You Don’t Need to Beat a Game to Properly Review It

to beat or not to beat 1

On the range of controversial gaming opinions, I’m not 100% sure where this is. I know videogamedunkey’s Game Critics video makes it apparent that he feels game critics should generally finish games before reviewing them, and I think many game purists would agree. I don’t think this opinion is as controversial as it is different, and to some, counter-intuitive, which I get. Having reviewed over forty games in my time as a video game reviewer, I’ve come to terms with the fact presented within the title of this post: I don’t think one needs to complete a game to review it.

Before I get into the larger arguments for it, let me establish what I’m not saying or implying with this position. I do not think people who play ten minutes of a five-hour game can properly review the game. If people gave Red Dead Redemption 2 a 10/10 after an hour of gameplay, I wouldn’t take their opinion seriously. There needs to be a point where the player can comfortably say, “Okay, I think I understand everything that this game is trying to do to entertain me or convey its message, whatever that may be.” Sometimes they can be wrong and the ending can be an unforeseen twist, which happens, and generally I believe a majority of people looking at reviews expect the reviewer to know everything about the game being reviewed, or at least enough to feel their word is justified.

graveyard keeper 2
Didn’t beat this game.

I would also like to state for the sake of my reputation (should it be affected) that as a general principle, I try to finish a game before reviewing it. My goal is not to play an hour of a game, think up pros and cons, collect screenshots, and call it a day. Such would be a mockery of my position and my pride as someone who loves games, and I do try to uphold as much integrity with the position as I can. My primary aim is not to have a voice, but to play games and analyze them for the public to see. When I choose a game to review, 95% of the time, it’s because I think the game looks good and I want to ascertain that it is good.

Now then, as a video game reviewer of about a year and a half, I’ve reviewed a number of games, and have previewed (wrote posts on games prior to their release) some more on top of that. In this time, I would be lying if I said I completed every game—I’d also be lying if I said I went back and eventually beat them. Among the collection of games I’ve reviewed, there are some of these with number ratings that I’ve still yet to finish since. Games such as Graveyard KeeperRosenkreuzstilette Freudenstachel (always a pain to write out), and Feudal Alloy are a few that I’ve never seen the end credits for, assuming they even have them at the end. Despite this, I think my reviews for them are still valid.

zeroranger 1
Another game I didn’t beat.

I said before that readers of game reviews are generally expectant of the reviewer to know everything about the game being reviewed. If the reviewer knows 90% instead of 100%, does it make a difference? Where can the line be drawn before a game can properly be reviewed? How much knowledge does one need before their opinion can be valid? What of Pokémons Gold and Silver? Defeating the Elite Four will trigger the end credits, technically indicative of beating the game, but there’s a whole new region to explore, even if much of it isn’t important plot-wise. It’s almost akin to a bonus, callback addition to the game, but does one need to look through every nook and cranny of Kanto before chronicling the quality of Johto? As a consumer, I would appreciate as much detail as possible, but I don’t need every bit. Generally, I like to experience as much of a game for myself as possible.

This next point is a somewhat volatile thing (not that the last one wasn’t), and I may be somewhat biased in that a lot of the games I’ve reviewed are from indie developers that don’t have the resources to make multi-faceted games. Even so, if a game shows one thing and continues to show that one thing, can a review not be done even if it seems incredibly likely that that one thing will continue? For example, JUMPGRID is a game I reviewed recently where the object of the game is to maneuver around puzzles and obstacles on a grid, with a level-by-level format that’s very quick in its pace. The entire game is just hitting the arrow keys quickly to collect cubes necessary to open the door to the next level, and this core gameplay mechanic never changes. While I completed the game, this is a kind of game I could see myself not completing, as I was certain that I had seen every trick the game had to offer about an hour in (it took me two hours to beat it). By the end, my prediction was correct, so does not completing it suddenly make my judgment invalid?

rosenkreuzstilette 5
Didn’t beat this game, either.

As someone who likes to see both sides to an argument, allow me to slightly discredit myself with an alternative viewpoint through personal experience. Calling back to JUMPGRID, completing the game offered somewhat of a dull realization of “That’s it?” that slightly lowered its overall score. Other games, such as Towards the PantheonRainswept, and Märchen Forest: Mylne and the Forest Gift, also received slightly lower scores for the endings they showcased. On the other end, games like Incredible Mandy and The Other Half benefited from strong endings, which had me boost the scores (with the former, a whole point). What many of these games have in common, however (excluding JUMPGRID), is a focus on dialogue, characters, and story, things that complicate this entire argument.

For me, personally, it’s a lot easier to drop a review for a game left unfinished if it doesn’t have much going for it on a narrative level. Games like JUMPGRIDWhip! Whip! (which has some, but minimal), and Wonder Wickets are a lot easier to leave unexplored because there’s nothing really to hold onto once the core game mechanics have left their mark. The pull of a story and characters can definitely leave people wondering, “What will happen to them?” which makes it harder to justify not completing a game for its story, and not being able to elaborate more on said story in definitive fashion. As such, I think it’s excusable for a game to be reviewed prior to its full completion if all that one has to experience is the gameplay itself, while games with a narrative prominence feel a little more deserving of the finish, if just for the extra detail.

wulverblade 4
I’ve beaten games, I swear.

Then there are games that don’t really have an “ending,” per se. Animal Crossing, Soul Calibur games (kind of?), Garrison: Archangel; the kind of games where one can just pick ’em up and play ’em into oblivion, with only a core objective and no end in sight so long as the gameplay remains entertaining. How long is one required to play these games before reviewing them? Is it really a measure of time or about collecting all that one can collect to form a complete opinion? Why should it be any different for games with a more natural progression requiring a beginning and end? If they can experience all that they can in a majority fashion, why not save the time and write the review? As someone who spent over twenty hours in Graveyard Keeper and felt like he had to triple it in order to reach the ending, it didn’t feel worth it to do what I felt was a lot of what I was already doing to know the game’s ending. That, and the deadline was looming. Sometimes that has a bad habit of interfering, too.

With this, I hope to stake my claim in the hottest debate in the video game community at this current time, or any other time. When all is said and done, I think it’s important to consider that video game reviewers have other lives to live, other considerations to attend to, and reviewing games that could potentially take up to forty hours per week is already stressful enough. Most of the games I review take less than six hours, and some of those even feel like weights. Why not let them review games prior to full completion? So long as they seem capable of talking about what they played and what makes it worth your time, I don’t see an issue with it. Still, it’d be good if we can at least hit 90%.

What do you think of this topic? Should game reviewers play everything to completion in order to review it?

For more posts like this, feel free to check out my full list of video game opinion pieces!

2 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to Beat a Game to Properly Review It

  1. I definitely try to finish my games before I review them, but there are scenarios that it won’t be possible. If I don’t finish a game but believe there’s merit to writing a review, I make a point of sharing why I did not finish the title. Maybe I didn’t finish the game because it has 300 hours of content and I got bored after 80, there’s a massive difficulty spike that I couldn’t overcome 2/3 of the way through, or that it’s a roguelike where I’ve seen all the mechanics without having beaten the game. All of these scenarios raise discussion points that I can talk about that are relevant to a potential purchaser.

  2. I tend to prefer reviews where the reviewer has completed the game, but that’s also because I usually play more story-driven games. Plus they can comment on postgame content or last-minute ridiculousness. Of course, for genres like racers and puzzles, completing the game isn’t going to make a huge difference.

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