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Should Reviewers Play The Whole Game Before Writing Reviews?
by E Zachary Knight on 10/10/13 03:08:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


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.

Originally Published on Random Tower.

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George Burdell
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I think an important part of the PA review is that it's conclusion was negative.

If you need to review a game and the first half is worth a 9/10and you stop playing, your judgement of the entire game will be wrong if the second half is of much lower quality. A story, for instance, might start off great through a first and second act, but it's conclusion might leave the total package as a failure in storytelling. If the gameplay is good for the first half, maybe it changes for the second half. Not drastically or entirely, but significantly. Maybe the gameplay didn't start to get repetitive for you yet when you stopped. Maybe the art direction invested most of it's time and imagination in the part of the game you just happened to play.

However, if the first half of the game leaves you with a bad taste, your judgement of the game might not be that far off. A story that starts off slow and doesn't seem to head off in any direction, is also unlikely to converge to a great ending in the second half of the game. And if it does, it's still a bad story for the most part. Gameplay that is already repetitive or without challenge is unlikely to become better by playing it twice as long. If an artstyle can't convince you in the first half of the game, it is at least inconsistent and most likely just plain bad.

What I'm trying to say is this: It is so much harder to make a good game than to make a bad game that only upon reviewing a game as "good" you should assess whether you have truthfully judged the entire package. This is also why it can be beneficial to have a reviewer who is likely to enjoy the game.

The food analogy breaks apart in this case, because a game developer generally has alot of influence over which end of the steak you bite first. And a cook has little means to make a small part of his steak superior.

A remarkable thing about game reviews:
I subscribe to a physical game review magazine and they have a handful of reviewers there. The magazine handles anything from e3 console debates and blockbuster games to wii accessories and indie/mobile games. When I open the magazine and I see they have reviewed a game. I can usually predict who reviewed it and what grade it got. I can also usually predict whether I like the game or not, and whether this review has a chance to change my mind. If it's ps3 vs 360 i know who's on what side and what they will say. If there's a new mario game i know who will review it and that it will get a 9/10, and that I will not enjoy said game enough to give it a 6/10.

It's just opinions, but these opinions have authority because of the way they are presented. So when people disagree, they like to be heard.