What is the intention behind a remake/remaster?
When retrospectively looking at the eighth generation of consoles, innovation took a back seat to familiarity. Rather than forge a legacy of their own, each console found security within past titles to save them from hardware flops. From the beginning of this generation, Microsoft had shot itself in the foot so bad that it is just now recovering. PlayStation found success in Microsoft’s mistakes, only to have the first half of its lifecycle full of remastered titles. Nintendo is the only platform that can show for innovation this generation, however much of its success is bolstered by remastered WiiU titles.
Over the past few years, the gaming industry has looked familiar to many consumers that have been playing video games since early childhood. Along with new experiences that continue to shape and improve the medium going forward, the industry has titles that consumers and developers alike refuse to let go. For every Red Dead Redemption 2 and Zelda: Breath of the Wild, exists a Skyrim and Final Fantasy. Remasters and remakes can do a lot to benefit the industry by contributing to fan service and even innovation, but often enough they find themselves tarnishing the memory of the game they desire to honor.
When the industry announces the desire to bring back an old gem, fans of the product are eager to revisit personal favorites. Along with that excitement comes skepticism towards how faithful the product will be to its original. Within the current generation of gaming consoles, the industry has shown a desire to both bring back older titles for consumer good will and capitalize on nostalgia purchases. During the eighth generation of consoles, the current state of remasters/remakes can be seen through the lens of fan service vs. profit driven.
Given the legacy of modern gaming and the majority demographic that invests so heavily in it, bringing back older titles that are honored within the industry should be a celebratory affair. Most recently, Resident Evil 2 was remade for the current generation of hardware with the full intention of bringing good will to consumers and fans alike. Capcom marvelously took the original 1998 classic and remade it for the modern era, breathing new life into the game as if it was a brand-new IP. Every square inch of Resident Evil 2 was crafted with care and devotion to the legacy it carries, and that is truly evident among consumers and fans.
As much success and good will Resident Evil 2 brought the industry toward reshaping the narrative of a remaster/remake, a multitude of examples exist where developers failed to dedicate enough care to similar experiences. Back in 2007, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was released to consumers with overwhelming praise. Although not the first of its kind, the military-based FPS game changed the genre and forever influenced future titles. When Activision announced that the game was receiving the remaster treatment for the current generation of consoles, fans were overjoyed by the concept of revisiting one of the best multiplayer shooters of the generation.
When released, however, Modern Warfare Remastered proved to less of a love letter to fans and more of a cash grab. Having its purchase price originally locked behind a combo pack with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, MWR was instantly seen as a way for Activision to recover its projected sales loss from Infinite Warfare. Additionally, Activision’s desire to seek further monetization of a game from 2007 that originally lacked additional purchases provided further proof of its willingness to capitalize on fan nostalgia for profit.
Along with profit-driven desires for a remaster, certain developers within the industry are known for re-releasing a product in order to capitalize on a continuous revenue stream with little effort. This method is otherwise known as double dipping: the concept of having a re-released product or remaster solely for the purpose of making more money off an IP that consumers already own, under the guise of modernization and nostalgia.
Companies such as Bethesda with Skyrim and Nintendo with its entire retro lineup will release their products countless times on every new platform, marketing it as a new way to play an old classic. Skyrim has achieved meme status with its amount of ports, and Nintendo’s retro gaming lineup will always tug on a player’s nostalgia no matter which platform it is on.
Therefore, when is a remake/remaster a good thing?
Indie titles are becoming more accepted within the gaming industry due to the uneasy relationship that has been forming with big publishers and their business strategies. Their ability to expand on lesser-known genres, increasing their popularity within the industry, has changed consumer perception of a product numerous times. Many people within the industry thought platformers to be a genre of the past, until a small resurgence of fan support surrounding titles such as Yooka-Laylee and Super Lucky’s Tale began to emerge. Despite a mixed reception, these titles reminded players of the experiences they had in their youth on the classic consoles and sparked an interest in revisiting older titles.
The recent resurgence of traditional platformers has led to the revitalization of older classics for the new-age gamer. Originally released for the PlayStation, the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro series’ developed a cult following for their charming characters and simple but effective gameplay mechanics. Now, due to the increase in popularity for the platforming genre, Activision has completely remade the two series with modern visuals and mechanics. Despite cautiously optimistic reactions from fans, both remakes sold surprisingly well and proved to be a motion of good will towards consumers by Activision.
A few theories exist that could prove the success of these two remakes, given their dated concepts compared to what players are more accustomed to with modern gaming. One theory is that these releases would not have happened without the fan support of titles like Yooka-Laylee and Super Lucky’s Tale. Despite minor success with sales, Yooka-Laylee and Super Lucky’s Tale garnered enough support and coverage pre-launch to stand out among the competitive market.
Another theory is aimed towards the fact that gaming today is more popular than ever before. Now that gaming resides within the mainstream media, Crash and Spyro represent a simpler time of gaming where, since aging, many adults have had to leave the hobby behind due to life circumstances. In this case, these games are designed to be for everyone, bringing older members into the community that have not been involved with video games since childhood.
Aside from the two extremes of making a remake/remaster solely for fan service or profit reasons, a middle ground also exists: one that benefits both developers and consumers alike. Rarely in the industry, a developer will announce a remaster of a once-presumed dead IP. This announcement is done to signify the interest of the developer in making a sequel for future generations, while simultaneously gauging the current gaming environment for a sequel.
A recent example of this is with THQ Nordic and the Darksiders series. Thought to have been lost with the closure of THQ back in 2013, the Darksiders series was purchased by Nordic Games, which soon released a remaster of the second game in the franchise, subtitled Deathinitive Edition. Following the minor success of the remaster, Nordic Games, now THQ Nordic, remastered the first title as Warmastered Edition. Both of these remasters served as a test run for fan feedback surrounding the state of the franchise at the time, and with success, production of Darksiders 3 began.
The future of remakes/remasters.
Despite feeling as if they have been around for a long time, the modern concept of a remake/remaster is recent. As previously mentioned, the desire to remaster older titles for the current generation only gained steam during the eighth generation of consoles due to the sparse launch windows. With the direction of current gaming technology, the modernization of remasters will likely dwindle away. Imagining an industry free from remasters is difficult, seeing as they have been so prevalent during this generation, but with how successful services like Xbox’s Backwards Compatibility is, along with Steam’s native library retention, remasters might not survive beyond the eighth generation.
As aforementioned, Resident Evil 2 has proven itself to be a near-perfect remake by Capcom. The game not only encourages replayability with its multiple story lines, but its core gameplay mechanics are easily accessible and addictive. What Capcom was able to do with a game that is more than twenty years old is impressive, and now that it has been modernized with technology, is now finally the time to say goodbye? Has the medium reached a point where remasters during the current generation will be considered the definitive experience, and have it be the last time we see the game for the foreseeable future?
Given the success of the Resident Evil 2 remake, Capcom has already expressed interest in the possibility of remaking Resident Evil 3. This would not only fall in line with Capcom’s recent initiative of modernizing the original Resident Evil games, but would additionally set a precedent for their future releases. Due to this precedent, the industry is now left to speculate which side of the franchise Capcom will prioritize. Will the company innovate and proceed on with Resident Evil 8, or will they continue to seek success within the past? Either way they choose, Capcom has found success within the Resident Evil franchise again, further built upon the good will they received from Resident Evil 7‘s return to its horror roots.
The finite capabilities of remakes and remasters stems from the belief that hardware technology has reached a plateau within the video game industry. In terms of visual fidelity, modern gaming has largely reached its apex, leaving only power and performance to be sought out. Although PC gaming will continue to be ahead of its console counterparts, the technological gap between the two is considerably small. Aside from virtual reality and augmented reality, modern gaming has reached experiences that are near life-like, minimizing the “wow” factor found in previous generations.