With the release of a number of well-received video game reboots in the last few years, one writer looks at why rebooting older games and franchises can be a good thing.
Hollywood has developed an unhealthy penchant for rebooting or remaking movies at the drop of a coin in the past few years, so much so that the word “reboot” has become almost synonymous with “sub-par” and “disappointment.” But while we’ve gotten to the point where movie reboots and remakes are almost never a good idea anymore, it’s a completely different story for video games.
Remaking a movie usually yields diminishing returns, as it can only deviate so far from previous versions before there’s a risk of alienating audiences – not to mention the fact that there’s only so many times a story can be retold before it becomes redundant (looking at you The Amazing Spider-Man). For video games however, the evolving nature of the medium means that there are far fewer constraints when it comes to rebooting a title. With the freedom to do more things in a video game than ever before thanks to the ever-improving nature of technology, as well as there being no need to adhere to a strict three-act-structure, video games have the luxury of retelling stories without any feelings of redundancy.
Something that movies reboots struggle with is forging its own identity without the shadow of its predecessor looming over the entire thing. But with video game reboots, developers are afforded enough freedom to capture a beloved older game’s “tone” while incorporating enough new gameplay features for it to stand out on its own. That’s not to say that every video game reboot is great – there will inevitably always be a bad video game reboot lurking about – but I’m more than willing to encourage developers and studios to start looking into more video game reboots, especially after playing three fantastic reboots to beloved old-school games and seeing how each differing approach worked.
UFO: Enemy Unknown (or XCOM: UFO Defense depending on where you are in the world) was and still is considered one of the best strategy games ever made, but its reboot, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, is good enough to stand proudly alongside it despite almost changing nothing. On the surface, XCOM looks like nothing more than if UFO had modern day graphics, and that assessment wouldn’t be completely wrong. Both games carry the same alien threat, the same themes, and more or less the same gameplay aesthetic. In an almost paradoxical way, XCOM is essentially the same game as UFO (bar the updated 3D graphics), but there were enough little tweaks – such as simplifying everything by getting rid of alien ranks and Time Units – that it felt like a completely new experience altogether.
XCOM had a SWAT-like approach to the combat where you tend to keep your team relatively close together while pushing forwards towards the goal, whereas UFO had more of a survival-horror feel to it in that you’re more prone to split up your team, only to be ambushed by aliens lurking in the shadows. Ultimately, XCOM manages to capture (or recapture) that quintessential UFO feeling where tactics matter, the losses hurt more than usual, and hard-fought victories taste just that bit sweeter.
Whereas X-COM was essentially a shot-for-shot remake of UFO, 2013’s wildly-successful Tomb Raider reboot went down a different path by undergoing a complete redesign of the series’ core gameplay. Eschewing the series’ trademark linear action-adventure gameplay in favor of an open-world RPG approach could’ve been risky, but it felt long overdue for the series, and this demonstrates how Tomb Raider‘s “rebuild from the ground up” approach can work equally as well as XCOM‘s shot-for-shot remake approach.
Not only did the dramatic change in gameplay provide a much-needed new look for Tomb Raider, but the reboot allowed for the redevelopment of Lara Croft as a character – especially since the heroine had become somewhat stale over the years. The ability for audiences to willingly accept a retcon is one advantage that video games have over movies, as there’s far more creative freedom to make a rebooted game work within the context of its predecessors than a film reboot. With Tomb Raider, giving Lara Croft a new backstory and gameplay mechanics essentially gives gamers a brand new game to play while still retaining a certain level of familiarity.
And finally, we have the most recent reboot that’s come out, a game that I think is the current front-runner for 2016’s best shooter: DOOM. Gone were the usual linear pathways and cutscenes of the modern-day shooter, and in came a game that demanded some actual skill and quick-thinking. While XCOM changed virtually nothing and Tomb Raider changed virtually everything, the DOOM reboot is essentially the best of both worlds. In what id Software deemed as a “modern old-school shooter,” DOOM kept some of the things that made shooters of yesteryear awesome – such as multiple weapons, non-regenerating health, and an incredibly high pace – and combined them with some of the best traits of today’s shooters, such as melee attacks and drop-dead-gorgeous graphics. That’s not to say this approach will work every time – something that SimCity can attest to – but when done properly, the results are nothing short of glorious.
It’s probably not fair to compare movies to video games as both are different mediums, but to me, video game reboots generally come from a more honest place than what movie reboots do. While both the video game and movie industries are driven by profit at the end of the day, you get the sense that video game developers and studios actually listen to all the fan response as opposed to the big Hollywood studios. It’s easy to see the amount of tender loving care that went into each of the aforementioned reboots that I’ve talked about, and it’s also just as easy to see how 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie reboot was nothing more than a cash-grab that was made purely to retain the rights to Spider-Man.
All this is not to say that studios should start dusting off every old IP and start remaking them, but given how most video game reboots have a greater chance of being good than bad, perhaps it’s time that we assume that reboots and remakes aren’t such a bad thing.