Critic Spotlight: DarkZero’s Dominic Sheard

Give a big VGRHQ welcome to one of the first critics to be featured!

Dominic Sheard has been producing quality reviews for DarkZero for quite some time. In fact, he’s produced over 200 reviews, and site founder Ben Knowles says Dominic’s knowledge of video game history and the current industry is “consistently excellent.” It’s important to note that Dominic actually completes the majority of games he reviews, which is worth honoring in and of itself!

With a focus on gameplay and a desire to give the reader the best possible image of the game in question, Dominic’s work is well worth saluting. We figured we’d ask him a few questions concerning his trade, and here’s the interview:

Reviewing games can be a tricky business...

Reviewing games can be a tricky business…

VGRHQ: Are you for or against a universal rating scale?  In other words, would the industry benefit by having all sources use the 10-point scale (or stars, like movies), or should each source be free to use whatever scale they like?

Dominic: Personally, I am against the idea of a universal rating scale for the video game medium. The idea of forcing someone to uphold to a set of rules about how they go about scoring a game feels limiting to me. It does not matter if the reviewer follows five stars, ten numbers or the academic grading system; as long as that reviewer/site explains the meaning behind the scores, then there should be no issue understanding the verdict.
In a perfect world all readers would thoroughly read the entire review, and this might solve the misconception when a game scores a seven and people see this as being awful, when in actual fact it’s still a good score – it’s above average. But let’s be honest, there is a percentage that love looking at the number at the bottom of the page without understanding how the reviewer came to that conclusion.

Just take the Jeff Gerstmann review score of 8.8 for The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and the entire backlash that followed. There is probably nothing we can do to stop that – it’s a habit of their human nature to get to the conclusion as quickly as possible and move on – and removing a score entirely isn’t the answer, because not all writers agree with that idea. Maybe we can shout and drill it into those people that fall into this category, but then that would probably fall on deaf ears, as those vocal minorities are the ones that don’t even need reviews.

I do believe there are other areas of the medium related to video game coverage  – some out of our power to solve – that need addressing. The first is Metacritic. I’m not against that site, as I think it’s interesting to have one location to visit that will tell you all the scores that a particular game received, but the fact that video game publishers are using Metacritic as a bar to set bonuses for workers is quite frankly disturbing. Why is the power in the hands of a small group of individuals, who express their opinions, linked to a company’s decision if a hard worker deserves a bonus or not? That is messed up.

My other niggle – one that is getting better, thanks to the growth of YouTube personalities – is how small and enclosed the video game writing industry is. This is no disrespect to all the great writers out there doing a wonderful job (much better than me), and I totally understand needing to make ends meet, but I always feel a little disheartened when I see a professional reviewer writing for a well-established site, but is also writing material for other sites or newspapers and magazines (this seems to happen a lot in the UK). 

I love guests on podcasts, because it means you have a chance to see/hear some of your favourite writers discuss with each other, but when it comes to articles or reviews, then it’s a little worrying that we are seeing the same people on multiple websites. We need a wider range of insight, views and opinions, not identical ones being written by the same group of people.
Game critics really do respect one another.

Game critics really do respect one another.

VGRHQ: For you, what’s the hardest part about reviewing games?

Dominic: Some might find this shocking, but I actually don’t mind playing through awful games, as long as they work and aren’t completely broken, like say the legendary PC game known as Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing, then I don’t mind making my way through them. In fact, bad games make reviewing fun, because they offer more chance to write creatively, especially if you want to add a bit comedy, and a bad rated game allows me to let loose with some of that vented frustration in my writing without feeling bad about it after.

The hardest part for me is trying to condense a critique of a video game into a reasonable sized article for someone to read and not get bored. I have certainly gone overboard with some reviews, such as my Persona 4 review (amazing game, btw), which went over 3,500 words, but I have been working on breaking down the most important features of a game and getting that across to the readers in an informative way. It’s a concept that is constantly improving as I move from game to game and write about each one.

VGRHQ: In your time, has reviewing games gotten easier or harder, and why?  Were older games, due to less content, just easier to analyse?

Dominic: I didn’t begin writing reviews for games until I was around the age of 19 (I’m 29 now), so it was a time where the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox were in full force and games were already complex pieces of entertainment. As my experience has grown over time, it has become easier to write about video games, but as more games become heavily focused in telling compelling stories, it does become harder trying to translate that into text that relates to the reader how good the story is without spoiling it.

We are in an era where captivating stories are affecting the outcome of a game’s experience. Reviewers still made comments about the gameplay, graphics, level designs and other game related intricacies, but now story has become this category that is forever growing and evolving, and is something that the more experienced writers didn’t have to speak much about back in the day, a time where I was a young one playing with my Commodore 64 on titles as Silkworm, Dizzy, Ghostbusters, and Ninja Rabbits.

VGRHQ: What do you think is the #1 misconception gamers have about video game critics?

Game Ctitics

Dominic: This is an interesting question that’s open to a lot of responses, since there are so many types of gamers out there.

If we keep this brief, I feel there’s an angle to this question that focuses on the group that can be classed as the fanatic gamer. The ones that make the noise, the loud vocal kind, who browse the internet for every review and shower critics in love when a review fits with their opinion about the game. I feel these people have a huge misconception about video game critics, which is blatantly shown when a review does not fall in line with how they feel about the game – even if they haven’t played it – it’s like they are betrayed by the reviewer (I don’t have to mention 8.8 again, right?). Those people think the writer should have the same frame of mind as them, but come on, we’re all human beings and we all have our own individual opinions to share with others who take the time to appreciate what video game critics write.

There is no need to get all pissed off at them. It’s not like critics are forcing how you spend your money, they are only offering their view on the video game. Fans of video games are still free to play what they want to play. In the end, critics offer advice based on their time with the game, and if you don’t like what they have to say, you can always find another viewpoint in the, thankfully now, ever-growing field of video game critics. Disagree, by all means, but move on before you hurl abuse at them and sound like an arse.

End Interview

We’d like to thank Dominic for taking the time to answer our questions, and be sure to check out his work over at DarkZero. He hand-picked two recent reviews of which he’s especially proud:

Dominic’s The Last Of Us Review

Dominic’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes Review

We’re sure we’ll be hearing more from Dominic and DarkZero in the future!

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