Let me just state this upfront: I promise this has a point and isn’t just an excuse to gush about Metroid Prime Remastered, a game I haven’t even played yet (I’m waiting for the physical release). Okay? Okay.
Despite what younger or simply more forgetful players might think, remasters have been a part of videogame history since the very start, an early example being Roberta Williams’ King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown, a 1990 remake of Sierra On-Line’s 1984 title King’s Quest. However, they certainly feel like they’ve grown increasingly more prolific in recent generations, with the PlayStation 4/XBox One generation in particular seeing a lot of “remastered” ports of titles from the previous console generation. It’s not all bad though, as classic games such as Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VII have found new life through impressive modern reimaginings that put a new twist on the originals and often aren’t afraid to challenge expectations.
Back in 2021, an NVIDIA GeForce NOW exploit revealed dozens of games that were presumably in development at some point, most of which—even the unlikeliest ones, such as a remake of obscure SNES-era platformer/city builder Actraiser and a PC port of Sony’s PlayStation exclusive God of War—have since been officially unveiled. One of the biggest surprises on that list was Valve’s one and only title, Half-Life 2 Remastered, which may or may not be the fan-made project of the same name developed by Filip Victor, lead developer of the 2015 mod Half-Life 2: Update.
Whether or not this is a fan project or an official remaster by Valve themselves, I admit I saw the idea with some trepidation at first. As Metrocop’s Half-Life 2 review should make clear, I don’t think Half-Life 2 really needs to be messed with—it’s certainly aged in some regards, but overall it’s still just as great an experience as it was back in 2004 and worthy of revisiting today in the same condition. Beyond that, if past attempts at “improving” Half-Life 2 such as FakeFactory’s infamous Cinematic Mod have proven anything, it’s that the atmosphere and identity of Half-Life 2 are easily lost whenever there’s an attempt at fixing what isn’t broken.
However, a recent release has me reconsidering that notion. Recently, Nintendo announced and released on the same day a remaster of another of the greatest videogames of all time, Nintendo GameCube’s superb Metroid Prime, another title from Half-Life 2’s generation (Metroid Prime came out in 2002, two years before the ultimate release of Half-Life 2). Early reactions to this release have been nothing short of impressed and both fans and critics are applauding this overall faithful recreation of a classic.
As such, I thought it worthwhile to look at what Metroid Prime Remastered does right and what an eventual Half-Life 2 remaster can learn from it. Before we delve into that, though, it’s worth clarifying the distinction between a videogame remaster and a remake.
The difference between “remaster” and “remake”
While some might argue it’s just a matter of semantics, in practice, in the videogame industry, a remaster and a remake end up being two totally different things—and we’ve technically got one example of each already in Half-Life that can be used to better explain the difference.
A remaster is, essentially, a touched-up version of the original game, with improvements that can range from purely visual to some mechanical tweaks in order to make the game more appealing for modern audiences compared to when it released. It’s distinguished from a straight port of a game into a modern platform by virtue of some things being changed and presumably, though sometimes arguably, improved. While changes can be more or less drastic in a remaster, the main difference compared to a remake is that, underneath it all, it’s still essentially the same game.
Examples of remasters are the Halo and Halo 2 Anniversary editions, which add improved (and optional) graphics on top of the original games, PlayStation 4’s The Last of Us Remastered, which is essentially the same PlayStation 3 game in higher fidelity with some visual tweaks, and Diablo II: Resurrected, a modern version of the classic Diablo II with new network options and available on consoles as well as PC.
The Half-Life franchise’s case of a remaster is an infamous one: Half-Life: Source, which, while essentially just a port of the original Half-Life to the then-new Source engine, is technically a remaster of Half-Life (and is even referred to as such in Half-Life: Source’s store description), in the sense that it takes the original game and adds the Source engine’s improvements in physics, water effects, lighting and more. Unfortunately, Half-Life: Source is far from the definitive version to experience the first Half-Life due to the myriad of bugs it introduces, especially since the transition to the Steampipe content distribution system broke much of the game (though, fair warning, you can find fixes online).
Remasters have also gained new popularity in recent times due to the advent of ray tracing rendering, a new system that changes how lighting is rendered in games, making it much more realistic and impressive, albeit still at a high performance cost. A noteworthy case is Portal with RTX, a gorgeous remaster of Portal with ray tracing that takes an NVIDIA Geforce RTX 30-series graphics card or above to run at a decent framerate.
A videogame remake, on the other hand, is a straight-up reimagining of the original game rebuilt from the ground up, generally meant to drastically update it for modern day and often making sweeping changes in the process.
The videogame industry loves remakes; throw a stone in any direction and it’ll probably hit a remake. For instance, there’s the upcoming System Shock remake, a self-titled “rebirth” of the 1994 cult classic in a completely new engine, and the aforementioned Final Fantasy VII Remake (that’s its actual title), the first in a series of remakes which modernizes the turn-based JRPG classic as a more action-oriented RPG and makes some unexpected changes to the original storyline. One franchise in particular seems to love remakes more than any other of late—Resident Evil, which originally remade the very first game in 2002 to stunning results (and which, in turn, has already been remastered once), and has since remade 2, 3 and soon 4, with 2 in particular receiving high critical and fan acclaim. In fact, Resident Evil 4 has had both remaster, remake and a VR version that’s a mix of both (new engine, old assets).
Of course, no discussion of remakes and Half-Life is complete without mentioning Black Mesa, the Source engine remake of Half-Life created by Crowbar Collective. Started as a direct response to the underwhelming remaster that was Half-Life: Source, it’s a full-scale reimagining by modern standards, even going past its engine originator, Half-Life 2, in terms of technological wonder and graphical fidelity. Black Mesa is relatively faithful to Half-Life, but not one asset from that is recycled to recreate the experience, and the two end up being very different beasts beneath the surface.
As such, remakes are not exactly the same experience as their original, but for older games that may be somewhat antiquated for a fresh audience, they provide an entryway that’s much more accessible, while also playing to (and sometimes with) the nostalgia of the existing audience that’s keen to revisit the same story and world in a fresh way.
What Metroid Prime Remastered does right as a remaster
Nintendo’s newly released Metroid Prime Remastered, then, falls under the first of those two categories: it’s the same game, underneath a new graphical sheen and with some adjustments to certain details that were more platform-specific, in its case the controller scheme that was better suited for the original GameCube controller. However, it’s the execution of that remaster that a potential Half-Life 2 remaster can learn from.
The thing with remasters is, sometimes the “remastered” part can end up being fairly unimpressive. Often enough, a simple texture upscale and a jump from its native resolution to a modern high-definition standard are treated as enough to slap a “Remastered” label on it and call it a day. Metroid Prime’s new remaster, on the other hand, strikes a rarely-seen balance between vastly updating every visual in the game, while also managing to remain surprisingly faithful to the original art direction.
Older players with rose-tinted glasses might look at it and think it’s exactly how Metroid Prime has always looked, but the briefest of comparisons between the original and the remaster will immediately dispel such notions. It looks like a brand new game—in fact, it’s by far the Nintendo Switch’s most graphically impressive game, and it’s a surprise testament as to what its aging six-year-old hardware can pull off in the right hands.
Underneath it all, however, it’s very much the same game still. And that’s the thing with Metroid Prime and the reason it doesn’t need a full-fledged remake from the ground up: it hasn’t really aged poorly. Much like each the two first installments in the Half-Life series, it received rave reviews upon release, often being placed in lists of the best games of all time. Of course, many games in such lists can feel downright archaic being played in a modern context, but Metroid Prime stands the test of time expertly and, due to the fact that its blend of first-person action and “Metroidvania”-style gameplay hasn’t really ever been imitated, it still feels just as original as it did back then.
What does change in Metroid Prime Remastered, as mentioned earlier, are little quality-of-life upgrades that bring the same timeless experience to a modern standard in the few ways the game needs. Major among those are the controls; the GameCube controller, as much as I personally love it having grown up with it, was very idiosyncratic, and most Nintendo exclusives had to be built around it, including Metroid Prime. First-person titles on console have changed significantly since then and as such, Metroid Prime’s control scheme was revised to better fall under modern expectations of twin-stick shooters—but, crucially, it even included the original control scheme, as well as motion controls reminiscent of Metroid Prime’s Nintendo Wii port, so that players always have a choice to keep the remaster as faithful as they want, modern conveniences be damned. Additionally, despite the impressive graphical fidelity for a Switch game, it also bumps up the framerate from the traditional 30 to a smooth 60 frames per second, putting it on par with modern standards.
What a Half-Life 2 remaster can learn from Metroid Prime Remastered
It’s in that balance between faithfulness and convenience that Half-Life 2’s rumored remaster can follow in Metroid Prime Remastered’s foosteps.
I think Half-Life is still an all-time classic worth playing, but I can very much see why some people prefer Black Mesa, or indeed why Black Mesa was even necessary in the first place. It’s very much of its time; nobody is going to be fooled that it’s not a game from 1998 and even the High-Definition Pack can sway that. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but if you’re hoping for something more modern-looking, I can see the appeal of Black Mesa.
Half-Life 2, despite technically only being six years younger, has, much like Metroid Prime, aged a lot better than its predecessor. Even I have to (somewhat begrudgingly) admit that, compared side-by-side with current-generation games, it certainly lacks the same fidelity and the visuals are nowhere as impressive as they first were in its first reveal at E3 2003. Nevertheless, its strong artistic direction, much like Metroid Prime’s before, make up for a lot of the difference and help it remain a beautiful game despite the engine limitations. Coupled with its expert balance of gameplay, story and pacing, it’s arguably as good as it was nearly twenty years ago.
For me, then, a remaster can only really improve on the two areas that Metroid Prime Remastered has: visuals and quality-of-life upgrades. Metroid Prime’s manages to nail the feel of the original while updating every single asset; by the same token, Half-Life 2’s needs to follow suit, improving the graphical fidelity of each asset but somehow keeping intact the spirit of the original. As for quality of life, Half-Life 2 probably doesn’t really need much improving in the way Metroid Prime’s controls did, but projects such as Half-Life 2: MMod—which will probably end up being reviewed on this very website at some point—give some ideas as to how Half-Life 2 can be further polished without taking anything away (and MMod, much like Prime Remastered, also makes everything an option for players, rather than forcing changes down their throats).
Valve could simply pull off a Half-Life: Source, put Half-Life 2’s assets in the Source 2 engine with a new coat of paint and better lighting and call it a day, but that would be a disservice to Half-Life 2 and its legacy. Metroid Prime Remastered has proven that a remaster can be more than that and still add something meaningful to a classic that doesn’t require a full-fledged remake, and yet also doesn’t have much to improve on. If it does end up happening, perhaps closer to its twentieth anniversary, I hope Valve fans get to be as lucky as Metroid fans—there’s certainly a precedent in both fandoms of waiting over a decade for a new title, so perhaps they’ll follow suit in this as well. One can certainly hope.
3 thoughts on “Metroid Prime Remastered is what a Half-Life 2 remaster should be”
I remember there being talks of a Half-Life 2 remaster being developed by HL2 Update’s author, with some steamID evidence to confirm that the thing was real. We don’t hear much about it nowadays.
@Cloacky Yes, the article talks about it.
i feel like half life 2 remastered would contain half life alyx content surely. unless they pull a raising the bar redux and remake them to look completly different then they did