Re-master of None: The Trouble with Remasters

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Fiachra Johnston takes a look at the strengths and pitfalls of remakes and their place in the games industry.

 

Polygon’s Chris Plante had a lot of thoughts on the PS4 remake of the PS2 era classic Shadow of the Colossus, comparing it to translating a famous foreign text: “There’s a balance at play between changing something as essential as the language of the text, while maintaining the integrity of the original author’s intent. One-to-one translation is impossible; the translator inevitably informs the translation.”

On the one hand, Plante adored the new additions this remaster brought: not simply a redrawing of the world, but an update of one. It was a perfect modern adaption of an old classic for a newer audience.

“It was a disassociation between two eras: all the polish of a modern game, but all the awkwardness of a vintage title.”

On the other hand, the jerky controls and awkward camera angles of 2005 were left in. It was a disassociation between two eras: all the polish of a modern game, with all the awkwardness of a vintage title. Creativity thrives under limitations, however, with no limitations, the title ran rampant in its evolution of the game and had, for better or worse (even Plante wasn’t sure), melded the two philosophies together.

Go back five to seven years, and remakes were everything: God of War, Halo: Combat Evolved, countless Zelda remakes, and even a previous remastering of Shadow of the Colossus for the PS3. These remasters were cash cow nostalgia trips; collections of titles that, while appreciated, were limited in what they offered in terms of progression to the industry. They provided the same experience but with marginally improved graphics and modern features like autosaves. This allowed these games to be brought to a modern audience, that may not have had the same appreciation for them in their original, graphically limited forms.

While some, like Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, went above and beyond in trying to update themselves, others fell flat by either trying too hard (a la The Masterchief Collection) or simply not trying hard enough. The biggest example of this was a remastering of legendary horror games Silent Hill 2 & 3. Again, creativity thrives under limitations. Although what made these games great to an audience in the early 2000s, eerie fog to hide a lack of rendering distance and awkward controls used to increase tension, were worthless in the era of next-gen consoles. Add bugs galore, as well as unforgivable comic sans usage, and it spelled disaster for the remastering industry.

Recently however, we seem to have learned from past shortcomings. Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy was released to critical acclaim, while a modern Okami release has sparked a huge resurgence in its popularity. On top of that, the new Shadow of the Colossus had launch week sales 70% higher than that of the original, and it seems remasters are back on the up and coming.

Despite entering into an era of Triple A games that constantly focuses on pushing the graphical boundaries of the 4k console/war machines they ride upon, these remasters are something more than simple graphical updates. They are testaments to how far we’ve come in the industry, and surprisingly, how much we can improve upon them as we enter into a new age of gaming.

 

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