Would you respect a review for "Raiders of the Lost Ark" from a film critic that only watched half the movie? I suspect the answer is no. Like movies, the creation and development of a video game takes time. Thousands of hours accumulated over years of work. So why is it, with what appears to be frequent regularity, video-games journalists sometimes do not actually play a game to “completion” before passing judgement on the finished product?
The first 60% of singleplayer is great, but how about multiplayer? Oh…wait…
The immediate response that comes to mind is the inital race for internet hits and sales. It is a no-brainer really. The earlier a review is posted online or in print for a game or product, the more hits the article will receive, which may lead to greater revenue. Throw in a sensational headline and post the review ahead of a competitor (assuming the ability to post a review is approved and not embargoed) and you are golden. However, this practice has a number of downfalls that directly effect the quality and integrity of the actual reviews and the journalists that provide them. The rush to review games and meet deadlines as early as possible leads to game features, such as multiplayer, left untested and games judged before being played through to completion.
Sorry Japanese role-playing game! Maybe if you were a Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect game we would be bothered to finish you…
The bottom line is that reviewing a unfinished product or failing to review a finished product thoroughly is lazy and unprofessional journalism. It does a disservice to the consumers that are supporting the articles of that journalist and or publication, and to the people that made the game. Reviews are also rarely updated with revised text or scores if issues arise following the publication of the initial review, and when review text is modified the final score (if one is provided) is usually left unchanged.
The Playstation 3 version of Skyrim has a 92 aggregate critical score on Metacritic. Is this truly representative of the consumers' eventual experience with the game?
Before a review is written, the end credits should be reached. All modes, single and or multiplayer, should be robustly experienced and vetted. If this means delaying a review until after the product is released to consumers, then so be it. Journalists that do this, and it does happen from time to time, have demonstrated integrity and commitment to the quality of their work. After all, video-game critics should be journalists, not extensions of a marketing firm or public relations. In an ideal world the quality of the review should matter, not just how fast it hits Metacritic. It is also appreciated when reviewers share what they have completed in a game prior to writing the review. This level of transparency deserves respect (even when it is admitting to skimping on game material), and is sadly an uncommon practice among video-game journalists.
If Metroid were released today, how many reviewers would discover Samus Aran is a woman?
I am not a professional journalist. I am simply an enthusiast and a consumer. I admit freely that sometimes I pass judgement on a product before fully experiencing it, be it a book, a movie, or a video game. I have stopped playing games I didn’t enjoy before finishing them, just as I have put down books that lost my interest. But, and this is critical, I am not paid to play video games and write reviews about them. It is not my job to provide reviews, I am not a professional. However, I do not think it is unreasonable to expect video-game journalists to thoroughly vet the products they are assigned to review and conduct their reviews in a professional matter that is respectful of both the consumers and those involved with the development of the games.