There’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, even when it comes to cashing in on gamers’ nostalgia.
There were a lot of great games last generation, and I’d even go as far to say that the “128-bit” generation (for a lack of a better term,) might just be one of my all time favorite periods in gaming history. Beginning with the Dreamcast’s great but tragically short run, and continuing with Sony’s heyday during the era of the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube, the last generation was filled with games that are often recognized as some of gaming’s all time greats: Ico, Halo, Wind Waker, MGS3, Resident Evil 4, Final Fantasy X, PSO… the list goes on and on.
Unfortunately, as great as some of these games are, they kind of look like ass when you try to play them on a modern HD TV. As forward-thinking and innovative as these classics were, most of them were designed for standard definition televisions, and playing them on a new 1080p TV just makes their age and flaws all the more apparent.
So it makes sense that people would want to re-buy upscaled versions of these classics. I mean, everyone sold off their VHS collections once clearer and more convenient DVDs hit the market, so it makes sense that gamers would want to update their collections with more future-proof versions of their favorite games. Video game companies have been all too happy to oblige as well: ever since the success of Sony’s God of War Collection for PS3, seemingly almost every third party publisher out there has up-scaled and repackaged their greatest hits from last-gen in order to cash in on their fans’ rose-tinted love.
While these collections are often dismissed as quick cash-ins by cynical gamers and press, it actually takes a lot of time and effort to reprogram a last-gen game for modern consoles. As a recent 1up article illustrated, reprogramming a PS2 game to work on the PS3 or Xbox 360 often takes as much effort as originally creating the game itself; developers of these HD collections often have to reverse engineer the entire game in order to make it look and play properly on the newer systems. It’s an expensive and time consuming process, and it’s definitely not easy.
Which is probably why there’s such a big range of quality between these HD collections: some of them are fantastic and end up becoming the definitive version of a classic, while other HD collections somehow end up being worse than the original release. Ideally, a good HD re-release should maintain everything that made the original game worth playing while also giving it the modern visual clarity that gamers expect in the HD era. Unfortunately, a lot of recent releases manage to miss that mark, and there are few things more frustrating than spending $40 or $50 on one of these collections only to get a substandard version of the game that may actually look worse than the original standard-def versions that came out half a decade ago.
With that in mind, I’ve listed three games that epitomize what an HD collection should be, as well as three HD collections that do everything wrong. These games represent the extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to HD re-releases, and serve as an example to developers of what and what not to do when remastering a last-gen game for a modern console.
Let’s start off with the good ones first:
Metal Gear Solid HD Collection
Say what you will about Hideo Kojima, but he doesn’t half-ass his work. Sure, some of his ideas may not pan out in the best way, and his games have more pretentious dialogue than a sophmore film student’s final project, but he makes sure that him and his team put every ounce of effort they’re capable of into every one of their projects. So when it came time to port Metal Gear Solid 2, 3, and the previously PSP exclusive Peace Walker over to the PS3 and Xbox 360, Kojima and his team went the extra mile to ensure that these were the definitive versions of his stealth masterpieces.
Not only do these games look much, much better than the original releases, but Peace Walker in particular is a much better game on the PS3 than it was on the PSP. Despite being designed specifically for Sony’s handheld, the game absolutely feels like it belongs on a console, as the updated, dual-analog control scheme makes the HD version feel more intuitive and play better than its handheld progenitor. The game even includes the ability to swap save files between the PSP version of Peace Walker, as well as the upcoming PS Vita versions of MGS2 and 3. While it’s sort of disappointing that all of the bonus content from MGS3: Subsistence couldn’t be included on the collection, the enhanced visual clarity of all the games and the superior remastering of Peace Walker are more than enough to compensate.
Resident Evil Revival Selection
Okay, putting this “collection” (which comprises the first 2 fully 3D mainline Resident Evil games, RE4 and Code: Veronica,) on the list is sort of cheating, since these HD “remasters” were only released as a disc-based collection in Japan (in America and Europe the games were only released individually via digital distribution on XBLA and the PS Store.) But regardless of the semantics of the situation, I still feel like Capcom should be commended for the quality of these HD re-releases.
Both games look much better than their original versions — despite some instances where the lighting effects aren’t quite up to par with the Gamecube original, Resident Evil 4 benefits greatly from the up-scaled textures and true widescreen support, and while the older Code: Veronica isn’t quite the graphical showcase it once was during the turn of the century, fancy new real-time lighting effects help mask some of its flaws. The HD version of RE4 includes all of the bonus material that was added for the PS2 and Wii ports of the game, while Code: Veronica has new online leaderboard functionality and some minor gameplay tweaks. I love Resident Evil 4 and I’m more or less indifferent towards Code: Veronica, but regardless of your preference, there’s no denying that Capcom did a bang-up job updating these games for the modern age.
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus Collection
Ico and Shadow of the Colossus were two of the PS2’s best games, and thanks to Sony’s quality HD remastering, they’re now also two of the PS3’s best games as well. Sony kicked off this whole “HD Collection” thing with God of War, and it’s obvious they dedicated special attention to both Ico and SotC, both of which look absolutely glorious in HD.
Despite being an early PS2 game (that originally began development on the PS1,) Ico has managed to age gracefully thanks to its minimalistic, restrained presentation. The HD collection uses the European version of the game too, so fans who have only played the American version of the game will be treated to some new cutscenes and a few tweaked puzzles. While Ico still looks great, it’s Shadow of the Colossus that’s benefited the most from the increased horsepower of the PS3: the framerate issues that plagued the original release are mostly minimized in this version, and the game looks absolutely stunning (even by modern standards) in HD. Moreover, the game fully supports 3D tv’s, and while I’m usually indifferent towards stereoscopic 3D in my games and movies, the extra visual depth adds a lot to SotC: the game’s already grand scale is magnified when you play the game on a 3D tv, and it actually manages to restore the jaw-dropping “wow factor” that most gamers experienced when they originally played the game for the first time.
And now that we’ve seen how to do these collections properly, let’s look at the three collections you should probably avoid:
As I mentioned before, I love the Dreamcast. It and the SNES are probably tied for my favorite systems of all time, and I still spend September 9th of every year playing through one of my favorite DC games. The Dreamcast isn’t just Sega’s final console, but it also represents them at the height of their creative output: whether they were experimenting with new experiences like Jet Grind Radio or Shenmue, or pioneering online play on consoles with games like Phantasy Star Online and Chu Chu Rocket, it really seemed like Sega could do no wrong during the Dreamcast’s brief but glorious lifespan.
Unfortunately, Sega can do things wrong, and the Dreamcast Collection for Xbox 360 is a pretty good example of just how wrong Sega can be. Not only does this collection suffer from a questionable selection of games (there’s dozens of classic DC games they could’ve used, and they pick Sega Bass Fishing?) but the quality of each port is pretty shoddy: despite being advertised as an “HD” remastering, Sonic Adventure doesn’t have true 16:9 widescreen support, and it actually looks worse than the standard-def Gamecube version at parts, while Crazy Taxi has had its original, iconic soundtrack replaced with some generic background music. Unless you’re really hard up for achievements, there’s no reason to pick up this half-assed and frankly insulting attempt at cashing in on the Dreamcast legacy. Here’s hoping that Sega’s upcoming HD port of Jet Grind Radio shows a little more respect for its source material.
Silent Hill HD Collection
Like the Dreamcast Collection, Konami’s attempt at remastering Silent Hill for modern consoles falls completely flat. The original version of Silent Hill 2 is widely regarded as one of the best traditional survival-horror games ever made, and while its sequel isn’t quite as beloved, Silent Hill 3 is still a worthwhile, above-average adventure in its own right.
You’d never know that by playing this collection though. Survival-horror games live and die by their ability to create a tense, creepy atmosphere, and a lot of the changes that Konami made to the HD ports of these games all but destroy the careful pacing and presentation of the original games. Silent Hill 2 is missing the iconic fog effects that defined the look of the town in the PS2 version, and because of the missing fog, background elements that were never meant to be seen, such as the edges of the game world’s polygon models and other behind-the-scenes elements, are now plainly visible at all times. Silent Hill 3 even inexplicably experiences dramatic slow-down during moments when the PS2 version of the game ran smoothly. It’s not just the visuals that suffer either, as the games’ audio has taken a turn for the worse as well. Dialogue often sounds mechanical and overly quiet, while other sound effects, such as James’s radio in Silent Hill 2, play with a deafening volume that drowns out the rest of the game.
Konami has promised that there are patches in the works that will fix many of Silent Hill HD’s numerous issues, but as it stands now, there’s simply no reason to buy this collection: everything that can go wrong with these ports somehow has. You’re better off spending Silent Hill HD Collection’s $40 asking price on simply buying the PS2 discs off of eBay.
Splinter Cell HD Collection
Splinter Cell is one of Ubisoft’s bigger franchises, so you’d think they’d put a little more effort in the HD re-releases of the original 3 SC games. All three of Sam Fischer’s last-gen adventures were some of the technically prettiest games made during the period, so you’d think they’d look positively gorgeous in HD.
Unfortunately, they don’t. Both the original Splinter Cell and Pandora Tomorrow suffer from awkward frame-rate drops and murky, blurry texture work that wasn’t present in the original versions of these games. Some of the original games’ impressive lighting effects have even been removed as well. Worse yet, the games are actually missing content: both Pandora Tomorrow and Chaos Theory have had their excellent multiplayer modes stripped out, and the bonus missions that were added to later re-releases of the original SC are missing from this version of the game as well.
As with the Silent Hill, you’re better off skipping Sam Fischer’s half-assed HD Collection by using your money to simply pick up the original PS2 or Xbox 1 copies of the game, all of which can be had for only a few dollars each. The Xbox 1 versions are supported by the Xbox 360’s backwards compatibility, and they honestly look and play better than the versions collected here.