How do you separate hype from a strong recommendation? I think of hype as how much a product is oversold over how much I enjoy it. Or in other words, how highly a product is recommended minus how much I actually liked it. While the game industry is far from unique in suffering from this problem, that is what I’m talking about. I’ve been told, “If you didn’t like the game, then you bought into the hype too much!” That annoys me.
My first big run-in with this phenomenon was with Braid. Braid is a good game with some cool visuals and interesting game mechanics, but when I bought it a year after its original release, it was touted as “the best game on the PSN” and a “must-play.” What self-respecting gamer could turn that down? At the time, I felt that everything good that could have been said about Braid had been said twice, and I couldn’t lose. I felt justified and excited to drop $15 to blow my mind and provide the most unique gaming experience ever. To me, it was a platforming puzzle game that was fun but never great and definitely not even close to what I was expecting. I wish I would have used that time to replay Super Metroid.
I think it is my fault that my expectations were so high, but the dozen or so reviews I read that oversold the game to me were hardly blameless. I have an expectation of a sort with every game I play based on the platform. I expect PS Minis and most iOS games to be mildly entertaining but generally suck, so when one grabs me, I may be more excited about it than it really deserves. When I pay $60 for a new release, I damn well better be impressed. Receiving recommendations or reading reviews will have to compete with your already pre-conceptualized views of the platform. If I said the greatest game ever made is coming out on the Wii this fall, you wouldn’t believe me. When I played Braid, I was freshly jaded from Nintendo and completely enamored with the many options of the PS3.
Recently, I played through Limbo , and it had very similar reviews as Braid. Having played through both, I think they have more similarities than differences (I’m not even going to start on how much ambiguous endings irritate me). I heard everything again from “it is better than most $60 games” to “being absolutely blown away!” I’m not saying those reviews aren’t valid, but making myself disbelieve them went a long way to saving the game for me. I loved the look, physics, environment, and particularly the overall feel, but that was it. Limbo also kinda lost my attention for the last half of the game. I liked it but felt like I could have gotten a better experience from watching a video.
The point is that while all game reviews are subjective, ideally it is best to play the game as objectively as possible to form the truest opinion of the game’s merits. When you come in with expectations of something terrible, a few things done well may seem better than they should, and the inverse is true when you put expectations of a game on a pedestal. Maybe I’m way off base here, but with every game I play, I find that the opinion I had going in hardly counts for naught in my verdict.