Let me kick off with what might be an unpopular opinion; I have no problem with Remasters of video games.
In an era where some games are just falling on their faces, a talented studio specialising in this field can do quite a lot of good. Shadow of the Colossus is as good an example as any; I don’t think it is a perfect realisation, mostly because it still handles like an old game and I expect a remake and/or remaster to be filing some of those rougher edges off. That said, it’s still a very good piece of work in its own right – a beautiful game with a faithful reverence for the source material trying to recapture the spark that made the original game so beloved to so many people. You can do worse. So much worse, right Activision?
Still, when a chap asked me a few days ago whether I was happy about Shadow of the Colossus: Remastered, I must admit, my gut reaction was a resounding “Nope.” Wow, that’s going to be unpopular too.
The reason I say that is… did this really need a remaster? I mean, sure, it’s an old game. But the HD Remaster on the PlayStation 3 was pretty enough as well. I just don’t get -why- this was a necessary step. This is the third time around for this game. And we liked it a lot on the previous two rounds, a third signals to me an IP that perhaps should have been getting a sequel and/or more content rather than trying to tinker with something that was already regarded as a fantastic game in its own right. If the interest in this IP is that high, and people want more of it, and there’s arguably more story you can tell by switching things up and taking it somewhere else… running around in your own back yard with a slightly nicer torch doesn’t really cut it for me. Hell, there are extra hidden things inside the Shadow of the Colossus Remaster, but they seem to kind of go nowhere.
That’s not to say however that I don’t like the Remaster – I do. A lot. But I just don’t see the need for it, is all. I’m enjoying it and all but that niggling thought in the back of my head refuses to go away.
Having said that, I’ve got a fairly well-established rule for my Favourite Games of 20XX: No Remasters or Re-Releases.
It’s why, whatever happens, Dark Souls Remastered won’t be on my Best Games of 2018 list. I’m sure I’ll love it. I’m sure it will once again destroy my time. I’m sure it will be a much-improved game with more stable frame-rates this time around. But, crucially, it will be the same game I played back in 2011. It’s prettier, but so what? It’s not like I ever needed an excuse to boot up Dark Souls on my PC over the years (which probably already suggests I’m more inclined for the Switch version – dat portability…). It’s why I never could put Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin on my Games of the Year list in anything but an honourable mention; it’s fantastic and the best Dark Souls game in my mind (even maybe qualifying in a sense as a Remake), but it was a Game of the Year addition with a few extra cutscenes and another boss fight. Eh. It’s also why, even though I’d give the Shadow of the Colossus Remaster an 8 out of 10 on most days, it won’t qualify for my list. It’s the same game. It’s why Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition won’t qualify either, though I’m really trying to resist the urge to buy that again… oh, and it’s also why The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D never made my lists either.
That’s not to say these aren’t or aren’t going to be superb games; it’s just that at their core they’re not substantially different enough from the original release. I take a hard line on Remasters – yes, I think they’re necessary and yes, I’m often thrilled to see games updated for new hardware and new audiences. But they already had their shot; you can’t keep praising old games year on year, because it starts to push down new content which is equally deserving of attention and praise. The only concession I’ve ever made on this front was Silent Hill HD Collection – and not for the better, as I tore into that mess for being a frankly terrible remaster job. You had ONE JOB, Konami…
But I do – and will – make an exception for REMAKES.
A Remake is, inherently, a different game. That’s the point of the word “Remake”; it suggests a dramatically changed experience from the original, and in some cases this actually has worked enough that I’d consider those games some of the best of their year – Resident Evil Remake was a staggering change from the original, with more areas, different enemies and even a tragic additional sub-plot woven throughout. And Tomb Raider Anniversary made broad and sweeping changes to many of its areas and encounters to make the game more interesting and more fun to play. These games are different – radically so, and therefore you have to concede that in such instances a game with so many sweeping alterations is a different beast entirely.
I’ve often wondered why more games don’t get core-level remakes in this way; I suppose it’s just cheaper now to port games, which is fine, but it also for me says that games that have the kind of promise and potential that could be unlocked by a good remake done by an ambitious studio are being left on the table. I still have my copy of Shadow of the Colossus on PS2 – I dug it out of the box in my cupboard to remind myself of it. And around it were other games; Gregory Horror Show. The Thing. Primal. The X-Files: Resist Or Serve. The Suffering. All good and great games in their own right, but I’d be remiss not to point out all inherently flawed in their own ways.
A Remake, for me, takes the promise of an original game and makes it different enough with new ideas and mechanisms that it works to enhance and define what was good about the game in the first place. I like Resident Evil 2, but I’m also of the mind it is inherently flawed in and of itself. Plus, the series canon moved on to make much of the original look dated or out of place. New areas, new bosses, perhaps even an interesting sub-plot like Lisa Trevor in the Resident Evil Remake? That’s what excites me about the Resident Evil 2 Remake. It’s that it is different, and substantially and substantively so, that makes me want it. Sure, Capcom could just HD Remaster the original – they could, but it’d be a bit disappointing. We can play the original still. Hell, they could even add in the original as a bonus unlock if they wanted.
It’s more risky; but I like that. I like ambition. And I’m sure there are dozens of games that could be remade and be fantastic in their own right again. Games that can be reborn from the ashes of obscurity. Like ObsCure. I’d play a remake of those games!
But Shadow of the Colossus Remastered as “Game of the Year” candidate? I mean, okay. I respect your right to have that opinion, and if this is the first time you’ve played it – okay, I’ll concede to that and I’m glad you’re on board now. But there’s no real ambition at its core – take an already much-loved game and make it prettier. If that’s all it takes to win Game of the Year awards, you’re setting a very, very dangerous trend. No, we don’t want you to take risks – just make already good games prettier! That’s all we want, right? We certainly don’t want original content! Or for you to take good ideas and games and make them better! And for sites which have possibly already given an award to Shadow of the Colossus before – no, no respect for them. At all. It already got your praise once. You don’t need to give it an award for being prettier this time around.
I mean, what if a few years down the road they do this again – a True 4K PS5 Remaster of a PS4 Checkerboard-Scaling remaster of a PS3 HD Remaster of a PS2 Game… I mean, seriously? No, there’s not much like it. I get that. But does that mean we have to keep buying the same game over and over again? At some point even a game as good as Shadow of the Colossus gets buried under the stupidity of Remaster-Ception. Where do you say, “You can stop now. That’s enough!”?
But having said that – and alienated people, woo – I don’t think that’s the fault of Shadow of the Colossus. I mean, what more can you do with it? As I said at the start of this post, that there’s still significant interest and support for this IP that another remaster was necessitated should signal that there’s enough interest and support for… well, a sequel? (If you don’t count Ico – which I don’t on this front, there’s room between the two games I think! Ico came first and Shadow of the Colossus is technically the prequel and do you have enough of a headache yet from this craziness?) Or a spin-off? Or perhaps a game like it, but different?
A remaster here and there, or even a re-release as is the case on the Switch, can certainly fill in gaps and transition people from one platform to the next when done right. But I think that needs to be done sparingly – and I do also think, somehow, you need to not keep using the same freaking game each time. At some point, people are just going to go, “I’m fine, I already got this. I’m good. Don’t need to do this AGAIN, thanks!”
Seriously Sony, try remastering or remaking something else now. Please.
No, ICO is NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ANSWER… *facepalm*