So... you might've read my review of No Man's Sky.
You might also have read the comment from Digitiser2000 reader Chris O'Regan, who had this to say: "From your review I can only assume you haven't played it for long enough. Everything you describe occurs at the foundation of the player's experience. It exists to act as a stark relief against which you compare the experiences you have yet to have."
Which is interesting. Because from my perspective, I've very much played it for long enough. However, Chris's comment got me thinking.
The debate about whether journalists need to finish a game before they should be allowed to review it is one that has raged for aeons. I thought it might be worth taking a slightly closer look at it.
Games have changed in the last decade haven't they?
I mean, by comparison to how they used to be when I first started out as a journalist, games are massive these days.
No Man's Sky, by all accounts, is the most massive game ever... taking place in an almost infinite, procedurally-generated universe.
For the purposes of the review, I played it for 30+ hours... and my conclusion by that point was that I like it enough to continue playing it. While also suggesting that I was starting to get a bit bored. I might "finish" it one day. I might not. I'll keep plugging away for now, but I was pretty confident that I was at a point where it felt fair to review it.
If the game changes dramatically after those 35 or so hours... then in my opinion that's some bloody awful pacing. Sometimes there's a reason why less is more.
I mean... because my own time is limited and precious... my reviews on here are written from the perspective of someone whose time is limited and precious; I can't afford to spend 100 hours on a game - or whatever it takes for the later experiences to emerge - before formulating an opinion. 30 hours of gameplay, which I mostly very much enjoyed, is pretty good. I felt I'd got my money's worth, more or less.
But get this: No Man's Sky is not alone. There are a whole bunch of games that I've reviewed on this site which I'll probably never finish: The Witcher III, Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Fallout 4... Why? Because I stopped playing them because I got bored. I wasn't prepared to waste any more of my life on an activity that I wasn't enjoying, or had grown weary of.
And y'know... that's a review right there: I disliked Game B so much that I didn't finish it. Or I stopped playing Game Y because it wasn't important enough for me to keep playing it.
You might disagree with me. You might think I have some sort of ethical duty to scour every last pixel of today's enormous game worlds, so that I can tell you every last thing about them. And you might be right, and I might be wrong in thinking you're not right.
However, it is an interesting debate, and kind of cuts to the heart of why I review games, and my philosophy of doing so.
I'll hold up my hand and admit that we didn't always give every game a fair playing on Digitiser.
Most of the time we did, but occasionally, for reasons of time or lethargy or because we were too busy messing around or because I'd briefly lost my enthusiasm for my employer, we fudged a review.
And on a couple of occasions we ballsed up as a result.
There's one specific time I recall, when we criticised a particular game for not having a certain feature. We received a furious phone call from a PR who insisted it did have said feature - we just hadn't played far enough in the game to find it.
Suffice to say, after that point we were somewhat more cautious.
Certainly, when I reviewed games for other publications I tried to give the games a proper going over, leaving no stone unturned. That was only right and professional.
It wasn't always like that with Digi, where the ultimate responsibility rested on my shoulders; I was prepared to take any flack, were I to knowingly play a game for too short a time to review it adequately. Frankly, my philosophy in those instances was... "Who cares?". If I wasn't enjoying a game, and stopped playing it because of that... surely that in itself speaks volumes?
That nevertheless made me feel a bit guilty at times. Even games I felt were bad had been worked on by people with the best intentions. A little voice at the back of my brain kept telling me I had to complete every game I ever reviewed - for them.
And yet, as time wore on, my opinion changed. I started to think that I didn't always need to finish games. Certainly, in coming back to reviewing with Digitiser2000, I am more than happy to state my opinion on No Man's Sky after a "mere" 30 hours of play.
Have I seen everything the game offers? Evidently not. But I also know that I'm starting to find what I am doing to be slightly repetitive. Albeit... not yet repetitive enough to stop playing. So in that respect... it's probably doing better than some other games I've reviewed on here, which I know I've quit before completing even 50% of them.
That's valid. That stands up as an opinion in and of itself. And in the case of NMS I was open about the amount of time I had spent on it.
I might one day get to the centre of the galaxy, but... frankly... I've got a family, and a job, and other things I want to be doing as well as playing, and I'll be dead soon probably, and I don't intend to dedicate the next couple of months of my life playing NMS until I'm certain I've seen everything it has to offer.
That's madness. I leave that sort of diligence to the hungry young boys and girls of games journalism, who still have three quarters of their lives ahead of them, and nothing better to do, because they get paid less than minimum wage, and live in a skip.
Lest we forget, I don't exactly get paid a lot to write Digitiser2000 - as grateful as I am to everyone who does contribute to this site via Patreon or Paypal. I mean, it's lovely... but it's hardly a full-time wage.
Nevertheless... it doesn't change one important thing: I have formulated an opinion on No Man's Sky, and it's as valid as any other opinion, and I stand by it.
In all honesty, you could quite easily review a game from the box art alone, if you wanted to. There's no law against it.
And even if there was a law against it, it would be an abstract and imaginary construct, which had nothing to do with the physical universe.
It might not exactly be the most informed review, but it would be a review. So long as the reviewer stated that they hadn't played the actual game... It stands as what it is.
Every review is a product of the person reviewing it, and every person reviewing it is an individual. It should be about how the game made them feel - not an emotionless checklist of elements the game contains.
This isn't aimed at Digi2000 reader Chris O'Regan - it's more inspired by the kind of debates I read about "ethics in games journalism", and the like.
Some individuals seem to feel that reviewers - whether they're professionals, amateurs, or washed-up veterans like me - have some sort of duty or obligation to dedicate their entire lives to the job of reviewing games from a completely dispassionate platform. That they should give over every waking hour to documenting every last principle of a game, and never bring their emotions into it.
We live in this ridiculous age where Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic have distilled the worth of all entertainment down to a numerical value. Some people see that as some sort of intractable barometer of the worth of a given thing.
Do you apply numerical values to other things in your life; your family, your friendships, your dinner, your knees...? Of course not. And if you do then you need to have a stern word with yourself.
Yet a review is just as much about the relationship between the writer and the thing he's writing about. It has to be about that, and if it isn't about that then it is utterly meaningless. You might as well get a computer to review games. Y'know... at least they have the time to play everything to the end.
If you split up with someone because they turn out to be a psycho stalker-type, then you have every right to have an opinion on that person. You're not expected to stay with them indefinitely so you can be sure your opinion of them is fair.
And equally, you have a right to formulate an opinion on a game after playing it for an hour, and switching it off and getting on with your life, because you thought that hour was a bunch of bobbin-y bollocks. Or, at least, I believe that I do, because I'm not employed as a games journalist, and I'm buying all my review copies out of my own pocket.
I'll leave you with this: having written about video games for more than 20 years... I can't think of a single instance where my opinion of a game changed from the point at which it formed. Games good and bad have their quality running through their DNA, from the opening screen to the final boss battle. If I liked or disliked a game, 99.9% of the time I'll have known from the start.