One of the things we’ve been discussing behind the scenes here lately is the fact that a number of video game review websites (we won’t name names) have been posting more reviews for games that the reviewers haven’t actually completed. The average reader may not know this, but some of the major websites, particularly those who cover all genres, don’t always finish the games they review. This is understandable in some cases because of time constraints, the volume of their coverage, or the fact that with some genres, there really isn’t an ending (such as MMORPGs and certain simulation and puzzle games, which instead have hour requirements). But games that have actual endings — RPGs in particular — require completion. What’s disheartening is that smaller websites, whether they target a genre or a specific gamer demographic, are doing this too.
Many game review websites (including this one) post disclosures at the end of every review, especially in light of the new FCC ruling about product reviewers disclosing any freebies they receive from companies. In addition to noting whether the developer or publisher provided a free copy of the game, these notices also often include whether the game was completed, and if not, how many hours of the game they completed. If you start paying attention to these notices, you’ll see that some websites have no problem playing only a few hours of a game and then calling their work a “review.”
You cannot analyze an entire game by playing only part of it. It’s misleading and unethical to post a review for a game you haven’t completed. To most readers and video game reviewers, a review is an assessment made after completing the game — seeing the ending, watching the credits roll, and completing the epilogue, if any. An assessment made after playing part of the game without completing it is called an impression, not a review.
Would you trust a review for a hotel from someone who only looked at the lobby? Would you trust a review of a restaurant from someone who only nibbled at an appetizer? What about a movie review from someone who only saw the first 30 minutes of a two-hour movie? Or a book review from someone who only read the first chapter? These would be good ways to get impressions, but you wouldn’t trust any of these for reviews. So why should you trust a review based on part of the game?
The biggest argument for the importance of completion is that games can have a sudden shift in quality. Almost every gamer knows this firsthand. The story takes a nosedive near the end, or maybe the gameplay suddenly picks up halfway through and becomes delightfully immersive.
If I had stopped playing Wild ARMS 4 or Eternal Sonata before reaching their final stages, I would have had better opinions of their stories. If I had stopped playing The Last Remnant before reaching the infamous fort battles, I might not have realized how punishing the game could be. Mass Effect annoyed me at the start and the story wasn’t that interesting. Then I figured out what I was doing wrong with the controls, the story started pulling me in, and I ended up cheering as I rocketed through to the spectacular ending. It’s now one of my all-time favorite games.
Here’s a recent example. If I had stopped playing Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days after only 5-10 hours, I would have written a very negative impression. After finishing the game, my opinion of it became positive (though I was still very critical of the game’s sluggish start). I recently read an overwhelmingly negative review of that game on another site, and the whole way through, I wondered if the reviewer had actually completed it. His descriptions matched everything for the first part of the game, but he never mentioned anything from the rest. Sure enough, in the last paragraph, he admitted that he’d only put in 11 hours. It’s worth noting that he thought the game was awful enough at first to make him stop playing, but that still only counts as an impression, not a full review. A full review looks at the full game.
By only playing through part of a game, you’re missing out on its full complexity — the character development, the increasing challenges, the big plot twist — or not reaching the point where the game suddenly turns sour. It’s also highly disrespectful to the developers and your readers; the former wants their work examined in a thorough and fair manner, and the latter wants to ensure that they invest time and money in a thoroughly worthwhile venture.
We have a simple but strict rule about our reviews. A reviewer can only post a review if he or she completes the game — that is, reaches the ending (or the “good” alternate ending that might change his or her opinion) and sees the credits. If a reviewer didn’t complete the game, he or she can post an impression of it instead. This should remain the standard for all reviewers, and anything less is a disgrace to the industry.