Happy Friday everyone! Welcome to Bonus Round, a weekly column offering a few thoughts on some of the week’s biggest gaming stories. I feel like I should offer an apology upfront for my somewhat negative tone this week. It’s not been a week of bombshell news, and the morsels we’ve received have made me a little grumpy. Let’s get into it.
PlayStation Plus catalogue revealed
Sony is revamping its PlayStation Plus service this summer, with three tiers bringing players various new benefits. PlayStation Plus Essential is the same PS Plus that you know and love; subscribing lets you play online multiplayer and add a handful of ‘free’ games to your library each month. PS Plus Extra additionally offers access to a catalogue of PS4 and PS5 games, while PS Plus Premium gets you all of the above plus a smattering of classic games from the PS1, PS2, PS3 and PSP eras.
This week, Sony offered a glimpse at the games that Extra and Premium will offer access to, and… well, it’s a mixed bag. The PS4 and PS5 offerings available on the Extra tier and above are actually pretty good. Many of those consoles’ heaviest hitters are represented, like God of War, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ghost of Tsushima, and Returnal. There are even some big third party games: namely, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and Red Dead Redemption 2. Interestingly, a version of Ubisoft’s Ubisoft+ service will also be bundled into the subscription.
The classic games on the Premium tier are more disappointing. There are less than ten PS1 games, and only one PSP title. The PS2 games like the Jak series and Ape Escape 2 were already ported to PS4 years ago. PS3 games still can’t be played natively on modern consoles; you’ll have to hope that your internet connection is stable enough to stream them. Considering Premium is the most expensive tier, there isn’t a whole lot of extra value here.
The new PlayStation Plus was never going to be a true Xbox Game Pass competitor; Sony simply can’t afford to put brand new games on its subscription service. Still, it’s a bit disappointing that Sony aren’t leveraging what could be their greatest asset: a rich history of fantastic games stretching back to 1994.
Sony have stated that new games will be added every month, so these catalogues will evolve. Even so, you’d think they’d want to make the best possible case for ponying up some extra cash straight away. I’ve got a feeling, though, that many gamers will wait and see how the service grows. At least, I certainly will!
The return of Silent Hill?
Video Games Chronicle reports that the Silent Hill survival horror franchise is poised to return in a big way. Apparently, publisher Konami is not only planning to release a new mainline Silent Hill game, but a remake of fan favourite Silent Hill 2 and some kind of episodic game, too.
I’m personally not a Silent Hill fan. I’ve got nothing against the games; I’ve just never played them. The series certainly has a passionate fanbase though, though, and I’m glad they’ll finally get a new game for the first time in a decade. After enduring the heartbreak of Hideo Kojima’s cancelled Silent Hills game, these fans deserve a win.
But three new Silent Hill games? That’s a lot of new Silent Hill games! It reminds me somewhat of when Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012. The House of Mouse immediately announced plans to release a new Star Wars movie every year; declining box office revenues soon proved this approach to be too much, too soon. It seems to me that it might be better for Konami to devote its attention to one new Silent Hill game to ensure that the franchise’s revival the best it can possibly be. But what do I know? I’m just a dork writing about video games in my spare time.
It is interesting, though, that after many years of focusing on mobile games and pachinko machines, Konami is getting back into console gaming in a big way. Rumours of a Metal Gear Solid 3 remake have also been swirling; it seems that while Konami is willing to resurrect its dormant franchises, it’s taking a risk-averse approach and testing the waters first with remakes of its past hits.
Remaking The Last of Us – a 2013 game – feels a little ridiculous to me. Do the graphics and animations match up to The Last of Us Part II? No, of course not, but that’s the nature of video game sequels. Where does this strategy end? When Part III is inevitably released, will Part II also need to be remade to bring it up to par? The original PS3 release of The Last of Us might be showing its age but the game was already remastered for PS4, and that version still feels sufficiently modern.
If you’re not sure what the difference is between a remaster and a remake, there’s an analogy to be found in the world of music. Remastering a game is like remastering an album; you take the existing vocal tracks and instrument recordings, and clean them up for a new release. A game remake is more like a cover version of a song; the structure and melody might be familiar, but everything has been newly recorded from the ground up.
Remasters were all the rage in the PS4 and Xbox One era. Back in 2013, there was genuine fear that mobile gaming might replace the console market. Gun-shy publishers erred on the side of caution by re-releasing tarted up Xbox 360 and PS3 games rather than fully investing in the new platforms. The PS5 and Xbox Series X|S era, on the other hand, is set to be the generation of remakes: Splinter Cell, Max Payne, Dead Space,Knights of the Old Republic and many more games are all being recreated for a new generation.
I’m sure that these games will sell well, which is of course the point. But I’m not a fan of the idea that any game more than ten years old is automatically unplayable, and in need of reinvention. The cutting edge games of today will seem quaint in five years, and that’s okay! I would much rather see new sequels in these series than get the same old stories told and retold over and over.
There is, of course, another factor to this particular remake. HBO’s TV adaptation of The Last of Us will hit screens in 2023, exposing a huge new audience to the property. Many of these viewers will have never played the game, or indeed any game, and might be curious about checking it out. It makes a certain amount of sense that Sony and Naughty Dog want to have a new product on the shelves when this time comes. But Naughty Dog has some of the best developers in the world working under its roof, and it seems a shame that their efforts are being spent on rehashing old glories, and not striving for new ones.