Reduce, reuse, recycle!

If, like me, you grew up gaming in the 90s, then some of the releases of the last 4-5 years have probably been a strange mixture of nostalgia and disappointment; I’m talking of course about the growing number of HD remasters out there. Having grown up with the advent of Sony’s first foray into the world of consoles, the PS1, and later the globally successful PS2, I’ve seen a lot of my beloved childhood titles given the shiny HD treatment. These remasters, however, continue to split opinions in the industry. Some are hailed as a rose-tinted look back into the golden age of gaming, and others are exposed as quick cash cows churned out on the cheap.

But what is it exactly that causes this stark divide in reception? What qualities separate the two sides, and why exactly do gamers react so strongly to the announcement of upcoming remakes? Furthermore, perhaps the most important question to tackle is what kind of effect these new editions are having on the wider gaming industry; are they encouraging developers to take the easy option instead of spending time and resources on developing new IPs?

A Bonus Life

The obvious freakishly mutated elephant in the room with this topic is of course Capcom’s recent remaster of Resident Evil (which is technically a remaster of a remaster, if you’re counting). In the ever-expanding world of HD remakes, the latest edition of the 1996 PS1 title has been welcomed by the gaming community like Macaulay Culkin’s family at the end of Home Alone. Critics all agree that the game hit the right notes of both nostalgia and evolution; it retained the sensation of stumbling around the foreboding Spencer Mansion whilst feeling graphically fresh enough to justify another release. Critics and users alike also welcomed the return of the terrifying Crimson Heads, who basically turned every downed assailant into a time bomb just waiting to go off.

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“Please Jill, I promise I’ll start putting the toilet seat down – just give me another chance!”

It’s difficult to ascertain exactly why it is that gamers and reviewers reacted so well to the title, but I’d suggest that in the large part it’s due to the amount of time that has passed since the last edition. Owing to the fact the game was first produced almost 20 years ago, it was undoubtedly measured against gamers’ memories of playing it, rather than the actual original experience. This means that, fortunately for Capcom, gamers might have invested in the title for the chance to spend more time in the universe, rather than because they’re looking for a new experience. Furthermore, Capcom also capitalised on the chance to open the genre up to a new audience, who might not have experienced the original, by offering an adjusted control scheme that makes navigating the claustrophobic halls a little easier.

Game Over

It’s unfortunately the case however, that not all remasters on the market benefit from the luxury of time. Re-released titles like DmC: Definitive Edition constantly risk being thrown in the proverbial cash-cow bin simply because they don’t leave enough time between the original release and the remake. When developers charge £35-£45 for a game that was released just over a couple of years ago, it’s no surprise that the wider gamer community is quick to reject it and brandish the dreaded ‘sell-out’ stamp.

A slight graphical upgrade simply doesn’t cut the mustard!

You might think that in order to make the difficult remake pill a little easier to swallow, Ninja Theory would have added in some new features to pretend to justify another purchase; packaging the game with its original DLC, some new difficulty settings and a slight graphical upgrade simply doesn’t cut the mustard! I forget, of course, that they also added ‘Turbo Mode’, which makes the game play out a little bit faster, but to be honest I’m open to suggestions as to just how exactly that might improve the experience of playing it? Don’t take this as a sign that I didn’t enjoy the original title, much to the contrary, I loved the new take they offered on the franchise, even as a die-hard fan. What I do object to, however, is the belief that re-releasing on the next generation of consoles and calling it the ‘Definitive Edition’ justifies a £30-40 price-tag. The new title offers little in the way of new content, doesn’t really attempt to capture a new audience, and at worst dilutes the experience of playing the last gen game.

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Do You Wish To Continue?

This brings me round to the central crux of the remaster dilemma; lazy development. Part of what I loved about Ninja Theory’s DmC was that, in quite a Dante-esque fashion, it gave fans that had preconceived notions about the franchise a giant middle finger before getting dressed and sauntering out for some takeaway. Remastered titles however simply don’t do this; they conform to our expectations rather than subverting them. In an era of gaming where criticisms of stagnant franchises hang around like the stench of last night’s leftovers, is it really profitable for developers to spend time churning out old titles again and again?

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I’m pretty sure this guy would agree with me.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t take inspiration from the games of the past 15-20 years; let’s face it, we fondly remember a lot of them, and they’re what got us to this point in our gaming careers today. The issue arises when previous games aren’t looked to for inspiration, but rather for monetisation; there are too many examples of titles we saw as little as 18 months ago being re-released for the current generation.

I must concede however that I don’t have nearly enough time or space to address the whole range of HD remasters on the market. Take The Last of Us for example, we only saw that in mid-2013, but a lot of gamers and critics alike still believe it’s one of the best games the PS4 has to offer. I guess if you’re looking for an answer to the  title of the article, I don’t have a fully formed one. What I do know however, is that the industry needs more new IP’s, and that’s hardly likely to happen if there’s still profit to be had in re-releases.