It’s come to that point in the gaming industry that, much like hollywood, the familiar sells far better than the new and original. In video games, this used to manifest itself in countless sequels to popular franchises, but since the God of War HD Collection last generation, there has been an explosion of HD remasters for games. This was fine, to an extent, since they were often packages of multiple games. Cue this generation, and we’re having a new brand of remasters. Now games from last generation and the previous generation before that are being upscaled for the PS4 and Xbox One. With so many older games being released, it’s tempting to either utterly condemn the practice of rereleasing games, or buy them all immediately. Neither approach is correct, from my view. There’s a middle ground to be found here. Some HD rereleases are simply better than others, and, after a generation of glutting myself on them, I can tell you exactly what to look for.
Before we start, however, I’d like to dispel a myth. Rereleases aren’t bad – not inherently. They aren’t bad for consumers, as they open up a completely new platform to enjoy a game, often at a discounted price. People often refer to them as cash grabs. This is probably a pretty accurate statement. However, just because something is a cash grab doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in quality, or is otherwise a bad deal. In fact, I’d be willing to go on record saying that rereleases are extremely good for the industry. It used to be that games, even popular ones, got lost in the shuffle. Old consoles broke down; emulation isn’t something many games like to do; and the price of finding these games can skyrocket the older it is. Rereleases in today’s climate can often bring about an easy way of finding an old game and bring it for use on your most-used platform. It’s convenience first and foremost, which is highly beneficial.
The current issue is that the games being rereleased are only a few years old. Grand Theft Auto 5, Tomb Raider, Diablo 3, The Last of Us, etc. are all games that have their home in the final stretch of the last generation. Now, they’ve been ported up, leaving some early adopters a little miffed, and others outraged over the obvious repackaging. Older gamers might be more jaded to this (does anyone remember how many times Capcom has sold us the same Resident Evil or Street Fighter game?), but it overall hasn’t sat well with people especially since these remasters have been used to plug the holes in both new consoles’ fledgling libraries.
With that out of the way, let’s look first at the number one selling feature of the vast majority of the rereleases – graphics. I’ve played dozens of HD rereleases and many of the new PS4 remasters of PS3 games and I can say that there is a noticeable difference between versions. HD rereleases are night and day from their PS2 counterparts, while the new PS4 remasters tend to have detail elements such as shadowing and environmental effects that simply weren’t possible on the PS3. However, despite being the most commonly advertised feature of these games, this is the worst reason to repurchase a game. Graphics are good. They are important. But graphical tweaks simply don’t provide the value needed for a full upgrade.
Grand Theft Auto 5 Remastered or Dead Nation Apocalypse Edition are great examples of games that rely too much on a minor graphical upgrade to sell themselves. Though each has a smattering of other features, there is not mistake that the core upgrade in either is the graphics. To its credit, Grand Theft Auto 5 Remastered looks significantly superior to the original (though still plagued by that wonky Grand Theft Auto art style). Dead Nation Apocalypse Edition? Not so much. I notice exactly zero difference between the two of them, which was fine since it was free for me on PlayStation Plus, but now that it is full price, it may not be worth the upgrade for those who’ve played it on the PS3. The point here is that graphical tweaks (because that’s the best they can do without a full remake) doesn’t make the game any stronger. It doesn’t, on its own, add enough value to make the game worth purchasing again. However, in conjunction with other elements, it may be part of a greater reason to repurchase the game.
New content is the next part I’d like to discuss. As opposed to graphics, this is the least common type of upgrade found in rereleases. Since these games are often made much later than the originals, there is often a new development team involved, one who doesn’t have the authority or time to make substantial changes to the game. That’s different with these quick turn-over PS4 and Xbox One remasters, though we are still seeing a scarcity of new content. Truthfully, this is a very good reason to buy a remaster, though there is rarely enough new content added to make it worthwhile. It’s sad that older Gameboy Advance Final Fantasy ports had more new content added than most remasters nowadays.
As it stands, we have a smattering of new content across every game, but almost never enough to make the content worth the purchase. Back to Grand Theft Auto 5 Remastered – the first person view mode is new content. However, it isn’t exactly enough content to justify a $60 purchase on its own. Dark Souls 2 Scholar of the First Sin will be shuffling enemy positions and adding tiny bits of new content, but nothing worth jumping for. Diablo 3 Ultimate Evil Edition added PS4 exclusive enemies for its rifts, and some items, but not much else. This new content is greatly appreciated, but very rarely do developers provide the substance required to make this content a core selling point.
Availability used to be a major selling point for HD rereleases, and it still is, but it is not a selling point with the remasters. When it comes to HD rereleases, these games can often be difficult to find as they were made at a time before digital distribution. I remember having issues trying to get my PS2 version of Silent Hill 3, so I can only imagine what meagre lengths more laissez faire gamers would take before giving up on these games. Accordingly, HD rereleases could be a great value to gamers, who couldn’t find them. This is not the case with remasters as they were made last generation and readily available (often at a discounted price) on the PSN or Xbox Live Arcade. Availability simply isn’t a reason to buy these games as they are not rare in the slightest.
New content may not be commonly added to rereleases, but bundling previous DLC often is. Remasters and rereleases for last generation were usually games with a batch or two of DLC. Remasters of these games tend to toss the DLC into the main game. This can be one of the biggest selling points for gamers who missed the DLC to begin with. Take Dark Souls 2 Scholar of the First Sin for example. It’s a full price game and $60 is hard to swallow if you’ve already bought it. However, each of the three pieces of DLC for the main game was $10. This value gets added to the main package, meaning you’re purchasing a $30 remaster and spending the remaining $30 on the DLC. For gamers who own the DLC, this is a of null value. I, for one, often ignore the DLC, having moved on by the time they release. This means, the full value of the DLC makes remasters much more tempting.
That being said, it’s important to know the kind of DLC you’re getting. Dark Souls 2 Scholar of the First Sin will give you three excellent pieces of high quality new environments, new enemies and crazy new items. Moving over to The Last of Us Remastered, if you are a gamer who isn’t interested in the game’s multiplayer offerings, there isn’t a lot of value behind it. There is one great piece of story content, but the vast majority of DLC that is included was related to multiplayer. The same is true with the Tomb Raider remaster, which was all multiplayer DLC all the time. Considering how subpar the Tomb Raider multiplayer was, this would not be a great selling point.
Finally, we have to look at the overarching concern – price. The price point effects how all of the above factors get weighed. Look at the recently released Resident Evil HD Remaster. This is an HD remake of a Gamecube game/Wii port, which means it’s not digitally available. There is some new content such as an alternative control scheme and a few costumes. It got an HD upgrade for the first time, meaning it looks great. No DLC, though. Then we look at the price point – $20. That’s excellent value, perhaps the best you’re going to find now that HD rereleases seem to be coming out with one game at a time instead of bundling many. Diablo 3 Ultimate Evil Edition came with a $40 expansion DLC with the main game thrown on top. It looks better, and runs better than the PS3/Xbox 360 version. And it comes with a minor amount of new content. Altogether, it’s a rather good value at $60 with those taken into account. Grand Theft Auto 5 Remastered looks better and added a new first person mode. New content is otherwise lacking, as is DLC. At $60, this doesn’t look great on the balance of things.
Of course, personal preference matters the most. A huge Grand Theft Auto 5 fan, who has put in tons of hours into the game may find the upgraded quality of the remaster to be worth its weight in gold. Similarly, a PC gamer who already purchased the Reaper of Souls Expansion will find that the Diablo 3 Ultimate Evil Edition is a little less shiny. As you may have guessed, knowledge is important. Going into The Last of Us Remastered expecting multiple pieces of single player DLC in the package will lead to disappointment. Educating oneself on what the remaster or HD remake provides will give you the best chance on being able to gauge the subjective value to you. In the end, a remaster or rerelease isn’t a bad thing as long as it gives value to the gamer, and each gamer assesses value in a slightly different way based on sometimes wildly different circumstances.
– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer