By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
It seems as though barely a week goes by anymore that I don’t read the announcement of a “remastered” version of a last-gen game coming to new-gen consoles and/or PC. Generally, I’m a “what’s the harm in that?” type of person with things that are, well, harmless. I wouldn’t normally get all worked up about something like a remastered game because I would figure it isn’t hurting anything. People can either buy it or don’t, and what does it matter if it exists? People who never played the game before can now play an improved version of it, people who loved the game the first time are treated to a special edition of a game they already enjoyed, and people who tried the game the first time but felt there was room for improvement may now appreciate it better than they did the first time around. It’s a win no matter how you look at it, right? Well, not entirely.
For starters, I feel that remastering a game is a waste of time, money, and resources. All we hear about is how hard AAA development is these days, how expensive it is, how time consuming it is, how the reason we see glitches in games and need patches in games is because teams simply don’t have the time they need to complete their games except for those precious few teams who get all the time they need to finish their game. So what better way to address this problem than to have those teams re-doing games they already put out while presumably also working on their next proper game at the same time? Remastering a game isn’t like remastering a movie or an album, where just a couple of engineers can work on it for a few months to a year – with maybe the original director/singer/writer/etc just checking in every so often – and get it done. I have to imagine that remastering a game like The Last of Us is pretty much an all-hands-on-deck type of project, or certainly more than just a couple of people, with the obvious exception of a small handful of writers and planners that are just starting to storyboard the next game. And wouldn’t you know it, Uncharted 4 was just delayed. I’m all for delaying a game until its truly ready, but you can’t tell me that having Naughty Dog focus on Uncharted 4 full time following the release of TLOU rather than working on its remastered version wouldn’t have had a significant effect on how much sooner U4 could’ve been finished.
I realize that in some cases, a remaster is a real labor of love and a chance for a team to make improvements to the game and make it the game they truly wanted it to be to begin with. Ninja Theory really outdid themselves with DmC: Definitive Edition, improving the framerate, adding a manual targeting system, boosting the overall speed of the gameplay, and even making edits to dialogue in an effort to have the story scenes flow better. It’s hard to accuse that game of being a cash grab when they did so much more to it beyond tightening up the graphics on level 3. Still, Ninja Theory is a very talented team, and one of the best action game developers working today in my opinion, and I’m anxious to see what else they can do, whether its another fantastic original IP (like Heavenly Sword or Enslaved, neither of which get nearly enough recognition), or relaunching another property like they did so well with DmC (maybe Capcom can have them do Dino Crisis or Onimusha next, or hell, even Mega Man). And with how long AAA games do take to develop, that’s now another maybe year or so it’s going to take them to get another game out, which to me isn’t worth the sacrifice just to have a special edition of an existing – and already pretty solid – game. Remasters used to be handed off to other developers to free up the original devs to work on something new, and that wasn’t always a bad thing. There are a lot of smaller teams out there who are not only great at that sort of thing, but could also just use the work and the paycheck. But wait, aren’t I just contradicting myself now? Isn’t that still a developer remaking an old game instead of a new one? Sure, but as we know there are a number of developers who would love the work and who specialize in that sort of thing, ports and remakes, and far too many of them are shuttered after they have made a few games for a publisher and fulfilled their usefulness to them. Think of how many of those types of teams could be thriving right now with all these remastered games being made, teams that may also eventually grow big enough to finally make their own stuff (see, I was eventually going to circle back around to my main point). How many AAA developers and designers working today got similar starts? Not everyone wants to come up through the indie Kickstarter ranks for years before they finally get to make AAA games – and many budding young developers actually do want to be on the front lines of big-budget, AAA game development, believe it or not.
The other part of this trend that bothers me is how it only reinforces how frustrating it is that two of the three consoles makers of this generation completely abandoned backwards compatibility of any kind – something the Wii U doesn’t get nearly enough credit for while everyone is so busy hating on it, I digress. Obviously all any of us can do is speculate as to the real reason why Xbox One and PlayStation 4 aren’t backwards compatible with their previous systems, because we’ll certainly never get a straight, believable answer from their makers. But I honestly believe a big part of it was precisely so they could make more money selling those games to us all over again for full price. You can’t tell me that all of these remastered X360 and PS3 games would’ve still been as big of a deal if we could’ve just simply put those games into or downloaded them onto our XB1s and PS4s and played them straight away. The original PS3 version of The Last of Us still looks pretty phenomenal, and I doubt too many people who missed out on it for whatever reason but then picked it up for their PS4s would’ve been like “Yuck, what is this? I’m not playing this ugly, 30fps nightmare of a game.” Beyond that, when we used to get improved versions of older games, they’d generally just be $10-$15 and downloadable from PSN or XBL. That’s how “remasters” used to be handled. Instead, we’re now being asked to pay full price for prettier versions of previous-gen games which is completely unacceptable, even if they throw on all the DLC – when there even is any – and that alone isn’t enough for me to justify charging me 50-60 bucks for a several years old game when you already got me used to paying 50-75% less than that for remastered versions during the previous generation.
Even worse is how much they leave out of these remastered “collections” these days. Sony just announced that they’re going to be releasing a remastered version of God of War 3. That’s it. Just that game. Not 1 and 2 thrown in, not the PSP ones thrown in, not Ascension in there remastered as well, the sole other PS3 GoW game. Literally just God of War III, a game that is five years old at this point. To be fair, we don’t know the exact price point yet, but I guarantee you it won’t be under $20. And then there’s the recently-released Borderlands: The Handsome Collection which conveniently leaves out the original game, because, well, Handsome Jack wasn’t in that one. Really? You couldn’t just give us the full trilogy? One more damn game? Maybe it’ll be DLC later, like Halo pulled with leaving ODST out of the Master Chief Collection only to have them conveniently announce it as DLC a month later.
So obviously I’m a little all over the place on this, but ultimately remasters bother me for a number of reasons and I don’t see them as truly “harmless” little bonus games that aren’t bothering anything by existing. They get in the way of progress on true sequels, they aren’t used – like they should be – to keep smaller developers working, they cost too much, they often under-deliver, and ultimately, we should’ve just been able to play the games on our newer systems anyway, or at least have the option to download appropriately-priced digital versions of them onto our systems. Oh, yeah, that’s right, whatever happened to that? “Our systems aren’t backwards compatible but we’ll eventually let you download PS3 and X360 games onto your new system.” Um, yeah, still waiting on that one. Meanwhile, Nintendo has already started to roll out $20 (half that if you get the game in the first week) downloadable Wii games on the Wii U’s eshop. Something the Wii U doesn’t get nearly enough…weird, I felt like I said this before…