One of the terms that repeatedly appears in the world of videogames is the curious expression ‘cinematic gaming.’ On the surface, it seems almost nonsensical; games and cinema are entirely different mediums, and any attempt to combine them should be doomed to fail. We couldn’t imagine doing the same thing combing a book with a game, for example (despite games like Skyrim that contain enough in-game lore that reading it all in one sitting would probably make your eyes shrivel up).
And it certainly seems that this view isn’t entirely without merit. A number of games come to mind that show how the label “cinematic” may be more of a hazard warning than a selling point. Firstly, there’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, whose most egregious flaw is the frankly biblically long cutscenes. Here we have a game that seems to take the attitude of Dr. Frankenstein in its application of the idea “cinematic”, taking a film’s worth of non-interactive cutscenes and haphazardly splicing them into the game, much to the detriment of the latter.
Fun this is not, and it’s the same sort of thing that a second type of so-called ‘cinematic’ game does. The latest instalments of the COD franchise are good examples, but it also applies, to a somewhat lesser extent, to games such as Dead Space and Resident Evil 5. These are the sort of games that tend to translate ‘cinematic’ as ‘set piece’, where the on-screen action simply unfolds with little to no player interaction, save perhaps for the occasional ‘press x/shoot this thing or die’ quick-time-event.
A good example of this occurs in Dead Space 2, where the protagonist is forced out into space by a hulking un-dead monstrosity, and has to shoot said creature before being hurtled through another bunch of explosions. Sure, it looks cool, but it’s nothing more than spectacle. As the whole scene unfolds, you’re taken out of the game and made to watch a series of predetermined events that you have no control over.. You don’t feel the danger; you don’t feel like you could change anything, and its hard to see why a game should strive to be cinematic if it means taking the gamer out of the game.
Despite all this, it shouldn’t be concluded that I’m against cinematic games in general – far from it. What I really object to is a particular type of cinematic gaming. The problem, as I see it, with the sort of examples above, is that they remove an all-important feature of a game – immersion. When you’re being trundled through a set piece, or have to sit through twenty minutes of cutscenes to get any sort of plot or character development, it isn’t gaming at all – it’s just plain cinema.
But what, then, is a better version? In my view, it’s the sort of game where the cinematic feel goes hand-in-hand with a sense of immersion. An excellent version of this is The Last of Us; here everything feels like you’re actually involved in a film about the zombie apocalypse. As you rummage around for bullets conversing with your partner, or trying to creep by the fungi-infected mutants unnoticed, you really feel like your acting out the plot of a film , in a way that twiddling your thumbs whilst a set piece plays out just can’t hope to achieve.
Then there’s the immersive fluidity of Dishonoured. After jumping from a ledge to backstab a guard, then teleporting to another ledge before possessing a nearby rat to escape the recently arrived back-up, you get to say to yourself; ‘hell yeah, I did that; that was cool.’ And it’s the doing, not the watching, which is the important thing.
James Dyson, Games Columnistbookmark me