A lot of video game purists have a real problem with cutscenes, despite the fact that they have been a fundamental part of the medium’s storytelling in one guise or another pretty much as long as it has existed. The most popular reason for this seems to be that leaving the interactive world and entering the cinematic one is sacrificing the integrity of the video game. Gameplay must remain king, or at least so it would seem.
I don’t personally subscribe to this belief. I think cutscenes are a valuable component of interactive fiction. One reason is that a pre-rendered sequence is a great way to dump exposition or otherwise flesh out a story without running the risk of players interrupting or wandering off to do their own thing. Another reason is that they provide a concentrated space within which designers and animators can emphasise character gestures and movement which isn’t always possible during gameplay. There are plenty of other reasons too. What it basically boils down to is that cutscenes are useful in a number of ways which are going to remain useful until the video game develops its language enough to take over.
I do, however, have certain issues with cutscenes, namely that the vast majority of them are terrible. That’s what this post is about, essentially. I don’t imagine any video game designers have enough spare time that they’re going to be wasting it reading anything that I have to say, but I also figure if we can whine and complain about it loudly enough then someone, somewhere is going to have to take some notice. To that end, let’s take a brief moment to establish some of the things we’re going to be shouting out.
Continue reading Video Game Cutscenes: Dos and Don’ts
[Note: When I first published this piece shortly after the release of Mortal Kombat, it somehow found its way onto N4G and caused a lot of people to cry their eyes out because I wasn’t sucking Sub-Zero’s cock. Look, this is sarcastic – I like Mortal Kombat a lot, and primarily because it’s a fun game without feeling the need to be an artistic statement or a commentary on something. It’s just fun because smacking ninjas around is fun and sometimes that’s all we need.]
In order to enjoy Mortal Kombat 9 (or should I say Mortal Kombat, because this iteration of the series has the exact same title as the original for no adequately explained reason) there are certain preparatory steps you need to undertake before you really commit to it.
In the interest of providing people with a fair starting point, I thought it would be useful to construct this handy step-by-step tutorial in order to give people some idea of the sacrifices they’re going to need to make in order to have fun with what is, at its heart, a very solid fighting game.
So, without further ado:
Continue reading 5 Steps to Enjoying Mortal Kombat
The problem with Resident Evil isn’t that everybody dies, it’s that nobody ever stays dead. The series has never treated mortality with any kind of permanence. In the first few games, which were fairly traditional zombie stories, that was fine. It was mostly the point. But throughout many, often ill-advised sequels, Capcom started to apply the same logic to their major characters and plot beats. Albert Wesker has been the recurring series villain for 20 years, and he was killed in the first game.
The reason for Wesker’s implausible resilience is the T-Virus – a zombie-brewing superweapon that is also responsible for all of Resident Evil’s other unanswerable narrative quandaries. Sometimes they call it the G-Virus, or the C-Virus, and sometimes it’s a parasite called Las Plagas, but functionally it’s always the same thing: Bottled contrivance. Whatever you need, story-wise, the T/G/C-Virus Parasite can provide it. Monster outbreaks in Midwestern America, rural Spain, Africa? Done. Games set on luxury cruise liners and multicar locomotives? No problem. Villains and supporting characters dying grisly but ultimately unimportant deaths? Easy. Everything that has ever happened in a Resident Evil game can be explained by this, insofar as anything that has ever happened in a Resident Evil game can be explained at all.
Continue reading Review – Resident Evil VII
The Lego games would typically be outside of my usual remit, but I’ve somehow managed to dip my toes into both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones incarnations without even realising it. The former was a nice go-to game when I was weirdly, worryingly into Xbox Live Achievements (even though I don’t remember playing it for long), and the latter came with my replacement Xbox when I somehow fucked the first up beyond repair (and I hated it). So, Lego Batman was a weird one for me; something I played out of general curiosity to see how DC’s most beloved hero would receive the shiny plastic treatment.
I honestly don’t have too much to say about the game. The Lego series has always been the quintessential casual game: easy to pick up and play, charming, fun, and ideal for short ten to fifteen minute sessions. Lego Batman is all of that, plus and minus a few quirks.
Continue reading Review – Lego Batman
It’s hard to explain the appeal of the Sniper Elite series. It’s one of those gaming guilty pleasures that sounds faintly perverse written down, and utterly ludicrous spoken out loud. Not that there’s anything particularly unusual about sniping in games; almost all shooters have at least one rifle, and many have whole stretches of gameplay that are dedicated to nothing but long-range marksmanship. The sniping in and of itself, though, isn’t the appeal of Sniper Elite. Things would be so much easier if it were. But, no, there’s something else that differentiates this series from other sneaky-stabby-shooty third-person games, and it’s that psychotic slow-motion X-Ray view that lets you see all the catastrophic internal trauma you’re inflicting on your victims.
Seems an odd thing to be into, doesn’t it? Certainly wouldn’t sit well around the office water cooler or the in-law’s dinner table, and you get the sense that Rebellion, the game’s developers, probably recognise this. Which, I assume, is why they continue to set the series in World War II, despite having exhausted every major theatre of the conflict. You need Nazis for this kind of thing. These games have such a throbbing stiffy for lovingly-detailed exploding organs that it would be uncomfortable if your bullets were tunnelling through the brainpans of anyone else. But killing Nazis is always guilt-free. In the context of taking on a xenophobic imperialist war-machine, it’s actually pretty satisfying to watch precisely how much irreparable damage each bullet is inflicting on the Third Reich. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.
Continue reading Review – Sniper Elite 4