The current crop of high-budget, AAA titles are marvels of modern technology. They sport game play engines which accurately mimic real world physics and have photo-realistic graphics that sometimes make it hard to tell just what is a game and what isn’t. They involve stories that are every bit as intricate, emotional and bombastic, action packed as any movie.
And acting in games is now beyond simple, bad voice acting; voice actors now have the star power their Hollywood counter parts have. The addition of motion capture to many games has blurred the line even farther as voice actors no long just speak their lines but also act out the appropriate scene while interacting with each other.
At first blush, this seems like an amazing thing to happen to video games. The closer games come to movies, the more accepted they will become and the more people will realize just how rich of a media games are. But it is not quite that cut and dry. While these advances are wonderful for cutscenes and story telling in games, they do not necessarily mean the same thing for gameplay.
Games like Tomb Raider (2013), the Uncharted series and even Mass Effect are all top notch examples of modern AAA titles that use this cinematic approach. And they are fantastic games that take full advantage of everything they can. But there are times when I wonder if I am playing a game or watching an interactive movie (or worse, just a movie).
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of my favorite games on the PS3 and is my favorite of the series. It is a fantastic game that does a great job of blending exciting action and good story telling within the game itself. But there are times when I feel like the game is bogged down by all of its cutscenes, even as amazing as they are. But there are times when I feel like the game is bogged down by all of its cutscenes, even as amazing as they are. While it is great to watch Nate beat up a bad guy in style, I’d rather do it myself.
The latest Tomb Raider game also suffers from this issue, especially in the games opening hour or so. However Tomb Raider includes Quick Time Events (QTE) as a way to keep you involved. And while this works to an extent, it still gets boring and tiresome very quickly. As exciting as it was to scramble up the collapsing tunnel by mashing left and right, I would just rather run up and dodge rocks like I normally do.
QTEs are even present in game play. I think the worst offender I’ve seen was the 2013 E3 demo of the upcoming Xbox One title Ryse. It was cool the first two or three times to see the slow-mo kills but after that it got tiresome. While I understand it was just for show at E3, it still bothers me that that sequence is what they chose to show. I am playing a game, not watching a movie.
While QTEs and slow-mo shots have their place, it should not be at expense of the game play experience. Assassin’s Creed III has a nice balance where if you kill the last enemy in a group as part of a kill-chain, Connor will automatically do a stylized, slow-mo takedown. That works because it comes from a standard game play feature (the kill-chain) and does not interrupt the flow of the game (the battle is over).
Perhaps the game studio that has taken this cinematic approach the farthest is Quantic Dream, the studio behind Heavy Rain and the recent Beyond Two Souls. Both titles are heavily scripted and look so close to being actual movies. In fact one of Beyond Two Souls selling points was that it’s main characters were played (both in voice, likeness and mo-cap) by Ellen Page and William Dafoe, both geniune A-List Hollywood actors. While I am excited anytime I see Jen Hale or Troy Baker are voicing a major role in a game, I can’t remember a voice actor ever being used to market a game.
To be fair, I have yet to play Beyond Two Souls but from several of the reviews I have read, one word seemed to crop up frequently: passive. The reviewers felt that while there was indeed strong game play, they never truly felt like they were part of the game. While they certainly participated more than a movie, compared to other games everything felt very passive. And as a gamer, while I love that games are taking story telling more seriously, the idea of game play itself becoming so passive is very dissappointing for me.
I do love how modern games have taken story telling so far in the medium and can now tell stories of equal or even greater impact than movies and tv shows. But I am worried that in an effort to be “accepted” games will forget that they are games, not movies.