I've played video games regularly for many years now. A few years ago, I even toyed with the idea of becoming a game reviewer of some kind. It was never a serious thought, partially because of the need for relocation but mostly because I just didn't know what I needed to do in order to become one. In other words, I wish Dan Amrich, a veteran of the video game reviewing wars, had written Critical Path a long time ago. Only a couple of minor issues mar what is otherwise an excellent book that explains all the ins and outs of getting into the video game review business and even beyond that if you find that job growing stale.
Amrich has been in the business for a while now, reviewing games and working for video games magazines for many years. He's also been working on this book for a number of years. This isn't necessarily that important except to note for those who may be curious that Critical Path does cover both print journalism and online sites, the latter of which are becoming increasingly important in the gaming world. It has been heavily updated to reflect all current facets.
What's odd about this is that Amrich is actually not currently working in the field but is instead the Community Manager at Activision (or "the dark side," as I've heard it called). This isn't mentioned in the text, and I'm not sure if that's because it might just confuse people or muddy the waters. It sounds weird when reading the book if you're familiar with this because the way he writes makes it sound like he's still in the field. I quickly got past that feeling, but it did make me stop and think a couple of times early on.
Critical Path covers everything you're going to need in order to get your dream job of reviewing video games. He even mentions things that you might not think of but which are very important to keep in mind, such as having a bit of empathy for the game's creators who have spent many long months, if not years, putting together this game that you're getting ready to trash with a horrible review. He suggests trying your own hand at developing something, even if it's something simple, just so you get the feeling of what it's like.
The book covers a steady career path from getting your work noticed to becoming a freelancer to finally getting your dream job working at a gaming magazine or web site. He also shatters many illusions that young people who want to do this job probably have. You're not going to get rich doing this, and it's not just going into the office at 9am, picking up a controller and playing games all day, then going home at 5pm. It's actual work. Amrich pulls no punches in his description of just what this job entails and how hard it is to do when you go into it with blinders on. It's not discouraging in any way. He just wants to make sure you're going into it knowing the truth. He even addresses issues like dressing professionally and developing the social skills that you're going to need for interacting with people in the business. Again, it's not just hiding out and playing games all day by yourself.
One of the chapters covers something that most people wanting this job don't even think about: getting screenshots of games. What makes an effective screenshot to accompany your article? If you're a freelancer, should you provide your own shots or let the publication you're writing for do it? Amrich provides examples of shots that work and don't work that he took for his Gears of War review. This is a very effective chapter except for one thing: the screenshots don't translate well to
the basic Kindle at all (although it's fine on a Fire). You can barely see what’s happening in any of them. Thankfully, Amrich does describe things fairly well, but the examples are pretty useless overall. I'm sure I would feel differently if I were reading the print copy of the book.
Another slight word of warning regarding something that didn't particularly bother me but may bother others. The tone of the book is very conversational, even to the point where words like "gonna" and the like are in there. I would love to sit down at a bar and have a few beers with Amrich and talk about the art of video game reviewing—the tone of the book is much like that. When Amrich emphasizes how professional your writing should be, I'm torn on whether or not this tone is appropriate in Critical Path.
This is a very niche book, so it won't appeal to a large cadre of readers. It is, however, an important book for more than just those interested in getting their start reviewing games. Those interested in getting into the review business of anything (movies, music, etc) will find that some of the points he makes are universal. For lovers of video games who don't want to get into reviewing, Critical Path gives you insight into what's behind the reviews that you read. That's why I wanted to read it, and I'm glad I did. You won't find a more comprehensive guide into the murky world of reviewing as you will in this book.