Spider-Man Remastered makes a strong argument for traditional remasters in the era of backwards compatibility
18 months ago, you could find me wondering aloud about whether the next-generation’s focus on backwards compatibility would spell the death of the remaster as we know it.
If the PS5 and Xbox Series X are able to automatically optimise old games without any extra developer input, I argued, why would anyone pay full price for a re-release ever again? Well, it turns out that I was that “anyone”, dear reader, as I found myself happily coughing up £70 for a digital download of Spider-Man Remastered, which comes bundled with the Ultimate Edition of Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5.
That might make me sound hypocritical, but that’s not even the craziest part. No, the craziest part is that after playing just a few hours of the remaster, I’m pretty sure it was worth every penny of its asking price.
A leap of faith
Marvel’s Spider-Man was always the kind of game that just made sense to replay. Affable in tone and immediately compelling in its irresistible power fantasy of playing as the titular web head, Insomniac’s 2018 hit represents two dozen hours of joy distilled into a comfortingly familiar open world experience.
Better yet, if you own the game on PS4, it’s already backwards compatible on PS5, buffered with shorter load times, more reliable framerates, and cross-gen progression compatibility, making that option to revisit New York City all the more tempting on the next-gen console. So, again, why bother paying for Spider-Man Remastered?
To answer that question, it’s best to see Spider-Man Remastered as an experience that sits on the premium end of the ever widening spectrum of enhanced re-releases, one which incorporates all the next-gen visual improvements of Miles Morales (ray-tracing, ambient shadows, etc.), alongside a few extra goodies in the form of new suits, all previously released DLC, and a completely fresh face for Peter Parker.
But it’s those graphical enhancements that are the main attraction here, particularly when it comes to the frankly game-changing effects of ray tracing. For many people, Spider-Man Remastered will be their first direct experience of the rendering tech after years of hearing about it online, but Insomniac has made sure that the introduction is a good one.
The remaster’s ray tracing drenches its skyscrapers in a hyperreal sheen that brings a perspective-altering depth to New York City, the reflections of the city skyline – perfectly simulated in every window of every building – presenting a convincing illusion to proving that this world still exists outside of wherever the player’s camera happens to be pointed.
Given that Peter’s story takes place in Summer (as opposed to the winter of Miles Morales), New York almost feels like a different city, too, revealing just how much the nuances of lighting, enhanced and accentuated by ray tracing, can radically change the mood and feel of a single setting. Whereas the snowy, neo-noir stylings of Miles Morales are an equally impressive sight to behold, the ambient colour themes and sun-soaked streets of its predecessor find new warmth under the real-time light effects of ray traced rendering.
And while I know the subject of Peter Parker’s new face is a sensitive one for many people (I personally thought the old model looked like a slightly off putting Madame Tussaud’s waxwork, so welcome the change), it’s hard to deny how impressive the improved character models are in lending a new layer of authenticity to cutscenes, right down to the individually rendered hair strands.
Like that of Miles Morales, Spider-Man: Remastered also lets you switch between Fidelity and Performance mode, the latter of which boosts the frame-rate to 60FPS at the expense of certain visual effects found in the former, including ray tracing. While I personally prefer to enjoy the game with all the cinematic panache of Fidelity mode, swinging through New York at 60 frames-per-second is so liberating that it’s worth trying out at the very least.
Marvel and wonder
But it’s not just that Spider-Man Remastered is a good looker. It also swings ahead in laying a viable path for the remaster genre to continue into the next-generation. I can think of countless other last-gen games where “auto-remastering” is arguably the bare minimum for their visual potential on PS5 and Xbox Series X; if Spider-Man Remastered’s success inspires their creators to go above and beyond that baseline, its offering of a premium next-gen restoration could soon become the norm.
That’s a good thing, as – despite their uneven history – remasters are a valuable commodity for the industry, letting developers return to some of their most iconic projects with fresh, more experienced eyes, while reintroducing long-loved classics to new audiences. Though the rising cost of game prices may make the remaster a harder sell as a value proposition in the next-generation, Spider-Man has proven that it can make a strong case for their continued existence.
I’m sure that if Spider-Man Remastered’s visual improvements hadn’t been as astronomical as they are, Insomniac would have offered a next-gen upgrade path for free, as is the case with many other backwards compatible titles on PS5. But it’s clear that a significant amount of time and effort has gone into making the game look, feel, and play like a next-generation title that’s every bit as impressive as Miles Morales.
What’s more, its proven visual power suggests that the remaster still holds relevance in the next-generation, giving developers the opportunity to go above and beyond the auto-enhancements that existing back-compatibility tech offers. Spider-Man Remastered may have initially turned heads for the wrong reasons, but Insomniac’s superheroic efforts at delivering on the promise of its title have thus been more than enough assurance to stop those skeptical spider senses tingling.