Sam & Max Hit The Road To Wigan Pier
Orwell argues that writers are under constant pressure to find something good to say about the titles that they review, even though "the chances are that eleven out of the twelve books will fail to rouse in him the faintest spark of interest." Publications will not tolerate review after review stating that a novel is neutral, lifeless and pointless and so "X has got to discover something which is not tripe, and pretty frequently, or get the sack." This lowers the standards of reviewers and invariably results in the virtues of any given title being oversold. Worse, "it is possible for a novel of real merit to escape notice, merely because it has been praised in the same terms as tripe." After praising generic releases to the skies, a reviewer has nowhere else to go when a truly classic title comes their way. "Having started with the assumption that all novels are good, the reviewer is driven ever upwards on a topless ladder of adjectives."
Games reviewers are trapped in precisely the same cycle. Imagine a reviewer who, in a moment of sloppiness, or simply in concession to the ratings status quo gives Pretty Average FPS a score of 7/10. Later that month the same reviewer is playing Slightly Better FPS and realizes that to remain consistent, he should award it 8/10. It only takes one incident like this for scores to begin trending upwards. Consider also a reviewer who sees someone at their publication giving Kinda Rubbish RTS a 7/10. This reviewer had planned to give Bland But With Some Decent Ideas RTS somewhere in the region of a 6/10. Now, however, he cannot bring himself to rate it lower than the nonsense which was just handed a 7/10.
In light of the above, it's really no surprise that the games review process is confusing and disheartening for the buying public. After purchasing yet another highly rated title and finding it to be overhyped, they will begin to lose trust in the publication, reviewer or system as a whole. Look around for places where "professional" games reviews are regarded with anything other than scorn. It's not easy.
Readers are not entirely without blame. The addition of comments sections to most online publications and the ease with which score-comparisons can be made has resulted in a cacophony of tedious posts along the lines of "but if X got [score], how can Y receive [lower score]?" These criticisms fail to realize that publications are not hive minds, but also serve as further pressure on weak reviewers fearful of a verbal assault.