I got an email from a polite reader about how I wasn’t qualified to review a game without finishing the entire thing. Specifically, my Spec Ops: The Line review. I didn’t even play long enough to experience the “twist”, and yet I gave it a harsh judgment. Is that unfair?
Below is my reply, without the original email I was sent. I think this is a fair question, and I know that plenty of readers would agree that you need to experience the full game in order to appreciate it, so it might be worth sharing my defense.
I got started writing my opinions in a community with some of the biggest assholes and trolls out there, so don’t worry about offending me, I’m way beyond that. I’m glad to defend what I write.
I reviewed Spec Ops: The Line because I had enough spent money and time in order to experience the core gameplay features, difficulty, pacing, and “game design”, and I reached a conclusion. It’s not like I pretended that I finished the story. But by your logic nobody should be able to review World of Warcraft until they personally reach the “level cap”, do everything there is to do in the “end-game”, and see the credits. At some point, you make a judgment about quality along the way. If a game can’t hook me within the first six hours, it’s shitty no matter what it holds in store.
Even if the story twist is mindblowing to some people, I’m perfectly justified in evaluating how much that story twist is worth. To me, it’s worth almost nothing. I don’t respect games designed badly, and a cheap gimmick at the end doesn’t do anything for me. “Pulling out the rug” only works if you’re invested in the mindless killing to begin with, which intelligent people wouldn’t be. Therefore, it’s a game that only stupid people can enjoy.
Knowing how the game ends, I still saw these problems:
- No compulsion to move forward and experience more (bad design)
- No investment in the characters or scenario (bad writing/concepts)
- No interest in the Call of Duty formula or fanbase (irrelevant twist)
I understood everything I needed to understand to evaluate what mattered to me. I did research on the remaining parts, and was equally unimpressed.
To me it’s a lot like those who say I shouldn’t review a game unless I’m able to master its gameplay systems. Only expert who can get a high score should be able to say whether Metal Gear Rising is a good game, because “understanding” the game is a prerequisite for “judging” a game, right? And I don’t understand a game unless I master it!
One of the main pillars of my reviewing process is that I don’t allow publishers, developers, or the community around a game to control the discourse around it. I don’t have to judge a game by its own standards, or anyone else’s. My own standard is what matters to me, and my review is the explanation of why I feel the way I do. It’s idiotic to pretend that there’s any “objective” or unbiased point of view, so it would be pretentious to act like I’m giving a “fair” score by some universal score card.