Remaster Fatigue: The Ballad of GTA Definitive Edition's Failures

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Remaster Fatigue: The Ballad of GTA Definitive Edition's Failures

November 17, 2021

By: Anson Chan

 
 

If there's one thing that the gaming industry is good at, it's promising that the next big game is always just around the corner. Every single time, developers swear that their next game will be bigger, it will have more fish AI, look 16 times better, and so on. Whether or not the games actually live up to such promises is another issue, but it gives the impression that the gaming industry is in a constant state of progress, especially to the common layman. If you were to explain the habit of remastering really old games to that same layman however, it must seem like a ridiculous contradiction. After all, remastered games are basically decades-old games that are being sold again to a modern audience, albeit with a fresh new coat of paint. 

At the same time, this familiarity is the reason why people buy such games. As the average age of the gaming audience grows older, it makes sense that they would want to experience classics from simpler times with newer hardware. Games like GTA: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition, Skyrim Special Edition and Anniversary Edition, Destroy All Humans!, and full-blown remakes like the appropriately named Final Fantasy 7 Remake all tap into that nostalgia factor to sell copies. Remasters are a bit of a double-edged sword though. Sure, they're (presumably) relatively easy and inexpensive to develop and people will definitely buy them, but that's only if the remaster is done well. As the release of GTA Definitive Edition proved, a poor remaster will backfire in spectacular fashion.

What should've been a simple graphical upgrade turned into a full-blown fiasco complete with a delisting of the original GTA games contained in the Definitive Edition, alleged DMCA takedowns of community mods, a temporary delisting of GTA Definitive Edition on Rockstar's own PC launcher, demands for refunds, and a hilariously insulting record low Metacritic score. That's not even touching upon the Definitive Edition's in-game flaws, like headache-inducing rain effects, bizarre glitches that probably weren't in the original games, and decidedly odd-looking character models that may or may not also be glitched. One would say that Rockstar's reputation is slipping away by the day because of the state of GTA Definitive Edition, though it's not like Rockstar had much of a positive reputation beforehand with their milking of GTA V and their horrible treatment of workers

Of course, pessimists would say that this is to be expected. Doubly so since Rockstar technically didn't develop GTA Definitive Edition in spite of the fact that they have infinite money. Instead, development was seemingly handed over to Grove Street Games, literally a small indie company. Take Two Interactive should also be mentioned here since they are Rockstar's parent company, so there's a good chance that the decision to have Grove Street Games handle the remaster was either approved by or outright ordered by Take Two. There's almost no way that this wasn't intended as a cost-saving measure, a classic example of cutting corners to save a dollar. Yet it is rather fitting, if ironic, that GTA's legacy is currently a husk of what it once was, a victim of the same kind of capitalistic greed that is parodied in the later games of the GTA franchise. Indeed, anyone who wants to see why GTA was respected is left with the Definitive EditionGTA IV, and GTA V, the game that has become synonymous with Shark Cards. 

 
 
skyrim anniversary edition
On one hand, Skyrim has been re-released for every electronic device except for toasters. On the other hand, fishing.

If there's any good that can come from GTA Definitive Edition's release, it might (hopefully) cause the industry to re-examine what a remaster is, since the term itself is somewhat subjective and nebulous. Is it a way to carry the legacy of a classic game forward? Is it a bunch of HD textures slapped onto an old game? Is it simply porting something over to contemporary hardware so that modern audiences can play it? One could argue that while these factors are important, the best remasters also give the impression that the developers care about the game as a work of art. Remastered and re-recorded soundtracks for instance are not easily demonstrable selling points, yet they're generally greatly appreciated if done well. 

Even so, there are exceptions to the rule. Take a look at Skyrim as an example. Since release, it received both a Special Edition and an Anniversary EditionFrom a technical standpoint, they meet all the requirements of being a remaster since they offer improved graphics and marginally better performance. If anything, the Special and Anniversary editions go beyond remastering since they also offer new content. If you haven't played the game and are interested in the genre, it's a fantastic deal. However, the main audience is very clearly still playing the game at the time of release. It's literally one of the most popular games on Steam right now. Needless to say, it seems silly to appeal to nostalgia if people are actively playing the game. Plus, if remasters are defined by merely having better graphics, then any combination of Skyrim's many graphical and QOL mods could also be considered remasters. 

Then there's the question of what gets remastered and when. Legitimately old games like Final Fantasy 7 are no brainers, but does a relatively modern game like Gears of War or Life is Strange really need a remaster? Part of it has to do with the fact that there's no real way to define what's a classic game until the platform that you play it on is no longer being sold, a qualifier that is slowly slipping away thanks to digital marketplaces. It doesn't help that some developers and publishers have been playing fast and loose with the term "remaster" to the point that it's essentially a marketing buzzword, which is almost certainly the case in the unsatisfactory release of GTA: The Trilogy - The Definitive Edition. Yet it seems doubtful that anything will change, at least not while games are treated as potential revenue streams that must meet certain deadlines rather than as legitimate works of art. 

Hi :)
Staff Writer

Hi everybody! I've been playing all kinds of games for decades now, from FPSes to city builders to the occasional platformer, and if nothing else, it's taught me that games are the ultimate form of art. 

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