'Gears of War 2': My Final Thoughts (and on Games Criticism in general)
May 21, 2009 § 1 Comment
If I had reviewed Gears of War 2 halfway through the game’s solo campaign, I might have easily given it a mark of three — maybe four — out of five. I’ve just finished the campaign mode — some of it offline, some of it online — and have had a chance to sample the various multiplayer modes to a reasonable degree. As it stands now, I’m not sure I could give it any less than five. I’m trying to work out exactly where the gameplay turned into fun from tedious, but if I had to put my finger on it, it would have to be when the game became more difficult, when it started throwing more enemies at you harder, faster. I think that maybe at the beginning the pacing was too slow; perhaps that was it. Whatever it was, I come from finishing the game with a desire to play it again, it was so enjoyable. (I may even pick up the original Gears of War if I can find it cheap enough.) There are few games which have true replay value, so this represents to me a hallmark of undeniable quality.
My point is that this, again, shows up that you can’t review games until they’re finished — period. Yes, sometimes there are some absolutely dire games that never get good, no matter how far you play through them. But it is often that games straddle a murky area between average, good and outstanding, and which need a thorough playthrough in order for a reviewer to work out whereabouts, exactly, they stand. You see, that grey area (as you probably can guess by the name) is pretty vague, and what at first can appear as average can boost itself to good, even great, depending on what happens further down the line. Although I understand you can’t put lipstick on a pig (thank you, Barack Obama) I would still feel very uneasy about giving a review of a game I had not completed — or, at least, not got most of the way there to completion. To me it’s like walking out of a film before it’s finished: no film reviewer can do that, write a review and have it taken seriously; why should a video game reviewer be able to get away with it?
Joystiq have recently introduced a feature called JoystiQuitter. Now, I completely understand the sentiment behind this feature and the reasons behind its creation. Further, they don’t call it a games review and say outright that they never finished the game. I, myself, posted a quasi-review on Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which I also never finished and posted this fact outright in the review itself. There is nothing wrong with this kind of writing – after all, life’s too short to be playing awful, awful games to completion, just ’cause. And yet I still feel uneasy. Why? Honestly, I think it has the potential to set a bad precedent in games journalism, encouraging a kind of laziness on behalf of the reviewer. The JoystiQuitter feature itself is harmless, but my worry is that there may be some games which are unfairly overlooked because of this kind of reviewing.
Maybe if a game doesn’t grab you within a few hours then that’s the developer’s problem for not making a compelling game, but maybe it’s the reviewer’s problem for not persevering? Whether some people like it or not, reviews are opinions — grounded in certain facts, sure, but opinions, nonetheless. Maybe the reviewer was having an off day, was in a bad mood, whatever; parallel to that, maybe they were in a good mood, a forgiving mood. A reviewer could have a crappy day and write off a game without giving it its fair share of the benefit of the doubt. And this is not just a case of some reviewers being “bad” and others being “good”. Everyone can have a bad day; it happens to the best of us.
I stand by the opinion that while you can get an initial impression of a game in a couple of hours session, it is only with a thorough playthrough that you can get a reliable indication of that game’s quality. While there is a place for this type of “reviewing”, it should never become par for the course; it can never and should never be accepted as a true and complete method for reviewing a video game.