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Controller Freak

Chad Sapieha leads you deep into the world of games, covering gaming trends

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Publishers make old games new again, just in time for Christmas Add to ...

Nintendo got the re-release ball rolling early this fall with Starfox 64 3D for 3DS, which I looked at here. However, plenty of other publishers are hoping that some gamers will eschew the tidal wave of major new releases headed to store shelves over the next couple of months and take a few classics out for a play.

The God of War Origins Collection, released in mid-September, brings a pair of PlayStation Portable games – God of War: Chains of Olympus and God of War: Ghost of Sparta – to the PlayStation 3. Both games provide background for the mythical Kratos, Sony’s popular, perpetually angry action hero. Chains of Olympus details Kratos’ exploits during his service to the gods, while Ghost of Sparta chronicles his quest to redeem himself for having failed his brother when he was a child.

The originals did a grand job of exploiting Sony’s handheld, delivering great graphics and addictive action. They remain among the best games available for the platform. These HD-ified versions are still fun – both tell engaging stories and offer subtle twists on the series’ popular sword-slinging action – but they seem a little anti-climactic when blown up for bigger screens. One can’t help comparing them to the likes of God of War III, an absolute spectacle of an experience native to PlayStation 3, which makes these smaller adventures feel almost quaint – God of War "lite," if you will.

Still, fans of the franchise who’ve never owned a PlayStation Portable and want a little more history explaining why the series’ shorn-headed hero is always so cranky would do well to pick up this economically priced twofer.

Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Classic Trilogy HD arrived next. It presents the first three games in Ubisoft’s Canadian-born franchise, which debuted on Xbox in 2002, with virtually no changes, save a quick touch-up to make them appear slightly cleaner and crisper on high-definition television sets.

You need only play the first entry in the series for a few minutes to understand the impact the Splinter Cell franchise has had on game design. Its open-ended missions provide multiple satisfying paths toward objectives – something many modern developers still struggle with. And while we now take silky smooth character animations and real-time shadow effects for granted, Splinter Cell helped pioneer this kind of eye candy. Plus, its authentic sneaking mechanics, intuitive and context-driven controls, and clever character interactions (grabbing enemies from behind and then interrogating them never gets old) are now commonplace. Splinter Cell has clearly left an indelible mark on the medium.

That said, this particular production feels a bit cheap. The series’ acclaimed multiplayer modes have been left out, some of the CGI narrative scenes have a fuzzy quality reminscent of a YouTube video, and I encountered several freezes while playing. I was left disappointed.

A better investment is had in The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, which released for PlayStation 3 this past Tuesday. These two brilliant and original games, both made by Japanese studio Team Ico (which is currently hard at work on next year’s The Last Guardian), stand the test of time in a way most interactive entertainments simply cannot. I’ve spent only a little time with their HD incarnations, but I found myself immediately lost in their artistry and atmosphere, just as I was when I originally encountered them years ago on PlayStation 2.

Ico stars a boy who leads a tall, pale girl around a desolate castle by the hand, protecting her from strange, inky creatures that emerge from shadows on the floor while solving intricate puzzles involving environmental obstacles. A dynamic, sweeping camera gives a sense of immense scope to the fortress, and sparse sounds effects enhance its loneliness. It's a beautiful, emotional game.

Shadow of the Colossus, meanwhile, shares Ico’s sense of isolation. Players control a lone young warrior who, in an attempt to revive a dead girl, must battle 12 towering colossi. Action shifts from lonely treks through beautiful landscapes to hour-long battles against skyscraper-sized creatures we must first climb before plunging our hero’s sword into their vital areas. It's an epic, David-and-Goliath tale with one awe-inspiring sequence after another. It feels like playing poetry.

Altered only slightly by the conversion to HD, both games still look gorgeous. A series of bonus developer documentaries filled with interesting informational tidbits – did you know Shadow of the Colossus began life as a four-player online game? – adds some tasty gravy to the experience.

Another re-release set for this holiday comes in the form of a collection of Konami's beloved Metal Gear Solid games, including Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Dubbed Metal Gear Solid HD Collection (all three games were originally released for standard-definition platforms and have received HD overhauls), it will be available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in November.

Then, of course, there’s the most ballyhooed re-release of them all: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. Set for a late November launch, this new take on the Xbox classic makes use of much of the original game’s code and plays exactly the same. However, the visuals have been completely reworked to bring them in line with those of modern Halo games. Cooler still, those who want to see just how much game graphics have changed over the last decade will be able to switch between modern and classic modes at the tap of a button while playing. It will also feature new versions of the original’s beloved local multiplayer maps retooled for online play using the Halo: Reach multiplayer engine.

How these remakes and re-releases fare with an audience known for gravitating toward the latest, greatest games is something we’re about to find out. However, they’re relatively cheap – $39.99, in most cases – and most feature dozens of hours of play. Add in the fact that they've all legitimately earned classic status from both critics and fans and you have three compelling selling points that may just sway some folks away from pricier games-of-the-moment. At the very least, they’ll introduce a few younger players to interactive experiences that helped shape those they enjoy today and bring back memories for the slightly older among us who played these games several years ago when they first arrived.

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