Absolutely stunning movie trailers for The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus exploded all over the web in the last 24 hours. A few weeks ago, it was the promo clips for Looper that got everybody buzzing. Like lots of other folks, I eagerly watched all those teasers over and over again. And I can’t stop thinking about how I really, really want to play more games based on movies.
Yeah, I know it sounds like crazy talk. 99.9 per cent of games based on movies suck. Why would I want more of that? Because I think tie-in games can be better. They have to get better eventually, don’t they?
Normally, I’m all for the primacy of original story, vision and experience in the games I play. And nothing beats playing through an entertainment that originated as an interactive idea. But, something like the Prometheus trailer hints at a vast universe of visual and thematic ideas. I know dozens of great sci-fi games have dealt with the exploration and terror of space exploration. But Prometheus is coming from Ridley Scott, the man behind Alien and Blade Runner. Isn’t it about time that we got a game spawned directly from his imagination?
Most of these movie-to-game projects start off from a great premise, a belief that games are great constructs for exploring the inside of a fictional world. That’s absolutely true but efforts to actually do that get tripped up by not having enough time or vision to make a game world come alive the same way a movie world does. And, yes, engaging with works from the two media is very different, with movies being a more unilateral experience than games.
But, still, it feels like there’s been a shift when it comes to adapting TV or movie properties into video games. Over the last decade, you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing all sorts of tie-in games for movies like The Godfather, Jumper and The Matrix. But it feels like the flow of such releases has dwindled. Sure, Activision continues to do a brisk business with James Bond, Transformers and, um, Battleship games but they’re only one publisher. More companies took similar risks in the past. A lot of the results were utterly forgettable, sure, but each one held the fleeting hope that the formula for adapting a big-screen spectacle into video-game form would be advanced by a little bit.
Now, though, it feels like any ambition for making a movie tie-in game that could hit the heights of, say, Starbreeze’s work on The Chronicles of Riddick games. While the gameplay was fun, it wasn’t extremely innovative. Those titles captured the mood and tone of their cinematic counterparts. Hell, I even dug the Wanted game that came out a little while back. It tried to explain some of the super-abilities that the film’s assassin used through gameplay mechanics like cover chaining. The idea there was that Wesley moved so fast from one spot of cover to the next that he seemingly appeared in a new position out of nowhere. It’s that kind of symbiosis I’d like to see more of.
I understand some of the hurdles that face the beleaguered sub-category of tie-in games. Movies can be made over shorter periods of time, and don’t need the kinds of man-hours and resources that AAA games require. But movie games can be shorter, especially if they don’t hit the $US60 price point. I’d love to see tie-in games be more character-driven, too. Let the source film tell a story and let a tie-in game tell me about the guy who’s intriguing but doesn’t get enough screen time.
As The Avengers approaches release this week, the lack of a corresponding video game adventure feels like a huge void. (Vague promises are being made, though.) It’s easy to write off the failures of recent years — Sega’s Iron Man games, for example — as crass money grabs that deserved to fail. But, we’re never going to get a true evolution of how movie-to-game translations can happen if movie studios or developers don’t take the risks.