Earlier this week, Ben Kuchera of the Penny-Arcade Report got into some trouble over a review he wrote about the game Beyond: Two Souls. In that review, he found the gameplay to not be engaging or fun and the story to be derivative and weak, to put it mildly. However the main point of contention was not his final opinion on the game, but rather on the fact that he didn’t play the game all the way through.
This got me thinking, does a game reviewer have to play the whole game in order to write the final review? Should game reviewers be forced to play terrible games all the way through before telling the world they are terrible? Would you expect your friend to have played a game all the way through before telling you to not waste your time or money on it? Would you be willing to sit and play a game you are not enjoying all the way through before saying you are done? Why do we have such high expectations of game reviewers when we don’t set the for ourselves or close friends?
The main point of contention seems to be that many people are under the impression that game reviewers are supposed to be objective in their reviews. They are supposed to remove their own opinions, their own likes and dislikes from the process of reviewing a game. But it is not possible for any human to do so. It is even against the whole idea of a review. Reviews are opinions and nothing more.
If a reviewer hates a game and know he hates it halfway through, I see no value in delaying the inevitable. Some might say that there could be redeeming qualities in the second half of the game. Yet, if it takes multiple hours to get to those “redeeming” qualities, it is still a big negative for the game.
I had a conversation with a friend of mine about game reviews and the comparison to food reviews came up. My friend felt that a game reviewer should play the whole game before writing their review of the game, but did not feel that a food reviewer should be held to the same standard. A food reviewer is perfectly fine to taste each portion of the meal and write the review without having cleaned their plate. But a game reviewer cannot. Because according to him, each part is the individual levels/chapters of the game.
I don’t see it that way. I consider the game as a whole to be analogous to the whole meal, with each part of the meal, we used a spaghetti dinner with garlic bread and cheesecake as the analogy, as the gameplay, the art, and the story. So if you take a bite of the gameplay (the spaghetti) and find it to be terrible, then take a bite of the garlic bread (the art) and find it pretty good, then take a bite of the cheesecake (the story) and find it bland and dry, then you have enough information to write an informative review. You are not obligated to wolf down the whole thing to pass a final judgement.
But unlike a food review, you cannot enjoy individual parts of a game you like without being subject to the parts of the game you hate. If you go to a restaurant and know you hate the spaghetti but love the garlic bread, you can always just buy the garlic bread. The same cannot be said for a game. You cannot remove the good story from a terrible game or the good gameplay from crap art and shoehorned story. So there is no reason to stick around if someone is forcing you to play or eat crap in order to be rewarded with something that may or may not be good.
So this is it. Why should any reviewer be forced to play a game all the way through when they know after playing it for a couple of hours already that it is crap and not likely to get better? They shouldn’t. It makes no sense.