Friday, November 4, 2011

Cinematic Gaming - The Best Movies You've Ever Played?

It seems like the biggest buzzword in gaming for the last while has been 'cinematic'. What does that even mean anyway? Merriam Webster defines it as: "of, relating to, suggestive of, or suitable for motion pictures or the filming of motion pictures".

So for all us dummies, that means it's like a movie. And that's a good thing. I can't help but be puzzled by all this. I mean, if people want to see a movie why don't they go see a movie? You don't see movies being advertised as "very book-like". In the end, isn't what makes games fun the fact that you're actually playing them? I guess I just don't see why an interactive medium tries so hard to emulate a non-interactive one.

I think I first noticed this when I played Call of Duty 4 back in 2007. I was frustrated that I couldn't open doors, or interact with my squad mates or really do anything except continue on the marked path. I remember reading a post on the Penny Arcade news page where they shared the same feelings. After playing tactical shooters like Rainbow Six it felt like a big step backward. I thought this was just a fad, like 'bullet time' that games would grow out of. But Call of Duty's incredible success changed the face of video games for a long time to come.

It seemed like from then on, video games were obsessed with creating a cinematic experience, where the player is constantly bombarded with crazy shit but doesn't actually have have an impact on any of it. The problem is that, like a carnival ride, once you discover the inner workings it loses all believability. And without solid gameplay to fall back on, there really is nothing to these games.

So what got me thinking about this again? I was playing through Battlefield 3 singleplayer and in the first level there is a subway car with a bomb in it. As you run toward the door, the bomb begins beeping faster and faster until it is about to blow. But I couldn't find my way out, so I just sort of ran around for a few minutes with the bomb beeping away. Only when I found the correct spot did the bomb finally blow up, seconds after I jumped out the window. Yeah, that sure was a close one...

After talking to Jaison about Uncharted 3 I get the impression that it suffers from a similar case of style over substance. There's no denying that the game looks gorgeous. The presentation is flawless, the story is good and the voice acting is top tier. That would be perfect, if this was a movie... Unfortunately where it falls apart is the actual gameplay. Stiff movement, sluggish shooting, inconsistent platforming. This shit was not acceptable in the NES days, and it is not in the year 2011.

I think part of why I enjoy Demon's Souls and Dark Souls so much is because you feel in control of your character the entire time. You get to pick which level you want to beat and in what order (For the most part), there are very few cutscenes and no annoying NPCs constantly telling you where to go and what to do. There are no invisible walls fencing you in. If there's a ledge, you can jump off it. You might land on a secret passage or you might fall to your death. You never know, but that's all part of the excitement. Everything you do in the game; your successes and failures, they're your own doing.

You know what game doesn't have celebrity voice acting, quicktime events, setpiece battles or rail shooting segments? Angry Birds. Oh yeah, it's also been downloaded over 200 million times. They must be doing something right here.

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