When to Remaster a Game

Posted in Kulturecade by - February 12, 2017

Remasters can be a divisive topic: some people leap for joy when they find out a treasured game from their youth is getting a fresh coat of paint, while others deride developers for funneling time and energy into projects that are not new IPs. It’s easy to see the points of both sides, but like it or not, the trend of remasters will probably be around for a while yet. The prevalence of this practice begs the question: when is it time to remaster a game?

Of course, the best candidates for a remaster are older games that some gamers may have never gotten to experience in the first place. Take Day of the Tentacle for example, a critically praised point-and-click adventure that I had heard plenty about, but was a bit before my time. The remastering is pretty striking in this case, smoothing out much of the pixilation and rough edges. An added bonus is that a commentary track is included with the remastered version, a nice touch for fans of the original. This is a fairly standard example of a game that has both the relevance and age to warrant a remaster; other remasters, however, feel more than a little extraneous.

Perhaps one of the most unnecessary examples from my experiences is the case of The Last of Us. The Last of Us was the swan song of the PS3 era, and the game wrung every last bit of power it could out of the aging console to create one of the most visually striking games of the last generation. Then along came the PS4, and the game was remastered for the new era, and almost nothing changed. The graphics and performance were a little better, but since the game already looked stunning and played just fine the last go-round, this remaster job had little to offer fans of the original.

Finally, there is the weird middle ground of remasters: games that are too new to feel like a major improvement but too old to feel like a simple update. A good example to use here would be the Batman: Return to Arkham collection. While I understand the motivation to have the entire series on the same console generation (well, most of the series- sorry, Arkham Origins), I am unsure who this collection was aimed at. The graphical improvements are slim (and some of the adjusted colors look downright strange in places) and the extra content is minimal. The games still hold up very well, but ultimately, previous fans need not apply, and if other gamers were not interested enough to pick up the series just a few years ago, I doubt many of them would change their minds.

All things considered, getting the timing right for a remaster can be tricky. The game in question has to be familiar enough to still be relevant, but distant enough that a large chunk of the gaming population may have missed out the first time. If a remaster is done too soon or too late, publishers are left with an incremental graphical upgrade that most people will not care about or the return of a series that few even remember. Remasters may be here to stay, but developers should exercise caution in what they remaster when, lest the gaming public begin to lose faith in the ability of developers to create new experiences and respect old ones.


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