So, initially, I planned on publishing a review today… but I still need to edit it and add screenshots and because it’s an Epic Games exclusive, I haven’t taken any screenshots (oops), so I’ll have to sort that out as well… but then again, I haven’t finished that game yet, so can I really write a review on it without having completed it?
I talked about it a while back in a post that I didn’t tag or title properly, meaning I can’t find it right now, and Frosti wrote about it a while ago, too, and I’d recommend checking out his post if you haven’t yet!
It’s pretty well-written and insightful – and heck, I wrote a very lengthy comment as well but had to limit myself given that I didn’t want to write a post under the post or anything.
So, uh, my thoughts, eh?
For starters, what this about? What are we talking about here and why?
Sometimes, you’ll find yourself browsing reviews and when a storefront like Steam also displays the amount of hours that people sunk into a game, you may find that their judgement isn’t valid because they didn’t sink in hundreds of hours into this title.
Similarly, you may see people not recommending a title even though they did sink plenty of hours into it… or maybe you may find their review confusing because they “didn’t get to the good part yet”.
Those are stances that people on the internet take in this sort of debate, which is why I find it important to share my thoughts on the matter.
Do reviewers have to finish games before they’re allowed to review them?
The short answer is “No”.
Should they at least try? The answer to that is “yes”, I’d argue.
Everyone’s time is valuable.
To start of this discussion, I’d like to say that it’s valid to think that your time is valuable… but so is the reviewer’s.
If you end up buying a game because of a recommendation and you play it… and it’s disappointing… then that’s not the reviewer’s fault necessarily.
Even if they didn’t get to the frustrating part, they probably recommended it because the journey up to a certain point was just that enjoyable.
People make an argument like that all the time. “These curators should really play through the game before recommending/not recommending them! I wasted so much time on this!” and other crap like that.
Frankly, it’s just not feasible to play through every game you’re offered before you check what you cover, do a write-up, edit it, and polish it. As a curator, you often get flooded with mails daily on games you should cover… I look at them and then decide but I feel bad when I don’t have the time.
It’s another story when I did accept a review key offer and this PR company that frequently mails me sends me a key. I redeem it. They see that I redeemed it. I didn’t write about it yet. They send a check-up. I tell them about how I was at the hospital again and apologize for the delay. They don’t really know what to do.
If I were to then, also, finish every game and 100% them and yadiyadiyada, I would end up not getting the review out in time for the embargo – which is something that is just not happening at the moment anyway because of university and stuff.
Frankly, it’s not feasible.
What does “Playing Through” mean?
When I get asked if I “played through a game I recommended/didn’t recommend”, I often ask them what they mean.
Is it just the credits or 100% or even 112% or whatever. Honestly, I’m not sure where to begin with this because there are so many definitions that almost always feel arbitrary.
In Recettear, you can beat the story and see the credits roll… but you haven’t really beaten the game yet because you’ve only seen one dungeon at that point in time.
Heck, if you speedrun a title and play “through” it, you’ll be done in no time… but I don’t think that a hypothetical speedrunner that just glitched through 90% of the game is more valid in their judgement than I am if they only saw 10% of the game.
How much should a reviewer see before their verdict?
Honestly, I think it’s important to differentiate here.
In my opinion, it’s important that you’ve played “enough” to have seen it all. Frankly, I know that Hollow Knight is a great game but I still have to beat Grimm, for instance, let alone the boss rush and Zote (the mightiest warrior in the whole world… like IRL, not just in-game). I know that the core gameplay loop and the exploration are satisfying. I know that the metroidvania-like game mechanics work really well… and I love that you can in theory go anywhere you want until you hit a (often literal) wall.
One needs to see flaws to criticize
Frankly, I believe it’s important that one is able to see where issues in the game design lie and what could become problematic.
I just played Saturnalia today and noticed early on that there are specific issues that the game has. I didn’t notice that because I played a lot at that point in time… I noticed it because it’s different from other games but not “different” in a good way.
Games do things differently all the time and sometimes it’s unique and works… and sometimes, it’s janky and doesn’t work.
In the worst case, it’s unintuitive and obstructs one’s enjoyment. When you’re told that you duck by walking into a wall… but the game doesn’t explain you why you’d want to duck or the ducking doesn’t work all the time and is super hard to do… then that’s not good. I’d much rather have a duck button, especially when there are two unused buttons on the controller.
Sometimes, you just see “flaws” and then you limit test it to see if it causes issues… and if it doesn’t, that’s great… but if you then notice that it’s unintuitive, it sucks.
Similarly, I can see how meta progression in Roguelikes and Roguelites can feel grindy. So, then I check whether the meta progression is important to the enjoyment of the game or whether the core gameplay loop gets repetitive before you get to unlock anything cool… and in Hades, I felt for the longest time that it’s grindy… but then I got further into the story with the quests and stuff and I frankly got better at the game and made it further into runs which then awarded me with plenty of “darkness”, meaning I got stronger in the process!
If you don’t see any flaws to criticize though, that’s totally fine as well. There are games that you just really like or that are well-designed. That’s a good thing. Nice!
One needs to try out all aspects of the core gameplay loop
This one is much more important in my opinion.
If a game features some minigames, some farming, constructing, management and combat, I find it important to check out all of it before making my verdict – like I did with Cult of the Lamb.
I’m frankly not good enough at the janky combat that Cult of the Lamb has to beat the final boss. Why? Well, again, the combat is incredibly janky and badly designed as I mentioned in my review. Cult of the Lamb sucks as a roguelite but luckily it’s not just a roguelite. It’s also a Farmin Sim and a Life Sim and a management game… with cute art and great music.
So, before I was ready to trash the combat, I wanted to check out everything else there is in the game… and frankly, I love the rest of it. I just hate the combat. So, I ended up recommending it (I think?) but I didn’t hold back when I hated on the combat because it sucks.
And if I had to wait until I beat the final boss to write that review, then I’d hate the game a lot more and wouldn’t recommend it out of spite.
I mean, imagine having to play something for ages that you’re not enjoying. Your verdict won’t change at all… in the worst case, it will get worse.
So, I try to do everything there is to do but I don’t think I need to 100% a game or see the credits to be eligible to reviewing it. Frankly, I don’t have the time to play many games anyway. This blog would be dead if I was required to 100% games before reviewing them.
I try to search for flaws and see if they oppose the players’ enjoyment of the title. I try to see what could be better. I make comparisons. I try to think of how to describe the game without comparing it to another game… and I also try to not let flattery or gifts change my view on a title.
And then, eventually, I write a review on a game. Frankly, I try to avoid spoilers, too, so not seeing the end a lot of the time makes it easier to write a spoiler-free review. I still have to finish my review on Beacon Pines but that review contains spoilers at the moment because I did beat it and it’s hard to not have spoilers in it.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that it’s just not possible to “100%” or “complete” or “play through” every game that you review… and someone that sunk thousands of hours into a game isn’t necessarily the best judge on how good a game is. Frankly, if you still love a game after playing it for 2k hours, chances are that you’re a diehard fan that is too biased to review it. Similarly, if you only sunk in 10 minutes in a game that goes on for hours… and you then decide to review it, you should be transparent about that fact.
So, uh, just my few cents on the matter based on my experience reviewing games. If you disagree with something, feel free to add your own comments.
Also, I think you need to finish watching a movie before you write a review on it but I don’t think you need to finish a game before writing a review on that. That’s another argument I see a lot, so if you’re a smart-ass, don’t bother. Apples and Oranges, y’know?