Editorial: Remastered or Recycled?

Pre-rendered backdrops for the win.
The HD remaster is actually not that much prettier than the original.

I recently finished my first playthrough of Resident Evil HD Remaster, tenebrous readers, and I can safely say it gave me precisely what I wanted. But what has the remastered version set the table for in the future? Especially considering this is Capcom’s endeavor, the company responsible for more re-releases than any other, what has been set in motion by this game’s release? Well, it would be one thing if the game did not sell particularly well but in point of fact it sold fantastically. It sold the best on PSN where the game broke records for the fastest selling digital release as well as the biggest day-one digital release, and I am sure it sold similarly on PC (where I bought it) and Xbox Live. And for good reason, the game remains a great exemplar of the now-anemic survival horror genre.

With few high profile examples in the field, titles like The Last of Us stand mostly alone, survival horror has been mostly disserviced or simply unserviced for a long while. Thankfully Resident Evil HD was released to act as a temporary oasis amidst glancing blows at the bulls eye like The Evil Within. RE HD‘s sound and visual style are conveyed surprisingly well to a high definition platform, getting rid of many of the GameCube’s glaring limitations while also adding new features and content to the offer. The new play control method functions more or less as a learning tool for people who have not or could not get comfortable with old tank controls. And while I think the new control scheme has more drawbacks than not over the originals, I welcome their addition as I would any other options of its kind. The puzzle designs and enemy encounters have all be left unchanged, the extra unlockables remain precisely where they were but with a few more costume options, and a couple of online leaderboard features were sprinkled on top for good measure. Having played through the GameCube version at least a dozen times, I had a great time noticing all the little details a standard definition game struggled to elucidate.

But it worries me that this game is not the guiding light it should be. As I mentioned, knowing the pedigree of the company responsible for this re-release (of a remake), I feel the lesson learned was not to make more games like this, given its success, but to re-release more games like this. Or, quite possibly, Capcom will look at these results and simply re-release more games in general from the early 2000s. Now, I am not wholly against this prospect. And given what else Capcom has been up to of late, and the treatment of anything that is not Monster Hunter, I suppose this constitutes an improvement. Worse yet would be that this success, borne mostly on the backs of buyers starved for content, will be construed by other publishers as a genuine appetite for re-releases. While the market might indicate this at first blush, it would be shortsighted to push that envelope. In time, if not nearly already, re-releases and remasters will be about as welcomed as another Minecraft clone. I admit that some old sixth generation titles do deserve to be given that fresh coat of paint, with hopefully some new extras added in, and I could probably devote a whole article to which games I think deserve the treatment. However, when we are already seeing remastered versions of games released only a year ago, I can only imagine what to expect next.

Zombies BEFORE they became an eye-roll-inducing addition to a game.
Getting munched on by zombies never looked so good.

There is, however, an interesting wrinkle to be found in remastering older games for today’s market. Games like Resident Evil HD are notably focused and complete packages in comparison to modern AAA releases like Evolve. The comparison to modern gaming is almost damning of the chopped up content served today with extraneous online modes or half-assed DLC campaigns. While people might buy these things up, the numbers do not lie about RE HD‘s success, which make clear that those things are not what is driving sales. I would posit that modern games sell well despite all of the publisher’s anchors thrown around neck of the game. Much like TV commercials, these niggling addons become more and more invisible to the buyers until they do not realize that gaming was not always this way. It would be a fine comeuppance indeed if in the mindless push for more remasters of old games, consumer distaste for modern games’ monetization methods were soured. It would be very much like this industry to serve itself its own demise on a platter. While DLC and online features can be done right, they are hardly necessary and a break from them is a respite I look forward to even if it is based on false pretenses.

Have you run aground of any remasters yet, fine fellows? Do you plan to? Let me know what your thoughts are about my concerns over this as a booming trend in the comments below. Then feel free to remaster those comments in my HD re-release of this article in 2016.

17 comments

  1. I don’t think Capcom needs anymore convincing to re-release literally everything they have, as the re-release of the flop, DmC, amply demonstrates.

    will be construed by other publishers as a genuine appetite for re-releases.

    If publishers come to this realisation then it should be something that strikes fear into their hearts, because it will mean that gamers have stopped looking towards the future of those companies.

  2. I know this doesn’t have to do with remasters, but did you play Outlast, Mel? I was too scared to play more than 20 minutes, but it seemed pretty good. Then again, I know practically nothing about the genre, so I’m curious about your thoughts if you have played it.

  3. I wouldn’t exactly call Outlast a survival horror game, it’s more just a horror game. Games like Resident Evil weren’t really all that scary and I don’t think they were intended to be. They were more tense whereas games like Outlast use jump scares and creepypasta style settings to unnerve you the entire time, which never appealed to me.

    Survival Horror, as I know it, is more of an off branch of point and click games. They use a lot of puzzle solving, a lot of back tracking, and a lot of reading mixed with limited action elements. The RE series was definitely more on the action spectrum, but certainly wasn’t full tilt on scares like the first person flashlight games of today.

  4. Isn’t it a movie about Tom Hanks on an island–oh that’s Cast Away.

  5. “survival horror has been mostly disserviced or simply unserviced for a long while.”
    Surely this is not really true? Silent Hill and Resident Evil have both had numerous remakes in the past few years.

    “I feel the lesson learned was not to make more games like this, given its success, but to re-release more games like this.”
    This. But it’s actually a lesson that these watered-down companies can actually do. Capcom and Konami have development teams that are today a shadow of what they once were, despite probably having larger budgets and more people than ever before. Consequently, they usually make junk. But when it comes down to these re-releases, the job is easier: no gameplay to innovate, after all. That is, of course, when they actually do the remake themselves, rather than just farming it out to a third-party.

    When companies cannot innovate, they fall back on trying to milk what worked in the past.

    “The comparison to modern gaming is almost damning of the chopped up content served today with extraneous online modes or half-assed DLC campaigns.”
    This is the delicious rub! By releasing the excellent, complete experiences of the past, they only serve to demonstrate how shitty is their modern, triple-A, Hollywood-bloat approach. I am glad of this, because I do not want people to ever forget that, once upon a time, gamers owned games, and got them all at once at the moment of purchase. And, what’s more, THEY WORKED.

    “It would be a fine comeuppance indeed if in the mindless push for more remasters of old games, consumer distaste for modern games’ monetization methods were soured.”
    This exactly. May it please God.

    “Have you run aground of any remasters yet, fine fellows?”
    I want a Final Fantasy XII remaster. I want it now. My bones ache for it. Give it to me.

  6. All of the most recent Resident Evil and Silent Hill games, since RE4 (in 2005) and Silent Hill 4 (in 2004), have been painfully boring or outright atrocious.

  7. @Mel: I was under the impression that there have been several remakes amongst the, yes? I recall there was a Silent Hill package which screwed up the voice acting terribly.

  8. Silent Hill 2 got a remaster a while back, but it was botched in part because the original source code was lost. Which isn’t as big of a problem as it seems because A) that’s common for games before like 2005 and B) up-resing and remasters and ports handled by third party companies usually just rip the code right from an original disc instead of relying on some ancient compiled code that may or may not be incomplete.

    The problem with that game was they decided to strip away elements that seemed ugly but in fact were done to hide certain restrictions (like draw distance).

    The Resident Evil games got some spin offs, like Revelations, which were ok but imo they were underwhelming and saddled with poor design choices. Plus, they’re all continuations of RE4, which is more action than puzzle solving. May as well be any other third person shooter.

  9. I want a Final Fantasy XII remaster. I want it now. My bones ache for it. Give it to me.
    This.

  10. I also want that FFXII remaster.
    “When companies cannot innovate, they fall back on trying to milk what worked in the past.”
    Pretty well sums up the entire remaster craze, honestly. In a roundabout way, it can be applied to what Hollywood does with reboots of old franchises.
    Begs a sort of question of the nature of gaming longevity and what’s worth preserving. But I’m not sure how to word it, or how to begin answering it.

  11. Hollywood has indeed been doing this EXACT thing for decades and to a much greater extent. “Remaster” is a newly applied term to the realm of gaming, but in movies it’s quite common. As well as with reboots, Hollywood has set trends for gaming when it comes to selling products and scrap-booking old content into new forms.

    Gaming has been particularly susceptible to ports and now up-res’d remasters since the hardware is always changing. In the time that we’ve gone through over eight generations of mainstream consoles, each with their own mediums, movies have gone through about 3 or 4. And whenever people can’t use their old purchases (which can’t happen often enough for game and movie publishers) you’ll see an uptick in transfers to the new medium, especially if that medium is a significant upgrade.

    I absolutely think games are worth preserving but it’s becoming increasingly cumbersome. Not everything gets transfer/ported/remastered, and digital emulation is often a poor substitute. But like as not, digital-only gaming is an eventuality. Probably not next gen, but it’s coming. I also expect the current understanding of a hardware generation to change a lot as well.

  12. I absolutely think games are worth preserving but it’s becoming increasingly cumbersome. Not everything gets transfer/ported/remastered, and digital emulation is often a poor substitute. But like as not, digital-only gaming is an eventuality. Probably not next gen, but it’s coming. I also expect the current understanding of a hardware generation to change a lot as well.

    I’ll “this” this.

  13. Great article, Mel. A game making you want to play again immediately after beating it is a wonderful and rare thing.

    Basically all of the games that were rumored to be remade several episodes back are ones I’ve been thinking about for a long time. FFXII and Dragon Quest VIII are at the top of my list. Another game that I think would benefit greatly from being remade is Valkyrie Profile 2. The environments in that game are so beautiful. They NEED to be in HD! Yet another one is Brave Fencer Musashi. I don’t know if it would sell that well though.

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