The record has received generally favourable reviews, although later releases by the group were more warmly received. It has nonetheless been named as one of the best electronic albums of the 1980s, and has been championed by major artists such as ZZ Top and Vince Clarke of Erasure (formerly chief songwriter of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and The Assembly).
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is also the title of a 1981 compilation album of tracks from this release and Organisation, issued only in the United States.
Paul Morley in the New Musical Express wrote: "How fine and different their melodies can be, how detailed and distinctive their song-structure...there is a constant change in emphasis and dynamics. It's definitely dance music. Orch Man's debut LP is one of the best of the year." In his review for Sounds, Des Moines declared the album as "a debut musical statement to be proud of."Melody Maker journalist Ian Birch called the record "Unpretentious, tuneful and unceasingly pleasant."
Retrospective appraisals have also been favourable. In his review for Pitchfork Media, Scott Plagenhoef opined: "Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's original release was highlighted by the exquisite 'Electricity' and the brooding 'The Messerschmit Twins'...the elegant 'Messages' stands out next to the record's often sparse, minimalist soundscapes."Ned Raggett in AllMusic said: "OMD's first full album won as much attention for its brilliant die-cut cover -- another example of Peter Saville's cutting-edge way around design -- as for its music, and its music is wonderful...Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is just like the band that made it -- perfectly of its time and easily transcending it."
Although it did not evoke the critical fervour later albums did, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark became a seminal record within popular music. Musician Vince Clarke has cited the album as one of his primary influences, with "Electricity" being the track that moved him to pursue a career in electronic music. Rock group ZZ Top, with whom OMD shared a studio on a 1980 edition of BBC2 show The Old Grey Whistle Test while promoting Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, became loyal fans upon hearing the material and would play the record over their PA system prior to concerts. ZZ Top's fondness of the album also led to the band borrowing McCluskey's distinctive on-stage routine – dubbed by the BBC's Stuart Maconie as the "Trainee Teacher Dance".
Music critic Piero Scaruffi has named Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark as the 69th greatest record of the 1980s, and the 5th best synthpop release of all time. It was listed in Slicing Up Eyeballs' "Best of the '80s" in March 2013, being ranked as one of the top 30 albums of 1980 based on 3,360 reader votes.
^"Synth Britannia (Part Two: Construction Time Again)". Britannia. 16 October 2009. 4 minutes in. BBC Four. British Broadcasting Corporation. "When I first started playing synthesizers it [my inspiration] would have been people like The Human League; Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, their very first album; I was a big fan of Daniel Miller's work, as the Silicon Teens and as The Normal; and also of Fad Gadget, who was on Mute Records."
^"Erasure". The O-Zone. 29 November 1995. 8 minutes in. BBC 2. British Broadcasting Corporation. "When I was 18 or 19 I heard a single called 'Electricity' by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. It sounded so different from anything I'd heard; that really made me want to make electronic music, 'cause it was so unique."