In Defense Of Reviewing Before Completing
Perhaps some of you have seen this: another site's probably ill-advised accusation concerning a Destructoid reviewer.
First of all, let me be perfectly blunt: I rarely agree with anything Jim Sterling writes and in fact, it's painfully evident that the vast majority of it is designed for gathering attention. And the site he works for...let's just say it isn't one I'd recommend. However, that being said, I will bite the bullet and defend Sterling in this particular case. This is beyond personal feelings; this is about the ongoing belief amongst the gaming public that a critic must complete a game before issuing a review. In regards to Final Fantasy XIII or other games that rely heavily on the story, perhaps there's something to this argument...one cannot anticipate how a relatively deep plot will emerge in the end and of course, that should have a significant impact on the overall score.
However, this is dangerously close to an issue I've often spoken about and one that may place me at odds with many readers. But the simple truth of the matter is that gamers want the impossible: they want in-depth, fully accurate reviews on the day of a game's release (even a week after is considered "late") and at the same time, they refuse to acknowledge the length of the product in question. Hundreds upon hundreds of games get released every year and even the biggest staffs simply do not have the time to complete every last title (ranging anywhere from 6-60 hours) before providing the public with a review. I've heard people compare this to watching half of a movie and then writing a review, or reading half a book or listening to half a CD. This is a terrible analogy. Outside of the story, there are plenty of things to evaluate in a game and just about all of them really won't change over time.
The graphics won't change. Perhaps the choreography of this cut-scene will be better than that one or maybe one environment will be slightly more appealing than the next, but within the first ten minutes of playing, you can tell how great the visuals in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves are, and how lacking they are in Jurassic: The Hunted. The same goes for sound quality (although you might have to play a bit more to judge the diversity of the music). The same goes for game control. A loose or sloppy control mechanic won't suddenly snap out of its funk halfway through the adventure. Really, it's only the story that can significantly change, although if some sources score depth as a category, that may require more game time. The bottom line is this: after reviewing games for all these years, I have almost never finished a game after reviewing it and said to myself, "man, my score was off."
Sterling gave FFXIII a 4/10. Now, that's just plain absurd regardless of the reasons. It's not Rogue Warrior bad. However, I will freely admit that neither Arnold or I completed FFXIII before giving you our reviews. I will freely admit that we often don't complete entire games before reviewing them, and I will further guarantee that other sources do the exact same thing. Look, we do the best we can. I think all sites do. We play as long as we can; we play until we believe we can write an accurate and reliable analysis for our readers. Will our final scores for FFXIII (8.7 for me and 8.1 for Arnold) change after finishing the game? Maybe. But I bet it won't be by much and we should remind you of this: who exactly is going to play for 50 hours if the other elements of the game are disappointing? Some are; some aren't. But that's the point; those other elements do matter, they can be judged before completing the game, and they do represent the majority of the presentation.
There are really only two of us doing reviews here at PSXE. And considering that, I think we pump out a gigantic amount of work. Our relationship with Sony allows us to give you huge reviews like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Killzone 2, God of War III and Heavy Rain the instant the embargos lift. We will miss other titles. It can't be avoided. We will never write a review if we think it would be unfair to the readers, in that we didn't play long enough. In the end, I'd like to say this- any critic worth a salt knows all of this. Please understand the reality of the situation and accept that sometimes, most times, a game will not be completed before the review. And if you compare the highest-rated games to the most beloved/best-selling titles of all time, I think you'll see that critics do a damn good job in this industry.
So please, don't complain too much. ...as ridiculous as a 4 sounds.
3/17/2010 Ben Dutka