When Should a Game Be Remastered?

Remasters have always existed in movies and music,  but the only form of media that uses them with reckless abandon is video games. Even though its probably not true, I could swear I’ve seen more remasters of older games released than I have new, original IPs. To be clear, remasters aren’t always a bad thing: the best of them save developers money since they don’t have to throw money into creating an entirely new game, and satisfy fans by reviving a classic game with updated graphics, better sound quality and all of the game’s add-on content post release. It takes the idea of a “Game of the Year edition” one step further by making the game look and play better. But is a remaster always required? Does every game that’s at least five years old require a re-release for the small percentage of people that haven’t played it already and would willingly pay full-price for the same game? It’s an honest question, so I decided to come up with three important criteria that constitute if a game is actually worth the remaster.

1. Does the game still hold up to today’s standards? 

This is an important point missed by a lot of publishers; a good example of this is the Bioshock collection. It includes all three of the critically-acclaimed games with updated graphics, all the extra content, and as an added bonus in the original, collectible golden film reels hidden throughout the levels that let you watch a developer’s commentary on each chapter of the game. By all accounts its a great remaster. The only problem? Bioshock hasn’t aged well at all. The story and dialogue are timeless, but the once thrilling and foundation(al?) gameplay has been built upon countless times over. One of the biggest problems with remasters is that despite the fact that they’re meant to bring an old game into a new age, they often bank their success on their appeal to a player’s nostalgia. When sales falter, its not because the game is bad or the remaster is subpar (well usually anyway), it often comes down to the fact that the people who enjoyed the game then might have moved on or just don’t appreciate it like they used to. Any discerning publisher should be willing to look at how a game holds up now rather than how it held up then.

2. Is there a solid fanbase ready to support a remaster? 

This is a big deal actually. Word of mouth is often the best form of marketing, and people won’t talk about what doesn’t interest them. For all of its flaws, Kickstarter has proven that when enough fans want more of a good thing, they’ll go to extreme lengths to make it happen. A  new Tim Schafer or a third Shenmue game are great examples of this. But, and I’m honestly asking, who was clamoring for a remastered Bulletstorm? And one priced at $60? The only new feature was adding Duke Nukem as a character (which was kind of cool, but not $60 cool?), and the lack of a fun competitive multiplayer for a community to thrive on means people are pretty much stuck with an eight hour linear story campaign which last I checked wasn’t enough to justify buying the same game at full-price. Bulletstorm was a fun addition to the shooter realm because it was one of the first games to encourage creative brutality, but AAA titles such as Far Cry or Metal Gear Solid V have surpassed Bulletstorm in nearly every way. For comparison, here’s what creative kills in Bulletstorm looks like, courtesy of user MATRIXXXL007:

Take note of how each move is clever and entertaining but every kill utilizes similar elements. For instance, the kick that’s used to knock an enemy into spikes also has to be used with the whip to push an enemy away, making for a more creative kill. You could make the argument that its cool to see all the different moves work together, but when I look at it, I see numerous moves in combat that are co-dependent. The kick isn’t nearly as much fun without the whip, and the whip on its own becomes nothing more than a simple gimmick meant to make this game feel like it stands out. That sounds needlessly nitpicky, but let’s look at some of the creative kills from Dishonored 2, thanks to StealthGamerBR:

What separates a game like this from Bulletstorm has nothing to do with the art style, the animation or the fluid movement, though this game does exceed on those fronts. What really makes it stand out is that each of the numerous powers work on their own, but they’re even better when they work together. Posessing a guard to walk through patrols is fun, but stopping time, possessing a guard and walking him in front of his own bullet? That’s pure genius, and it still doesn’t come close to the level of macabre murder you can create when using three or four powers together. Bulletstorm’s abilities rely too much on each other to function well, and while that was a forgivable flaw a couple years ago, that’s certainly not the case anymore.

3. Does the game really need a graphical update? 

So the best example that comes to mind off the top of my head is the recent Batman: Return to Arkham series. I already wrote an extensive post on the Arkham games themselves, and I was intrigued to see how the older games would look on a newer console. But the difference was…minimal. If anything, it actually looks worse:

Before I lay into it completely I do want to call out that some of the effects are really cool: the added rain in Arkham Asylum, the extra texture to Batman’s cape and the lighting, while hit or miss, can do the atmosphere of Gotham justice. However, the character models are far too clean. The Joker from 2009 has more detail than the Joker of 2016, and that’s a massive oversight. Also, a small detail but a lot of the characters eyes look more like marbles than actual optics. The character models in general are poorly detailed, and when the lighting does miss, it really misses. Sometimes it’s too dark to really make out if any detail was added at all. And then in the case of Mr. Freeze’s suit too much needless detail. It’s an okay remaster, but its proof that some games are fine where they are.

And that brings me to the all in all of this post: Remasters are a great way to revisit games that otherwise would be forgotten and deserve more attention or an updated aesthetic. But there can be too much of a good thing, and if a remaster doesn’t fit these criteria, it might be in your best interest to just wait for a sale.

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