HD Remakes and Modern Shifts.

Complicated mathematics…

You’d think it would be fairly unambiguous.

A game like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD is getting rave reviews all round. Many are very impressed at the total revamp; the graphics engine, the changes to sailing, the lighting, the controls and more. When many are saying that it’s as good now as it ever was, just even prettier, controls better, sounds better and other various nice words, it’s not much of a surprise to know that it’s been getting rave reviews – 9’s and 10’s are commonplace.

But there’s a but. The gaming community isn’t happy. And there’s a reason for this; The Wind Waker HD has been, generally speaking, outscoring Grand Theft Auto V – which is a new game.

Cue discussions on the correct way to deal with a review of a remake. And it’s an interesting discussion because it’s one that I’ve never seen much in the movie world; not too long ago, there was talk of re-releasing the original version of The Wicker Man, the one with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, because a new ‘longer’ cut had been discovered. Very few batted an eyelid at the prospect of paying the full price again for what was effectively ten minutes or so of previously-cut content, and why should they complain? They seem perfectly content with it; and The Wicker Man has had many re-releases as well as an admittedly ill-advised modern-day remake with Nicholas “No botox, my face really is this motionless!” Cage. People still buy into it, time after time.

The same can be said of many games today; I don’t often see such a massive outcry to Battlefield or Call of Duty for being largely similar, or even for multiplayer purposes recycling content year on year. If anything, I’ve been informed that the main reason that maps are re-released year on year is because the fans demand it. It’s very difficult to criticise the reuse of certain elements and maps when in reality it is those very things that people want to cling onto. If they didn’t revamp them and re-release them, then one might argue that people would eventually splinter across various games; maintaining servers for all would be more costly in theory than simply giving a map a lick of paint, after all.

But let’s get it back on track here; this is The Wind Waker vs. Grand Theft Auto V.

Now, I want to admit something; I have no actual desire to play GTAV. This is not, however, because I hate the series – quite the opposite, in fact. I remember the series back on the PS1, and in an odd way that’s my biggest issue with the modern approach of the series; it takes itself too seriously. GTA of the past was effectively a British pisstake of American culture. Now, of course, GTA is as American as they come and to me, as an old-time fan, the ‘joke’ as it were is utterly lost on RockStar today. It’s very hard to mock something you’re inherently inside, after all, so what GTA does is deliver the crime-spree simulations that people want; just largely without the humour.

GTA is not alone in this however; Resident Evil is another of my greatest bugbears in the gaming sphere, and partly this is because the game series today seems to have largely forgotten its roots. Resident Evil was always, truth be told, a little naughty – it had a devious, some would say borderline pornographic sense of humour. It was blackly comic at times, exposed some of the most incredible genre tropes for all to see and ended up with Resident Evil 3: Nemesis – a game which is hard to describe with a straight face really. No really, Jill is the woman from the first game, except now she’s wearing a tight blue boob-tube and a miniskirt in the apocalypses version of an á la carte menu, she’s running around the back alleys of Raccoon City and all the while being chased by an eight-foot mutant clad in tight leather and PVC whose finger turns into a ten-foot tentacle.

This is the point where I fall down giggling. You can’t take Resident Evil seriously. Even Resident Evil 4 knew this; the in-jokes and the flippant coyness of the whole approach was frankly second to none; everyone was in on the joke here. We all knew it wasn’t taking itself too seriously, it knew we knew, and instead we all got to have a great time and yes, lots of parts of the game were inherently very silly indeed. But you know, that was great! It was a shared joke, and very much appreciated. The next two games, Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, were very American. And the joke was kind of lost in translation; tentacle monsters, cheesy innuendos and generally silly little moments like trying to look up Ashley’s skirt were jettisoned in favour of a more action-orientated, serious approach. I personally didn’t like that. I miss the balls-deep silliness that the series once employed to ruthless efficiency; where laughter and mirth were as valued as any other reaction.

One can argue this is true of Silent Hill as well; the series wasn’t so much funny, but it was intelligent. Team Silent were very clever, very intellectual people and the enemy designs and locations were always indicative and indeed, reflective of the main character. Now the series is being put in the hands of other developers – invariably American, sorry America but this stick is designed to beat on you for a little while – it’s kind of lost that smart edge. Silent Hill: Downpour to me was near-enough rock bottom. It wasn’t that they forgot the smarts – they forgot the scares and the design ethos as well. The end result was a game as far removed from the excellence of Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 3 as you could ever dream of getting.

It’s true of other games as well; Tomb Raider, for example. Lara Croft was never the most intellectually stimulating character but really, that was never the point. Lara was charming, sexy and flippant; brash and arrogant even. Since she left British hands and went to a new family in America (sorry!) her attitude is no longer charming and British, it’s hard and tough and actually quite nasty. Gone is the soft, sexy, flirty side in favour of a woman who’ll shoot you dead for sneezing in her general direction. It’s depressing. And we couldn’t really leave this without mentioning the desperate pandering to the American audience that has been going on with Final Fantasy XIII, could we?

Don’t get me wrong; I am under no illusions that the American market is absolutely huge. But, unlike a bunch of suits, I’d like to now quantify the blame a little; that it’s not Americans themselves at fault. Last time I sat down with an American for a length of time (not that long ago, thanks to Final Fantasy XIV!) we crashed through a whole bunch of topics; Blackadder, Strictly Come Dancing vs. Dancing With The Stars, Doctor Who and other various British shows like Sherlock. And thing is, Americans are very much in love with this; they really are. Some of their most treasured actors are British, and they are more than happy to take a British series for their own. Likewise, I’m enjoying things like Major Crimes, Grimm and the sadly now cancelled Body of Proof. Quality transcends borders; and it doesn’t take a genius to work that one out.

I think there’s sometimes a sense that “Americans are stupid”, even by American companies, and I get as frustrated as any American on that front. Americans really aren’t stupid; they’re as cynical as I am at the best of times, and can see a turd a mile off. Similarly, I am aware that many American gamers are as equally annoyed that Lara is now a bit of a bitch; they’re equally annoyed that Resident Evil has become so obsessed with being taken seriously, and they’re as frustrated as anyone else that Silent Hill has become so utterly turgid. The very concept that things need to be changed for an American audience is frankly a myth and as we are seeing in the modern era, it’s a dangerous myth that may indeed be extremely costly to invest any thought into.

There’s no question that Grand Theft Auto V is indeed a very well made game; to say otherwise is just facetious, after all. But compared to Saint’s Row 4? You know what, I personally prefer that nowadays. Full respect to RockStar for making a billion dollars in a day (and potentially ruining everything with online microtransactions), but I do want to ultimately feel more than disgust and discomfort in my play. And yes, if that’s done via humour – why not slip a few jokes in there? Most of the best horror movies ever made have been equally happy to throw in a joke or two. I can’t really explain it more than that. It’s not that the game is awful – it’s just, like a lot of games these days, so much money has gone into it and it’s like proportionally, the wit and charm of things is sucked out.

So when confronted with a game like The Wind Waker HD – why is it any surprise that people find that a charming, lovingly-restored and nigh-faultless update of a gaming classic is scoring more than “a big shooty action game”? Because there’s more to fun than violence, after all. Sometimes it’s about artistry. Sometimes it’s about the journey. Sometimes it’s about learning something; to live, and love, and allow it into your heart.

Any game I find that’s asking me to compromise on that by taking away from the core tenants a game is built on is one that I can’t keep respecting in the same way. And I’m sure people will disagree with this because hey, we’re all different and yes, some people do just want to unwind with some shooty violence in much the same way I used to unwind after a rough day by effectively making the lives of my little people in Black And White as difficult and as horrifying as possible. There’s nothing wrong with that. No-one is saying that there is. But for me, personally, I think things have been getting a little too bleak; forgive me if I prefer and would like to let in a little light for a change. It’s sometimes hard to please old fans when you’ve shifted direction so drastically.

And all that said, why can’t an HD remake get a 10? A good HD remake is HARD – for every single Beyond Good and Evil HD, there’s an appalling Turtles In Time: Reshelled. For every Okami HD, there’s a Conker: Live and Reloaded. For every Ico/Shadow of the Colossus HD, there’s a Silent Hill HD Collection. And for every Duck Takes Remastered, there’s a New Bionic Commando. HD Remakes are still by absolutely no means a guarantee of any similar success or admiration; there’s arguably even more pressure on an HD remake, especially one of a much-respected classic from a bygone era, to get it right. That I can match up such similar examples in such a way should tell you that there’s as much fluff out there as there are good examples.

It’s true I can’t see where Nintendo plans to go after The Wind Waker HD, but that they put so much love and passion into its revival deserves every single credit and it shouldn’t make their work and time any less valid in being an HD re-release. A lot of time and work has gone into it; like any good restoration project, it’s a labour of love. Clearly people can see that. And they like it. And, here’s the clincher, they obviously feel like responding more generously to a lovingly crafted revival piece than another shooty-sweary action game, of which we have a few now.

It’s not that there’s an inherent bias towards this “Golden Era” – far from it, many of those heralding Wind Waker now were the ones lambasting it back in the day. Some things have their time; perhaps this is the time The Wind Waker can truly shine on its own merits, eh? Maybe that’s the whole point of it. Now it can be judged not as a novelty piece in the Zelda timeline, but as a game in its own right. And in doing so, arguably a lot of reviewers are enjoying it.

But ultimately, let’s be honest here. If you really need a critic to tell you whether a game is good or not, then you’re not a smart consumer. If you need numerical guidance, perhaps this isn’t the most endearing hobby for you. And if you need social acceptance for the games you play, then you’ll always miss out on some gems along the way. That GTAV gets an 8-9 out of ten and The Wind Waker HD is getting 9’s and 10’s isn’t the problem; reviews are subjective.

It’s that gamers want to “win”. They want everyone to agree with them. They want things to reflect their viewpoint. And that’s not the point of a review. It’s about saying whether or not the person enjoyed something. And it’s not always a perfect system; but like so many systems, there’s nothing better, and nothing that wouldn’t be at least partially biased in some way.

If you’re enjoying GTAV, then I’m happy. Enjoy it. Why do you care there’s a better game being released around the same time? Especially if it’s for a system you may not own or even care about?

The phrase “What are you really angry about?” springs to mind…

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