2023 has already been a pretty solid year for games. However, if you stop and look at Metacritic to see what some of the highest-rated games released this year actually were, you’ll notice a trend: Many of them are remakes or remasters of older games. It’s a trend that likely has a few different causes, but which also might signal that some gamers are tired of all the bullshit that often comes with modern games.
We are now in the third month of 2023. In most years, especially pre-pandemic, you’d expect at least three or even four big, popular, well-received games to have been released by now. And 2023 is no different. But looking at Metacritic’s top-rated games of 2023, you’ll notice that so far all of the top-rated games (not counting duplicates) are remakes, remasters, or upgraded ports. You have to scroll all the way down to number nine to find the sole, completely new, and fresh game: the Xbox action rhythm game, Hi-Fi Rush. So what’s going on?
The easiest answer, which sales data seems to back up, is that people are tired of modern games being filled with loot boxes, microtransactions, always-online requirements, awful crafting mechanics, and more. This sentiment has been growing in recent years and publishers have seemingly noticed, hence the influx in remasters and remakes as companies pour resources into sprucing up stuff in their back catalogs that people online won’t shut up about on Twitter and Reddit. And it makes sense from an economic standpoint. These are the games players seem to want. And games are very expensive to produce, and only getting bigger and more pricey. So if you are going to keep making big games, you want more sure bets. Like Hollywood and its love of remakes and reboots, the video game industry is becoming more reliant on past hits and well-known IP to help prop up lagging sales and expensive development costs.
But I don’t think that entirely explains why so many remakes are killing it on Metacritic. Another aspect of this might be the people reviewing games professionally. Many of them are older critics (older in this context is anyone over 25) and they, like myself, may perhaps be a bit nostalgic for great, stand-alone, single-player games from the past. I mean, look at that same Metacritic list, but sorted by user scores and you’ll see totally different games, many of them new and many of them featuring online multiplayer.
So while it’s easy to suggest old games are good and new games are bad and that’s why remakes are doing so great right now, I think who plays these games, who writes about them, and the costs that go into making big games are also key parts of this trend.
The real question, one which I assume is already being debated in the comments, is: Is this a bad trend? And while I know some here at Kotaku have suggested that it definitely is not-so-good, I’m more mixed on it. I definitely agree that remasters are less exciting than some brand-new games. But I also think a good game can, more so than a film, benefit from modern tech and improved engines.
Plus gaming is bigger now than ever and there are a ton of people who have never played a game released before 2015 who might find a lot of enjoyment in a Dead Space remake. And with the terrible state of game preservation in 2023, remakes and remasters may sadly be one of the few legal ways to enjoy some games. I don’t have much hope for that whole situation to get better any time soon, either.
Who knows, maybe this trend isn’t as pronounced as it appears right now. It’s possible this data is just the result of a number of big, high-profile remakes releasing around the same time early in the year. On the other hand, things could stay this way for a while. More remakes and remasters are regularly being announced, and looking online you’ll see people begging publishers for remakes or remasters of classic PS2-era games like The Simpsons: Hit and Run and Bully. We may see newly polished games of the past continue to dominate for the foreseeable future.