The Art of the Reboot

What makes a reboot good, bad, or necessary? Robyn offers an opinion.

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This article contains some spoilers

There’s a certain art to recreating something old and turning it into a new experience, and we’re starting to see this occur more often in videogames. Whether you call the game a remake or a reboot, it’s functionally the same thing—an older videogame recreated using modern technology. Maybe it adheres more to the original designs of the team that made it; maybe it’s providing us with a new perspective in which to consider the game; or maybe it’s just trying to give us a story that wasn’t possible to play on the technology of the time. The reasons vary but they all result in the same thing, an older videogame being recreated for modern platforms.

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While neither are bad games, one doesn’t fit the series as well as the other.

The most immediate reboot that comes to mind would be 2016’s Doom, the latest in a long line of videogames sprung from the legendary id Software. Beyond the fact that the original Doom is a surprisingly robust program, with blogs dedicated to making it work on even the most unlikely platforms, we have had a relatively recent Doom entry on computers and the Xbox.

While it was a critically acclaimed financial success, Doom 3 lacked the feel of previous Doom games, and this is an important aspect of the reboot to consider. When you try to recreate a game it’s important to deliver something reminiscent of the original property, but wholly a new experience. Doom 3 failed on that end, creating a survival horror first-person shooter, and while I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing I would say it isn’t what I think of when I think “Doom“.

2016’s Doom resulted eleven years later, and when I first saw it I raised my eyebrow. Playing it, though, resulted in an experience that reminded me of the original Doom but that was also wholly different from it. Beyond the gameplay being improved by a modernization, it also contained many nods to the fandom, as well as resulting media, and even self references. 2016 recreated the feeling of the original Doom while providing an entirely new gameplay experience—Doom 3 did not do so well on that front, as well it provides an experience unlike the previous games in the series. Two games in the same series, each providing an example of how a reboot can and cannot capture the essence of its original property.

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Reboots should create a more user friendly experience, on top of resetting the story and upgrading the graphics.

Turning to another classic of computer gaming is X-Com: UFO Defense, an old-time management, basebuilding, squad-based strategy game about a secret paramilitary organization defending the earth from aliens. X-Com: UFO Defense was also frustratingly obtuse with an almost incomprehensible UI, no tutorial to speak of, and a surprisingly deep and complex basic mechanics system. Beyond being unusable by modern technology, X-Com: UFO Defense was also nearly unplayable even if you could get it running!

Hailed as a super deep, super hard classic and the source of much nostalgia, it was at the head of many must-play lists. A fan project that turned into an entirely different series was launched, but nothing could sate the desire for a modern X-Com. And then 2K Marin and 2K Games released The Bureau: X-Com Declassified And then Firaxis Games and 2K Games released X-Com: Enemy Unknown. It was a reboot, it was a remake—it removed all the mysticism of the old games, but it also maintained the difficulty. The AI was intelligent and tactical, the combat was deep and rewarding. The game still was difficult, the basebuilding aspects were removed, but they added in individual soldier customization and enhanced weapon development.

It was a new experience that captured the feeling of the original, but with a new interface, an actual story, yet still with that frustrating feeling where you miss a point blank shot at 99% probability against a monster larger than a barn. And it resulted in the revival of X-Com as a franchise. Another example of a reboot done right.

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Reboots I haven’t touched, but do they do their titles justice?

With two examples of good reboots perhaps I should provide one of a bad reboot, just so we all know what’s not to be done? I could cite the most recent Mortal Kombat reboot that condenses the first three games into one story arch? But that still feels like Mortal Kombat even with the Super Smash Bros. style roster it eventually gained. New Super Mario Bros. isn’t exactly a reboot or a remake, or even missing the point either. Tomb Raider, Bionic Commando, and Bomberman have all received recent reboots as well but I have not played them to even give mention on their reboot status. I do wonder what you, the reader, think about videogame reboots and I would certainly love to read about your beloved and despised reboots.

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About the Contributor

Since 2013

Obviously, I'm Robyn. I'm a nonbinary godmonster(my pronouns are ze/hir), into videogames, and other stuff. I'm back to writing about gender and videogames and why you're secretly trans for playing Metroid on an emulator.

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