A video game remaster is more than a sprinkling of new textures and a nudge up in resolution. You may remember how Silent Hill HD looked worse on the PS3 than the PS2, or how the updated Castlevania voice acting looked like this: What made Symphony of the Night so boring? It lacked the schlocky charm of the original? A recent WWII-themed remaster of Commandos 2 was plagued by bugs and the idea to remove Japanese Imperial and Nazi symbols from the game, making it seem flat and without historical context. It takes a lot of work to remaster a game. So let’s salute the ones who did it right during PC Gaming Week 2020, the ones who enshrined and embellished classic games to make them more accessible to new generations.
1. Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition
It’s bound to raise suspicions in some people that a remastered game that was once remastered back in 2013 will be remastered once more, but thanks to the polished and complete nature of this package, this puts an end to any concerns. In addition to the three DLC campaigns from the HD Edition, there are several new campaigns and civilizations to play as in the Definitive Edition. With an updated soundtrack, UI, and graphics, Age of Empires has been fully revamped and works well (at last!) in a multiplayer setting once again, resulting in a new era of online conquest in the Age of Empires universe.
2. Sonic Mania
Since his 16-bit heyday, Sonic the Hedgehog has really struggled, but this return to his roots shows just how good he really is in the classic 2D-pixel formula (bolstered with new animation, 60 fps, and widescreen support). The art style of Sonic Mania, as well as its levels, is a mix of the Genesis and Saturn eras, with some new stages thrown in, and characters and abilities culled from various Sonic games. Several unlockables, including artwork, as well as a competitive mode contribute to the game’s greatness. Even though this is not strictly a remaster, it takes the best of what Sonic’s 16-bit titles had to offer and adds some outstanding modern touches, so we think it deserves a spot on this list. Sonic is back in his natural habitat after years in the wilderness.
3. Resident Evil HD Remaster
There is a metabit of confusion here, as this excellent entry in the Resident Evil series is a remake of a remake of the original 1996 release. I consider it to be the best of the old-style fixed-camera Resident Evil games, with lavish environments, suspenseful resource management and a mind-flaying puzzle. It already did a great deal of the hard work in beautifying the game, but the HD Remaster polishes it off with a 169 aspect ratio, HD resolutions, surround sound, and most importantly – an updated control scheme to replace those damned
4. LucasArts’ Adventure Games
The classic point-and-click video games from LucasArts have all undergone some form of remastering Grim Fandango, Monkey Island 1 and 2, Full Throttle, and Day of the Tentacle are just some of the titles I find challenging to pick out a favorite. Except for Grim Fandango, all the above games have been redrawn beautifully, and the famously vibrant backgrounds are now a treat to view on a large IPS display. This feature of the games is unique among remasters, since each can be played either with the original graphics or a remastered version, which is really tickling in the nostalgia glands. Remastered soundtracks and voice work, developer commentary, and plenty of hints for some of the game’s most difficult puzzles give this remaster collection equal parts timeless and modern.
5. Turok 2
Even though this is not the most famous remaster in the list, it is a great testimony of how to do it right. As Nightdive Studios ported the classic N64 game to a new 64-bit engine, a solid old shooter became one of the most innovative games of all time. Turok 2 becomes the most fluid PC shooter by unlocking framerates and resolutions, adding effects and reflections and adding graphical flourishes while unlocking frame rates and resolutions. Furthermore, the multiplayer has been upgraded with support for both online play as well as traditional split-screen play with four players.
6. Blood: Fresh Supply
With its second classic shooter, Nightdive strikes again. The last FPS made using the Build engine (or Duke Nukem 3D engine, as it was referred to back in 1997) is probably Blood, which has been a more familiar game to PC gamers. In the remaster, this classic includes modern features like antialiasing, ambient occlusion, uncapped framerates, 4K resolution, and mod support, while the multiplayer has been completely overhauled with up to eight(!) players across split-screen and online. With just the slightest bit of modernization, an old shooter can be transformed into a wonderful play experience.
7. Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition
Among the Infinity Engine’s cRPGs, this is probably the most famous, but the HD remasters of Original Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and its sequel, as well as Planescape Torment are just as noteworthy. It is possible that Torment will be included, as well. With this remaster of the seminal Baldur’s Gate 2, you’ll find the Throne of Bhaal expansion added, along with tons of new dialogue, party companions, and HD resolution. It is a nice touch too that there is cross-platform multiplayer between PC, Mac, Android, and iPhone as well as the ability to transfer save files from one platform to another. In 2016, the remaster was so successful that a standalone expansion was released for it, and with Baldur’s Gate 3 right around the corner, it is thanks to this remaster that the series is back in the spotlight.
8. Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy
Since all three games have been completely redesigned and no new assets are used, this bundle of the original three Crash Bandicoot games really tests the remake-remaster line. Due to the fact that every single level is a platform-perfect recreation of the original games, and the mechanics are the same as they were in the originals, the game qualifies. It is important to focus on value in this case. Many remasters feature just one or two games from a series (looking at you, Silent Hill HD Collection), but this one has all the original Crash games, with complete graphical overhauls, at an extremely affordable price. The game includes all the original secret levels, including the infamous Stormy Ascent level that was omitted from the original version.
9. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
It has long been a dream of Xbox fans to run the Halo franchise on PC, and in 2019, Halo on PC Microsoft steadily released the entire remastered Halo collection for a small price over the course of a few months, which immediately spawned one of the most vibrant online gaming communities. You can buy all the classic campaigns, as well as more than 120 multiplayer maps as part of the collection in one bundle, as well as purchase the games individually for a modest price. Only PC purists may be turned off by the lack of split-screen support, but even this may not put them off.
10. Skyrim: Special Edition
In 2016, when Skyrim was first released, it was slated for some flak (we estimate it to be the 97th version). On consoles, the enhancements – screen-space reflections, god rays, new shaders, and some improved art and textures – were merely subtle, making some console gamers question whether it was worth the $40 asking price. But the experience on PC was quite different. To start, the Special Edition bumped the game up to 64-bit, which greatly expanded the possibilities for modders (and PC gamers are well aware of how heavily Skyrim can be modified). Second, it was temporarily free for owners of the 2011 version of Skyrim, so existing owners didn’t have to pay anything. It’s actually pretty common on PC to offer free remasters to owners of original games. Bioshock, Red Faction Guerrilla, and Mafia 2 have all been free for an extended period. Does that sound right? The sound is that of PC Skyrim players smugly smacking their chops at the expense of console players.