Monday, January 14, 2008

Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action

There’s nothing quite like pulping your friends into a crying mush with the sheer force of your intellect, and when a game claims to deliver that heady thrill it’s something that should be investigated posthaste. Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action delivers exactly that sort of academic emasculation of loved ones.

The computer trivia game is a feisty and often ill-conceived beast. For every You Don’t Know Jack that marches proudly forth from the primordial soup, there are a dozen hideous mutants that choke to death on a fetid mix of their bilious internal fluids. Sometimes the gaming public is served tasty trivia cuisine, and sometimes the development chefs just vomit forth their own stomach lining and call it "Buzz!”.

Indeed, the purchase of an electronic quiz game is something that should not be undertaken lightly; potential consumers should go to gaming stores equipped with a razor-sharp machete, impassive native guides, and a fearsome proficiency with a high-end bullwhip. The unwary could find themselves going home with a perfect arcade emulation of Quiz & Dragons; upon such potent cautionary tales are the foundations of gaming society set.

This is all by way of explaining that when I discovered that Scene It? Lights, Camera, Action was able to run without crashing, had answers that more or less matched its questions, and showed no obvious intention of molesting small children, I immediately acclaimed it a runaway success and asked it to have my babies. Brutally low expectations infinitely simplifies the process of making lifelong friends.

If you haven’t guessed by now, Scene It? LCA is a movie trivia game. It’s for the Xbox 360 and it’s the natural extension of the DVD-based trivia game of the same name. For about the price of a regular top-shelf game you’ll take home the game itself plus its four unique trivia buzzers. The buzzers won’t work with your regular 360 wireless – they instead communicate with a dedicated infrared port (included) which plugs into the 360’s USB hub. It’s a cheap way of dodging Microsoft’s absurd wireless licensing policy, but the winner in the end is the consumer, so rolling with it is not a hassle. You’ll be pleased to know that they’re more or less completely functional 360 controllers, so you can probably use them to do bizarre things like play Dead or Alive if you’re masochistically inclined.

The game lets you and up to three friends engage in your standard film trivia nonsense. All questions are multiple choice; some let everyone have a go, awarding more points for faster answers, while others will require you to buzz in and then face the challenge alone. A standard game, which lasts about half an hour, will move you around a fictional film lot, where each randomly chosen location is the home to a certain type of question.

The screening room, for example, challenges you to answer questions after watching an iconic scene from a movie, or asks you to identify a movie based on certain of its more unique film credits. The art department demands that you name a movie based on children’s drawings of its contents (seeing Freddy Krueger rendered in ham-handed Crayola is enough to warm the cockles of your icy, icy heart). Other question types see you identifying movie posters, sourcing famous quotes, or playing “before they were famous” with A-list celebrities. There’s an absolute buttload of these things, regardless of whether you measure your buttloads in imperial or metric, and the number of questions in each category is sufficient to last the number of games you’d expect of something like this.

The questions themselves are clever, and have enough depth to please a film buff without being so obscure as to frustrate newcomers. Over the eight or so games I’ve played I’ve never felt the need to argue with the questions or dispute the answers, which is good, because ultimately the game is only an inanimate disc and it would likely sneer in my face while haughtily ignoring my complaints.

At the end of each “round” (of which there are three per game), there is a wrap-up of the scores so far, and then a bunch of arbitrary awards are handed out for accomplishments like “slowest correct answer” or “answering correctly after three other players have been wrong”. These things are surprisingly good for numbing the pain of being in last place, and act as a thin and tasty jam smeared liberally over the game’s trivia-related bread and butter. It’s worth saying again, though, that the questions are really the star of the show here, and are well balanced and excellently conceived.

In fact, Scene It? LCA would be well on its way to being a king among trivia games, were it not for the game’s announcer, who, much like a terrorist, appears to have unexpectedly grabbed the yoke of this otherwise high-flying game and steered it straight for the nearest iconic monument. His grating voice introduces every set of questions, and recaps the scores at the end of each round, repeating the same lame jokes in a horrible affectedly nasal Californian accent until you’re just begging to take him to Guantanamo and beat him with a wet newspaper until he tells you where he bought the fertiliser.

It’s really a shame that the top-class work that’s gone into researching and writing the questions is wrapped in such unappealingly soggy vocal packaging. Still, it’s not the worst abomination in the history of gaming audio, and providing that you’re not intending to play this thing in epic 72-hour stretches you’ll likely be able to tolerate the mouldy crust in order to get to the sweet, sweet fruit-flavoured innards.

If you’re the sort who likes trivia games, and you’re also the sort who has friends, you’re first of all a lucky and rare breed, and secondly you’re absolutely the sort of person who should pick up a copy of Scene It? LCA for immediate deployment to your living room or entertainment area. This game is exactly what you’ve been looking for, and in the name of all that is holy, buy it quickly, before someone makes you play Buzz!.

1 comment:

Julia B said...

'Brutally low expectations infinitely simplifies the process of making lifelong friends.'

Oh, I knew there had to be a reason you still hung out with me... Still, net benefit for me so woohoo! :-)

This game was fun, though I found the different types of games frustrating at first (mostly because I was getting my ass kicked waiting for the multiple choice options when it was a first-in game) once you get the hang of it it's a blast.

Also - the variety of different film genres it covers means that everyone has a chance of doing at least reasonably well.