Last week, Quantic Dream unleashed their latest game on the PS3. Beyond: Two Souls is, by all accounts, a beautiful experience. It has two top Hollywood actors taking lead roles, a deep and involving storyline, well written dialogue, and really does have to be seen. But, having said that – doesn’t that sound like something that a person would say about a film?
This is from the same studio that brought us Heavy Rain. Again, a deep and involving story that is really more of an interactive drama than a video game. I’m not saying that they are bad in any way, shape or form. In fact, I enjoyed them greatly. But when did video ames become so akin to a film?
Let me explain. I love video games. I also love films. Greatly. These have been and indeed are two of my biggest passions in life. I grew up in the 8 bit era of consoles, rescuing Princess Peach from Bowser’s evil clutches, with flat sprites jumping around on a screen. Then, of course, it all evolved into 3D. But then, there really wasn’t a great deal of realism involved, even with titles like Grand Theft Auto III, Final Fantasy VII, Daggerfall, Morrowind et al. They were all very separated from films. This is, of course, when video games were still in their infancy, graphics were still rather cartoonish and unrealistic, and it was all really far removed from the real wold or indeed a film.
Of course, I have absolutely nothing against cut scenes and cinematics in games. As technology progresses these are, of course, going to get better and better. Character models and faces will get much better, and things will indeed look more real and cinematic. It can really help with immersion into the game world. I was recently playing Assassins Creed III, and the thing that really struck me the most about that game is the sheer number of cut scenes. At times it feels as though you are watching a film with the odd bit of gameplay thrown in for good measure, and that is where I take issue.
When I buy a video game, I buy it beacuse it is a video game. I want to be able to get hours of enjoyment out of it, navigating through the game world, attaching myself to the characters that I meet and the character that I am playing, and of course helping the game’s protagonist with his objectives to beat the bad guys, et cetera, all with my controller or mouse and keyboard. I do not expect to sit there for ages and ages and ages watching endless cut scenes, with a little bit of gameplay guiding me to the next cut scene. If I desired to sit and watch a good story with little to no gameplay, I would go and watch a film.
Of course, the cinematics can be skipped. That is fine for some, but I do actually enjoy knowing about the character and game world. It is however a very fine line.
Another good example of all of this is Grand Theft Auto V. There is a picture going around on the internet of the script. It looks bigger than at least four or five normal film scripts put together. And that is fine, as GTA has a huge open world where you don’t need to follow a set path if you don’t want to. You can go off and immerse yourself in the world, and all of those pedestrians needed dialogue to make the world seem alive. But a lot of friends who have played the game are always going on about how cinematic the game is, and I agree. It is. It is, however, also a video game that is not short of hours upon hours of gameplay. And that is my point.
Films and video games are, in my humble opinion, two separated entities. It is very brave of Quantic Dream to try new things like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, but I just don’t like the idea of games becoming more and more like films. To me, they have always been two separate art forms. You wouldn’t go to the cinema to play a game. You go to watch a film. Whilst current graphics are technically very impressive and the stories very well written, I play a game to play. I watch a film to watch. And whilst the occasional really cool cut scene is good, character development is necessary towards emotional resonance with the characters that you play, I expect a game above all to have great gameplay.
After all, that is surely the point of getting to play a game?