In this golden age of ‘HD remasters’ and ‘definitive editions’ I’ve only played through one from start to finish.
That was Journey.
There are a few obvious reasons for that. Journey is fantastic. Journey is seamlessly designed. Journey is aesthetically pleasing. In terms of what it sets out to achieve, Journey is sort of perfect.
Journey is also really short. That’s the real reason.
Over the last five or so years I have played a ton of remasters. I’ve played remasters of games that are legitimate classics. Outside of Journey, I haven’t finished a single one.
Metal Gear Solid 3 HD. Hey, this game is still awesome but… Metal Gear Solid 5 exists.
Shadow of the Colossus HD. Gave up after about four colossi.
Wind Waker HD. Gave this a right good wallop, because it’s probably the most beautiful game ever made. Still gave up after about 10 hours.
Tomorrow we’re getting a fancy new version of the BioShock games. Soon after that, last generation Assassin’s Creed is getting the same treatment. I am excited about this. I will play these video games.
But I know the outcome.
I will play. I will marvel at the sharp resolution, frown slightly at the textures themselves. Rose-tinted memories will shift. I’ll be slightly disappointed, but I’ll trek on.
I’ll enjoy myself in a hollow sort of way. The pleasure of reliving a past gaming experience dampened by a bland familiarity I can’t quite shake. “Ah yes, this is a good mission,” I’ll say, at some point. But I’ll have forgotten about the banality that precedes and succeeds it. I’ll spend a large part of my time waiting to get to a specific ‘good part’, but feel strangely devoid of excitement when I finally make it there.
On average I will last through one serious session. Probably two to three hours all up. A little longer if the game has a particularly rewarding core loop (like say Halo or Metal Gear Solid). Narrative driven games are at a particular disadvantage here – it’s hard to recreate the same initial experience we all had with the Uncharted remasters for example. Spectacular set-pieces are jaw-dropping the first time round, less so years later, when technology has moved onwards and upwards.
If it’s a quiet period, if there’s nothing else to play, I might convince myself to go for round 2. That's when the fatigue will really set in. The excitement of playing a game I once loved: evaporated. The nostalgia: replaced with a humdrum sense of routine and ritual. Playing for the sake of it. Playing like you scratch an itch. Playing like a threatened sneeze that never comes.
I'm kinda over replaying old games with a fresh coat of paint, but I somehow can't help myself.
So much is lost: the thrill of playing something new, the sense of wonder. The joy of exploration. That represents a large part of what excited me about video games in general — new worlds, new spaces, new characters. Retracing old footsteps has a different feel. It's a limited pleasure. It cannot possibly hope to satisfy players the way a well-made new experience does.
But it remains alluring. That's the weird part. My body never learns. I will play BioShock. I'll play Assassin's Creed 2. I'll navigate the same loops, jump through the same hoops. I'll remember, I'll forget and when the time comes — I'll be ready and willing to do it all over again.