A few nights ago, a friend put a question to me. ‘Ryan, if you could have any game remastered, what would it be?‘ I thought on this for the rest of the evening and I genuinely struggled to think of what game I would love to have a remaster of. But then the answer came to me… none of them. Excuse the dramatic start, I just wanted to set the scene really – I have played a lot of games since I was young and I have some incredible gaming memories from classic (and some not so classic) games but something I have learnt over the past few years is that these memories need to stay as such. I am not against remasters at all, lets be clear, but when asked about what games I personally want remastered I don’t think any need this treatment. I am going to use Halo and my personal experience here to frame this question and hopefully it all makes sense. Let’s explore.
I want to start with Halo Infinite and yes I know this isn’t a remaster, but it is a great example of the pressures game developers feel at the moment and arguably the power the community has to influence games through immediate feedback. The game didn’t look next gen that’s for sure, but that isn’t what we are talking about today. 343 have mentioned that they want to get back to Halo’s roots and looking at what made Halo: Combat Evolved such a cult hit and you can definitely see that influence within the demo that was shown. The location, the HUD and the whole feel of it was very reminiscent of that moment you climb out the escape pod on the Halo Ring and you see the sprawling world in front of you… but this, interestingly, was also a criticism of the presentation in the fact it was rehashing what had come before and was leaning on what had been previously successful. Although a bit of tangent, remember this because this feeds into the remaster discussion later on. Now, you take something like Halo 5 which again wasn’t a high point of the franchise but it was a game that attempted to do something different to try and keep the series fresh. The criticism here however was that ‘this isn’t Halo’ and that it has moved too far away from what made Halo Halo. Okay. Do you see my point here? How can a developer win if they try and do something different and they get penalised for it, but when they also try to innovate they also get punished?
I have played Halo and Halo 2 recently and they have not aged well. These would be games that would benefit from an overhaul, a remaster, of the game to make it feel more contemporary to something we are used to like Destiny or Call of Duty for example. Halo has no sprint, it has no gun sway and it has a myriad of other issues with it, that are only apparent after we have been spoiled by better technology and experience which has, unfortunately, left these games behind. But these flaws are also what give the games their charm and the many fond memories playing these games. I don’t just remember the games but I remember the times I spent on these games with friends; the late evenings or early mornings that came with these sessions, the LAN parties and even the screen peaking. We had nothing better to play but we also had so much fun. So I ask you then, in what form should this remaster come? Should it be overhauled to be familiar to what we have now and therefore lose it’s charm or should it be kept as it was and run the risk of feeling starkly worse to what is current because nostalgia is a fleeting drug?
It was because of this that I came to the conclusion that I would like none of my favourite games remastered as the games I remember so fondly aren’t the sum of just the disc and content but the overall experience including the period in my life, the friends and the setting. This to me is the same as me wanting to recreate a night out that I had from Uni days; firstly my tolerance, wallet and responsibilities wouldn’t allow it but honestly I don’t believe it could ever be replicated. These fond memories of these things, both the nights out and the video games, are often seen through a very blurry nostalgia filter. I honestly think that some of the games I used to play that I would love to experience again are best left in the past. Take something like Conflict Desert Storm – what a cracking time I had on that game but its one that in this day and age would not, in my opinion, stand up well in a market dominated by FPS military shooters. We always look back at what was good and what we enjoyed but remember, you didn’t always have the frame of reference that you do now. A very sore point that I have also had to come to terms with is that not all games are aimed at me and my age range anymore, meaning that there are elements added to games now that resonate with younger players in an effort to get this younger generation to experience the same stories I did when I was younger. And this is no bad thing, but we have the curse of experience and retrospect (says the 29 year old) with some of these stories and it can be immediately clear how these influences weigh in on the remake.
Don’t get me wrong, remasters can be done really well. Look at how Resident Evil has turned around 2 and 3 and made these games relevant to the modern gamer; rebuilding and retelling the story while still capturing what the games were about at their heart. It also allowed Capcom to utilise some of the new tech available and add to these games, for example the very persistent Mr X who allowed for a new addition to a game that could have been familiar to returning players. Something like Final Fantasy 7 Remake however (battens down the hatches) doesn’t capture the same magic of the original and instead offers a modern reimagining of the story for a new audience who has never experienced it. Personally I couldn’t appreciate it because it was so tied to its first iteration that I have an emotional connection to. The combat in the remake is amazing, the graphics, the sound, the world is incredible to behold… but it was not MY journey that I had originally had as a youngster. It doesn’t help that the experience is split up either, although worth remembering the original 7 was over multiple discs… except I had to wait the period between switching discs when I was little, not an undefined length of months for the next stage. I will be honest, comparing these two I struggle to see what Resi does better than FF that makes me think that Resi did a better job, but I think it comes down to being that little more faithful and walking the very shaky line of stay true to the game while making it relevant for now.
Something I would like to touch upon as well is the channels and scale of feedback that game developers are subject to; any developer or company is forever in the public spotlight these days thanks to social media. To my earlier point about ‘how can these developers win as no matter what path they choose they will be wrong‘ I think it is important to understand that neither view is necessarily representative of the community as a whole. A lot of coverage in the news (and I will admit that I can be influenced by headlines too) is often dictated by who is making the most noise. So yes a percentage of people can kick up a fuss about the fact it hasn’t stayed true to the original game and a percentage can moan that it is too like the old version but you have to understand that there is likely a silent majority that are excited or curious to revisit their past. Ultimately, these remasters/reboots/rereleases sell, otherwise companies wouldn’t explore the option – I mean look at Mario All Stars. Incredibly successful and putting classic Mario games in the hands of players who weren’t even born at their releases. This is not a bad thing, yet people get upset that Nintendo are doing this instead of releasing new games. The sad fact is that releases like this also fund and contribute the sustained turnover of these companies that allow them to ultimately release their new games. And you can throw down the corporate greed card but in my eyes it still allows these businesses to invest and develop and grow.
I hope this made sense. As I say, I am in no way saying that they are bad but I just feel that the games that I loved as a child should stay as such. These memories and experiences are always going to have shaped who I am and I don’t need to revisit them. It can be fun to, but I don’t think it is a necessity. Instead, I think the industry should look back at what was so successful and see if they can implement that into future games. Bring back couch Co-op on a large scale, bring back proper tactical squad based shooters and honestly leave some of our greatest gaming memories untarnished.