Why Some AAA Re-Releases Shouldn’t Happen

My sentiments on the oldest trick in the money-making book of whoredom. I’d better be careful around these parts – there are fanboys lurking about. The first major franchise re-release I can think of is Tomb Raider: Anniversary back in 2007, and to a large […]
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My sentiments on the oldest trick in the money-making book of whoredom.

I’d better be careful around these parts – there are fanboys lurking about.

The first major franchise re-release I can think of is Tomb Raider: Anniversary back in 2007, and to a large extent I can understand why remaking the entire game was an exciting prospect. Have you played the original Tomb Raider? It’s Electronic Theatre Imageon PlayStation Network for a couple of quid if you haven’t, but if you have you’ll know that what was possible with a game engine back in 1996 had expanded quite a lot after ten years.  So it was that when Tomb Raider: Anniversary landed on the shelves in 2007 I picked up a copy and played through it furiously.

Story-wise there had been tweaks, but what impressed me was the added depth to the gameplay and level design. Lara could swing on ropes, perform acrobatics on bars, balance precariously on beams, dodge crushing obstacles, and the shooting mechanics were much improved with minor (and not-so minor) dodge-QTE sequences. It was, as far as I was concerned, a very different game from the Tomb Raider I’d played back in ’96.

By all accounts it was highly successful re-release and it had the added bonus of tying into the then recent Tomb Raider Legend storyline, which concluded with the less than sparkling Tomb Raider Underworld.

This set the AAA re-release up in my mind as something to be done when the gameplay of the original can be significantly improved, where the source material can be polished up, and in-game mechanics are refined to a point of contemporary perfection.

Halo: Combat Evolved meets none of these requirements for me, yet that was re-released as Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in 2011. Fable: The Lost Chapters, the latest serving of self-plagiarism to be announced in the form of Fable Anniversary, is another example that doesn’t match my personal re-release criteria.

Now, before we dive into that mess I’ve just created, let me be clear on one thing: I have no problem whatsoever with HD remakes. If a developer wants to spruce up an existing classic or series with HD graphics and 60 frames per second, and put it out there for a modest price, I say they can go for it and I’ll probably buy them with great enthusiasm. Metal Gear HD Collection? Brilliant. God of War HD Collection?  Awesome. Devil May Cry HD Collection? I’m in.

Full re-releases with updated graphics and content are another matter.

Graphics as a general rule are something I treat like seasoning; you don’t buy a steak so you can justify using salt and pepper on it. It’s the quality of the meat that’s important and, in the case of Halo: Combat Evolved, the meat was already perfect. If there’s one thing creators shouldn’t do it’s mess with perfection. And, to be fair on 343 Industries and Saber Interactive, they didn’t mess with it. The gameplay – you know, that core experience we’re supposed to be paying for? – in Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary was exactly as it had been in the original, right down to the enemies you faced and where you encountered them, as was the layout of the levels. It was fundamentally unchanged – and that’s my problem with it.

What our money went towards was a pointless graphical overhaul, a remastered soundtrack, and a few ‘secret’ cutscenes that had been shoved in to tell us what we already knew from the in-game story sequences. Oh and some multiplayer maps that were compatible with Halo: Reach. Stuff we genuinely don’t need from a re-release.

George Lucas pulled this kind of nonsense with his original Star Wars films for years, which is part of why I find the recent re-released versions of them so goddamned offensive. All this visual shit is put in front of us, tailored to impress the audience with sparkly afterthoughts, and all it does is detract from the greatness that is Star Wars. Same goes for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, a game that found more importance in what it was showing off rather than what it was about (which is revolutionary FPS gameplay, in case you don’t know).

Now we come to Fable Anniversary, another remake for a game originally launched on the last console generation.  Like Tomb Raider and Halo: Combat Evolved I played and loved Fable: The Lost Chapters, and I wouldn’t mind at all if it was re-released in HD and I paid ten to fifteen quid for the pleasure of playing it again. In their infinite wisdom, Microsoft has decided that because ten years have passed by this somehow justifies fixing something that ain’t broke. Remastered graphics, better character models, achievements… and a vague suggestion of future DLC.

Sorry, but no. Just no. This is a con, plain and simple. Sure, this new edition of the same Fable looks very nice indeed and I’m sure there are other aesthetic improvements to the sound and visual effects, but how is it different from the original? How does it alter and improve upon the gameplay? Are the environments bigger or are there more of them? Are there new enemies? New weapons? New magic functionality? Do the trees grow in real time?

Well, we have…um, SmartGlass integration, which is apparently a big deal. We have the option to save anytime and anywhere, as if Fable: The Lost Chapters contained such a hardcore difficulty curve.

“But Alaric, a full re-release means that younger gamers will get a chance to experience Fable without compromising on the graphical qualities they’re used to.”

Sorry, that’s entirely the wrong way to look at this cheap marketing tactic. Graphics do not make great games. Gameplay makes great games. If Fable were to be released in HD on Xbox Live, I have no doubt that new players would give it a go and many of them would love it as much as the rest of us. Duke Nukem 3D, Doom, Sonic The Hedgehog, Mega Man… all of these and others received HD updates only and consumers lapped them up with wild abandon, because they all had fantastic gameplay.

This whole business of repackaging the same product and selling it for nearly full price is one of the oldest tricks in the book of marketing. If a game is so outdated that its gameplay could do with some careful alterations and it would benefit from a substantial visual-audio ‘remastering’, like Tomb Raider did, then I can endorse a re-release. However, if you’re talking about putting the same game back on the shelves with a small bump in visual and audio quality then I will argue against it until the end of bloody time itself.

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