The question of whether authors should complete games before writing reviews frequently comes up. In this article, I explain why I decided to do so with plenty of examples that'll hopefully shed some light on the issue.
Before I go on, I'd like to clarify that this article is by no means commentary on other reviewers since I'm sure many folks have this policy. This is simply a personal list of reasons why I finish games before reviewing them and nothing more. Anyway, let's continue.
Most games have some sort of campaign that can be completed. Of course, I at least have to work my way through to the end of it. After beating the main mode, some games have extra content such as online modes, challenges, mini-games, and additional characters that I usually spend quite a while experimenting with until I feel like I've seen everything the game has to offer. Although rare, a few games can actually be played all the way through cooperatively. If a game is meant to be played that way (like Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime) then I'll play through the whole thing with my wife, but if it doesn't really add anything to the overall experience then I usually play a couple levels with someone else then just play the rest by myself. Finally, some games don't have a mode that can be finished. In that case, I try to play every combination of content that I can until I feel like I've exhausted everything. In the end, it may be time consuming but I love playing video games which is why I started this site, so I definitely don't mind. Even if a review is somewhat late, I'd rather get fewer hits than have my readers unable to see the whole picture.
Understanding the complexities
In my opinion, the perfect example of a game that very few reviewers fully understood before writing about it is Vandal Hearts II. Although it came out 15 years prior, I intentionally made it the first review on Video Chums just so I could set the tone for future reviews. Basically, without going into too much detail, many reviewers criticised this turn-based strategy game for not being able to tell what the enemy will do considering they move at the exact same time as you. However, with practice, patience, and an open mind; anyone could eventually predict enemy behaviour with pinpoint accuracy. I remember discovering the magnificence of it when it first released then reading reviews only to be surprised at all of the low scores it received. On a more contemporary note, recent games such as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Bloodborne contain massive game worlds with plenty of intricate mechanics that take dozens of hours to fully explore. I was happily compelled to paint the big picture about both of those enormous adventures.
Good first impressions don't always stick
Sometimes, I'm blown away when I first boot up a game. As time goes on, that feeling can either stay or slowly turn to disappointment. A recent game that fits this description is Zombie Vikings. When I started playing it, I was delighted by the solid beat 'em up gameplay, crazy characters, and insane sense of humour. After a while, many glitches started occurring and I found that the gameplay never really changed thus resulting in quite a tedious experience. In the case of Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, the fun never left but both games featured plenty of repetitive content such as boss fights. I probably would have scored them higher if I stopped playing before the repetition reared its ugly head. Finally, although a high degree of difficulty isn't necessarily a legit complaint, Galak-Z and Titan Souls made me feel like my luck was being put to the test much more than my skills. I fell in love with both of those games in the beginning, but upon being forced to restart countless times in unfair circumstances, that love quickly died down.
Some games require patience to impress
I guess this category could have been lumped in with the "understanding the complexities" one, but here I'm speaking in a more general sense. I've mentioned Rack N Ruin a few times in the past, but that's the top game that comes to mind for this category. If I wrote my review halfway through, I probably would have given it a mid-range score. However, since I let it grow on me, it still remains one of my favourite games of all time. Another game that I reviewed somewhat recently is No Time To Explain. I played it when it was first released on Steam and it wasn't that good. Once I played through it on my Xbox One, I was amazed how much better the developers made it since the last time I picked it up. Working my way through all of the various mind-bending gameplay mechanics made me love it even more, so it's a good thing I managed to see them all before writing my review. Finally, it's never good to judge a book by its cover. This was the case with Color Guardians which I assumed to be some sort of children's rhythm game. After finishing it, I can safely say that it's not. In fact, it's a crazy fun and incredibly challenging arcade-style experience that ended up leaving me nothing but impressed.
Those are just a few reasons why I finish games before writing reviews. I could talk about it all day, but the general idea is to paint the big picture and you can't thoroughly do that unless you fully understand what you're trying to portray.