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Is the trend of cinematic narratives ruining gaming or not?

8/2/12 8:00pm
tl;dr

Do you have a problem with an abundance of cutscenes in your game? Well, I don't suffer from the same situation and I actually really enjoy them! This blog details how I think gaming should include some more cinematics in future titles.

As gaming evolves and budgets become larger, there seems to be a trend going on: lavish cutscenes. You’d be hard pressed to find a modern, mainstream, triple A title that doesn’t feature cutscenes in some significant way. Be it “Metal Gear Solid” or “Alan Wake,” games just push their narratives onto us through the use of cinematic cuts.

I’ve seen this trend bemoaned as the death of gaming. I’ve heard critics lambaste titles that rely too much on scripted events and FMVs. I’ve read complaints from fans that most games are more movies now than they are game. Is this really a bad thing?

I just recently finished “Binary Domain.” The game was created by the producer of the Yakuza series by Sega. If anyone has played any entry in the Yakuza series, they will tell you that the cutscenes are long and plentiful. Still, the narrative set-up by those scenes is leaps and bounds ahead of most games in the modern climate.

Regardless, as gaming grows and matures as a medium, why is it so bad to include cutscenes in your game? Much like a musician who seeks to tell a story through the use of a concept album, can a video game not decide to display its narrative ideals through cutscene?

I suppose there is a point where enough is enough. The Atlus RPG Classic, “Persona 4” starts off with a 2 hour prologue that is text-based with limited interaction. Capcom’s brawler/adventure hybrid, “Asura’s Wrath,” is composed of 80% cutscenes. Hell, “Yakuza 4,” one of my favorites, includes over 5 hours of non-interactive FMVs. Isn’t that just too much?

I say no. Much like every movie isn’t about broken cops or drug lords and every book isn’t a fantasy novel in the vein of J.R.R. Tolkein, video games do not have a single mold with which they can convey their message. If a developer sees fit to include 6 hours of cinematics, why is anyone even complaining?

This is pretty damn close to "Lord of the Rings," though...

Maybe the ability to skip said cinematics should be included in every title? Well, I just finished “Shadows of the Damned” three times for the Platinum trophy and I was able to deal with the cutscenes each and every time. They even took on new meanings during my third playthrough as I focused on other elements to the game design, namely Akira Yamaoka’s glorious soundtrack.

I suppose gaming just provides a radically dissimilar interaction than movies, which is why people are sick of seeing so many FMVs. Instead of having control ripped away, most gamers want to keep going. I like getting breaks from the action, though.

The Uncharted series, for as generic and unoriginal in gameplay as it may be, has some very well done cutscenes. Extraordinary motion capture and superb acting combine to make the cut aways something you seek out. While I enjoy popping soldiers in the head, I’m more eager to see Drake’s interactions with Sully and Elena. It gives me a nice chance to catch my breath.

“Max Payne 3” was an exceptional case for having more cutscenes in games. The transitions Rockstar employed to make game and cinematic blend are so ahead of the competition that I barely knew when to stop playing and hardly ever wanted to. I blitzed through the title because I was sucked in by fierce opposition and tight controls and compelled forward through wonderful acting and supreme direction.

After playing such a great game like that, I’m left pondering why I ever thought ridding games of cutscenes was a good idea. Still, I do understand that some people just cannot stomach their existence and want nothing to do with them. I appreciate that viewpoint.

But when did our medium ever conform to one idea? The amount of games I’ve played where there are no cinematics far outweighs the amount that do. You can fire up any number of indie games and get your old-school fix, but even titles like “Portal 2” and “Doom” do not feature any FMVs in sight.

So to any naysayers of cutscenes, all I have to say is just avoid the games that have them. I, on the other hand, am looking forward to the day where an entire game may just be one long cutscene (Hotel Dusk doesn’t count!). I’m all for a slightly interactive movie, as long as the plot isn’t as garbage as “Heavy Rain.”

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