Medal of Honor arguably pioneered it, Call of Duty undoubtedly homogenized it, and the Uncharted series would not be the same without it. I am speaking, of course, of the cinematic gameplay that has become so pervasive in modern gaming’s most popular titles. Developers are in constant competition with one another to make their moments bigger, better, and more memorable than the other guy’s bigger, better, and more memorable moments.
Everyone remembers the nuclear explosion that ends a protagonist’s life in Call of Duty 4. No one will forget hanging out of a falling cargo plane while, holding on for dear life, while fighting off goons in Uncharted 3. Though these moments were memorable, I’m starting to wonder — are developers getting a little too much inspiration from Hollywood? So much so, that they are forgetting that we are meant to interact with these games?
The moments mentioned above are great — don’t get me wrong. But I’m beginning to wonder, when will developers make these moments more than just a spectator sport? Certainly, these games aren’t representative of everything out there. Dark Souls, Dishonored, and Bioshock thrive off of gameplay that makes memorable moments not only happen naturally, but in a unique fashion. Everyone’s experience with the aforementioned nuclear blast is identical, but I am doubtful that very many people had a similar experience with Dishonored.
Certainly, the scale of these cinematic moments can’t be matched with current technology. Outside of a controlled environment, it would be very hard to make something like Uncharted 2‘s gunfight in a collapsing building a regular occurance. But that begs the question — aren’t these “cinematic moments” what, well, the cinema is for? When gameplay is being reduced to mere button prompts, all for the sake of making something pretty happen onscreen, aren’t developers getting a little ahead of themselves?
When it comes down to it, games live or die by their mechanics. If something doesn’t work right, or the mechanics are too simple for their own good (read: Asura’s Wrath), the game suffers. God of War ushered in an era of games whose most epic onscreen moments boiled down to QTEs — a few timed button presses on the player’s side. We’re witnessing some impressive things unfolding onscreen, but, as players , we are doing very little to make it happen. Isn’t the whole idea of a game to delve into an interactive world so that we have some control over what’s going on?
Why are games in such a hurry to catch up with Hollywood. Why do games even need to be anything like Hollywood? We have this unique platform that allows us to give the players the power to do just about anything they want, and instead, some of the biggest games out there rely on what boils down to an interactive story book. Anyone who has experienced the tension and air of mystery in Metroid Prime, the thrill of possessing a pack of rats just in time to dodge out of the way of a guard’s watchful eye in Dishonored, or the dread that comes with turning any corner in Dark Souls can attest to this – the most memorable and unique moments in our medium take place not when we are passively watching them unfold, but when we are experiencing them for ourselves.