It was today that I first saw the initial batch screenshots from the upcoming HD remake of the original Resident Evil. This remake, based on the GameCube reimagining of the heavily pixelated PSOne original, has gorgeous new texture work, improved lighting, and a heavily boosted resolution that pulls the entirety of the frame into sharper focus.
But, to my mind, it looks exactly like the GameCube release. To a tee.
Place them side by side and, yeah, it’s obvious which is which. Just looking at the new shots by themselves, though, they don’t in any way strike me as a mind-blowing improvement over the original versions.
This is, partly, because they really aren’t. Most games that get HD “remakes” these days aren’t really getting remakes, they’re getting re-releases with boosted visuals and, often, a few quality of life improvements (those can, of course, be worth the investment alone for a fan of the series).
Most titles receiving high-definition massages are from the PS2/Xbox/GCN generation, when the visuals already had enough polygons that objects and characters tended to look recognizable, if not realistic, and the texture resolution was high enough that detail was readily discernible and atmosphere was engaging. Bringing these titles into HD doesn’t generally entail re-envisioning them, just “cleaning them up” a bit.
But maybe you’re thinking, “Sure, Shelby, when the developers are lazy. Everyone knows the Silent Hill HD Collection was a horrendous, sack-of-shit cash-in. When the developers really care, it’s a whole ‘nother story.”
Wrong. Even when a game has to be entirely remade, as was the case with Kingdom Hearts I.5 HD Remix, the goal specifically seems to be to cleave as closely to the original version as possible. That game was built from scratch because the original assets from the 2002 release were lost. In fact, when a rerelease is as poorly done as the Silent Hill one was, the notable differences draw fan ire for negatively affecting the experience. A “good” HD rerelease is one that cleaves as closely as possible to the last-gen original.
There are exceptions. The remakes of The Secret of Monkey Island and its sequel offer entirely new graphics as an option over the pixelated charm of the originals, while 2013’s Flashback was related to the 1992 original in name only (much to its detriment). That the vast majority cautiously simulate the original games, themselves only a generation old, smacks of a cynical sort of manufactured nostalgia fixated on only the most popular (or at least talked about) of the last generation’s gems.
How telling is it that the PS3 editions of both the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and Legacy Collection offered only download codes for the “PSone Classic” version of the original Metal Gear Solid and its VR Missions expansion (especially when one considers that the GameCube completely retooled version, Twin Snakes, using the Metal Gear Solid 2 engine)? Everything else in the package was either a PS3 native title or had been upgraded with higher fidelity graphics (even Peace Walker, originally a PSP game).
This isn’t about “paying tribute” to the big games of the past generation, or even really about making them available to a new audience. It’s about getting people to pay for them again. As such, the best HD revisions of games look exactly how you remember that game originally looking.
And now we’re slated to see it happen again with Halo: The Master Chief Collection, because the newest generation is far from immune to this phenomenon.
Just look at PlayStation Now.