I played through Sniper Elite V2 Remastered this week and the graphical overhaul is impressive and the addition of photo mode provides an amusing diversion. It is a superior iteration of the game than the original 2012 release. However, I have read reviews that have found this new version unsatisfactory. There have been complaints that the game lack the scope and sophistication of Sniper Elite III and 4. If you explore such comments further you soon find that those who have made them seem to fundamentally confuse a remaster of a game with a remake. Sniper Elite V2 Remastered has been lovingly dragged up to visual standards of the latter versions of the games by Rebellion Developments, but it’s original 2012 structure, mechanics and limitations are still present. If you require a succinct metaphor it is the difference between redecorating and refurbishing a house.
The recently released Resident Evil 2 is a remake of the original 1998 PlayStation game. Unlike the original, which uses “tank controls” and fixed camera angles, the new version features over-the-shoulder third-person shooter gameplay similar to Resident Evil 4. The game has found favour with both critics and players and although it remains true to the themes and idiom of the original, it is more than just a graphical overhaul. The developers, Capcom R&D Division 1, refined the existing mechanics and systems, improved the environment, rather than just recreating it with improved assets and textures, resulting in a new product that is compatible with the prevailing tastes of contemporary gamers. It is not an exact duplicate of the PlayStation version, neither has it wondered entirely “off script”. It therefore clearly fits the criteria of what constitutes a remake, instead of a remaster. Clearly this process has not been applied to Sniper Elite V2 Remastered by Rebellion Developments.
Another debate surrounding remastered games is over their relative value and whether development resources would be better focused on creating entirely new titles. I’d argue that Sniper Elite V2 Remastered is a positive example of a game that been remastered. The fact that I didn’t have to pay the full retail price (which wasn’t excessive to begin with) because I owned the previous version, helped with my positive opinion. Furthermore when it was announced, Rebellion Developments also pointed out that a new instalment in the franchise was currently being worked on, so the remaster was not at the expense of anything else. However, on the other side of the coin, let us remember how Activision handled the remaster of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The game benefited from improved graphics and assets but suffered from a somewhat egregious business model. Activision decided to initially release it as part of a premium bundle when players bought Infinite Warfare. Then there was also the inclusion of microtransactions that were not present in the original. Finally, the DLC multiplayer maps that were free with the 2007 version of the game were gated behind a paywall in this 2016 remaster.
It is naïve to expect ethical business management by default from the video games industry, so gamers are left having to keep their wits about them when it comes to determining whether a remastered game is or is not good value. Rebellion Developments have at least been fair with their remasters so far, with respect of content and pricing. Other publishers have taken a different route. The Skyrim Special Edition may well have an improved aesthetic but still contains bugs that have existed in every other iteration and port of the game. It is therefore up to us as consumers to make clear what “is” a good value remaster and what isn’t. We should also be vocal if we discover that a remaster comes at the expense of something new. Polite, measured and intelligent lobbying can and does work. As does screaming and throwing your toys out of the pram, but the latter comes at the cost of dignity, moral rectitude and credibility. In the meantime, I suspect we shall continue to see remasters of all types, as nostalgia is a proven seller. May be on occasions, a successful remaster acts as a litmus test, proving sufficient interest to justify a new entry in an existing franchise.