I’m sure you’ve all seen them – Age of Empires HD, Rise of Nations HD, Speedball 2 HD, among many other remade titles. And, if you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the original titles, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t now, right? Well, you’d be surprised.
The definition of HD states that “high-definition video is video of higher resolution and quality than standard-definition.” In the computer gaming industry, “resolution” has the same meaning as it does in television. Anything above 720/1080p is HD. Whether or not you have the usual 60fps is limited solely by your graphics card and cpu. By “quality,” we’re generally speaking of the game’s textures, in that these are made of 2048/2048+ (2K/2K) pixel panels, environment detail and lighting.
More modern games usually go for the 2K+ mark on textures, but we all know these old-school games didn’t even come near that standard when they hit the shelves. As for lighting, they did receive some improvement, but is it really enough to call them “HD”?
Now, as far as these “remakes” are concerned, they all run in 1080p, limited by my own hardware, so I can’t see any further than that, which means they got the “resolution” portion of gaming handled. However, the quality still leaves much to be desired, so let’s take a look at some of the titles that have faced this “HD Remake” fad.
Age of Empires 2: HD Edition
AoE. Countless hours of my life lost towards this game back when it was big. Now, thanks to Skybox Labs, it comes included with the Rise of Kings expansion and it’ll run on HD settings without any HD graphics. If you’ve ever had any issues clicking any buttons before this, the UI has shrunk to the point where you can barely see the icons. Skybox Labs is also responsible for AoE2’s latest expansion, The Forgotten, bringing us more factions, maps and campaigns to toy with. Still no HD graphics, though. The upside is that the Steam Workshop offers a vast amount of HD textures in exchange for Skybox’s lack of effort.
Age of Mythology: Extended Edition
This game used to be fun to play. It really was. The AoE-esque style attracted many from that game onto this and the various Favour mechanics made most of them stay. However, thanks to Skybox Labs, this extended edition made it even more obvious that the graphics are blocky, whilst maintaining the 1080p resolutions. In hindsight, you can see just how blocky this game used to be, especially in the cutscenes. Although I’ll give them credit, they actually made an effort in this one by including Day/Night cycles, marginally better water details, and better looking shadows. But that’s about it. Definitely not worth the new price tag. Again, the Workshop additions are an incredibly nice counter for the lack of effort by Skybox.
Rise of Nations: Extended Edition
HD upgrade, courtesy of, once again, Skybox Labs. Except they didn’t even bother with this one. They just added multiplayer ELO, achievements, and twitch streaming. Still, as one of the few games that discourages early rushes, I’m ok with any and all improvements made on it. This, however, wasn’t enough. Not even the fact that it comes included with the Thrones and Patriots expansion makes up for it and, unfortunately, there is no Steam Workshop to add/modify anything in the game, so you’re stuck with the old school graphics.
So far, I feel like extremely good opportunities were lost due to hubris. The titles by themselves would be considered by many gamers out there, myself included, as reference RTS games of extremely high calibre. And, in all honesty, Skybox Labs lost an amazing opportunity at making these games even bigger. Improving water, lighting, and HD resolutions don’t make a game necessarily HD. They covered the games with an HD mask that the Steam Workshop is, thankfully, removing.
Stronghold Crusader: HD Edition
Lastly, on the RTS front, Stronghold Crusader: HD Edition. This time it’s one untouched by Skybox Labs and, truth be told, that was its downfall. Why, you may ask? Simple: because Firefly Studios decided they needed no help with their titles and this one, in particular, received a devastating blow – “Special Powers,” like summoning a hail of arrows or rocks and a handful of Knights, were added. If you ever played the original game, you know just how ridiculously powerful a handful of Knights on horseback were.
Other than that, Firefly obviously increased the resolution up to 1080p, raised the unit limit to a staggering ten thousand (!!!) and… nothing else. Once again, the opportunity to make something good is gone with the wind like the sand the game scenarios are played on. Regardless, Firefly was one of the few to make an HD remake AND include new additions to gameplay. We can’t ignore that effort, futile as it was.
Serious Sam HD: The First/Second Encounter
You know, I’m not a big fan of shooters, but after seeing what Croteam has done with this game, you can’t not love it. Of all the HD Remakes I’ve seen thus far, the Serious Sam series were the ones that caught my eye because they added everything: resolution and quality. No longer do you have to look at blocky weapons, enemies, and terrain. It’s no top of the line game, but these two titles have been immensely improved on over their low-res forefathers.
Lastly, I’ll just speak of a recent entry onto the steam portfolio: Carmageddon: Reincarnation. As the name implies, it’s Carmageddon and, if you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically you, driving a car outfitted with spikes and all matter of murdering devices, down the streets, causing as much panic, bloodshed and destruction as possible. Kind of like a bloody version of Burnout. And this specific remake aims to bring those good old days back with brand new maps, vehicles, and powerups. However, keep in mind that this is not an upgrade of the original game, but a brand new one, exploring the same game style from it. Still in its Early Access stage means it may or may not end up being a good game, but I know I’ll be keeping a close eye on this!
Where does that leave us?
In short, HD ruined the classic RTS’s by making the UI smaller and the game board larger. However, let’s not discard the fact that they are still RTS classics that we likely spent days on end playing on. And that’s why I still bought most of these remakes, because I loved the original ones. Whether or not you buy them is entirely up to how much you want to play these games on more recent computers. I’d say take a look, but don’t expect much of a graphical or gameplay improvement over the original ones.