It made a certain kind of sense last generation. With the jump to HD leaving many gamers clawing their own eyes out after they’d hooked their PS2’s scart lead up to their swanky new plasma televisions, it wasn’t long before ‘HD Remasters’ of titles like Sly Cooper, Splinter Cell and God of War hit store shelves. And, on the whole, they were a great success (go sit in the corner, Silent Hill). It neatly side-stepped the uncomfortable issue of backwards compatibility, it allowed people who had missed out the first time around to give them a whirl, and it provided an easy revenue for publishers with games that nobody was buying anymore. Everybody won.
But does the same logic work the second time around?
Let’s break it down. Re-releases always give people the chance to experience something they might have missed, there’s no getting away from that. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on a number of factors: how long ago the original was released, how much it costs, whether it’s been improved, how difficult it is to track down or play, and so on. In the case of last-gen’s HD remasters, there was usually a pretty significant gap between the original and the re-release; with games like Prince of Persia and Ico/Shadow of the Colossus, it was nearing a decade. In a lot of cases, these games had been improved as well – SotC had its frame-rate problems taken care of, which actually made the game far more playable. The re-releases were also pretty good value – generally providing three remade games for the price of one. And whilst it may have been ultimately cheaper to buy them off eBay, it was a hell of a lot easier just to stick them in a PS3 or 360 rather than mucking around connecting old consoles. Plus, trophies!
In today’s current console climate, however, virtually none of the above applies. These were games already running in (mostly) HD, not to mention still readily available on store shelves. When titles such as Tomb Raider are being remastered less than a year after their original release, it’s hard to see past the blatant publisher greed.
And it’s a trend that’s showing no signs of stopping. Sony is currently prepping for its The Last of Us remaster later this month, and Grand Theft Auto V was announced at this year’s E3. Are either of these games going to be substantially improved over their original?
The biggest reason to vote yes on remasters, however, is one of convenience. For gamers who traded in their consoles to upgrade – or just never had one to begin with – these re-releases might be their only way to play Tomb Raider or The Last of Us. Neither current-gen console has backwards compatibility, after all. Or do they?
Launching later this year Stateside is PlayStation Now – Sony’s exciting push to stream PS1, PS2 and PS3 games to consumers’ PlayStations, Vitas and Bravia TVs. It’s a gamble for sure, but if the tech works as well as they say, then people will have access to every game in Sony’s extensive back catalogue – which seems to fly in the face of these remasters. Is the upcoming re-release of The Last of Us not directly competing with Sony’s own streaming service? Paying full price for Grand Theft Auto V: PS4 Edition is possibly a lot less appealing when the PS3 version is available to stream for half the price.
Looking forward shows no signs of change, either, with Sony bigwig Andrew House recently telling Eurogamer.net that he is keen for the remastering trend to continue – and as long as people are happy buying the same game over and over, publishers will be even happier taking their money.