Games Of Future Past

Despite being the first full year of the PlayStation 4’s and Xbox One’s lives, and the second of Wii U’s, 2014 will likely be remembered by most gamers as the year of the re-release.  “Remastered”, “Definitive Edition”, “Redux” and other similar title extensions have been attached to beautified versions of games which originally came out during the PS3’s and Xbox 360’s twilight years, as well as a few from an even older bygone era, and it’s a trend set to continue well into 2015, with Dark Souls II: Scholar Of The First Sin, Saint’s Row IV: Re-Elected, the Ratchet & Clank remake, and the Resident Evil remaster (itself of a remake) to name but a few, and rumours suggesting Borderlands, Mass Effect, and Uncharted are getting the same treatment.  Evidently, and quite understandably, there’s a high demand and lucrative market for old favourites to be brought up to date with sharper graphics and a smoother frame rate to play on our newish consoles.  But of all the games available in their back catalogues, are publishers choosing, and are we lobbying for, the right ones to be brought back?

Naturally, it’s going to be the more successful blockbusters and fondly remembered classics that are most ripe for the picking here, and for some there is valid reason to make a comeback other than a chance to potentially double their earnings.  In the case of The Last Of Us: Remastered, it made sense for Sony to bring the PS3’s finest game to the many PS4 owners who didn’t previously have the means to play it before, and regarding Grand Theft Auto V, it was a no-brainer for Rockstar to migrate Grand Theft Auto Online from one generation to the next as players did.  But were the likes of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition and Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition just as warranted to get a new-gen facelift?

Not that I’ve got anything against Ms Croft’s excellent origin story reboot or Wei Shen’s hardboiled undercover affairs in new or old form (I’ve willingly paid for both versions of both games), but my thinking is, rather than selecting their biggest hits for a new-gen conversion, publishers should instead consider taking a gamble and give some of their lesser known properties a second chance at getting the recognition they deserved but never got; games that garnered critical praise but failed to rake in the big bucks on original release.  It sounds backwards, I agree – why would any publisher in their right mind greenlight a reissue of a commercial flop?  But, if handled correctly, there could be potent rewards on either side of the sales counter in both the short and the long term.

For publishers, the incentive to give a commercially underperforming game another shot at success is the chance to finally make a long overdue return on a not insubstantial previous investment.  Of course, the multi-million dollar question is whether said game will actually shift some copies a second time?  The sad truth is that sometimes games don’t sell because they’re too niche and therefore aren’t financially viable to continue investing in (sorry El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron).

But sometimes there are games with mass potential to sell in the regions of millions and perhaps grow into a hugely successful franchise with true staying power, but for some reason which has nothing to do with the quality of the game, be it misrepresented marketing, a complete lack of marketing, or, most commonly, releasing at the wrong time, never made it big.  That’s a fairly broad categorisation, I admit, but by looking at certain games’ critical numbers and the reputations they’ve built over time, there are some which stick out more prominently than others, and it’s these games that I feel are most deserving of a spruced up definitive edition or remaster in order to make amends for their previous incarnations’ sales injustice.

It’s worked before.  Just look at what Deep Silver did with Metro Redux.  Neither Metro: 2033 or sequel Metro: Last Light exactly set the sales charts alight back in 2010 and 2013 respectively, but the new-gen bundle of the underrated horror FPS series proved popular enough to climb to the UK top spot at the end August last year.  Looking back further to the PS3 and 360, both Beyond Good & Evil and Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath were given new leases of life via successful HD ports from their poor-selling PS2 and Xbox beginnings.  And hopefully similar success will come to Capcom’s upcoming DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition, a 1080p, 60 frames per second conversion of Ninja Theory’s masterful rebirth of Dante, a game we rightly awarded top billing back in January 2013 but barely managed to budge half of its projected load.  With a standing as one of the best action games of its kind made outside of Japan, and the needless controversy surrounding Dante’s new look and home a distant memory, hopefully the Definitive Edition will attract enough punters to give a much needed sequel the go-ahead.

And there lies another potential benefit of bringing such underrated games back from the brink; if the re-release sells enough to prove the property popular then the surely planned for sequels could be back on the cards, which means a possible money-spinning franchise for the publisher.  Even if Capcom were still to lose capital on DmC overall, the interest generated from the Definitive Edition might be enough for future instalments to sell significantly better and pay it off, making those initial losses worth it.

Plus, I imagine the costs involved in remastering games are relatively lower in comparison to building a new game (or remaking one) from the ground up.  Not to undermine the extraordinary efforts developers pour into bringing their works up to date, but with the game already complete as such, there’s less need for preproduction and prototyping.  On the creative side of things (story, mechanics, structure etc) everything is already in place, so it’s mainly a case of some no doubt complicated tech-wizardry making it work and look better on new hardware (although please correct me if I’m mistaken).  And if the project couldn’t’ be handled in-house, there are many developers such as Bluepoint Games (responsible for HD collections of God of War, Metal Gear Solid and Ico & Shadow of the Colossus) who’ve made excellent names for themselves in this line of work.  Surely when stacked up against the potential rewards, the lower costs and moderate ease of development make such ventures worth the gamble.

With certain games’ strong reputations practically meaning they market themselves (although the odd trailer and press coverage wouldn’t go amiss), all the publisher really has to do is make sure the game comes out at the right time, avoiding the year’s various hype juggernauts and giving it enough breathing room pre and post release.  It sounds obvious, but chances are this is the very reason why it sold poorly in the first place.  Keep clear of established franchises and anything with Rockstar’s logo on the box and stick to the various release voids peppered throughout the first half of every year instead.  Reduced competition equals maximum sales.  With nothing else to buy, gamers looking for something new to get their teeth stuck into will have virtually no other choice than to plump for whatever remaster hits the shelves.  And as for gamut of “we’ve played it before” and “give us something new” complaints which accompany every announcement of an impending re-release, the previous low sales figures indicate it’s unlikely you have played such games before and so it might as well be a brand new game anyway.

For those in the know, and for a brief bit of self-indulgence, imagine the kinetic action and fast-paced thrills of Bulletstorm, Vanquish, and Split/Second blistering away at a buttery smooth 60fps, or the stunning art designs and atmospheric backdrops of Alan Wake, Spec Ops: The Line, and Enslaved: Odyssey To The West rendered in eye-popping 1080p, with reduced loading times and all DLC bundled as part of the package!  And dare I mention the word Shenmue.  All of the above had the potential to become long and prosperous franchises, and they still might if given a second chance.

Rather than remaster a game which has more or less reached its maximum audience, surely there’s some logic in reworking one that still has room to grow?  Publishers could grab themselves any easy buck and create a new long-lasting revenue stream in the process, and gamers might find themselves a brand new favourite game and series they otherwise wouldn’t have experienced.  So, while I’ll gladly welcome remasters of Mass Effect, Skyrim, and Uncharted with open arms, I’d rather see Bulletstorm, Split/Second, and Enslaved get the love (and sequels) they always deserved.

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One Comment

  1. Edward Edward says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I struggle to see the point of games being remastered when they were released literally the year before while gems from the past are totally ignored. I’d love to see some cult hits get a redux and a chance to win hearts all over again. They don’t have long though, there’s probably only another year or so before the bottom falls out the boat.

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