Is it Necessary For a Critic to Complete a Game? Absolutely Not

Not only is it impossible, but it's also unnecessary for a critic to complete every game he analyzes.

It's a common question:

Should video game critics complete the game before issuing a review for public consumption?

Having reviewed games for over 15 years, I can tell you without a moment's hesitation that the answer is "No." There are some rare instances where it would help a lot to finish a game, I will admit that. This is especially true for titles that thrive on the storyline, such as Heavy Rain. However, such titles are few and far between and in fact, they're actually becoming rarer as the industry embraces bigger, more open-ended experiences.

This isn't about laziness or arrogance. It's simply about producing an accurate, proper review and 99 percent of the time, you really don't need to see the end credits before you can do your job.

Mechanically, not much changes after the first hour or two

From a gameplay perspective, if the game is flawed, you're going to know it immediately. If it plays well, you'll also know it immediately. A game doesn't suddenly break or get significantly better in the last few hours of the adventure (at least in terms of mechanics). Now, if a game has multiple gameplay mechanics, you might have to see them all before writing the review; in other words, if there's a puzzle or platforming section in an action game, you'll want to at least get that far, so you can check out the new gameplay system. Developers do some things well and other things... not so well.

Other than that, there isn't much else to talk about. You know things are off in the first fifteen minutes of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z, for instance, as the camera is poorly implemented and there are a few other control issues as well. On the flip side, you know The Last Of Us controls almost flawlessly right from the get-go. There are things you'll have to see, of course, such as melee attacking vs. third-person shooter elements, but you get a very good idea of the game's solidarity within the first hour or two.

Completing every game reviewed is a literal impossibility

It just can't be done. Unless you've got a very large staff and you get all the games as soon as humanly possible, this just can't happen. Gamers basically demand that reviews are produced within the first 24-48 hours of a new title's release; that being the case, critics have to really move to hit those deadlines. It's all the more difficult when the publisher doesn't get you the game until only a few days before the launch. Sometimes, you'll get games as much as two or three weeks ahead of time, but that's rare. And again, you have to be part of the biggest publications on earth for that to happen.

Let's also not forget that even the shortest games in existence are at least 5 or 6 hours long, with the majority being much, much longer. During last holiday season, for example, you can't expect a critic to complete Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag in a matter of days, not when he or she has a dozen other games that need reviewing ASAP. What about upcoming titles like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? I mean, are you kidding? Either gamers have to be willing to wait a lot longer for reviews, or they just have to accept the fact that we don't need to complete the game in order to provide them with a great review.

A good critic knows when he's seen enough

That's just the truth. The longer you do it, the more you can easily recognize the point at which you can say, "Okay, I get it." At that moment, you know you can sit down and write a properly educated review. Maybe it's only a few hours; honestly, for some games, that's enough time. For others, you've got to put in a bigger chunk of time and you know it.

For the record - and I'd like to make this clarification now, lest people believe this practice encourages mistakes - I've never once felt like I screwed up.  I mean, I've never written a review without finishing the game, gone back to finish, and then wanted to change the score.  The most I've ever wanted to adjust is maybe a tenth of a point or two, but that's about it. The point is, I saw what I needed to see and I knew what gamers needed to know.

This is just the way things are. The idea that a critic has to complete a game in order to provide us with a great review is illogical and really, for most of us, completely impossible.

Featured Columnist

A gaming journalism veteran of 14 years, a confirmed gamer for over 30 years, and a lover of fine literature and ridiculously sweet desserts.

Published Apr. 7th 2014
  • The Truth_7088
    This article is just an excuse for laziness. Americans are weak.
  • TechmarineChris
    I see where you're coming from, but I'd also like to point out that the audience needs to know how much time reviewers are putting in the game. If they haven't completed the game, their reviews should be labelled as "first impressions" rather than full reviews. You wouldn't give a review of a film based on the first 15 minutes, right? You think the first few chapters of a book are enough to form an informed enough opinion on it?

    Likewise, there are games out there that can't be properly experienced within the first fifteen minutes or even during a single playthrough. You can't review a Zelda game, for example, without completing it first, due to how much the story really matters, and how each item one gets adds to the gameplay. Mastering the combo system in just about every hack'n'slash action game by Platinum Games, for another example, isn't expected of the players in the first playthrough, and thus the games have been designed around that with a level select and the ability to retain every upgrade the player gets as they play through each level.

    Really, this kind of attitude towards game reviewing makes me think it's the only reason Ninja Theory was ever a successful game studio. The only game of theirs I have played that is above average (and actually has an identity of its own) is Heavenly Sword. Enslaved: Odyssey To The West and DmC: Devil may Cry are both so bog-standard and bland that they feel almost phoned in, and yet they have such high review scores (in stark contrast with the user scores). What's up with that?
  • Squall_2279
    "Is it necessary for a critic to completely finish a movie?"
    "Is it necessary for a critic to completely finish a meal?"
    "Is it necessary for a critic to completely finish a book?"

    Do you understand how your logic completely falls apart? And your whining in the comments doesn't help at all. "Ohh I can't be expected to finish every game when my editor wants me to write 20 reviews in a week." Don't cry about about how hard your job is you giant baby.

    Your cheating both the game by not playing it and experiencing all it has to offer, and you're lying through your teeth to your readers by not giving them a 100% honest review. How's anybody supposed to take your word seriously when you basically just laid out that you're a sham?
  • [[Deleted]]
    Have you ever worked in a deadline based job?

    Tales of Xillia took me 50 hours to beat, 50 hours is longer than a 40 hour work week. Lets say you have to do 8 reviews in a week. that leaves you 5 hours to play each game, and actually write the review.

    I'm not saying its the best system, and If you read my comment above I fully agree it leaves opening gaps (as I illustrated with Lightning Returns) for potential opinion changing.

    However, just because their JOB is what some of us do for a HOBBY, doesn't mean that their expected to spend ump-tine unpaid overtime hours to write each review.

    The more I think about it, the more I can understand the authors point of view, I've worked many a job where I've been denied and scammed out of overtime hours worked (all in all about 2 years wages worth in the last 6 years) so yeah, call it lazy, but at the end of the day their trying to do the best job they can with the allotted amount of time they have.
  • [[Deleted]]
    I'm on the fence on this one.

    I mean, yes, you can typically tell if your going to like a game within 2-3 hours,
    but I will agree that it needs to be mentioned that the game was played for X amount of hours.

    Some games, especially RPG's get better as the story progress's and the characters get stronger, or get access to more abilities. In Lightning Returns only after you have beaten the game, and start a New Game+ do you get to start upgrading your schemata outfits, leading to a whole new level of customization of the combat system. While not ground breaking does make a significant impact as it allows you to take a schemata that you either like the look of, or has an ability you like and upgrade its stats to equal the higher end schema's, along with adding in the same things to weapons and shields.

    That's a pretty big detail that got left out of the reviews I read, that and since you get to take all your stats over, for me it makes it worth my while to go back and play again, see if I can't complete some of the quests I didn't have time for or forgot about.

    That's just one example, but I think it illustrates the point, alot of times I find reviews are all about the initial impression, and are casually tossed into the good or bad category and left at that.

    But I also understand... I mean a game like Lightning Returns is a 35-40 hour play... when you have X number of reviews to do... sometimes you just gotta go off that initial impression and leave it at that. So yeah.. still on the fence.
  • Orugos
    An editor breathing down your neck and your job requiring you to review several games in a time frame that does not allow you to complete most or any of them absolutely does not make your reviews more valid. If you truly believe that game reviewers are overwhelmingly, mostly correct without having played through the majority of a game then, tell me, why do the majority of gamers disagree with and have poor impressions of video game reviewers and their reviews? If you believe that the majority of gamers do not disagree with reviewers, then why did you write this article?
  • EAPrima
    Sorry, but this article is garbage and disrespectful to game developers. It is no wonder great games goes completely amiss. As the saying goes "if you cannot stand the heat get out of the kitchen"; you cannot paint all games with the same brush and it is truly inexcusable for you to do so. As an ex-journalist, I found your article distasteful and if other journalist are doing the same thing as you then they should also leave their profession or give the task to someone else that would do a better job. It is no wonder most gaming medias are no longer taken seriously, heck your response to saur made that even clearer.

    From this point onwards, if I see any review articles from this site, game skinny, I will take them with a grain of salt.
  • anonymouse_9521
    get out of this industry if you can't handle it. Plenty of people will take your workload and deal with it much better than you. First impressions are not reviews.
  • Nick Vanderplop
    Because of this, i will now take game reviews with a grain of salt, unless they specifically mention the ending.
  • Trevor_4677
    I would temper this viewpoint with one note - if a game reviewer doesn't complete a game - they should note that they didn't play it to completion. It's only fair to point out that a review is based on gathered impressions from X hours played and that if there were mechanics added past that point they weren't experienced.
  • Elijah Beahm
    Featured Columnist
    Overall, I agree that some games can become clearly good or bad to a reviewer at a certain point (I actually was thinking of Ninja Gaiden Z and Jim Sterling's review of it), but I also can think back to a few games I've played in the past that would drastically change either positively or negatively in their second or third acts, namely Scary Girl and Metro 2033, both titles I loved at first but started to seemingly go downhill at respective points.

    Likewise, there were some games where if I had stopped early I would have never come to enjoy. Dead Space, one of my favorite franchises of all time now, and I almost put it aside due to the incredibly underwhelming singleplayer demo for Dead Space 2. Ghost Recon Online is a hard game for some to get into but I actually came to really enjoy it. It took four games before Assassin's Creed finally clicked for me.

    Once again I'm brought to mind a thought of Jim Sterling (not intentional, just a prime example), where he outright stated barely bothering with Batman: Arkham Origins' multiplayer for more than a few matches and then quitting. I've gotten nearly a hundred hours out of Arkham Origins, and I can tell you quite honestly, less than half of those hours were from the game's singleplayer campaign.

    So really, I think it's a case by case basis. Some games are just born to be tedious and unwelcoming whether the developers intended so or not. Look at Dark Souls. Imagine if all the reviews for it just brushed it aside as too hard, and instead just all said go play more Uncharted 2. It is impossible to review all games from beginning to end, from random generators like Minecraft and roguelikes to fifty hour long RPGs with plots duller than a hammer. That doesn't mean we should just say it's fine to always do that, because if we do, then we'll miss the good and bad points that we'd otherwise would have seen.

    Also I sincerely disagree with the example of The Last of Us, as it's during later sections of the game that control issues (such as the more awkward style of switching shoulders and aiming down your scope) finally appear, but also where some of the game's greatest highlights (such as Ellie's section of the game) are found. Not only that but however blatantly it follows the ideas of True Grit and stories like it, it's a story focused game built to be a cinematic experience.
  • Si_W
    Disagree with everything just about in this article but won't insult you for having a different opinion to me.

    A review is an opinion as you say but you are only there to give a feel rather than an expert in-depth factually based account. Certainly no one needs to complete a game in order to have a valid opinion on a game, after all it doesn't stop commenters on this or any other forum.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Well, doesn't sound to me like you disagree with anything. :)
  • Dim Mak_2307
    This is one of the biggest pieces of garbage ever written about the video game/review culture and 90% of video games review culture is nonsensical propaganda so in that respect Fathoms "well done". It is clear to me you have used the lowest possible denominated number of your mental capacity in this write up, as you must clearly do in your other articles. This mindset and approach to informing the easily influenced gaming public is why we cant have nice things. Try using your brain next time, trust me it works wonders. If you don't have the man power, time or knowledge "DON'T REVIEW IT" you are putting out an incorrect perception of a potentially good or bad game without the correct information and understanding of what the games unique intricacies are. Saurian_Dash your comment is brilliant mate. This article is lazy mans Propaganda its useless talk.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Wow, bet you'd be very unhappy to know what percentage of critics finish every game they play.

    And I guess that means they're all incompetent. But wait...oddly enough, the highest-rated games in history are widely recognized as also being the best. Now how did that happen? Must be just coincidence because we have no idea how to "inform the public."

    But as always, random gamers who have no experience whatsoever...they're always the saviors. 'rolling eyes'
  • Saurian_Dash
    I'm very sorry, but I couldn't disagree more with this article and feel that your words perfectly sum up the problem with video game reviewers today. You actually believe that you are above the medium and far above the designers of game mechanics and systems.

    "Mechanically, not much changes after the first hour or two"

    No. Never. Absolutely not. If this is the case in ANY game, then THAT is what you should focus your attention on for that particular game, do not paint all games with the same brush (as so many of you are in the habit of doing these days). NEVER approach any game with this attitude! Humble yourself and explore the reasoning behind the design decisions, don't just jump to conclusions based on limited knowledge and an incomplete picture of the game system.

    The biggest problem with game reviewers today is the attitude you exhibit. You do not have any understanding of, or appreciation of mechanical depth and have no idea of how deep a game system can be or what process the player engages in order to crack said system. I feel the game which illustrated this point most clearly was The Wonderful 101 on the Wii U. This game rubbed reviewers up the wrong way because it is a completely new way of presenting previously established Stylish Action game mechanics, all of the tried and tested mechanics do exist in some form, but they are iterated to such a degree that they have become unrecognisable. Each and every possible action the player can perform within the game has multiple functions and these additional functions do not make sense until you have attained a certain degree of mastery over the system. The level of play required absolutely will not come to you after a couple of hour's play - much of it will not click into place until you start playing the higher difficulty settings and trying for perfect grades. It is only after playing through the stages multiple times as you strive for a greater degree of perfection and quality of play will you see the true genius of the system in The Wonderful 101, a level of genius completely missed by the gaming press.

    I wrote the system mechanics and enemy strategy sections of the official strategy guide for Bayonetta. I wrote 120k words on the combat system alone, primers for each and every boss battle, then an actual breakdown of your attack sequence once you have digested the primers. There is a HUGE amount of system mechanical depth to digest in games like Devil May Cry 3, Viewtiful Joe, God Hand, Bayonetta and The Wonderful 101, absolutely staggering numbers of rules, tricks and nuances to explore and understand before you attain a mastery of the system. When writing the guide for Bayonetta I actually had to re-write entire chapters over and over again because I kept finding new aspect of the game system, completely new takes on existing actions which completely changed the way I played the game. This happened over and over and over again, right up until we were due to go to print, I was STILL re-writing entire chapters 8 months after I began playing!

    This is the true depth of the greatest game systems, and this is why so many game reviewers today simply cannot be trusted: you have neither the passion, skill or experience to communicate the quality of a game system. Yet you have the sheer arrogance to declare that these systems are so beneath you that you don't even need to play a game properly before you start writing.

    So many of you complain about the "length" of a game and base this length on the total duration of the game's narrative, then you simply gloss over the game mechanics and the true depth of the game system. This narrative "running time" approach to a game's value may work when critiquing a game which is based purely on narration, but any game which is based on deep mechanics is completely unsuitable to this approach. Case in point is a game like Metal Gear Rising, you all moaned about how "short" the game was but completely missed the point in that you are talking about a mechanics-led Stylish Action game; a single player game with the mechanical depth of a VS fighting game. Games like this are designed to be played repeatedly, true mastery of the system does not come to you within a couple of hours, it will come to you after repeatedly play through all the game's stages as you strive to attain perfect grades. It is through this process that the true depth and value of the game becomes apparent and this level of depth lasts a hell of a lot longer than a pre-determined narrative.

    Games like the ones I have mentioned have a HUGE amount of depth to their respective systems. The sense of "exploration", "discovery" and "achievement" is not gained from the environments or narrative of these games, it all stems from the depth of the system mechanics. All of the best systems, bar none, will surprise and shock the player over and over again with what I call "Mario Moments", the feeling you got when you realised you could run along the ceiling in World 1-2 of Super Mario only to be met with a reward in the form of a Warp Pipe at the end of the tunnel. The designers knew you'd figure that trick out eventually and left a nice surprise for you as a reward. All the deepest and most rewarding game systems all function in the same way, the more you explore these systems, the more Mario Moments are presented to you as you follow the trail of breadcrumbs which leads you down a path of ever greater skill and mastery of the game system. System mechanical "Mario Moments" are an expect of gaming the gaming press NEVER acknowledge, yet you honestly believe you are some sort of authority worthy to tell the rest of us gamers what to think.

    Your attitude is a cancer to game design and the main reason why functional standardisation reigns supreme in game design today. You never allow the really good stuff to shine, you are like a firewall which keeps the best game systems from being accepted by the gaming audience.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    You wrote books about the gameplay system in Bayonetta and somehow think that's a review?

    Never mind, doesn't matter. I won't respond to someone who passes judgment on my work without ever having read a word I've written. It's ironic that I've praised all the games you, for some reason, think I wouldn't. And your reading comprehension is nil, because I never said half of what you're accusing me of. There's not even a rebuttal to any specific point in there; just an entitled, egotistical flip-out.

    You don't even know what I mean when I use the word "mechanics." I'm only talking about control and how the game plays, generally. Yeah, I knew in the first hour that Bayonetta played fine. Didn't need a novel that you - who apparently considers himself a legit genius - wrote to tell me how deep it is, either.

    Won't be wasting any more time on you, sorry.
  • Mark Twain
    Hi: I think I do not agree with all your points. Excuses, are still excuses, Fathoms
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Call them what you want. I live in reality...when's the last time you had editors breathing down your neck to get 20 reviews done in a week?
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    You should also mention how important quick first impressions are. I absolutely agree with you where you said "You know things are off in the first fifteen minutes of Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z". I haven't play that, but there are plenty of games where you know in the first fifteen minutes that something is wrong and you don't like what you see.

    If you sit down and fifteen minutes into the game you are glued to the screen with a huge smile on your face, you have a good change that you've got an amazing game on your hands. That warrants a higher score already.
  • Fathoms_4209
    Featured Columnist
    Yeah, first impressions are huge. That's true of all entertainment, IMO.

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