There was an article published on Forbes.com recently titled “The real problem with video game reviews” in which contributing writer Erik Kain argues one of the biggest problems with video game reviews today is the amount of time and effort that must be expended in order to properly review a game far exceeds that of other media. Many games these days can reach playtimes measured in the hundreds of hours and Kain points that for some games, such as The Witcher 2, one playthrough is not even enough.
The actual real problem with game reviews is not that games demand too much time, it is that game reviewers feel the need to see everything or do everything before they can feel “safe” reviewing a game. This is simply ridiculous.
Have we forgotten what the entire point of game reviews are? They are supposed to help a reader who may be on the fence about whether or not to purchase a game. The information within the review is supposed to help him or her make an informed decision as to what they want to do. Is it a good game worth their time and money or is it one they should pass up? Do you really need to have experienced very single minute detail in a game to help readers make such a decision? Of course not! Most of your experiences shouldn’t even be in the review at all!
It gets to be a little bit ridiculous when the idea of writing reviews about multiple playthroughs of a game is seen as a solution. Whether or not you enjoyed multiple playthroughs should have no bearing on the “average” gamer who may not even complete one (think back to the many times Michael Pachter has said he still hasn’t completed GTA IV on Pach-Attack! or the Bonus Round).
A review should also be kept as spoiler-free as possible because if you ruin the game’s storyline, why would anybody want to buy it anyway? Not much can be said about a game’s plot aside from generalizations of how believable it is, how well constructed it is, plot pacing, etc. Do you need to see the end of the game to make such assertions? Nope. It is generally an industry standard that a reviewer complete a game before they write a review of it but I ask: Why? It leads to rushed, overly-detailed, half-hearted reviews of the game.
Beating a game will only allow a reviewer to make comments about whether or not they think the ending is good, but that is a borderline spoiler in of itself. All the hoopla surrounding Mass Effect 3‘s ending should not have even been in critical reviews at all. Stephen King once said it is not about the ending of something but the journey getting there. If Mass Effect 3 is fun to play, why does a reviewer need to comment about the ending at all?
Game reviews should instead focus on things like graphics, gameplay, and design. Does the game look good or bad? Is the game fun to play or boring and repetitive? Is the game designed well or is it glitchy? How’s the music? How’s the voice acting? These are the questions that someone reading a game review wants to know about. They don’t necessarily need to know what happens if you steal a specific item in Fallout, or a detailed analysis of the spell trees in Skyrim, or how many hours into the game you unlock a new weapon in Battlefield. These are things that gamers should discover on their own. That’s supposed to be part of the fun of playing the game.
Reviewers seem to have lost sight of what a review is supposed to be used for. Instead of helping readers to make informed purchasing decisions, reviews are more about bragging rights these days. If a game gets good reviews, developers or fans can point to them to re-assert that the game is good. If it gets bad reviews, the opposite will happen. Reviews themselves have therefore turned into something like argumentative papers where you need as many supporting facts for your thesis (whether or not the game is good or bad) as possible. If you don’t include enough, you run the risk of being chastised for having a “wrong opinion.” That is just plain silly.
In conclusion, reviews don’t need to include every single aspect of a game in them. You don’t need to spend 100 hours playing Skyrim to make meaningful statements about it. Yes, the longer you spend playing the more detailed and accurate your review will eventually become, but there is a point where you are including stuff you don’t need to be and arguably shouldn’t be.
Reviews are not meant for gamers who are already knowledgeable about the game and just want to read opinions they already hold in an “official” capacity. Game reviews are also not supposed to be meant as a tip of the hat / wag of the finger aimed at developers or publishers. Reviews are meant for gamers trying to decide if they should buy the game. If you need to spend 100 hours playing a video game before you can meaningfully help someone make such a decision, perhaps your next review should be of your analytical skills.