The Remaster Controversy: Do We Really Need New Versions Of Old Games?

Joel GunnerOct 14, '21

Games left, right and centre are receiving remasters and remakes, is it needed, or are developers simply looking to protract a game's lifespan?

The human mind is extraordinarily adaptable, this applies to both adversity and opulence; we can easily acclimatise to the finest a particular industry has to offer, happily accepting the pinnacle of a particular activity as all we could ever need. It was record players, then it was the cassettes on the Walkman, then CD's, MP3 and now we can stream over 70 million songs on Spotify for a few quid a month.  Once an upgrade comes about, once our brain gets a taste of something better, the bar is set, and it remains set. Sure, we can limbo underneath it – but once you go up, coming down feels like a lead balloon.

Video killed the radio star

Take the progression of Television for example; I grew up watching the standard definition programs on documentary channels and what have you, and I had no qualms with my experience – I thought it was magnificent. But when the paradigm shifted and HD broadcasting became the norm, watching football matches and the like on standard definition became a painful experience that left me cringing – I was always left wanting a bit more clarity – wanting high definition. In the context of the gaming world, what happens when an idea or product is still very much in the vanguard in regards to content and what the game is, but the medium through which it is told is outdated? It would seem a shame to bin ingenious concepts just because their vehicle is slowing down, so why not just give them a new engine?

The need for remakes

Well, giving a new engine in the gaming industry equates to refers to the console it runs on, and ensuring it can compete with games made for the generation. This is precisely what games like Observer Redux, the 10th anniversary of TESV Skyrim, Crysis Remastered, GTA, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD and Alan Wake Remastered needed; they’ve aged well, and tell fantastic stories, but some of the engines they use are almost two decades old. We are often precluded from appreciating the game’s content because we can’t look past subpar graphics – we have simply become used to better. This situation is made worse with the sheer speed gaming technology is moving at, take the example of Teraflops, the calculations of how many trillions of operations a machine can run. The Xbox Series X can perform 12 TFLOPS whereas the Xbox One S, that is the enhanced edition of the Xbox One released only 7 years ago, runs 1.4TFLOPS – and this console was released only 5 years ago. The Xbox One runs at maximum capacity 1080p at 30fps, the Xbox Series X comfortably hosts 4K in 60fps while occasionally hitting 120fps – these are different leagues. The situation is analogous in the Sony world of PlayStation, too. We’ve come leaps and bounds in just a few years, so it comes as no surprise when games released as recently as 5/6 years ago are now outdated and need to be inaugurated into the ninth generation. Check out Skyrim for example, a game released back in 2011 that received a small-scale mod-makeover in the Unreal Engine 5 a few months back; imagine if the entire game looked this incredible.

Where we encounter problems

Yet at this point we encounter a fork in the road; how should companies go about remastering and remaking their products? There is a logical limit as to how many times a game can be revamped. For example, GTA Vice City and San Andreas from the early 2000’s could be considered in dire need of a makeover, but GTA V has already been optimised before – so why don’t Rockstar just make a new GTA game? It’s understandable why sects of the gaming community had their feathers ruffled when an enhanced version of GTA V was announced; the game has been around forever and hasn’t left the top rankings since its release back in 2013, and  now players are beginning to overwrite their fond memories of GTA V with a disdain for what they perceived to be a money trap. We’ve seen when companies act in an unequivocally responsible way in the case of Alan Wake, Remedy Entertainment waited ten years while they made other cracking games, like Control, and only then did they give Alan Wake a remaster from Gen Seven to Gen Nine, and in the process included all DLC’s as part of the package, and still the game is only half the price of a triple-AAA title like Grand Theft Auto V. Still, despite questions asked, for those who are on the PS5 and don't want to look back, a GTA V remaster might be precisely up their street - and after seeing videos like this you can see why. Sure, your GPU will probably collapse into a singularity if you try to run this mod, but this is what remasters might look like but a few years down the line.

It’s a slippery slope – remasters. They open the floodgates for companies to destroy the legacy of a game for some extra cash, but not all is as pessimism would have it. Remakes also allow some of the best stories in gaming history to be re-told in a way that satisfies the ninth-generation customer, take Knights of the Old Republic for example, a cult-adored game that nevertheless is 18 years old and could do with a facelift – it would almost be an entirely new game. Even in the realm of game’s released in recent years, like Bloober Team’s Observer, when given a graphical remaster it looked so much better – check out this video by Resero - it'll blow your mind.

The point is that we need remade and remastered games, and to paint them all with the same brush is a mistake, but there is a certain etiquette the gaming community would like to see met. In plenty of instances would it be pretty neat to have our favourite games revamped, if the original Far Cry game was remastered for the Xbox Series X|S I would be all over it. Regardless, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the graphical spectrum; the iconic albeit dated game mechanics may not have aged as well as initially thought - sometimes a legacy is best left unadorned. 

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