The “next-generation” of consoles has been with us now for just over a year: since November of 2013 with the debut of both the PS4 and Xbox One (and one year prior to that, the Wii U), the promise of upgraded visuals and new techniques that could never have been achieved before in games have been the focus of developers right from the get go.
But, if that was supposed to be the case, why are we now playing so many older games than we have before?
Call it the current trend of the “Remastered” edition and with a quick look at the list of game releases within the last year and in the coming months, there are a surprising number older games brushing off the dust and being revived for a brand new audience to enjoy.
From The Last of Us Remastered to Resident Evil HD Remaster to the long-awaited return of Grim Fandango Remastered, the degrees to which the term “Remastered” has been applied to games has been fairly liberal.
As such, this has naturally led to opinions from the general public dividing greatly on whether the term “Remastered” can lead to either a genuine labor of love revival that completely rebuilds the game from the ground-up, or an old game with a quick splash of HD paint thrown on for a double-dipped “cash grab” (conveniently timed around the launch of a new console). But for all the cries of “cash grab!” and eye rolls that accompany the announcement of a new HD remaster, not all is bad when it comes to reviving an old favorite. It’s definitely been a trend in games that’s reached a fever pitch, but it’s not necessarily a bad one.
Generally, I find the audiences for HD remastered titles to fall into two camps: the rose-colored glasses-wearing gamers going into a remastered game for a nostalgia-fueled trip through a game, or the curious newcomer who might have missed out on a particular title and are jumping into the experience head-on for the first time.
For some, that might be their umpteenth time jumping back into another run of The Last of Us Remastered, looking to see the story again with slightly snazzier visuals. For others, it might be the perfect entryway into a revered, older title (like Resident Evil or Grim Fandango) that some will be seeing for the very first time.
The degree of what qualifies as a “remastered” game is certainly one that’s up for debate, whether it is slight HD-enhancements in the form of the recent The Last of Us Remastered or the current generation versions of Grand Theft Auto V, both for titles released within just about a year and a half in their original form.
On the other end of the spectrum, the “remastered” trend has also extended to giving gamers a shiny and new version of older, classic titles: in January alone Resident Evil HD Remaster and Grim Fandango Remastered are bringing two iconic titles from the 1990s back into the hands of gamers, each with polished new visuals, altered control methods, and more. More importantly, more some it will be very first time experiencing these games: while Resident Evil has existed in several forms over the last few years and been not difficult at all to play, Grim Fandango has existed in an endlessly hard-to-find state, in the same way that the PS3 remastered version of Ico brought a once sought-after but hard-to-find classic back into gamers’ hands to enjoy.
Going further back with others like Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Oddworld: New ‘N’ Tasty!, DuckTales Remastered, or the countless “HD Collections” that have graced previous generations of consoles, seeing old titles return once more on new consoles has provided reactions both positive and negative, but with sales for these titles exceeding expectations, there’s clearly an audience for them.
Bringing back old classics with new polish is nothing new, video games aside: every other art form or media type has had their share of “remasters” as well, whether it’s a brand new recording or remaster of a classic album, 3D re-releases in movie theaters, revivals of popular plays or musicals, or the return/remake of a popular television series. Seeing the trend extend to video games is nothing shocking, and the fact that games have reached a point where esteemed classics, like Resident Evil, Grim Fandango, Ico, and more, can be brought back with the same esteem as a beloved film classic for a cherished revolutionary album is something worth celebrating, especially for an art form still as young as video games are (compared to everything else).
More than any of those other art forms though — video games in particular — have a tendency to age poorly. As “cutting-edge” and “system-defining” as some titles are, technology outpaces fond memories more drastically than ever, leading to those nostalgic sessions of DuckTales or Resident Evil feeling more like a nightmare when compared to the many enhancements and changes made since their debuts nearly two decades ago.
For all the controversy on whether a “remastered” game is just a shameless cash grab or a genuine attempt at revisiting a title in new artistic way, the opportunities to see an older title in an improved and more polished light is still one that is exciting for the right audience. Having never played the original Grim Fandango myself, I’ve been anticipating the game’s Remastered release; if only for the experience of seeing the game for the very first time and with some (probable) improvements to overcome some of the game’s more aged mechanics, given that seeing the title in its original state is a challenge in and of itself, having been hard to find for over 15 years.
Likewise, Resident Evil HD Remaster has grabbed me in much the same way, but in a more nostalgic sense having played the game in the late 1990s on SEGA Saturn – and remembering all of the iconic moments that I’ll be eagerly awaiting, whether it’s the pure shock of the zombified dogs jumping through the windows, Barry making his infamous “Jill Sandwich” remark, or the iconic moment that the first zombie rears his head which has forever haunted my nightmares since I was eight years old.
Sure, some of the game’s more devious mechanics are still present, from the ever-frustrating typewriter saves to the laughable “tank” controls, but as a sort of time capsule of gaming at that point in time, and for the comparisons between Resident Evil‘s style of horror compared with more recent titles like Alien: Isolation and Outlast, it is the type of release purely suited for nostalgic players looking to relive the classic tale of Spencer Mansion (with some slight new additions and improvements made for more refined playability).
No matter what side of the coin that you fall onto, the “remastered” trend has had its equal share of supporters and opponents. For the enticing offers that remastered games have provided – updated visuals, new modes, improved controls, etc. – others can argue for the many ways that remastered games are damaging for the current state of the gaming industry.
Instead of providing gamers with new titles and fresh experiences, the outcry against remastered games shows that many feel that the polished re-releases of older titles are uninspired “sure bets” – a studio’s attempt at making more money with minimal effort, instead of the effort that could go into creating something new, rather than polishing something old.
The controversies surrounding remasters, re-releases, HD remakes, and other games with “re” in the title is one that won’t be going away anytime soon, especially given in the last year alone more and more older titles are heading back onto the next generation of consoles. Can they seem like cash grabs? Sure. Are some of them uninspired titles being released just to fill in the gaps? Maybe. But, just because a game has “Remastered” in the title doesn’t mean it should be dismissed automatically.
Working in the theatre industry of New York City myself, it’s an experience that I witness every day. Walking past theaters for revivals of theater classics like The Elephant Man, Cabaret, and Les Misérables, these are all shows that I have seen (in some form or another) at least twice each. All of them are theater classics, in both the best and worst senses of the term: all are beloved and well-received, and all have had numerous productions both on-Broadway and off for decades, at this point.
Yet, each new production or revival, all three of which are currently in new productions/revivals, brings something new to the table in its latest incarnation: a new headlining star, a bold new direction or take, or even just a fresh coat of polish and dazzle to make these shows from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even older seem relevant and exciting once more, whether they completely reinvent themselves or cherish the qualities that make them of their time. Each of these shows I know either line-by-line or scene-by-scene, and yet even with the slightest of changes in a new production, it can feel fresh and new – an experience that remasters have also been able to provide for me in the gaming space.
The more positive aspect I see from remastered games is the chance to bring back a title into the current generation for a whole new audience, and it’s one that shouldn’t be ignored or bashed: the audience for a new “Remastered” game doesn’t need to include everyone, but for those the experience calls to, it’s definitely a fond one with much to offer.
Like the film industry that sees its revered classics brought back in glorious new HD remasters or special edition Blu-rays, seeing the remaster trend extend to gaming isn’t all that surprising or alarming – instead, it’s the chance to improve on a great experience, like how Resident Evil‘s remaster allows a new generation to experience what it is – a genre-defining classic – with some of its dust shaken off a bit, improving the experience with new hardware.
For some, “remastered” titles give a chance to dive back into a beloved classic for the very first time. For others, it’s the chance to revisit an old favorite in a new way, both of which being perfectly valid reasons for why this trend, as controversial as it has been in recent months, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I may know Resident Evil‘s opening cutscene by heart at this point, or wait with baited breath for Barry’s “Jill Sandwich” line, but the remasters, in its most positive light, is a chance to relive a classic experience with a fresh perspective. Like an old friend gone unseen after several years, you may know their every characteristic, trait, and quirk by heart, but seeing them again is always a welcome experience.