Every now and then, I feel the need to stem the rising tide of hate and mockery that often floods toward the game critic. It'd be lame to voice the overused, "we get no respect!" sentiment as it would likely only spawn more mockery, but as we head into yet another insane holiday rush loaded with about eight trillion titles, a refresher course is needed. Ready, class?
99.99999% of the time, a critic isn't "paid off"
I assume it has happened in the past; the first example that comes to mind is last year's Gerstmann/GameSpot/Eidos controversy that was never 100% clarified, as far as I know. However, I can essentially promise you that the vast majority of reviewers aren't "paid off" by the publisher or developer. I've been reviewing games for a long time and not only have I never been approached with even the hint of a bribe, but I don't know anyone else who has, either. I imagine this may be more of a problem in the future – and that's just a guess, as the industry gets bigger and bigger – but as of right now, I wouldn't worry about the reliability of most all reviews. Feel free to disagree all you want, but to run around in circles like a child yelling, "he was paid off!" is not only intensely annoying to reviewers like me, but it's also completely inaccurate.
Playing all games through to completion is impossible
Whine and moan and complain all you want. We're not talking about 2-hour movies, a CD that can be listened to in even less time, or even a book that can be read in a few days. We're often talking about 15-20 hour experiences (and many are even much, much longer) piled atop one another week in and week out. To pay a staff to play through every single release to completion would require the budget of California, and an allotment of time that probably doesn't even exist. And the truth of the matter is, critics don't need long to know if a game is worth a consumer's time. Yes, there are times when a review is submitted and the critic might find something much later in the game that might alter the score. But it's almost never by more than a tenth of a point or two, and their overall opinion will almost always stand. The bottom line is that you do not see many – if any – examples of games that didn't get a fair shake because the reviewers didn't give it due attention.
At no point in the history of this industry has a reviewer played three or four hours of a 10-hour adventure, given the game a 9, and after completing it said to himself, "damn, I was so wrong; this game deserves only a 6!" That doesn't happen, and it's because if a game is great, we know – we all know it – almost right off the bat. If you don't believe it, you don't play games enough. Trust me, reviewers do .
Not every reviewer is out to browbeat the reader into submission
For some bizarre reason, there's a common belief that critics just like to hear themselves talk, and they would never accept the opinion of someone else. It's like we're the most close-minded individuals on the face of the earth; all egotistical and self-centered with massive elitist complexes. In all honesty, this only boils down to jealousy (as a lot of critic-bashing does). Few will admit it, but such complaints are fueled by the underlying grief that some guy out there is getting paid to review games, and you're not. Most professional reviews are not written with an authoritarian "believe me or you're an idiot tone;" that "tone" is a myth created by the jealous masses. I will freely admit that some critics use their considerable power to really annoy some people on a consistent basis – I've seen it done before – but for the most part, they're just trying to do their job.
No…you DON'T always know "just as much" as the reviewer
This doesn't only apply to game critics, but to critics in all other entertainment-related industries. I know the fan always wants to believe they know just as much (if not more) than the reviewer, especially in the world of video games. I know they pick apart reviews in a desperate effort to prove that "anyone can do his job." I know that if a reviewer ever makes a mistake – God forbid – the readers will likely grasp it and hold on for dear life, milking the slip for all its worth. I know they believe everything is "all subjective." Yeah, this is one of my biggest pet peeves; everything is not all subjective and every gamer can't be critics. I like good food. I'm a fan of quality gourmet dishes. But I only know what I like; do you honestly believe I pretend to know as much as professional food critics? People who compare and contrast more dishes in a week than I've done in a lifetime? Give me a break.
In short, I think a lot of gamers need to get over themselves, accept that most game critics are in their positions for a reason, and lastly, I would like to once again reiterate: the best selling and most popular games in history all got great reviews. Well, most all. Believe it or not, we just might know what we're doing. Thanks.