Last week, having belatedly finished a couple of big time-draining games and in need of something new to sink my teeth into, I picked up Pyre, the new offering from Supergiant Games. I’d heard a lot of positive chatter about the game from podcasts and articles, and £15 seemed an almost insignificant amount of money to spend on such a well-received title, so I took the plunge. I can safely say it was worth it. I’m about two thirds of the way through the story so far, and it’s been a delight: the characters are equal parts likeable and mysterious, the art style is gorgeous, bursting with colour and imagination, and the 3-on-3 basketball-style gameplay is challenging and surprisingly satisfying. Once I’ve finished the campaign I’ll post a full review, but for now I wanted to focus on something that occurred to me while reading around the game: I found that I was afraid of learning too much about Pyre before I got to experience it for myself, and I worried that knowing even an insignificant detail of the story would affect the way I felt about it. I’m sure most of us ask this question when trying to learn about a slice of media before we’ve seen it for ourselves, be it a film, a TV episode, a video game: do I read a review about this thing, or not?
My reluctance toward reading reviews began a few years ago. Back in 2009 I was eagerly awaiting the release of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Believe me, I’m not proud of myself, but as a naïve 19-year-old I gladly bought the pack of flagrant lies promised by all the trailers and was genuinely excited to see the film. But a couple of days before going to the cinema, on a routine internet binge, I stumbled across a review of the film that gave it a measly two stars out of five (which, in hindsight, was probably a little generous). Now, this excuse of a movie was a flaming pile of nonsensical rubbish, and would have been a flaming pile of nonsensical rubbish regardless of whether or not I’d read a negative review about it beforehand. But seeing that two-star rating changed the way I thought about the film, and made me irrationally cynical for the entire duration. Simply put, reading a review of the movie made it impossible to enjoy. (And in this case, the movie being dumb and terrible made it impossible to enjoy as well.)
Since then, I try my best to avoid reading a review of something I’m looking forward to until after I’ve seen it for myself; I find that I get caught up comparing my opinions against those of the reviewer, and often I can’t just switch off and enjoy the thing, whatever it is. This isn’t always the case, and I can see the benefit of having prior knowledge of something before committing money to it – in my case, I should have heeded that two-star review and given the film a wider berth than Wolverine gives an MRI scanner. A good review is there to help you make a decision about whether or not to invest in something, and in some cases, help you to see a piece of art in a different light. It’s not there to change the way you feel, only to offer insight or opinion; whether or not that alters our perception of something is up to us.
Ultimately, our experiences with games, movies and so on are our own, however they are formed – I just feel that, as much as possible, I want to make up my own mind about something, without any outside influence, before I open up to anything else. That may be a little exclusive, and I’m by no means against listening to and accepting other people’s opinions, but I think I like to be sure of my own feelings before seeing what others have to say.
How about you? I’d love to hear whether or not people feel the same about reading reviews of things before jumping in to them. Do you like to gather as much information as possible about a game before you buy it, to know what you’re getting yourself into? Or do you prefer radio silence, going in blind and being surprised by what you discover, for better or for worse? However you like to play, please feel free to share your thoughts. And for the love of god, never, ever watch X-Men Origins: Wolverine.