Can video games be TOO cinematic?

the order 1886

Before we get into the topic of cinematic games, let’s talk about The Order: 1886 which was released as a PS4 exclusive in February, and let me tell you it is absolutely beautiful! It has the best graphics of this generation, the actor’s performances are superb, and it has rich lore just waiting to be explored further. Too bad it’s terrible. Some of you are going to disagree with me and I respect that, but in my opinion The Order: 1886 almost completely fails due to its focus on trying to be more like an interactive movie than an actual video game. Half of your time is spent watching cutscenes which would be forgivable if the gameplay wasn’t a generic third-person shooter full of quick-time button-pressing segments that kill immersion. I bring this up because this is a problem that most single-player games suffer from: being too cinematic.

Video games for over the past two decades have tried their best to be more and more comparable to movies; whether it be by adding more complex stories in 16-bit games or investing too much money into creating consoles like the CDi or 3DO. The 3D graphics of the first Playstation and Nintendo 64 also opened a door to new possibilities in cinematic gaming goodness. The trend really picked up, though, in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era where (especially in shooters) single-player campaigns are accompanied by scripted in-game segments of action set-pieces. Now games can be almost as fun to watch as they are to play. However, there needs to be a balance and that’s something that players and even some developers fail to understand; either that or they think the best way to make a good single-player mode is by adding as many cinematic events as possible; Call of Duty is a great example of this.

heavy rain

Am I against games trying to be like movies? Absolutely not. I’m against them doing it wrong. Let’s take the examples Heavy Rain (above) and Beyond: Two Souls (below), two games made by the same developer Quantic Dream. Many consider these “interactive movies” and for good reason: they’re entirely story-based. The plot will change depending on what the player does in the environment, what they say in conversations, and the choices they make. Heavy Rain did this perfectly: you play as four different characters looking to solve the case of a serial killer for their own personal reasons and if one character dies, their story ends there. Not only did their decisions change the story dramatically, they also added pressure to intense situations where death is knocking. Unfortunately, Quantic Dream’s next game Beyond: Two Souls didn’t live up to the expectations set by Heavy Rain. Despite having a pretty good story and great performances by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, the plot was more pre-determined resulting in underwhelming results from the decision-making. Not to mention the protagonist, Jodie, could literally never die so the action sequences weren’t so nerve-racking.

beyond

There’s also the case of cinematic set-pieces in first-person shooters that I’m growing more tired of since Call of Duty 4 made it popular. It’s like in every level we have to include a segment where your character is hanging off a ledge and their squadmate saves them, or when they’re on a building that’s about to collapse and they’re sliding down the wreckage somehow making it out alive. It was cool maybe the first five games, now it’s just getting old. This seems to be a tool commonly used to make a weak story more interesting, especially considering that single-player campaigns are increasingly becoming in plot like Battlefield games that aren’t Bad Company.

call of duty

The critical feedback of The Order: 1886 should be a wake-up call to developers, letting them know that if they’re going to make their game have cinematic qualities, they have to remember that it’s still classified as a video game. It doesn’t matter how amazing the graphics are, how great the acting is, or how epic the scenes are played out, if the game part of the game is bad, it will forever be bad and that’s all people will remember it for.  Even if a developer is focusing on something story-based it should still never forget this rule.

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Joey Ferris
Joey Ferris 260 posts

l love to play games and write stuff about them. I can't play something and not tell anyone how I feel about it. Call it a sickness, because it is.