Videogame remasters are more than just a dollop of crispy textures and bumped-up resolutions. Remember how the Silent Hill HD collection somehow looked worse on the PS3 than PS2, or how the voice acting in the updated Castlevania: Symphony of the Night lacked the original’s schlocky charm?
More recently, the WWII-based Commandos 2 HD remaster was hampered by bugs and the decision to remove Japanese Imperial and Nazi symbols from the game, leaving it feeling weirdly flat and ahistorical.
A remaster ain’t easy. So, for PC Gaming Week 2020, let’s doff our hats to those that did it right, the ones that enshrined and embellished classic games, opening them up to new generations of gamers.
1. Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition
A remaster of a game that had already been remastered back in 2013 is bound to get some people shielding their wallets with suspicion, but the polish and completeness of this package does away with any murmurs about money-grabbing.
The Definitive Edition contains all three DLC campaigns from the HD Edition, as well as several new campaigns and civilisations to play as. The soundtrack, UI and graphics have been beautifully reworked, and the multiplayer works swimmingly (at last!), reviving Age of Empires for a new era of online conquest.
2. Sonic Mania
The inimitable hedgehog’s had a rough run since his 16-bit heyday, but this return to his roots reminds us that the classic 2D-pixel formula (bolstered with new animations, 60fps, and widescreen support) is where he really thrives.
Sonic Mania’s art style and levels are a remix of the Genesis-Saturn era, with some new stages thrown in, and characters and abilities mixed in from various games across the series. It all gels beautifully, bolstered by tons of unlockables including artwork and a competitive race mode.
While not technically a remaster, it takes the best of Sonic's 16-bit titles and combines it with some great modern touches, so we think it more than deserves a place on this list. After years in the wilderness, it’s great to see Sonic back in his natural 2D habitat.
3. Resident Evil HD Remaster
In a bit of a meta-muddle, this excellent entry in the Resident Evil series is a remaster of a rather remastery remake of the original 1996 game. It’s easily the best of the old-style fixed-camera Resident Evil games, with lavish environments, suspenseful resource management and mind-flaying puzzles.
The original Resident Evil Remake already did much of the work when it came to beautifying the game, but the HD Remaster polishes it off with a 16:9 aspect ratio, HD resolutions, surround sound and - so crucially - an updated control scheme to replace those damnable tank controls.
4. LucasArts’ Adventure Games
Many of LucasArts’ classic point-and-clickers received some form of remaster over the years. From the likes of Grim Fandango, Monkey Island 1 and 2, Full Throttle and Day of the Tentacle, it’s really hard to pick out a winner.
With the exception of the 3D Grim Fandango, all the above games have been beautifully redrawn, making those famously vibrant backdrops really pop on big IPS displays. In a unique move for remasters, each of these games lets you switch between original and remastered graphics, which really tickles us in the nostalgias.
Add to that remastered soundtracks and voice work, developer commentaries, and welcome hints for the notoriously obscure puzzles, and you’re left with a timeless remaster collection.
5. Turok 2
Not the most famous remaster in the list, but still a great example of how to do it properly. Porting the N64 classic to a new 64-bit engine, remaster masters Nightdive Studios have turned a solid old shooter into a remarkably modern one.
By unlocking frame-rates and resolutions, adding graphical flourishes like shadow maps, decals, effects and reflections, Turok 2 turns into a liquid-smooth PC shooter. The multiplayer’s been boosted too, supporting online play as well as classic 4-player split-screen.
6. Blood: Fresh Supply
Nightdive strikes again with another classic shooter. Blood is probably more familiar to PC gamers, having been the last FPS made using the Build (or Duke Nukem 3D) engine back in 1997.
With its new engine, this Blood remaster includes modern graphical buffs like antialiasing, ambient occlusion, uncapped framerates, up to 4K resolution and deep mod support. Its multiplayer has been completely overhauled with up to eight(!) players in split-screen or online, playable in co-op or competitively. Again, it’s amazing how good an old shooter can feel with a healthy splattering of modernisation.
7. Baldur’s Gate 2: Enhanced Edition
This may be the most famous of the Infinity Engine cRPGs, but really the HD remasters of the original Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale and its sequel, and Planescape: Torment could make the cut too. Beamdog’s remaster of the seminal Baldur’s Gate 2 includes the Throne of Bhaal expansion, as well as a plenty of new dialogue, party companions, and of course HD resolutions.
The cross-platform support is a nice touch too, with multiplayer between PC, Mac, Android and iPhone, as well as the ability to transfer save files between platforms. So successful was the remaster that it received a standalone expansion in 2016, and with Baldur’s Gate 3 around the corner, we should thank this remaster for putting the series back in the limelight.
8. Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy
Given the complete graphical overhaul and use of mostly new assets, this bundle of the original three Crash Bandicoot games is really testing that remake-remaster boundary. But on the fact that every single level is a platform-perfect recreation of the original games, and the mechanics remain the same, it makes the cut.
Value is a key factor here. Where many remasters contain just one or two games from a series (looking at you, Silent Hill HD Collection), this one has all the original Crash games, with complete graphical overhauls, at a very reasonable price; it feels like fan service rather than exploitation. It even has all the original secret levels, including the infamous Stormy Ascent level that was cut from the original game.
9. Halo: The Master Chief Collection
No Xbox franchise has been as wanted or desired on PC as Halo, and in 2019 that finally became a reality. For a modest price, Microsoft steadily rolled out the entire remastered Halo collection on PC, instantly spawning one of the most vibrant online gaming scenes on the platform.
Featuring all the classic campaigns, and over 120 multiplayer maps across the collection, the value here is unrivalled, and you can also buy the games individually for a modest price as well. The only downside is a lack of split-screen support, though that’s not likely to deter those PC purists.
10. Skyrim: Special Edition
This version of Skyrim (the 97th, by our estimates) came in for some flack when it first came out in 2016. The visual improvements - screen-space reflections, god rays, new shaders, some improved art and textures - were subtle, leaving console gamers questioning whether it earned its $40 asking price.
But it was a different story on PC. Firstly, the Special Edition bumped the game up to 64-bit, which greatly expanded how much modders could improve it (and PC players know that Skyrim is all about that modding).
Secondly, it was temporarily free for owners of the 2011 Skyrim, so existing owners weren’t out of pocket. This is actually pretty common practice on PC, with the Bioshock, Red Faction Guerrilla and Mafia 2 remasters being temporarily free for owners of the original games.
Hear that? It’s the sound of a few million PC Skyrim players smugly smacking their chops at the expense of their console counterparts.
TechRadar’s PC Gaming Week 2020 is celebrating the most powerful gaming platform on Earth with articles, interviews and essential buying guides that showcase how diverse, imaginative, and remarkable PC games – and gamers – can be. Visit our PC Gaming Week 2020 page to see all our coverage in one place.
- These are the best PC games of 2020
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Robert Zak is a freelance writer for Official Xbox Magazine, PC Gamer, TechRadar and more. He writes in print and digital publishing, specialising in video games. He has previous experience as editor and writer for tech sites/publications including AndroidPIT and ComputerActive! Magazine.