With high-profile revivals of classic series continuing to dominate the gaming landscape, Mark Butler argues that we should embrace the growing tidal wave of remakes and reboots – as video games tend to do them so much better than Hollywood.
In recent years, it has become increasingly common for gaming to delve into its own past for inspiration; recycling and resurrecting classic series in order to stir nostalgia in old fans, and kindle interest in potential newcomers.
Newly-unleashed stealth reboot Thief is perhaps the most prominent example of 2014 so far, while Oddworld: New N’ Tasty – due out this Spring – is an eagerly anticipated remake of beloved cult platformer Abe’s Odyssee.
These two titles are just the latest in a long line of IPs given a fresh lease of life after years away from the spotlight – and we shouldn’t be surprised of course.
As with any creative industry good ideas are at a premium, and the pressures of expected financial success demand a sure-fire fanbase. So why risk falling flat with an entirely new creation, when you can take a tried-and-tested formula and re-brand it for a new generation?
So far, so predictable. But while this trend may echo the ongoing onslaught of reboots, remakes and spin-offs currently taking place over in Hollywood, it’s fair to say that gaming is doing a far better job with its returning heroes than the world of cinema.
Most movie remakes are actively despised by film fans – and with good reason. I recently looked at a whole host of the most forgettable and tragic recent examples, and they’re just the tip of a very ugly iceberg.
And yet, most video game remakes and reboots have actually not been bad at all. In fact, many have been genuinely terrific.
Last year’s gritty Tomb Raider prequel, relating Lara Croft’s origin story as a tense, open-world fight for survival, succeeded in being both thematically rich and a phenomenal playing experience.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a sensational update of the classic alien-battling strategy title, and probably one of the most addictive experiences of the last few years. Castlevania: Lords Of Shadow breathed fresh life into a seminal series in fine fashion; Rayman Origins sent its near-forgotten hero hurtling into uncharted heights with one of the best 2D platforming titles of all time.
There was a veritable outcry when Capcom dared to bring back Devil May Cry – ’emo’ makeover and all – yet 2013’s controversial re-imagining actually turned out to be a bona fide feast of awesome action gameplay.
If anything, I’m surprised there’s still so much cynicism around when it comes to this kind of thing. The magnificent Resident Evil Remake, arguably one of the greatest horror games ever made, was making quite the impression as far back as 2002. And while we’re on the subject of classic chillers, you could make a strong argument for Silent Hill: Shattered Memories being a genuinely innovative, immersive and thought-provoking spin on the supremely haunting original.
So why does gaming succeed where Hollywood so often fails? Why are gaming remakes and reboots so good?
One possibility is that better graphics, technical power and other advances can allow for the core concept of a classic game to be realised in a more powerful and tangible away – unlocking greater potential from the heart of the original’s premise.
You only have to look at Bethesda’s acclaimed Fallout 3 to see this in action. Ten years on from the previous instalment, it took all the vast appeal of Fallout’s compelling but visually-limited post-apocalyptic RPG saga, and rebooted it as an epic, expansive first-person experience, with an open-world that you could directly explore and navigate; encountering toxic plains, ramshackle settlements and fearsome deathclaws through your very own eyes.
Gaming reboots can add new mechanics, ideas and possibilities to the basic formula, and occasionally provide a completely refreshing take on the entire experience. Resident Evil’s update was able to build on the original’s pioneering template: taking the essential ingredients of mystery, suspense and a mansion overrun by monsters, and enhancing it in fresh and interesting ways.
When they work well, such projects act to channel the love and nostalgia we feel for long-lost retro franchises into new and exciting experiences.
For me, I felt nothing short of sheer joy at playing the new XCOM. Never in a million years did I think I’d get to play the great turn-based strategy title again. Yet there I was, cowering from Chrysalids, crying out in anguish as a beloved, veteran squad member fell in battle, and using my increasingly kick-ass array of sci-fi weaponry to turn the tide against the alien invaders.
Most of the changes that were made to the original formula – while worrying at first – actually acted to better equip and modernise the experience in a slick and intelligent way. It certainly didn’t hurt that my soldiers were no longer a pixelated mess of tangled sprites, trudging slowly across the map in charming but cheesy bow-legged fashion. Now they were scrambling dynamically in and out of cover, with fast-paced camera work and close-ups spinning a dramatic unfolding narrative.
While movies so-often miss the point when reviving a beloved creation, or use technological advances to paper over the cracks of underwhelming plot, characterisation and performance, gaming generally takes the essential things we treasured about an old-school classic, and acts to update, enhance or alter it with no little degree of style, imagination and flair.
Given the overall track record of video game remakes and reboots, I can safely say I’m looking forward to Oddworld: New N’ Tasty with a genuine degree of confidence, excitement and optimism. And that’s really not something I could say of the mooted Police Academy revival.
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