The Four Stages Of Reboot Grief

Today's Total Recall won't be about video game history. It's about dealing with what happens when video game history is dredged back to the present and coated in bright pink lipstick.

EA's Syndicate is but the latest in an ever-growing list of games that are reboots of old franchises. And they're reboots in the strictest sense: they reboot the thing, taking some core values or aesthetics and then changing pretty much everything else.

This makes many fans of the original work furious. But it doesn't have to be that way. Let me help you.

After a few years of therapy, I'm a recovered reboot griever. What would once send me into fits of apoplexy now elicits a shrug at worst, and sometimes even enthusiasm for the complete reworking of an old video game property.

I mean, in early 2010, I composed myself enough to write a barely civil story about Lords of Ultima, EA's re-use of the Ultima brand that had absolutely nothing to do with the classic RPG series of old. But behind the keyboard, I was furious.

Then, a few months later, another of my favourite series, XCOM, came back from the dead. It too was looking substantially different. And by that I mean it was basically a new game. By this stage I was growing more cautiously optimistic about things; sure, it wasn't the XCOM I loved, but maybe, just maybe, it might bring something new to the table that I can love just as much.

I mean, taking a step back from the VIDEO GAME RAGE I found that I'd grown to love plenty of other remakes. Some of my favourite movies of all time were remakes or reboots that often took major liberties with their source material or preceding films. Like Blade Runner. Aliens. Total Recall. Scarface. It didn't stop me loving them for what they were, not what had come before them.

By the time Starbreeze's Syndicate was finally confirmed, it was like water off a duck's back. Having just come off the excellent Deus Ex: Human Revolution (which as a prequel and not a reboot I'm not alluding to in this piece), I was primed and ready for more near-future corporate warfare starring men in black using fancy weapons. And Syndicate was promising just that. I wasn't looking at it compared to the Syndicate I loved nearly 20 years ago. I was just looking at what it was, what it was giving me at the time of its release, and got mildly excited accordingly.

Many of you, we can tell, don't share my optimism. You see an old game being redone and you get sad, or you get angry, or you flit madly between sadness and anger like a busted fluorescent lightbulb. Since sadness and anger are emotions that, well, generally suck, I'm going to share with you a guide to the stages you'll need to progress through to begin accepting these reboots for what they are.


The first and most dangerous step is longing. This actually occurs pre-reboot. This is the stage where you reminisce about your favourite old video game, perhaps publicly, and dream of a AAA modern developer taking that game and bringing it faithfully into the contemporary era.

It's dangerous because you're letting nostalgia get the better of you. Chances are that old game is ugly and hard to control, and it's almost certain that if it was remade faithfully it would be lambasted by fans and critics alike as either simple, outdated or both.

In all but the rarest exceptions, our love of old games is formed by where we were as a person when we played it, and the time it was released. It does not, in all but the rarest exceptions, mean anybody can pick it up years or even decades later and love it as much as you did. Because they probably won't.


Oh dear. This is why they say you have to be careful what you wish for. That game you dreamed about being remade is being remade. And even from a piece of concept art, a teaser trailer and a press release you can already tell it's nothing like the old game you love so dear.

You loved a quaint PC series that was either a role-playing game or a strategy title. This is going to be a first-person shooter. You loved a game with quirky sci-fi artwork drawn by the programmers in their spare time. This has been handled by a big-budget studio, and looks like everything else you've played in the last five years. And you loved a PC game, with all the complexity and eccentricities that implies. This will be a console game you control with six buttons.

So you fly to every message board and commenting system you possess an anonymous account on and you let fly, lambasting developers, crucifying publishers, wishing death, misery and ruin upon all those who dare sully the memory of an old video game you used to like when you were a kid.

None of this makes you feel any better about the situation.


So you despair. You retreat from public comments on big gaming sites to a game's unofficial forum, personal blog or other quiet corner of the internet to drown your sorrows. You share stories with other fans about the remake you'd have made, which inevitably ends up being the exact same game as the original, only with better graphics. And you soon end up talking about other games, because you just can't bear to talk about this one any longer.


Grief doesn't last too long, though, because like a furious caterpillar (furypillar?) it quickly cocoons and emerges a more peaceful, beautiful butterfly. You realise, shit, there's no way in hell a major publisher in the 21st century is going to release a turn-based strategy game, or a world-sprawling RPG, when it's not one of the three studios that still make money selling turn-based strategy games or world-sprawling RPGs.

They're going to release a first-person shooter because that's what makes money, and these businesses are in the business of making money. That's a wound that never quite heals, as it's facing up to one of the larger problems this industry (and make no mistake, games are more reliant on industry than most other creative mediums) confronts us with, but it's a fact. You can either deal with it or...dealwithit.gif.

It's also around the time you realise, shit, the game I loved still exists. Either I can buy it or I can acquire it, it's still out there, and will either run just fine on my PC/laptop or can be purchased cheaply on a console's online marketplace. So if I want to relive that original experience, I can go and play the actual, original game.

And then it hits you. When you process all of the above and realise this new game is so divorced from the old one that all it shares are basic themes and the name on the box, you can take it for what it actually is: an all-new game. One that's to be judged on its own merits, not comparisons to an old franchise with which it has nothing in common.

In short: I'm going to play and judge the new Syndicate , and the next reboot like it, based on the game inside the box, not the name on the front of it.

Of course, you don't have to take my advice. It's free, I'm just some guy writing about video games, nobody is forcing you to do anything! Some of you, for example, may have shot straight to Acceptance. Like a Jedi Master. I applaud you. May your next 900 years living on Dagobah be as rewarding as your time on Earth's internet.

Others may not want to progress at all. If you want to get angry and stay angry, knock yourself out: you won't be the first person on the internet to be angry about video games, and you won't be the last.

But if you want to shake some of that rage off your back and take what I think is a more measured view of the subject, feel free to try it out. Take a deep breath. In. Out. Look at the big picture and remember a few things: the old game is still there, the new game is a new game, and there's a chance that new game might even be awesome.

* Note: None of the above applies to Wing Commander Arena. Fuck that game.

Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


    Nice article.

    I'm inclined to agree with you for the most part. If a developer did develop a faithful remake with just updated graphics in a game, even die hard fans would find something to complain about, whether it's an out-dated control system, things that could have been done better, etc. It's all about nostalgia and I've found that even when you go back to the original game after feeling nostalgic, it's never quite the same magic.

    Saying that, I really want a remake of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Because that game was boss.

    "They’re going to release a first-person shooter because that’s what makes money, and these businesses are in the business of making money. That’s a wound that never quite heals, as it’s facing up to one of the larger problems this industry (and make no mistake, games are more reliant on industry than most other creative mediums) confronts us with, but it’s a fact. You can either deal with it or…dealwithit.gif."

    Yep. By no means a good thing, but true enough to convince studio executives and bean-counters who actually commission projects. Note that it doesn't mean every game has to be a shooter, but that developers can't ignore what people actually buy.

    Developers could go out in a blaze of glory making a game that only their die-hard fans adore, but it'd be a pretty quick blaze.

    I can understand where the article is coming from and for the most part I agree.
    However, I do wish they would keep some of the values that made the originals different.

    For XCOM, this means research, base management, strategic battlefields and a variety of alien invaders.
    At the start this looked like a possibility.
    Now, it is becoming more generic, a single enemy and linear gameplay.

    For Sydicate, the thing that made me remember the game was the team management, modifying your agent's components, researching captured weapons and the persuadatron, waling around with a crowd of meat shields which amplified the power of the device until you could capture and indoctinate enemy agents.
    I haven't seen any signs of this. They've kept the setting, a world controlled by global corporations and protected by cybernetic agents, and discarded the rest.

    No, the games weren't perfect, few were, but it was the fun gems which made these rise above the others that people remember, and they would wade through extreme difficulty (XCOM) or occasionally frustrating controls (syndicate) to enjoy the features.

      Game developers feel free to make lame remakes of classic games because reviewers never grade them down on them.

      Lets face it the biggest problem with the games industry is that the critics aren't critical.

      You all give every FPS - no matter how cliched and trite it is - at least a 7 or 8 out of 10 and so any developer automatically assumes these games are passable.

      Even in this article you are crying "Game Devs need to make money" and trying to circle jerk the game devs of these games.

      Devs don't just deserve money for making a game. They deserve money when they make a quality product.

      The only reason they make money from crap games is the average gamer can't tell which games are crap before they pay money for them because reviewers are so terrible.

    Interesting you mention Blade Runner and Total Recall - both of those used a different name to the original source material. I wouldn't mind this new Syndicate game if it wasn't called Syndicate.

    They should have called it a game set in the syndicate universe. Not syndicate itself.

      It's like Dante's Inferno. It could have worked with a different name, but it needs that brand recognition to get it's foot in the door.
      So if calling this game 'Syndicate' gives the devs the security they need to know it will sell units (while inevitably upsetting some old fans) then so be it.

    Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant.
    I cannot applaud this article enough.

    I want to save this so I can send it to anyone who complains about a reboot in the future. If only more gamers on the internet were this reasonable.

    it's bullshit, bring an IP back, FINE! but dont change the entire game play and call it a sequel, that just trying to get more attention/money from your game. this worlds fucked...

      Oh no! Not the desire to make money, anything but that!

    I figured Syndicate fans would at least be happy that they get to revisit the world the original games were set in from a different viewpoint.
    Oh wells, I'm interested in the game. And I trust Starbreeze, they're good at what they do.

    WOW, that first trailer looks amazing.
    What a shame.
    What a waste.

    Unfortunately Syndicate is my *

    I think some of it comes down to the psychology of the approach. You'd be surprised at how using cognitive behaviour techniques can make a person more positive about something. As an example, you wouldn't give your personal details to a complete stranger, however, if they are a doctor or managing your tax return or similar, you hand them over no questions asked, even though they are still strangers.

    I think that if games companies rebooting the IPs pitched it as a "game set in the universe of..." or heck, even just said "a game inspired by..." rather than using the name to sell it and saying it's a "reboot" of the series, then people would be less angry about it all.

    Personally, I used to be like in the article, then I started working in the real world and discovered that most of the time, these things come down to a focus by higher ups on what will make the most money, not what will be the best thing.

    Wait a minute. Are you saying there is another bladerunner film? If you mean it was adapted from electric sheep it doesn't really fit with this article, which Is games being rebooted into games. Adaptations of novels into movies is at least a different medium.

    Ha. The whole time I was reading this post I was planning to wail about Wing Commander Arena - but then I was beaten to it! F.T.G.

    Sometimes I find having a good bleat gets it out of me and I can move on. I find its easiest to think about the fact that the franchises we know and love actually get attention at all - not to mention the legal loops a publisher has to jump through just for the rights to use the name... So hey, if a reboot-centric world gets me a Space Quest or Day of the Tentacle FPS, how can I complain?

    This article would've been a perfect time to talk about the new Total Recall.

    I thought we were gonna be talking about ReBoot... like Bob, Dot, and Enzo and their rumored return :-P

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