Expectation is a powerful thing. Game publishers (and movie studios) know this of course; most marketing of AAA games these days is firmly aimed at convincing the collective audience that Identikit Experience 39: Resurvengeance will be be the best thing since sliced bread. A large number of people are taken in and become very invested in the game being good (Often to the extent of name calling anyone who says otherwise). This normally pans out well for everyone involved; the company makes a lot of money, and the fans either get a game that’s very good, or one that they can convince themselves is great, because they’ve been drip fed a diet of such mediocrity that they’ve forgotten what quality is. Things do sometimes backfire, however; the now infamous cases of games like No Man’s Sky and Aliens: Colonial Marines show what happens when developers cross the fine line between hyperbole and flat out lying to the public.
Expectations aren’t just the preserve of the world of corporate marketing and hype culture, however; they can be a very personal thing that can have a dramatic effect on one’s own gaming experience. I’ve always found that while I do usually enjoy the games I expect to like, it’s the games which I have an unexpected reaction to that leave the greatest lasting impact. A good example for me is Level 5’s puzzle adventure series, Professor Layton. I received the first game in the series, Professor Layton and the Curious Village as a Christmas present from my parents, and frankly didn’t expect to enjoy it.
Being a slightly clueless eleven year old, I assumed that it would be some low rent shovelware with some dull puzzles I would very quickly tire of. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was completely sideswiped by the game’s charming and quirky writing, clever but bonkers central plot, and the beautiful hand drawn graphics. After that, I awaited each new release with baited breath. I adored each of the following three Layton games just as much as the first (The Lost Future is my personal favourite), and while I wasn’t completely convinced by The Spectre’s Call’s introduction of an overarching plot, I was still enthusiastically riding the Layton party train when it rolled into Miracle Mask station.
There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with Layton 5. In most respects, it’s the same as the first four. It sits at a solid 82 on Metacritic and most people seemed to enjoy it. I, however, was bitterly, bitterly, disappointed. The hand-drawn backgrounds and characters were gone, replaced with (admittedly pretty) 3D models. The formally intricate plotting was grossly simplified, to the extent that I easily guessed the true identity and motive of the villain, something I’d never done before.
I felt so let down that I haven’t even touched the final game, Azran Legacy. That would have been unthinkable to me prior to playing Miracle Mask. I now understand why people hated the Mass Effect 3 ending so much; it’s not just because it’s bad, it’s because it fell so far short of the established standards of quality, and their resulting high expectations. They, like me, felt betrayed.
That’s a bit of a sour note, so let me bring this back to a more positive point by encouraging you to try more games about which you know very little of, and as such have no expectations for. Sure, you’ll find there are plenty of duds, but nothing beats the high when you stumble across something you think is special.