Poll Question 330 – Is a review a product of its time?

Recently, Steve has been reviewing some older mods (and I thank him for that). Often times, he hasn’t liked them (It’s on the list of code tasks, to make it easy to find comments and reviews by users – for now, you will have to check the 100 Most Recent Comments).

When he hasn’t liked something, he has been apologetic because his review often goes against the general feeling. Please don’t think I am criticizing him for this, because I am not. Everybody has a right to their opinion.

What is interesting is that fact that like a lot of other reviewers before him, when you review something from a few years ago, it never seems to live up to the original reviews and by “original reviews” I mean the ones made when the mod was released.

Clearly, this isn’t the case for every mod as some are absolute classics, but the ones that received good reviews don’t seem to stand the test of time, which is where this week’s poll questions comes in.

Is a review a product of its time?

What do you think?

Your chance to vote

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  1. Oh, yeah, definitely. Games – and mods by extension – tend to age and be outclassed by new and improved technology, which doesn’t necessarily mean they become worse or less beloved, but hindsight and comparisons can make them much less impressive. The fact that trends and preferences tend to change also doesn’t help some older games stand out anymore.

    I can’t help but be reminded of the hundred of times I’ve seen kids these days go online to say Half-Life 2 is “overrated”, that they don’t see anything special with it. Partly I imagine it’s due to the fact that FPS’s nowadays focus more on ‘bombast’ and big action setpieces (and yeah, I’m basically calling them CoD kids), but in other ways I can see where they’re coming from, even if I still love the game to death. In an era with stunning graphics and an increasing focus on open world games, even the ultimate classic that is HL2 can start to pale in comparison, especially insofar as the once-groundbreaking graphics are concerned. I’ve even seen professional critics go back and replay it, only to point out things that aren’t as good as they initially seemed, such as the game dragging too long, for instance.

    On the other hand, some games impressively stand the test of time, at least relatively speaking. Personally I find that Half-Life has aged wonderfully gameplay-wise, even if it’s not up to modern standards in most respects, but of course I would as a fan. A more interesting example I can come up with is Duke Nukem 3D; I’d never played the game until I bought it on Steam a couple of years back, just on a whim, fully expecting to find it crass and just a pain to play compared to modern games. Turned out I loved the bloody game, especially since I can look past graphics and focus on the gameplay. While naturally it can’t compare to modern standards in most ways, it felt like a breath of fresh air and a jolt of adrenaline that most games can’t provide nowadays as they’re too focused on upping the production values. It was surprisingly fun and, if I were to review it now, I’d probably give it quite a high grade, not unlike what it got on the original release.

    I suppose, ultimately, the trick is to remember that, while games and reviews are a product of their times, they are never truly comparable to modern day works because of that. But most of the time, if a game was terrible back then, it’ll definitely still be terrible, and if it was great, there’s probably still a lot to enjoy, so I say they’re both still valuable nonetheless.

  2. I think it kind of matters when the review was made.

    I met HL2 a few years ago and explored there are a number of maps and mods where they take place in HL2 universe. For instance, I was not able to play Coastline to Atmosphere because of the Steampipe Updates last year. I read the description of it, and (even tough I know how storyline of EP1 and EP2 goes on) it drew my attention. An alternative scenario sounded very groundbreaking comparing to other mods that take place in kind of parallel universes of HL2. Then, approximately 3 weeks ago, malortie, a member of ModDB, released a patch for CtA. It was a great news for me. I played the mod, and enjoyed it very much. I voted it as PLAY IT NOW.

    If I played it in 2006 as it was released and without knowing what really happens in EP1 and EP2 (and not playing a lot of other great mods like in Hall Of Fame), I believe, my opinion would be different and that would definitely effect my point of view. I think, the mod should also be criticised in a fair way regarding the time it was released.

    Overall, it does not only depend on when to review a mod, but also it depends on a few more elements such as: what mods were released around that time, how were the conditions then, and what kind of mods the reviewer played and enjoyed etc. Over time, tastes and interests can change, and that makes a difference to a review.

  3. This is a tricky one to give a definite yes or no answer. In terms of video games, you obviously want a review as soon as it comes out to see how it weighs up against the competition. Retrospective reviews tend to be geared more towards the question, ‘Does it still hold up?’

    I guess this is why PCGamer has a two page ‘REVISTED’ section each month.

    In terms of mods however, you need to take a few more things into consideration. Even if it were released in 2015, a mod for the original Half-Life is going to be limited to what the engine was capable of 17 years ago. Hell, even Episode 2 looks dated now when you get down to it, so even the very best Source mods should not be criticised for not being particularly ground breaking.

  4. I don’t know – you could argue that some mods are a victim of their own success. If the first few reviews are absolutely glowing, they will inevitably raise expectations for everyone who reads them before playing. Such is the case with HL2 itself. We’ve all made it out to be this amazing, fantastic game and people going into it with fresh eyes today do so with tremendous expectations that, honestly, the game can’t match. And they aren’t necessarily wrong. HL2 isn’t flawless and I enjoy hearing from people who didn’t like it more than those who have nothing but glowing praise for it. It lends perspective and prevents that obnoxious hive mind thinking that is so pervasive on the Internet these days.

    But HL2 exists in a market where new competition is always being made. It’s not surprising that when games like BioShock, Fallout and even Call of Duty take inspiration from it, it can lessen the impact of the original. I watched Aliens years after it was new. It never had the same impact on me as it would a contemporary viewer because it came across as a generic space marine movie, mostly because its ideas had been disseminated in so many other forms and had become cliches. It’s not fair to Aliens, but that’s just how things work.

    For the most part, HL2 modding doesn’t go anywhere because it’s locked to unevolving tech. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because I think it’s fair game to draw comparisons with earlier mods because we’re all following the same playbook. It’s bad because, like Aliens, what was once fresh has now become cliche. And our ability to make entirely new stuff is limited.

  5. Wesp5

    I too think that mod and game reviews have their moment in time, because some mods and games age better than others. As someone already said, it’s a lot about the actual gameplay and not about new gimmicks or better graphics! This is the reason why I think HL1 has aged better than HL2. HL1 had a great story, great environments and a big variation of enemies and weapons to fight them. HL2 in comparison had less enemies and less weapons and based a lot of it’s gameplay on physics, which were new at that time but have become very mainstream since then. So new players won’t regard physics as something special and the flaws of the rest of the gameplay are more obvious…

  6. Zekiran

    I believe that they are definitely ‘dated’ given that each reviewer has their own time line of what they’ve played first. My own I suspect is a little wonky, because not only do I go back and play mods that I haven’t seen before, way out of ‘order’ from their release, but I’ll also read comments and get a general sense first.

    I think some elements of any given mod may age worse than others – and have been affected over time by the tropes of game design such as ‘the escort mission’ and ‘the key gathering’ elements. Some folks take those tropes in different ways, so as always every review will wind up being pulled in different directions based on the quality of the mod, but also the player’s existing experiences and preferences.

    But there certainly are mods which stand the tests of time, and likewise there are also some which have been worn down from the early-release glitz. The reviews themselves, I usually look at all reviews – not just ones here by individual players, but the aggregate sites as well as ‘professional’ game reviewers – as a snapshot more into the player’s mind set, than the game. Knowing what a specific reviewer often likes or dislikes is at least as important as how they rate a game. I know x guy doesn’t care for y thing, I’ll take that into account – and when he’s surprised by that element in a mod and gives it a more positive review I have a better understanding of both.

  7. Mr.Walrus

    A side question to everyone: which mods/games do you think have aged really well? What qualities make them last so long?

    1. Zekiran

      For my part, ones which don’t rely on just one ‘thing’ for their memorability. Length, fewer bugs, voice acting (doesn’t have to be great, the effort is what counts for me), and when it’s an in-universe HL story I like it when they don’t take too many liberties and keep within the theme rather than diving too far away. That last bit said though, I still adore mods like Day Hard because it’s so completely over the top.

      R&D, Strider Mountain, Mission Improbable, some of those that have an actual, followable storyline that takes you through a number of varied locations.

    2. This is probably the ‘default’ answer for people less familiar with mods (like myself), but MINERVA. The verticality of the map and the fact that it tells such an intriguing story with nothing but lines of text and the environment. Also, the sense of freedom in exploring the top of the map, which is something I wasn’t used to in Half-Life 2. Those factors still play really well today, at least to me – but, again, I’m still a relative newcomer when it comes to playing these singleplayer HL2 mods.

      1. Minerva deserves props for being the first popular example of an HL2 Sourcemod and demonstrating what was possible, but I don’t personally think it’s that great. The combat is simply brutal and devoid of tactics, as every enemy just bum-rushes the player with AR2s. And, as Unq mentioned during his stream, the lack of a Gravity Gun is just so… well, you’d kind of think that the premiere HL2 mod should make use of the game’s signature weapon. I also think the story is so hilariously cryptic that it’s hard to take seriously.

  8. Zekiran

    BTW Phillip is there a way we could get that link to the 100 recent comments placed near the ‘recent comments’ below in the footer? Because I’ve been wondering and didn’t even realize that there WAS a way to see more of them. The most recent set down there is nice, but whenever something new is posted – or whenever there’s a spammer – it tends to become useless pretty quickly.

    1. Done. You know there is a link to it in the EXPLORE menu, right?

      1. Zekiran

        Yay thank you. I haven’t really noticed it in the Explore area but then I kind of more rely on what I can easily figure out on any given page. I like having it in one place, which is nice to have down at the footer now 😀

      2. Huh. Well, I certainly didn’t. Then again, I’m new here.

  9. I must without a doubt agree that a mod years back can be reviewed today. I also think you need to be open minded as if not most of the classics would be made today they would be indie titles to be green via steam!

    1. Tell me about it. I’m confident that HL2 modders put more effort into our work than the majority of “Made in an hour in Unity” junk on Greenlight. Or that Valve News Network guy. And yet, thanks to Valve’s rules, they can get paid for it while we can’t.

      1. Or that Valve News Network guy.

        I take it you’re not a fan?

        And yet, thanks to Valve’s rules, they can get paid for it while we can’t.

        It’s a big can of worms, but yes, it’s not really fair. By the logic of the legal reasons (which, to be fair, I get why they exist), videos also shouldn’t be able to profit from Valve’s intellectual content. Granted, viewers are able to enjoy them freely and the revenue comes from advertising, which is shared as well, but the viewership comes for the video’s contents, which aren’t their own.

        I’m not saying I don’t think people should be allowed to profit from their work, I do. I mean that, if some can’t for one reason, then neither should the others.

        1. No, I’m not a fan of Valve News Network. Not just because of the clickbait subject matter, but because he doesn’t properly credit his sources either.

          It doesn’t sit well with me that he can profit off a video “review” of Uncertainty Principle, which I’m sure MisterAddy spent hundreds of hours making, while MisterAddy isn’t allowed anything according to Valve’s policies. And on top of that, he doesn’t even credit the author or provide a download link in the video itself.

          1. That’s a pretty good point, actually. It is sort of ridiculous that he grabs content for his videos and doesn’t even credit who made it, and likewise with the information on his videos.

            I’m not exactly against VNN, and in fact I subscribe it on YouTube, but I have to admit it’s a bit annoying when I watch one of his HL2-based videos and it’s all content straight from Combine OverWiki and The Cutting Room Floor – and, like you pointed out, unsourced. He’s basically profiting off years of the community’s efforts.

            1. Guys! Guys! I know how to fix this! …wait for it….wait for it…”Verizon Wireless Presents: Forest Train by Jason Gimba.” Eh? Eh? …anybody?

  10. Absolutely.. Reviews and anything else are always a product of time and on how we look on it and feel about it.. Regarding reviews your mood also usually plays a role on a subconscious level.

    Time also plays a role like @Mythos pointed out quite nicely in his post. Things which seemed impressive may fade over time due to new technology and higher expectations or having experienced things like it 100 times by now in other games. But as he also pointed out things which you love and like you may always like no matter what. That’s because you form a personal bonding with it as he did with Duke3D. So that might possibly rule out the the point of graphics & story for that matter. I believe as long as the game play provides enjoyment something or anything might be worthwhile and therefore gets well accepted and reviewed.

    I for once do still enjoy Half-Life for that matter and my favorite mods of back then are still my favorite mods of today.

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