Opinion: There’s a big difference between a remake and a remaster, and it’s time we clear that up

It’s a bit of an inside joke here at SA Gamer, but if you want to trigger me then call a remaster a remake or vice versa. It’s fine, you can drop it in the comments below. I’ll just bottle it up and explode on some poor soul’s breakfast on a gloomy morning in some disgruntled future. The words ‘remaster’ and ‘remake’ is thrown around so easily these days that even developers, who have completely ‘remade’ the game from the ground up, calls it ‘remasters’ these days. No wonder there is so much confusion.

So what is a remaster and what is a remake, and how do you differentiate between the two? Also, does it matter?

It’s actually quite simple to tell a remaster from a remake. A remaster is in essence a game that’s seen several texture improvements and upscaling without having to tweak too much to the original game. It uses the exact same engine as before. Think of something like The Last of Us Remastered, Saints Row IV: Re-Elected, The Bioshock Collection, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, Okami HD, Sleeping Dogs: The Difinitive Edition, Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – the list goes on and on and on. What do all these games have in common? It’s the same game with improved textures and some upscaling. Perhaps the DLC has been included or it’s a collection of a series of games. The controls haven’t been improved and you won’t find anything newly added to these titles. Yes, perhaps a photo mode – but it’s still using that same engine. Photo mode is as ‘revolutionary’ as you’re going to get in a remaster.

Remasters are a quick and easy buck for any studio to squeeze out a bit more blood from that same stone. Some remasters get more attention than others (*looks at Okami HD, Halo Combat Evolved / 2 and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection*), but most receive the bare minimum to make a quick buck and to limit the expense for a game they already invested into a year(s) ago.

A remake is a whole different story altogether. Developers have taken that older game and have rebuilt it from the ground up with a new engine, and have perhaps added mechanics that were once not there. Great examples of a remake is Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes on the GameCube (uses the MGS 2 engine that adds much more to the PS1 classic), Ratchet and Clank on the PS4 (brand new engine and incorporates new gadgets and overall gameplay improvements never experienced in the original), Tomb Raider Anniversary on Xbox 360 (brand new engine that drops the old clumsy controls). Another obvious remake in the making, as the name suggests, is Final Fantasy VII Remake. It’s a prime example of what we expect from a remake. It’s being developed from the ground up with a brand new engine and battle mechanics for the current generation. This brings me to two specific titles that have seen a grey area come to the forefront.

First up is the upcoming Resident Evil 2 remake. Call it a remaster and you’re in the wrong. The confusion comes in here. *Takes deep breath* Resident Evil and Resident Evil Zero ‘remaster’ that launched on PS4/Xbox One (and PS3/360) a while back is a remaster of a game that was remade on the GameCube back in the day. So yes, the PS4/XBO version of that game is indeed a remaster. They took the GameCube remake of the original PS1 game, upscaled the visuals and re-released it (Typical slimey quick buck from Capcom). Still with me? Now, because those two titles were considered as ‘remasters’ on the PS4/XBO, everyone is calling Resident Evil 2 remake a remaster. Please don’t. It’s not. They’re using a brand new engine, in fact, it’s the one used for Resident Evil VII, and they’re remaking the game from scratch for current generation consoles. Should they stick to the pre-rendered backdrops of the original it’s going to look a damn sight more realistic that those remasters we saw of the ported 2003 GameCube games.

Next up is Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. This is perhaps the one that grinds my gears the most. It’s as far away from a remaster as it could possibly be. Firstly is the fact that it’s built on a brand new engine to make it look and play the same, but there are a whole bunch of additional bits that never made it into the original game that they’ve included. The bonus areas have seen minor and important tweaks to the layout, the camera swings around Crash from different angles when compared to the original and they’ve even included a stage that was once left out. But, the biggest and most evident proof that this is a remake comes straight from the horses mouth – this game was built mostly without any assistance from Naughty Dog. They barely had any original source code. It’s what you, in your daily life, call ‘remaking’ something from scratch. So please, stop that remaster nonsense.

Most of Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy built without the original source code

Most games are indeed remasters, because it’s a much easier and a less risky format to make money. Activision took a huge gamble to let their team do a remake of the PS1 classic, and it paid off. Other publishers/developers simply make sure it’s the exact same thing at 4K and extra DLC to make a quick and easy pot of gold. Remakes also generally take shape due to the engine of much older games not being good enough in this day and age, requiring a blank piece of paper (or monitor).

It’s for this very reason I’ve always been a huge fan of remakes over remasters… though, recently I’ve also slipped into ‘I would like X to be remastered’ camp. It’s a virus that eats into you and doesn’t let go. If I get the option of a remake over a remaster, I’ll take a remake any day.

I hope that clears that up. Yes, I’m expecting some of you to have lots of fun down below in the comments – I’ll give you this trigger session for free.

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.
  • I have been swapping the two around all this time xD

    Always thought remake is making it over without using any old resources. And remaster was just touching up old character models and areas to look more divined.

    • wait… i was right lol

    • Oh, but you’re right. That’s exactly what it is. Remake is a brand new engine. They still use some older elements, but it’s brand new with extra bits. Remaster = fresh coat of paint with the same engine you played before.

      • The first pic in the article was what threw me off. And somehow made me think I was swapping it.

  • DemonGamer

    Simple really :
    Remastered = giving your car a wash and a new polish
    Remake = buying the same car , but the latest model

  • Loftus ~ Sic Parvis Magna

    It also grinds my gears the difference between remaster and remake. Luckily for me I have to explain the difference to non gamers mostly.

    It’s easier to explain remaster as Dawid did and remake as a re-imagination of an original game

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