Videogame Remakes: Artistic revivals or easy money?

Posted By | On 11th, Apr. 2011 Under Feature | Follow This Author @GNReith

Remakes are a paradigm that has been a staple of the film industry for many years. Whether its remastered director’s cut editions, or complete re-hashes with an all new cast and script, the movie business has seen it all. Recently the trend has been extending to the gaming industry with more HD collections stocking our shelves than you can shake a stick at. Is this pattern helping a new generation enjoy the classics of yesteryear, or is it a money making plague designed by greedy publishers to further pillage our wallets?

You’d think that games would be the area in which remakes would be most appropriate, what with graphical technology advancing as rapidly as it does. The issue comes with how much to alter when remaking a game. The more solidified the original is in status, the more crucial this decision becomes. After all, developers would be scorned by their fans for messing with perfection. It is a fine balance that must be struck though as, with game prices being as high as they are, a new lick of paint will not be enough to satisfy gamers in our current climate of high quality gaming.

Is it fair practice to re-package last year's games in HD?

Starting off our discussion we have the straight re-release. Nintendo and Sony take the crown of this particular type of remake, with many retro Nintendo and Sony titles littering the virtual console and Playstation classics section of the Wii and Playstation Network stores respectively. Sometimes it can be tough tracking down those old consoles and accompanying gems you enjoyed in your youth, so any service that lets me play Majora’s Mask again without having to trawl through an infinite selection of Ebay listings gets a thumbs up from me. There are problems with this type of re-circulation however. No matter how chuffed I was getting Final Fantasy 8 up on my PSP via the PSN, I was somewhat annoyed I had to pay nearly a tenner for a game I already owned. If you’re just going to port the game over straight, the price needs to be right. The appeal of these types of re-releases also becomes somewhat limited. For us lucky few who enjoyed the delights of Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey back in the day, the PSN re-release is just what we need. Yet for the younger gamer who didn’t grow up with such unforgiving game mechanics, will they be able to get past the steep learning curve and patchy visuals of the game and be able to appreciate it in full?

Next up we have those types of remake that are given a fresh new look, but are kept otherwise the same as the source material. Games like Pokemon: Heart Gold and Soul Silver, Medieval Ressurection and the plethora of HD collections that are letting gamers relive the previous generation in 1080p on their PS3. Such titles avoid the usually annoying price point by retailing at a reduced RRP and offer a nice entry point for gamers who missed out on said titles in their original form. That said, even when only changing a game’s visuals, the feel of the game can be drastically altered. I take Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes as my example. Though it was a well handled remake of the legendary original, the attempt to make it more cinematic robbed the game of its gritty pseudo-realism. In the original Snake was more than capable of dodging a tank shell by ducking behind a rock, so did he really need to do a slow motion backflip to evade the attack in the Gamecube re-issue? Though the changes are subtle, they can still make huge differences to the way a game feels.

The new graphics gave the Twin Snakes a completely different feel to the original Metal Gear Solid

The most extreme aspect of our remake-ometer is when a game is completely re-imagined from scratch; level design and all. The best example is Tomb Raider: Anniversary. Taking the engine from the refreshing TR: Legend and infusing it with the 1996 original, whilst simultaneously re-designing most of the game’s levels. It still felt very much like Tomb Raider however, retaining the most memorable puzzles and encounters of the original. It felt like a breath of fresh air, albeit a very familiar one. The question remains though as to whether it is suitable to play around with the classics like that. It worked for Anniversary, but it could also have served to mar one of the original legends of the 3D gaming era if it wasn’t handled so competently.

One thing that seems to be lacking in the recent cascade of game remakes is a legitimate challenge to the past. Modernist writers have garnered acclaim for challenging the well established authors of the western canon, such as Tom Stoppard with his absurdist interpretation of Hamlet in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or Jean Rhys’ and her challenge to Bronte’s Jane Eyre in Wide Sargasso Sea. Who’s to say we can’t take equally well established games and invert them to contest their values? It obviously becomes an odd comparison in terms of time-scale on account of literature having many more centuries of time to establish itself than our humble gaming industry, but it certainly remains an interesting prospect. Take Silent Hill: Shattered Memories as a case study. Despite retaining the same narrative structure and plot of the original Silent Hill, it also changed the lone man searching from his daughter story from being a cult orientated B movie horror affair, to a deeply personal journey that engages with the fears and loathing of the protagonist’s inner psyche. Though it was still clearly mimetic of the original Silent Hill, Shattered Memories was able to challenge the conventions of the series through its new alternate world and its decision to remove conventional combat from the game. Though it had its detractors, it is one of the more ambitious and well executed remakes in recent years, and it sure as hell was better than some of the most recent Silent Hill titles.

It had its problems, but Shattered Memories was a brilliant reinvention of the original Silent Hill

With the 3DS in particular set to receive a new wave of remakes, we need to question the worth of these re-releases. It’s tempting to jump on the remakes if you’re a fan of the series, but we need to take a step back and vote with our wallets sometimes. We all loved Ocarina of Time but, if the remake adds little to the original, we’ll be giving out the wrong message if we all purchase a copy without thinking. Stay vigilant people. Though the remake offers a window through which more recent gamers can view our industries past, there will be developers who would use it as a method of making a cheap cash flow. I suppose in the end it is all down to the quality of the individual games. Make sure you recognise this as such, as more remakes crowd our store shelves.

Any other remakes that annoyed or impressed you? Any hopes for the future of remakes in gaming? Share your views with us via the comments section.

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