What happened to the cinematic? What happened to finally blasting through some controller-destroying boss fight and being rewarded with a chunk of the finest computer-animated cinema that money could buy? When did it become acceptable to just render things in the game engine, no matter how shonky or poorly animated said engine might be?
Yet another trailer for Grand Theft Auto IV has been doing the rounds, and putting aside how increasingly unexcited I am about this franchise serving me another giant sized helping of more of the same, the trailer on its own merits falls considerably short of amazing. Line after line of cliché-ridden Russian-accented mobtalk is being delivered by in-game character models with significantly less expressive range than a sock puppet. It’s never been clearer that when the only body language you’re capable of delivering is a firmly upthrust middle finger, there’s a whole range of dramatic possibilities you’re just not competent to explore.
I’m an unabashed fan of the cinematic. I happily bought the Blizzard DVD that has all the Starcraft footage back to back. I used to sit there and watch the second act epilogue in Diablo 2 again and again. I can describe the entirety of The 7th Guest as “thoroughly entertaining” and keep a straight face.
Good cinematics can conceal any number of gameplay faults. Look, for instance, at Dragon’s Lair. I dare you to walk near an arcade stand of that machine and not put in whatever ridiculous fee it wants to charge you for a game. Decades on, and people are still being suckered into experiencing its almost complete lack of interactivity.
Cinematics can be so important, indeed, that if you get a well known director to film 90 to 180 minutes of cinematic with well known actors, you can screen it in a theatre and not a single person will complain that it didn’t have an online component and the multiplayer was weak.
I think this was a lot of the reason I felt let down by Warcraft 3. It started off with these gorgeous films of beautifully rendered orcs smacking the living crap out of armoured knights, and then you get into the actual game and you’re being emoted at by what are effectively low-polygon plastic soldiers. That, and the plot, script, and gameplay were rubbish.
I firmly exhort the A-list developers of the world to not let the cinematic fall by the wayside. Spare me from another meandering rant through the games of my misspent youth, and put in the hard yards to deliver a quality multimedia experience. After all, you’ll appreciate it next time I’m comparing your game to a trip to Auschwitz but stop to add, “but, much like the Nazi propaganda machine, it has top notch cinematics.”