Monday, 24 June 2013

Retro remakes

First the announcement of a re-jigged Flashback in April and last week a teaser trailer for a forthcoming remake of The Chaos Engine. I’d be lying if my initial thoughts to both were to do anything else but cream oh so very slightly in my jeans having played both to death back in the halcyon days of yonder. Two of the most highly-rated games from the Amiga era, updated for the benefit of modern gamers, so we can all bask in the glory of their awesomeness. Marvellous isn’t it? Isn’t it?

The new Chaos Engine teaser trailor. Very teasery in that it shows fuck all game footage...

Okay, so it would be nice if such things always worked out spectacularly well. It would be great if these games were to be brought back for a vibrant young audience so they can understand what we used to do with our zipsticks and floppy disks (rather than ‘fnarr’ loudly). But all too often after the huzzah of ‘they’re remaking such and such’ comes a cynical ‘why in the blue hell did they bother in the first place?’ followed by cries on Twitter that one’s childhood has been systematically raped in the process.

Flashback reveal trailer - at least there is some in-game footage here to appraise!

Retro remakes are a slightly benign thing. Rolled out on the basis that a niche following will garner some decent self-promotion, developers instead often mould the game to the expectations of some other (modern) gamer instead. So what you end up with is a close approximation of what has gone before but with added bits of bobbins and cutting-edge sterility. Whilst they may make a bit of money in the short-term, critical reception will be unfavourable, the remake will soon be forgotten and the legacy of the original tarnished for evermore. That’s a lot of annoyed old school gamers looking to tear you a new one.

Look at Syndicate. All we really needed was another sodding FPS, wasn’t it? Especially when the original was a sophisticated god-game/resource-sim that was bastard hard. Alien Breed has turned from being a fast and furious bastard-hard Gauntlet clone into a dull, ponderous and linear shoot ‘em up. Speedball 2 has been remade enough now. Please stop it. If you’re not going to take it seriously and make a super-fast, bastard hard version where Super Nashwan always piss on you from the greatest of heights, then you’re not really trying? Sensible Soccer 2006. Hahahahahahaha. Both new and old gamers lose out. The new are subjected to sub-par gaming and treated to a distortion of what retro-heads constantly bang on about. The old are just likely to whinge that they’re not really being catered for and huff off in a grump.

For those born in the mid-ninties - this is how Syndicate really looks!

Of course, not all remakes have followed such a trajectory, proving that there is some value in making the old spangly and shiney if you happen to treat the original title and its audience with respect. X-COM: Enemy Unknown is a perfect example. A great mix of UFO: Enemy Unknown, minus the more cumbersome micro-management aspects of the original, mashed together with some stonking new features. The skill increases for your troops, for instance, actually increases the tactical play available whilst simplifying the mechanics beautifully (although failure to play with the Ironman mode switched on does mean you’re a great big pussy).

But all of this gets away from the real issue – why remake perfect games anyway? If we’re looking to enthuse modern gamers about the past, shouldn’t such titles be released warts and all rather than meddled with to produce a sanitised more accessible version for monkey’s that demand style and graphical overload to substance? Hmm, perhaps that rhetorical musing answers itself. Modern gamers don’t care much for old games or remakes of them, so why bother updating for a new audience when it’s the core aficionados that should be catered for? Granted, X-COM disproves the rule convincingly and is a great advancement on the original game, but for too many other remakes unnecessary changes are made, the purpose of the original game is lost and, rather unfortunately, they become far too easy to complete – just another meaningless milestone to ones burgeoning trophy bandwagon.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown - a delightful remake!

Hopefully Flashback and The Chaos Engine will be tinkered with a little more care, attention and X-COM in mind; games for oldies, but with enough quality to broaden horizons and find a new audience as well (at the very least the involvement of Hotline Miami publisher Devolver Digital on The Chaos Engine seems a good thin). Because at the very least, the enduring memory of Delphine Software’s finest moment and yet another classic added to the Bitmap Brothers’ Hall of Fame deserve that. And if they could make both bastard hard beasts and include the original in the package (like LucasArts did with The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition where you could choose to play the original or listen to Guybrush’s whiny voice in the update) that would be rather neat. Pretty fucking please, with cherries on top, unless you want to have Twitter plagued with complaints from old men that smell of wee…

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