There’s a lot of talk lately about remasters (and remakes) in gaming. Spyro The Dragon is coming soon, we just had Dark Souls, and several other high profile releases either came recently or are coming in the near future. Here are my thoughts on the best and worst of them so far, and some ideas about what makes them good or bad.
Now when I talk about a remaster I mean a game that is re-released on a newer hardware version with shinier graphics, a better frame rate, but otherwise unchanged. Minimum effort is required on the part of the publisher, who is effectively releasing the same code with the settings at a higher level (if you imagine the same game on a PC). A remake requires some more man hours to create, generally with completely new graphics to make the game look modern. Unfortunately in most cases (Crash Bandicoot or Shadow of the Colossus for example) the underlying game engine is unchanged and so you are left with a clash between shiny new graphics and aged, clunky engine, that I find jarring.
Dark Souls Remastered – This is a super recent release, and I’ve been well into it on Xbox One since it came out. I’ve previously completed the game on Windows and PS3 (with a real sense of achievement!) and loved the two sequels, so was very excited to get back into it. On the surface it’s just another remaster that turns the graphics settings up based on the last-gen release, throws in the DLC, and ultimately gives the same experience – with one key change; it runs at 60 FPS. whilst this isn’t necessarily the type of game I’d usually say would benefit from 60 over 30 FPS, it seems to have made my dodge timing a lot easier, and it does look very nice. It’s the same game, and it’s one of my favourites, so I don’t mind having it again as my PS3 is out of use and I don’t have a Windows PC. All that could have made this release better would have been the inclusion of Demon’s Souls. €40 for a single, old game seems a little steep compared to the trilogy sets mentioned below that cost the same…
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – In terms of value, a trilogy boxset is becoming increasingly rare as publishers realise that the consumers will buy each game separately for €25 rather than as a set for €40. Thankfully Uncharted came out as a set on one disc at a good price. I’m not a massive fan of the series, but I do enjoy them so this was a perfect way to play through them. The graphics really pop here; they maintain their previous gen look, but cleaned up significantly and with a smooth frame rate. It truly feels here like we’ve reached a point that the hardware is finally powerful enough to realise the developers’ ideas.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection – Another well-priced collection of games, this one contains Games 1 to 4 in the series. The first two originally came on Xbox and here are presented in their “anniversary” editions with graphics upgraded as they were issued on Xbox 360. The other two appear as originally released on Xbox 360. There is so much value here it really puts many other re-releases to shame. I’m not a massive fan of the games, they are fun but by no means my favourite first person shooters, but they are worth experiencing, and this is frankly the best method.
Various PS3 HD Trilogy packs – For the sake of this article I’ll include the God of War collections, which each had two games. Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell, Devil May Cry, Prince of Persia. These collections gather some of the finest games from the PlayStation 2, and generally clean up the graphics well. Controls and level design are often clunky, such was the state of play in the early 00s, but this is unavoidable. Once again providing tremendous value, a slightly upgraded user experience, and the chance to revisit (or for the first time) some great titles.
Burnout Paradise Remastered – This one gets pride of place at the start of this list simply for being the most disappointing. A lot of hype was thrown about pre-release about the upgrades they were making to the game, with redrawn textures, 4K 60fps gameplay (on the right hardware) and other small improvements. I have an Xbox One S, in which I purchased the game, and my initial reaction was “oh.. this looks a bit rubbish”. There’s no indication that it looks better than it did in 2009 (I used to play it on Windows), certainly it’s not improved in any obvious manner. The soundtrack is the same as ever and a matter of taste – though to my ears it just shows how crap music had become by the late 00s. Gameplay is again just as you remember, there are no improvements to the game engine or vehicle handling – which is to say it’s simply not all that good. Racing games improve over time in respect of their physics and handling, and this really shows it age. The Burnout games were hardly the most advanced games this way in the first place, and it’s now easy to see the shortcuts they took on the assumption you’d always be driving at high speed. All in all this stinks of a cynical cash in, when a new game with a modern engine would have been far more satisfying and represented a greater value for gamers.
God of War 3 Remastered – I did so enjoy the third game in the God of War series. It pulled together everything that had been built in the first two games and created something truly brilliant. Epic story, tight controls, satisfying combat, it had everything and is one of the best games available on PS3. I picked up the remaster when I found it very cheap, thinking it would be nice to have another run through it before the new GoW game came out. My disappointment here stems from how little it brings to the table. I couldn’t see any real improvement to the looks compared to playing it on PS3. God of War games have always been amongst the best at squeezing all the power from the hardware, so I suppose there wasn’t really anything to improve here.
Crash Bandicoot N- Sane Trilogy – This is the entry I expect to upset the most people. This is a well-loved series, and a well-loved remake. It sure looks beautiful (way beyond what was possible on PlayStation in the late 1990s), and the games are still tremendous fun, but the same old creaky engine underneath left me feeling a bit strange – seeing this shiny, new looking game with a 20 year old engine underneath hurt my brain. Collision detection is terrible, and so is your ability to successfully navigate the 3D environment. If they’d put the same effort into ironing out these niggles as they put into the graphics this would have been closer to essential. As it happens, in a moment of great hypocrisy, I’ve pre-ordered the Switch version, as I have a feeling I’ll be more willing to overlook these faults on that system compared to my PS4 Pro.
Wii U to Switch Ports – This is little more than a cheap stab really, but I’m going to add my voice to the dissenting crowd over the matter of Nintendo’s Switch re-release schedule. The games aren’t the problem – I’m looking forward to playing Captain Toad again, and I’ve already bought (and enjoyed) Mario Kart 8, Hyrule Warriors and Bayonetta 2 again. I also gave Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze another go, but returned it. I just don’t care for the game, which is ruined by its controls. If they re-released Super Mario 3D World I’d buy it in a heartbeat. The problem is, Nintendo knows this. Which is why they’re charging full price for what are essentially ports. They add nothing (besides perhaps some DLC and a slight graphical bump) to games that are now several years old, but want €60+ for them. Nintendo aren’t known for their consumer-friendly business practices, so it should come as no surprise, however looking back at Wii U’s fantastic Zelda HD releases, which came at an budget price and truly updated a couple of their most beloved games, it’s a shame they haven’t maintained this standard for this generation.
These two games don’t really count as remasters or remakes. They simply came out around the dawn of a new hardware generation, and found their way onto both old- and new-gen hardware. However, whereas many early generation games can look no different than the previous gen release, these really improved upon what came before, and both were influential on my decision to invest in a PlayStation 4 a few years into its life. What two games? Grand Theft Auto 5 and The Last of Us of course! Both games show what can be done when new hardware is embraced to improve a game from the end of the previous generation. The Last of Us simply looms gorgeous and runs more smoothly, but it’s GTA that really pulls out all the stops – it looks fantastic, even several years later. It adds many cars from earlier games in the series, and a hundred extra licensed songs in the in-game radio. Tremendous added value and well worth an upgrade for any and that don’t have the newer version.
So there you have my thoughts on a few of my favourite and least favourite remaster/remakes on current hardware (and one group of released from PS3). I don’t subscribe to the idea that remasters are a bad thing, quite the contrary, but there are ways to market them honestly, and price them fairly, which seem to be becoming less prevalent in an increasingly dishonest industry.
Let me know in the comments here, or look me up on Twitter, what you think. Are there any remasters that have really excited you, or perhaps disappointed you?