  Usually you'll find future previews later on, some with more depth. 

Yet in keeping up with all their screenshots and their lack of words, you're still getting something from Game Informer.  It's also nice to know that they have a sense of humor.  No matter how big a game is, they're always willing to crack a joke or something.  And in the process they can give off some interesting trivia.  Early on in each issue they always provide a screenshot asking for people to "Name that game."  They've got a list of "Good Bad and Ugly," which they're also willing to joke about.  Even in letters send to them, they're willing to joke in response to some of their readers.  These guys love video games and you can tell that they do.  They're not "casual" or "hardcore" they're just gamers.  And that's always fun.  A lot of gamers can get caught up in the "Casual" vs. "Hardcore" stuff.  It's nice to know Game Informers staff comes from a time before anyone cared about whether one was hardcore or not.  

It's also nice to know that Game Informer never abandons the old school gaming.  They're often willing to dig into the past.  They give you retro reviews and they always have a section entitled "Classic GI" where they talk about old gaming or how the industry has perhaps changed over the years.  And they do this while giving credit and credence to old games that made it possible for new games to be established.  For gamers who came into the mix long before the Playstation 2 or even the original Playstation, it's great nostalgia.  And for other gamers it's great education. 

While Game Informer is really good for this kind of stuff, there is one place where they really really hit an all time low.  That would be their reviews.  A lot of people find Game Informers reviews helpful, but the point is that most of them are no good.  I get skepitcal over a lot of Game Informers reviews, because they lack the definitive detail that someone like me would need to use it as the base of a decision.  I read one review of Boktai: The Sun is In Your Hands where the reviewer spent so much time complaining about how he had to find sunlight to play the game that he never actually talked about the game itself.  No Gameplay coverage, no coverage of its graphics and sound.  Just a guy who wasted half a page complaining about how he couldn't get sunlight.  Is it a legitimate complaint?  Sure, but wasn't there something else about Boktai?  Isn't there a whole game there that the reviewer refused to talk about?  That's true too.

But worse is the inconsistencies within their reviews itself.  In their review of Paper Mario the Thousand Year Door, they wrote up a write up that was actually not so bad.  Yet they gave the game a 6.75 after giving it a fairly glowing review.  Why did they give it a 6.75?  They cited because it "wasn't a game for everyone" and that it "isn't just about whether or not we like it."  Hey, I concur with Game Informer.  It's not just about whether or not the individual likes it.  Let's take Halo.  I can't stand that game, but that doesn't make it a bad game.  But I would never write a glowing review about a game and then give it a mediocre score just because it "wasn't for everyone."  What game is for everyone?  I always thought that you wrote a review for those who were interested, not for those who didn't give a damn?  And yet, other games that "aren't for everyone" like Metal Gear Solid 4 or Resident Evil 4... get 10's.  Why do those games that aren't "for everyone" get a 10 when Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door have to settle for a 6.8 for that particular reason?  Game Informer later said it was because Paper Mario just wasn't going to sell that much.  Huh?  So now the review score is based on popularity of the game?  So Metal Gear Solid 4 and Resident Evil 4 get a 10 because their respective franchises are incredibly popular?  And I agree, those are fantastic games... but now it gives the impression that their score is based off popularity rather than the merits of the games themselves.  In short, a lot of the time it's hard to trust Game Informer's reviews because sometimes there's a question as to why they gave it a particular score.  Other times their reviews are so devoid of details that you don't actually learn much of anything about the game.  Basically a lot of Game Informer reviews boil down to them saying, "I loved it," or "I hated it," but never giving a reason why.  Anyone can give an opinion.  You might read this review and say, "Sean's review on Game Informer was the suckiest review to ever suck... I tell you that review just sucked."  Anyone can say THAT.  But how many people will be able to come up with an analysis to say why?  

Has Game Informer changed that?  Well, not really.  They just gave a review for a Dissidia: Final Fantasy that they once again gave it a mediocre score and the gist of the review was, "It's not for everyone."  Well, of course.  Because you don't write a review for "everyone" you write a review for those who want it.  The review should be written for those who ARE interested in it.  Those who don't like Final Fantasy are probably not that interested in Dissidia anyway... and if they are (without being FInal Fantasy fans) there's no reason you should give it a lower score just for the sake of keeping those people away.  A review isn't meant to make a decision for the consumer.  It's there to help the consumer make a decision.  It's one thing to think about more than just whether or not you like it... I do that when I review on Amazon.com.  On the other hand, though, it seems dishonest to give a good game a mediocre score just because it "isn't for everyone."  If movie reviews did that same thing then films by the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Peter Jackson and Robert Rodriguez (to name a few) would never get a positive review.  Because their styles are so different that they're really not for everyone.  Quentin Tarantino especially is a "cult director" meaning you either love him or hate him. 

It doesn't end there.  Sometimes their reviews are so short and unsettling that not only do you not learn much about the game... but it becomes clear that Game Informer didn't play through enough to learn about the game either.  Check out this review for Tales of the Abyss, which probably best shows the problem Game Informer has when it comes to reviewing:

"If you’d asked me in the first five hours how I felt about this by-the-book anime RPG, I’d have growled, possibly cursed under my breath, and turned back to the screen. Thankfully, like so many games of this ilk, it reveals its worth in later hours with a story and characters that I found myself increasingly involved with, even if I’ve seen their like before dozens of times. With the exception of some brief  animated cut-scenes, nothing about the visuals is impressive. But the marginally 3D action battle system is an improvement over the recent Tales of Legendia, and the plotline has enough political twists and betrayals to keep you playing, even if the main character is another confused youth with amnesia. Do we need to start a petition to halt that particular plot device, or what?"

This review of Tales of the Abyss achieved a 7.25.  That's saying a lot for Game Informer.  But look at what they're not telling us.  What exactly is battling like?  It's not enough to simply tell gamers, "It's good."  What makes it good?  And what of that reference to Tales of Legendia?  It's a sort of "quickie" review, but a "quickie" review is not exactly easy to give a JRPG.  Especially one like Tales of the Abyss which has a pretty lengthy story.  But perhaps the most disturbing part is when he says, "...Even if the main character is another confused youth with amnesia..."  This is actually a pretty inaccurate statement.  Certainly we're made to BELIEVE he has amnesia, but about a quarter of the way into the game there's a twist thrown in there that specifically tells us this isn't the case.  So now it brings about the question if the reviewer digged far enough into the game or not.  You don't necessarily have to finish the game to write a good detailed review, but to get a big plot point inaccurate within a review is a pretty big deal.  It means you're misleading your audience.  Let's forget about the rating and just focus on the idea that the review is too short to provide much insight.  In fact, it was because of this review that I wanted to check out the game itself... because the review was so short and dry that I literally learned nothing about the game from it.  And when I played the game I learned that what they put in there concerning the plot (as if they actually even talked about the story in and of itself... or the gameplay for that matter--and if you're not talking about gameplay in a video game review you're hardly trying) was simply inaccurate.  Even places such as IGN and Gamespot were quick to point out, "There is something more to the story than that, though..."  Game Informer did not.  

That's not to say Game Informer doesn't ever write a good review.  When they do, however, it's often for a game that is part of a well established franchise, or that has been highly anticipated.  They'll also always provide a huge detailed review of their Game of the Month.  And in some ways we can sympathize with Game Informer's lack of detail in their reviews.  They're a magazine, they don't have the same amount of freedom to go into a lot of details on games in quite the same manner that big gaming websites would.  But then that means that Game Informer is a good place to go for reviews concerning big release titles and not exactly smaller releases.  They're a bit more fair in that case, but otherwise they're pretty inconsistent.  As a result there are times when reading their reviews can leave you questioning them.  Not just because there's a lack of detail, but also because they tend to go a bit more lenient on popular titles, and harsher on titles that just "aren't for everyone."  In short, the only time Game Informer seems to take reviewering seriously, is when a hotly anticipated title comes around.  This can leave other gamers feeling a little left behind when something like say... Grand Theft Auto IV isn't on their radar, but that gets a huge review and then something like Persona 3: FES gets almost no attention at all.

Even Game Informers reviews can be a little late, though.  Particularly when releases come out at the end of the month.  They're almost always on top when an anticipated game comes out, but other times you may have to wait a month to get a review.  It happens.  Again, because it's a monthly magazine and as a result sometimes they can't get a review to press on time. 

Game Informer is a good magazine... if you're going to use it for news and previews.  But if reviews is why you're picking up the magazine you may need to find a better source of getting that sort of thing.  For big releases, their reviews are top notch.  Otherwise?  You're better off heading to Metacritic and looking at several different views on a particular game. 

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August 21, 2009
Great review, certainly sums up my thoughts. I subscribe to the magazine mainly for the news/previews, but the reviews are so inconsistent. When it comes to reviews for games it's hard to trust one single source so I usually look at multiple reviews and listen to what my friends think of certain games.
August 21, 2009
Getting multiple view points is always a good thing.  And with advent of being able to download demos directly to your system, this means you can now try the game for yourself too.  But if you're the type of person that does rely on reviews, Game Informer isn't exactly one of the review sources I would regularly rely on.
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About the reviewer
Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #7
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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