Anno: History Collection Review

What's Old-Old Is New-Old Again
Developer: Ubisoft Publisher: Ubisoft Platform: Windows

What happens in the past no longer stays in the past: It rises again to render itself obsolete

Rewriting history isn’t as bad as it sounds. Sure, you could be erasing voices and cultures from pseudo-existence with a mere swish of a pen, but isn’t deciding what is and isn’t important all history is? It’s not a real, physical thing but a (hi)story about the past shaped by personal research priorities. So, is the video game remaster a clack of a keyboard against the words of the past? It’s not denying the original title, but it’s providing a version of said title that conforms to modern standards.

Especially one as excellent as the Anno: History Collection.

The collection, containing 1998’s Anno 1602, 2002’s Anno 1503, 2006’s Anno 1701 and 2009’s Anno 1404, is as simple as remasters come. You’re getting modern online features with a fresh coat of paint and a roundup of the original’s content. Each of the four games receives matchmaking and netcode upgrades – 1503 not having it at all in the first place – which work just about as well as you’d expect them to. Finding matches was no trouble, especially with the old game finder being intact. Playing them was a smooth experience as well.

Visual changes aren’t perfect, but a damn sight better than the original. New 64-bit support makes the games run much better, allowing for much more ambitious city planning. Some tracks for some games were unfortunately removed due to licensing issues, but by and large they’re still the ditties that you remember. They each play the same way you remember them – some retained design will cause a cringing effect – but just that little bit better, unchained from the shackles of their age.

The visual changes don’t pave over the original art direction, either

Yes, believe it or not, 2009 was 11 years ago. A lot has changed since then, especially in the strategy genre. The dominant sub-genre of strategy, the RTS, was on its last legs and eventually crumbled before the almighty MOBA. The Anno series itself looked to the future for theming, then back to the past. To have improved versions of some classic games is a great feeling, but are we losing anything by hastening to replace older titles instead of merely making them playable again?

Sure, the History Collection does have very good reasons to exist. The previously mentioned upgrades to performance are a true escalation in the style of, say, a sequel. Rounding up post-launch content for each game is also a good step in the direction of preservation; a lot of that stuff simply isn’t available to buy any more. (Filling those holes in history is important, and co-operation between publisher and preserver must be pursued). The modernised games even allow you to import your old save files!

It’s just that the Anno: History Collection is the latest in a long line of good remasters, which has unfortunately dulled its outstandingly hard and persuasive work. It’s becoming a bit of a meme for reviews of remasters to be really rambly because people are getting tired of saying ‘It’s the old game, but all modern and easier to use and stuff’ every time. It’s not that Anno: History Collection isn’t a diamond in the rough, so to speak. Rather than merely give a superficial aesthetic overhaul, these re-releases have carried out some genuine upgrading. It’s not that they feel different to play: They feel better. This may make the original titles seem obsolete, and that’s certainly true from a logical point of view. So, does that make them replaceable as well?

Yeah! You mess up that spot good, lightning!

History is constantly being re-written; just be grateful that we’ve been getting some real corkers of remasters now – like these ones. Without intervention, we’re looking at a world where it has become nigh-impossible to play older games. That hardware may last longer than you, but never forever. It’ll have to be up to somebody to preserve something. I’m happy that publishers are on-board with potentially lucrative remasters, but what will happen when that gravy train derails itself? Will video games be doomed to rot into even digital nothingness?

Anno: History Collection is a welcome relief that we’re not quite there yet. Remasters like these are in ever-growing supply, with not even licensed games being immune. If that means more remasters like this one, with a standard that grows in quantity every time one of them pulls its weight financially, become more prolific, I’m certainly not complaining. But just as history is essentially up to opinion, the present is up to interpretation. Anno: History Collection helps you see a present that isn’t so bad for remasters after all. But, much like the Anno series, don’t think about the future.

Final thoughts

Anno: History Collection is a fantastic remaster that the gaming world is committing a great crime by being inattentive to . The remaster is set to become a massive industry trend, which casts Anno: History Collection amongst other bangers like this month’s Command & Conquer Remastered Collection. Let’s hope that this sets a good example for the unknowable future.

Reviewed on Windows // Review code supplied by publisher
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Good

  • Great modernisation
  • Graphics and sound improvements
  • Multiplayer for 1503!

Bad

  • It’s another remaster
  • Some original assets missing
7

Good

Aza blames his stunted social skills and general uselessness on a lifetime of video games. Between his ears is a comprehensive Team Fortress 2 encyclopedia. His brain, on the other hand, remains at large.
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