Cinematic Game Play and Signal Scrambling

And that's how we got cyclopes

My eye! Belmont! You dick!

During the previous two generations of games, cut-scenes and full-motion video were greeted with groans and disdain.  Criticized for wresting control away from the player and forcing them to watch sub-par movies; they could become a tedious experience.  It’s a design practice that lingers in only the most firmly established franchises such as Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy.  But even then, their relevance is waning.  Have designers seen the light and steered their games towards more interactive experiences?  Kind of.

The HD era of video games has allowed developers to meld the cinematic with the interactive.  It’s a better idea than inundating the player with cut-scenes, but it’s still a practice that manages to drag down a good number of games.  In my own recent experience, I’d say that it has spoiled Dante’s Inferno, Lords of Shadow, and Vanquish.  How exactly?  Well, cinematic sequences are meant to be watched; meaning they will distract the player from what’s important to game play, by design.

Only in the case of Modern Warfare 2, mostly because Infinity Ward seemed to successfully take into mind that they don’t want to punish players for taking in the sights.  Critical, cinematic game play moments were exciting, but not really challenging.  You were only fooled into believing it is a challenging scene.  In contrast, the other examples I listed make some of the most challenging moments cinematic ones as well.

In Vanquish, the frenzy of action on the screen at any given time only serves to distract me from the fact that an instant death lay only a moment away.  With Lords of Shadow, I was expected to perform dramatic QTEs to finish off bosses.  If I failed, then I would be punished not only with having to try the sequence again, but also by the fact that the boss would have some of its health restored.  And finally, with Dante’s Inferno, I would  completely forget about poor Dante when the camera zoomed out to reveal incredible landscapes.  Other times camera angle prevented me from being able to judge depth at all, leading to many pitfall deaths.

It certainly looks nice, but it’s only trivially more interactive than cut scenes and FMVs since the player’s ability to gauge what to do ends up being severely hampered.  Nothing gets me to be frustrated with a game more quickly then poor signalling, and I’m certain that it’s a major contributing factor to the times when a game feels like it’s being “cheap.”  “Cinematic” games are this generation’s FMV.

2 Responses to “Cinematic Game Play and Signal Scrambling”

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