Do remasters and box sets of old classics offer a solution to the biting disappointment gamers increasingly feel, given the hasty development cycles of modern Triple-A titles?
Ever find yourself falling into the familiar pattern of having blitzed through your last batch of games, looking at your calendar and realising that you’ve still got practically another year to wait for the next E3? It can sometimes feel like this is becoming the case more and more these days, with certain developers or specific franchises simply churning out the next title without you really feeling like it’s anything truly new.
It’s a painful moment when you’ve been waiting for the next instalment of your favourite series, only to find out that for the most part, it’s simply a rehashing of the previous masquerading as something new.
The wait for that next flurry of announcements or releases feels extraordinarily long. Half-Life 3 long. So much so that even the love-hate relationship we have with waiting for that next game to being confirmed, has often lost its sense of excitement and anticipation.
Some of the most telling examples of this pattern are Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. The presence of these game series is still undeniable, as even your nan has most likely heard you mention the phrase ‘COD’ or wondered why you started doing parkour in the garden at some point in your life. However, their reputation seems to have dwindled as of late.
The height of these respective franchises came between 2011 and 2012, a period during which both series had rejuvenated their sequels, with Assassin’s Creed III selling approximately 13 million copies, whilst Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops II raked in a respectable 12 million copies each in their first week of launch.
After this peak, both series have seen a drop in sales, with Advanced Warfare selling around 7 million and AC: Syndicate suffering a staggering drop to a mere 4 million. The decline was seen not only in a commercial sense but crucially in the critical reception of these games as well, with both series suffering a dip in praise and review scores.
Luckily for us, there seems to be an area of the industry that is filling the void left behind when these games fall short of the mark and leave us waiting for the next one to do better. The answer is the remaster and furthermore, the box-set, both of which take gaming audiences on a trip down memory lane whilst offering a distraction from the annual release of often sub-par titles.
In layman’s terms, both do what they say on the tin: one brings that classic title that you’ve sat with for years — or, equally, haven’t touched in an offensively long time — into the current generation of gaming; the other simply compiles them into one tidy and slightly updated package.
There is a degree of overlap between these two types of release, as a collection typically consists of remastered titles from a previous generation. For instance, many examples in the past year alone include Batman: Return to Arkham, Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection, The BioShock Collection, and — my personal favourite — Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.
This is not to say that collections are a new thing — I even remember nicking a copy of the Die Hard Collection for PlayStation 1 from an unfortunate uncle — but in regards to remastered collections specifically, there seems to have been a resurgence in recent years.
When trying to nail down why the remaster itself works so well, the best way I could rationalise it was in comparing it to that go-to passive TV series that we’ve all watched over 9000 times, yet we still whack it on when we’re tidying up, writing that upcoming essay or even a gaming article!
Perhaps the most notable examples are the likes of Skyrim, Goldeneye 007, and COD 4. These are games that defined their respective generations of gaming and picking them back up offers both the comfort in knowing what to expect when you load the game up and the benefit of looking like a pro when you boss through every level as if you were doing speed-run.
Moreover, this experience is mirrored in collections also: playing through the best hits of a series and knowing that they will deliver. It’s a strange kind of solace that offers us respite from that torturous headspace in which we pray for the next release to be as good the last and worth the cash, although as I mentioned, the wait might not factor into it as much these days.
This then brings us back to issue of annual releases and how they’ve affected the modern gaming audiences. When we look back to the likes of AC III or COD: MW3 and Black Ops II; there is one key difference between these games and those that followed in their franchise: The short answer is simply production time.
Despite the annual release model—or as I call it: the ‘rush-it-out’ policy—having already become a staple in the AAA franchises, these games excelled in comparison to the later instalments because they benefitted from an extra year in production. Games that fit into the franchises’ anthology might be released in between, but direct sequels are the bread and butter of a series.
For Call of Duty, it was the alternating between teams of developers each year (Infinity Ward releasing one whilst Treyarch starts on the next) that allowed for these sequels to have a solid 2 years or more in production. More time, more polish.
In Ubisoft’s case it was simply a matter of noting that the 2 years between the debut Assassin’s Creed title and its sequel allowed for sufficient time to correct the mistakes made in the first game and innovate the series — it is no coincidence then that it is the first in its franchise’s collection — and so they simply did it again, beginning the third game only 2 months after its predecessor’s release.
Remasters and box-sets are more than just filler in between instalments of a series: they symbolise a time when games were released when they were ready, not just in time for the next holiday. They seem to be a reactionary move from developers in response to players’ disillusionment with new releases in general, which seem to have mistaken the annual release policy as a central to success.
This could even be a pre-emptive move on the part of game studios. If the remaster and the box-set is something they know has a place in the market — especially when a particular series is on a bad run of form — this type of release acts as a fall-back; a failsafe for when the next game isn’t received so well.
Maybe they have acquiesced with the reality that you might not always want to fork out 50 quid every time a game is dropped, especially when you suspect it has been rushed to its release date at the expense of quality. Instead, you might be more likely to part with a similar amount of your hard-earned credits/gold — whatever the in-game currency is in real life — on a bundle of games that are better value for money, even if there are a few more forgettable titles in there.
The positive we might take from this is that it at least suggests that developers are becoming aware of the detrimental effects of annual releases and might have realised what it is was that made their standout games within a series tick: more time, more polish.