There's a growing sentiment among the gaming press that sites like this one are an outdated concept. Apparently, people no longer want to read a considered critique of a game – they'd rather watch a playthrough on YouTube or Twitch, with some commentary from a popular personality. It's something that's constantly on this author's mind, and a sensation that we're going to have to adapt to eventually. However, if the past week has revealed anything, it's that the written review is still as influential as ever.
There was a swell of interest in The Order: 1886 on Thursday, with expectations for Sony's first major PlayStation 4 release of the year unsurprisingly high. Ultimately, it failed to live up to those lofty hopes, with reviews praising it for its presentation – but acknowledging numerous pacing, design, and replayability problems. You could almost feel the enthusiasm being kicked out of the outing's eager fans the moment that the mixed appraisals hit; the title was instantly lambasted around the web.
However, the sentiment today, the weekend after the exclusive's release, is very different. Many can still acknowledge the criticisms pointed at the PlayStation 4 title, but are using completely different language when describing their experience: surprising, better than expected, and so on. And this happens regularly when a release draws a lukewarm critical response: the reception is much softer. Compare this to the games that score highly – The Last of Us, Journey, and other esteemed guests – and punters will be much harsher.
So, what's going on? Well, we're sure that sceptics would argue that critics are out of touch, but it'd be one heck of a coincidence for dozens of different scribes across the globe – all with different standards, ideals, and tastes – to each be off the mark. More likely, in this editor's humble opinion, is that reviews can heavily colour a release's reception. It's easy, when a game is lavished with 10/10s from the media, to feel let down when you eventually get your hands on it – and it's similarly simple to be pleasantly surprised by something that gets panned.
In many ways, it makes being a reviewer the ultimate privilege. Yes, we occasionally have to block out the eagerness of a PR company, willing to shower us with fancy-pants press kits with which to sway our opinion – but we often get to look at a game in a bubble, away from Metacritic, user reviews, and friend recommendations. And this makes things more pure; there are always pre-release expectations to contend with, of course, but that first playthrough is often raw – there are no standards set yet.
But shouldn't you, as the player, be the one to set those standards – even after the reviews have hit? As we discussed in our review scores feature from a few weeks back, the press is here to share an opinion on a product – but not to tell you what to think. We want you to read our reviews – it's the lifeblood of this site, after all – but you've got to be careful of how much they colour your outlook. After all, a 10/10 is not going to solve world hunger anymore than a 5/10 will cause it. Our advice: take a step back before you boot up a game, and make up your own mind.
Do you often find your expectations are coloured by reviews? Have you often found yourself waiting to be impressed by a well regarded game, and falling in love with a poor performer right off the bat? Make your feelings known in the comments section below.