This console generation has seen the largest number of re-released games ever. What began as a minor trickle of older Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 titles being released again for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 back in 2014 has since erupted into a torrent of classic (and some not-so-classic) games being released in 2016, with no signs of it stopping anytime soon.
I don’t have too big an issue with the sudden onslaught of older titles returning for a second time. Frankly, I missed out on some of these titles, and getting the chance to play them with graphical upgrades and all of their downloadable content is pretty cool. Plus, it gives me the chance to grab all the achievements in games where I have already done it once before to further pad my Gamerscore.
Not all re-releases are created equal. That is kind of the only problem with this Renaissance of old releases that makes me hesitant to truly accept them. Some games clearly get a bit more love than others, leaving a sea of old games that are littered with both shiny gems and obvious cash grabs.
Thankfully, re-released games fit under one of three names, making the best ones relatively easier to spot if you know where to look (and, granted, the developer labeled their game correctly). An old game can be released again as a remaster, a remake, or a reboot.
Remasters (also called Definitive Editions) are by and far the most common of the three. We got a lot of remasters in 2016 (and I mean A LOT) . A good example is Darksiders Warmastered Edition (which we just reviewed). Remasters typically include all the DLC from the original game’s release, are fully patched, and feature a minor to moderate graphical upgrade. Remasters are the most common because they are the easiest of the three for developers to make. Developers are essentially just releasing the same game over again but this time they have squeezed a little bit more clarity out of the visuals.
This usually means a remaster is little more than a developer’s means of earning a little bit more money from an old title. I helps the developers earn some extra cash for a new project. Even though this is the case, there are a few good remasters out there. Unfortunately, many of these fully patched and cleaned remasters were simply made to bridge console generations, and were not necessary to be released to begin with.
For example, Volition’s Saint’s Row IV launched in the sunset of the PS3 and Xbox 360’s lifespan (August 2013). In hopes of getting all the sales for that game that they could, a Remastered version of Saint’s Row IV, titled Saint’s Row IV: Re-Elected, was released a little over a year later (January 2015) for the PS4 and Xbox One. I bought, played, and grabbed every achievement in both and it really just felt like the same game. You could tell the graphics were better on Re-Elected, but not by much. Although the sputtering that I experienced in the original release was gone, it was replaced by the occasional lip sync malfunction in the new version.
This is the case with most remasters, they are not worth the buy if you have already played the game once. Remasters are for players who have yet to play the game and need to catch up on their backlog. For a perfect version of an old game, the title needs a bit more development time.
Which brings us to remakes, the rarest of the three categories. Remakes have all the qualities of a remaster, except a remake has a noticeable graphical improvement, is fully patched, and can (but does not have to) substitute broken mechanics in the original game for new ones. Sometimes these new mechanics work and sometimes they do not.
An excellent example of a remake is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. Although the game is marketed and released as a remaster, the superior graphics, upgraded weapon sounds, tighter controls, and other improvements that Raven Software implemented into the game make it leaps and bounds ahead of the original classic. I fully believe this is just an example of developers misunderstanding the differences between a remaster and remake.
Remakes exist in this weird middle ground of the re-released trifecta. They offer enough of a new experience for old players to appreciate the game and want to play it again, but typically do not address all the issues that the original game had (which prevents it from keeping pace with the other new titles released around it). So many new players typically look elsewhere.
Remakes are not known for being all that successful. Developers spend a lot more time and money on remakes than they do with remasters; meaning when it comes to launch day, they run a higher price. The higher price tag causes many players to lose interest in buying an old game (even if the game is now as shiny as the new ones surrounding it) and this leads to lost profit. Thus, many remakes, like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered or Halo 2: Anniversary, are packaged with another title so gamers feel like they are getting a bit more bang for their buck.
Using this business model, remakes will never truly take off like remasters are currently. Developers just cannot make money off of remakes. Whilst remasters cannot find a niche with players of the original game, remakes struggle to connect to new audiences.
That leaves us with the third type of re-release: Reboots.
Reboots are the hardest and most expensive of video game re-releases to develop because they are entirely new games. Because of this, they are almost as rare as remakes. Yet they stay ahead because (unlike remakes) reboots do actually sell. A reboot is a game that takes everything a franchise has previously built, tears it away, and starts from scratch with current generation mechanics, graphics, and game design. This year saw three major franchises get a reboot with the releases of Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, Doom, and Ratchet & Clank.
These games may have captured the essence of their original franchises, but achieve little else. Mirror’s Edge Catalyst remains a vertigo inducing, first-person parkour immersion but went the extra mile to literally open up the world to the player and include more current gaming mechanics like skill trees and items. Doom redeveloped the beloved franchise with a mixture of both classic and current FPS genre mechanics and added a phenomenal map-making mode into the mix. This was done without damaging the feel of the original 1993 game. And Ratchet & Clank did the impossible, making a 2002 classic which had been nearly all but forgotten into a family favorite for a whole new generation of gamers.
That is the magic of reboots over remakes and remasters. They capture just enough nostalgia that fans of the franchise can appreciate the nods to what they remember but old-timers and new-comers alike can enjoy what is essentially a brand new game because it offers a different take on the origin of the heroes that fans fell in love with once before. In fact, you can almost argue that they are NOT the same heroes, because reboots typically splinter off so significantly from the original game. Because of this, they sell like hotcakes. Sweet, delicious hotcakes.
Is it all bad that video games are seemingly in a creative rut, and developers are only returning to the tried-and-true well of games that they know will work? Well, yes and no. I love reboots and remakes. I think we could even use a little bit more of the latter. Could you imagine if Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection had released with Assassin’s Creed: Unity and Syndicate’s level of graphics and superior parkour, stealth, and combat mechanics? Or if something like Demon Souls or the original Dark Souls got the graphical treatment of Bloodborne and Dark Souls III? And then they fixed those freakin’ hitboxes?
Developers have got to stop pushing out Remasters. They are cash grabs. There is no ‘if’s, ‘and’s, or ‘but’s about it. It is unfair to charge a $60 price tag for a game that is only moderately better than the original title. I know that making new games is getting both harder and more expensive, but respect your player base. Acknowledge that you are selling them the same game again and put in the effort to at least do what Raven Software accomplished with Call of Duty.
And PLAYERS need to stop buying remasters. Keep buying remakes and reboots. Prove to developers that they are not wasting their time when they return to old titles, but do it in a way where you are demanding the developer to put in a little more effort. As it stands, I foresee 2017 being the largest year of re-releases and poorly developed remasters yet. Prove me wrong Internet. Prove me wrong.