Hello there! Before we begin, I’m going to ask you to watch at least a part of the following trailer. I know, you came here to read my beautiful prose, but let me assure you, it’s worth it:
Done? Are you sure? Awesome.
Now that you’ve watched it, you might have noticed some certain telling characteristics, shall we say. Some might describe it as a particularly exciting showcase of “gameplay” but to me, that’s not reason enough for it to be interesting. Even the bad things about the video, the ones that normally fuel discussion on the state of the industry are not new or noteworthy: The heavy use of unnecessary profanity, the stupid and predictable writing (complete with bad one-liners), the below sub-par voice acting, the generic “industrial” look that is present even in a completely new setting, etc, etc. Basically, it’s on the same level as anything else capcom does, and one has come to expect such incredibly unprofessional mistakes from capcom. I mean, come on, a good writer isn’t THAT expensive and if you’re going to have extensive voice-acting, you might as well do it well.
That’s why those problems aren’t interesting, they can be solved with better management of the company and product. It has nothing to do with game design at all.
However, there’s one thing that caught my attention. I had this feeling of unease during the whole video and only after it ended could I get my finger on it: This whole gameplay video was purely cinematic with the exception of the “fight” scenes that last less than 30 seconds each. The whole time the protagonist was running, the whole time a helicopter was shooting down on her and the whole time there was something happening around her at arms reach.
It felt … artificial. Like a roller-coaster ride that doesn’t hide the fact that you’re going through the motions, that it’s all safe, that there’s no real danger of anything bad happening to you. The thrill of the thing lays precisely on the fact that it’s trying to convince you that this is real, that you are in real danger and that you should be alert of what’s going on because anything might happen. If you show the rails the illusion breaks down:
How come the helicopter never hits me with those thousands of bullets? How is it possible for the helicopter pilot to know exactly where the protagonist is while inside the building? Why didn’t the protagonist outright kill or disable the helicopter pilot when she could? What is the purpose of this place? Why does it have sliding metal sheets? Aren’t those supposed to be secured? Why are there corridors that lead to nowhere and can only be escaped by jumping over a most likely huge drop? Why am I only allowed to control the character for a few seconds at a time?
All of these questions that spring to mind while watching the video have one perfect answer: Because it’s a videogame!
Haha, no, that’s not it. It’s too generic of a response and worst of all, it ignores the title of this post. Let’s try this again:
Because it’s cinematic!
Being cinematic means that everything interesting that happens on the screen has to be bombastic and mostly outside of player input. If something interesting is happening then it’s because the game is doing it for you, not because you’re actually doing it. That’s the philosophy behind a cinematic game and I don’t think I’m too far off when I say this style probably started with Half-Life 2. Why? Because that game has a ton of interesting moments but none of them are actually directed by the player, they are always things in the background were the freeman can’t go. On top of that, the game is completely linear in order to make the scripting of bombastic events easier but hides that fact quite well most of the time, keeping the illusion from breaking.
The problem in this case seems to be that the video showcases the weaknesses of a cinematic game. The rails are quite visible, even in video form. The illusion is lost, there’s no freedom here and that’s clear. So why all the farce? Why would you make a game that is centered around being cinematic, revolving around the very idea of a rollercoaster ride and then smash head first into the weaknesses of such an approach?
My guess is that this game was designed mostly by trends and publisher pressure. You know, just do what all the other games are doing. Here, let me check off the list:
- “Cinematic” gameplay. Check.
- Parkour-like platforming. __Check—
- Low priority given to the writing staff (money is best spent elsewhere). Chek.
- Gritty realism. CHECK with your face.
- Quirky setting, just like Bioshock, Dishonored, Mirror’s Edge, etc. Iidesuyo, this is el checko.
- “Innovative” mechanics. Mirrored kcehc.
- Action cutscenes every 20 seconds to heighten the mood. Check, and then check again while falling.
- Stealth section involving a search light …. waaaait for iiiit …. there, check!
- Floating in-game prompts. |Check|
- Overuse of profanity. Mother offending check.
- Magnetic combat style like Arkham Asylum and Assassin’s Creed. Check, then float towards another bullet point and make a backwards flying check.
- Turret section. Strangely no, I can’t check this one from a stationary position … yet.
Yes, trends are not bad in and off themselves, but if you’re going to follow a trend, you might as well research, investigate and analyze why and how a trend works. Don’t just copy the superficial elements in hopes of ending up with something as good as what you’re copying, because chances are you need to understand what you’re doing in order to do it well.