We're Finally Getting Good Games Based On Movies

We're Finally Getting Good Games Based On Movies

Once upon a time licensed video games — ones based on movies, TV shows, or other popular series — were the domain of festering bargain bins and well-meaning grandparents who didn't know any better. Now Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation are two of the year's most interesting games. This is a good thing.

There have, of course, been a handful of smartly innovative licensed games over the years. Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay comes to mind as a classic, and the Batman: Arkham [Insert Person, Place, Or Vague Prequel Word Here] games elevated good ol' Bats out of gaming's gutter and into combat system superstar-dom. And hey, there was that King Kong game from a while back. It, um... it tried.

By and large, however, game makers have been content to churn out bland carbon copies of better games coated in the rotten, blood-caked skin suits of familiar series. In no particular order, hello there Aliens: Colonial Marines, Catwoman, Fight Club, most Spider-Man games that aren't Spider-Man 2, most James Bond games that aren't Goldeneye, a ton of throwaway Star Wars games, and of course a heap of mediocre Lord of the Rings tie-ins. On the latter two series, the Lego games at least provide a nice (if extremely simple) alternative.

Two great big-budget licensed console/PC games in a couple weeks, though? That means something. Or at least, I'd like to hope it does. Granted, awful licensed games are hardly a thing of the past (go search the iOS App Store or Google Play if you want to cringe until your forehead caves in), but I'm actually pretty optimistic about what this sudden change in approach to classic series represents.

For one, games like Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation give their respective series their own identities in video games. Before, both series were heavily reliant on their respective movies and — in the former's case — books to lend their games value and meaning. Without that crucial context, without an affection born of previous experiences with experiences that were, you know, good, they didn't matter. The games were just piggy backing, typically on a movie release around the same time.

Both Shadow of Mordor and Alien are cool because they're games — not in spite of that fact — and they're not reliant on any particular film release either. Mordor is this great systemic sandbox, this boiling cauldron of orcish tensions that spill out into messy, unpredictable battles. Sometimes it makes you feel like a badass, other times it makes you laugh. Heck, I even feel things about the orcs that populate my game on occasion. Hura Skull-Collector might have been a total jerk who wouldn't stop stalking me at the worst possible times, but damn it he was MY total jerk who wouldn't stop stalking me at the worst possible times. He was so determined. It was adorable.

We're Finally Getting Good Games Based On Movies

Don't get me wrong: I hacked his face to ribbons so many times that he ended up taping it back together with a greasy burlap sack and string, but we had a bond, he and I. I decided to let him live, help him grow more powerful. Truth is, he sucked more than most orcs. He was so bad at everything. Eventually (and improbably), though, he ascended to Warchief status with my "help." I was so damn proud.

He's one of my favourite characters in all of Middle-Earth now. In a series swollen with a preposterous number of stories, appendices, spin-offs — dating all the way back to the 1930s, he takes the, or at least a, cake. An orc. That a computer made for me. Madness.

Alien is a little different and, admittedly, more directly connected to the movies' characters and world, but it nonetheless lives and dies (and murders you a whole, whole lot) on the fact that it is a video game. There aren't any jump cuts or strategic pans or whatever. You watch and wait and hopefully please, please, please avoid the Alien in real time. You sit in your own head, stew in the sweat stink of your fear, as you try to scurry away from its acid-soaked web.

After years of sequels, spin-offs, and pop culture jokes defanged it, Isolation makes the Alien scary again. That is no small feat. Arguably, it's something only a new medium that offers new tools and opportunities can accomplish. It is, in short, really friggin' cool.

We're Finally Getting Good Games Based On Movies

This sort of thing has a way of paying itself forward for video gaming as a medium, too. Good, intelligent video game innovation reaching more eyeballs because it's attached to familiar names and faces? That's great, especially in big-budget gaming where innovation is upsettingly rare. Admittedly, both Shadow of Mordor and Alien draw on a bunch of tropes from other games themselves, but they deftly pair the old and the new, and they do it in a way that fits their respective universes nicely.

Moreover, there's a good chance other games and series will iterate on these games' innovations. Combat systems that draw on what Arkham Asylum pioneered show up everywhere now — including, unsurprisingly given that they're both WB games, in Shadow of Mordor. I can't wait to see what other people do with randomly generated enemies ala Mordor and more intimate, confined enemy encounters like in Alien. I think there's tons of possibility in both cases.

Granted, neither of these games is perfect. Alien can be janky/frustrating in places and Mordor's story is alternatively bland and kinda messed up (in a way that makes me wish a big series would come over to games a little less reliant on violence, if only to see what kind of stories we'd get), but this is an encouraging trend overall. Can I call it a trend? Is it really a trend yet? I don't actually know.

I think there are encouraging signs pointing to it becoming a trend, though. Again, the Batman: Arkham series is spoken of in revered whispers, both in terms of mechanics and sales, and I think it says a lot that both WB and Fox/Sega decided to put Alien and Middle-Earth in the hands of capable studios rather than small-timers who just need to make a quick buck.

Meanwhile, Legend of Korra is getting a game from the grandmasters of combat action at Platinum and Telltale's made an entire business out of crafting cinematic tales in universes like The Walking Dead, Fables, and now Game of Thrones. I'm sure I'm forgetting a few other examples too. Despite a still-overwhelming number of not-great licensed games (especially when you count the mobile game scene), things are looking up.

I'm hopeful. That's not something I've really ever been able to say about games like these. Now then, who wants to take a stab at making a new Buffy The Vampire Slayer game already?

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find him on Twitter @vahn16.


    You and I have very different ideas on what a movie tie-in game is.

      They never called them movie tie-ins.

        That's what everybody always refered them as. The tie-in videogames were always terrible because they always had a deadline of the movies release date and couldn't contradict the movie.

        I never considered the Arkham games as based on the movies.

          I agree, It's a bit weird for this article to mention the Arkham games. They didn't even feature alternative skins based on the movies, though there was a pretty terrible Dark Knight skin in Origins.

      Agree, and if they're going to be that loose with 'games based off movies' then it's not like getting good movie games is anything new. The X-Wing/TIE Fighter, Dark Forces and Knights of the Old Republic game series are all great examples. Indiana Jones had a great 'game based on a movie' with Fate of Atlantis, which was by far better than the actual Indy IV too.

    Shadow of Mordor isn't based on a movie.

      Was about to say this.

      It's based on the LOTR universe of course but it's not in any way related to the LOTR or even The Hobbit movies (or the books, for that matter). In fact, there was a story only a few days ago on Kotaku that said this. It's the entire reason why it is titled "Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor" and not "Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor".

    No love for Ghostbusters? Or The Thing?

      I would love to see the Thing on Steam. The 1982 movie is one of my favorites and it's a game I have always wanted to play :'( Please?

    Games that tie in to movies or cartoons tend to be dreadful. They're made on a deadline, based on early production notes and I don't think anyone involved gives the slightest damn about quality. It's purely a thing done for a paycheck.

    Games based on licensed properties are completely different beasts. We've had some terrible Aliens games but the Aliens vs Predators (a comic book license) games have been pretty good. The listed games, like Shadow of Mordor and the Arkham series, are other examples of taking a licensed property and doing something good with them.

    As far as I can tell, tie-ins are shovelware done for a quick and easy buck. Licensed properties are simply the same as any other major title out there. They can be great, they can be mediocre.

      GOLDENEYE!!! GOL-DEN-EYE!!! Also Star Wars Battlefront, Also the original LOTR games on PS2/NGC were pretty great

        Goldeneye the game was released 2 years after the movie so is an anomaly of its own. Likely it was due to someone high up wanting a James Bond game made and someone equally as high up believing an original story wouldn't cut it as a game (just a theory) so they made it about the latest Bond film of the time

          There's also the fact that Goldeneye strays away from the movies plot *drastically*. In places it barely resembles the movie at all. This is to its benefit.

          Not based on a movie, but pretty much a Bond movie in it's own right, I still think James Bond: Everything or Nothing is the best Bond game to have come out so far. The amount of variety in it is INSANE, and it has the best Bond theme since Living Daylights. Man I love A-ha. I'm also quite partial to Garbage's The World Is Not Enough.

          This^. More movie tie ins would be as good as golden-eye if they didn't stick to the deadline!

        The LOTR games were ok but I wouldn't call them great. Severely repetitive beatemups with no actual depth to them, but they WERE fun.

      The alien vs predator game was good...really?

        I can tell by your comment that you just played the last one they made.

        The original games were rather well received and became something of cult classics.

        The reboot from a few years about was forgettable and generic.

          Fair enough I completely forgot about those games never played them myself.

    The tie in games are now mobile games. They can make just as much as a shovelware release with a much lower cost and a wider market share. Which have released the and form want of a better word "real games" based on movies to be good.

    I’d love to see someone do a comprehensive metacritic study (for whatever that’s worth) of if movie tie-ins are actually worse than the average, similarly budgeted game.

    There’s been enough exceptions to the rule over the years and I feel like I’ve read the above article a dozen times over the years that I’m now starting to think that it’s just that their more high profile titles so they get more notice when they’re decidedly average.

    Most games are average and nobody never notices they exist, some games are great.
    Most movie tie-ins are average but get more attention than un-licenced games, some movie tie-ins are great.

    Last edited 10/10/14 4:15 pm

    Goldeneye, Ghostbusters, AvP, TIE Fighter (in fact most of the old Lucasarts Star Wars games), the Arkhams, TMNT, Blade Runner, that Transformers one that was great. As long as they aren't stapled to a movie release date, licensed properties have a pretty good record.

    (And, like the Arkhams, Shadows of Mordor is very pointedly *not* based on a movie anyway)

    I'm just waiting to overhear some dumb kid say, "They should totally make a movie based off Alien Isolation/Shadows of Mordor... "

    ones based on movies, TV shows, or other popular series

    I think if you said "other media" instead of "other popular series" it would avoid a lot of confusion for readers.

    WOW just WOW.....what is wrong with the last few generations of human beings, it is NOT based on a movie its based on the LORE of JRR Tolkeins MIDDLE EARTH. which encompassed around 10 books including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit which were written during WORLD WAR 2........not even close to a movie mr so called author......geez are people so cocksure about everthing that they don't even bother to find out if what they are saying is even true. waste of space this article

    Last edited 10/10/14 4:47 pm

    Ummmm did Dark Forces, Jedi Knight, Jedi Knight II, X-Wing vs Tie Fighter and the KotORs just get called "throwaway"?

    Last edited 10/10/14 5:42 pm

      And lets not Forget Aladdin and the Lion King on the Mega Drive and SNES as well

    The Scott Pilgrim game was really good. I guess it might have been based more on the comic than the movie though.

    Sorry, NO. While SoMD is a GREAT game, it is NOT based off a movie... Or book. Rather, it is SET in the universe that the book and movies are in. Please get your shit right.

    Two games comes out that are great, 3 if we include the Arkham Franchise, but none of them are Movie games.

    Shadows of Mordor, obviously based in the same world as the LOTR Trilogy and The Hobbit books/movie. But a completely original concept. (Yes I'm aware the Hobbit is one book, and it's shorter than the each of the three in the trilogy.)

    Alien: Isolation, channels the spirit of Alien, but is it's own original story.

    Batman: Arkham Asylum/City/Origin. A Unique and original retelling of Batman.

    But these games are not based on movies, they are based on the same Intellectual property as the movies. For years Gamers have thought that trying to recreate the movie in games is a terrible idea. Let the game be something new and original. And not the story we just saw that was designed for the passive medium of movies.

    Let's make a good Turtles game for the recent movie. Instead of recreating the movie in game form, let's have the Turtles taking down the remnants of the foot clan in a stealth ninja style of game. This aftermath we play through would be good, they could even fake us out with a lieutenant taking over the role of Shredder, making us think he returned.

    4 Turtles, 4 styles of play. Leo would be about efficient stealth take downs. Don would be hacking systems and fighting off the occasional guard, Raph would be going berserk on the heaviest concentrations, and Mikey would playing around but still kicking butt. Boss fights would see you control one turtle where the computer controls the other 3. You get to pick who before the fight. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Don would have gadgets, Leo Defence, Raph Offense and Mikey a balance.

    Add some Multiplayer co-op stages and the ability to replay boss fights as a team and you get what could be an awesome game, based on the IP but not a Movie game even if ties the recent movie with it's obvious sequel.

    "We're Finally Getting Good Games Based On Movies"There have been plenty over the years. Just because two have come out recently isn't bucking any trends. It's business as usual. It's worth getting excited about having these great games, but I'm not sure what other conclusions can be drawn about it.

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