The relationship between the two mediums is stronger than ever—games are becoming more narrative-driven, and big-budget action movies are virtually indistinguishable from big-budget video-games.
Since videogames and movies began courting in the early ’80s, they’ve shared a generally cringe-worthy relationship. There are exceptions—1997’s Goldeneye (based on the 007 film) is not only the gold standard of movie-based games, it’s also one of the greatest first-person shooters ever. But such triumphs have been few and far between.
There have been slight improvements in the universe of movie-game tie-ins over the last decade, due in no small part to advancements in graphics. To help matters, the producers of many of today’s better adaptations have eased up on the practice of rushing games out of the gate in order to coincide with a film’s premiere. The hotly anticipated new game Batman: Arkham City, for example, came out this week. Like its 2009 precursor, Batman: Arkham Asylum, this installment isn’t narratively affiliated with Christopher Nolan’s movies, the third of which will be in theatres this coming summer. But like Nolan’s interpretation of the Batman story, the Arkham games have struck a chord with a multi-generational audience of filmgoers, gamers and comic-book fans for their gritty take on the franchise.
While things may finally be looking up for certain franchises, history has proven that movies make for lacklustre games. The second movie tie-in game ever released, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, was accused of not just killing Atari, but contributing to the videogame industry crash of ’83. Since then, countless beloved blockbusters have been turned into unplayable cash-grabs.
This losing streak doesn’t begin and end with gaming. In many cases, game-based movies have fared even worse. Anyone who grew up with the NES also grew up with its flagship title, Super Mario Bros. When word got out that Hollywood was embracing the famed franchise, naïve gamers were ecstatic to see a big-screen story about sibling plumbers battling goombas, koopas and a fire-breathing beast named Bowser. Many of us can still recall the air of WTF-ness that filled the theatre as Bob Hoskins (Mario) and John Leguizamo (Luigi) threw down with Dennis Hopper (Bowser).
The nadir of tragic tie-ins came in 1994, when arcade and console brawler Street Fighter was translated into a live-action film that starred Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue and Raul Julia. As if turning a classic game into a lame movie wasn’t shameful enough, a videogame called Street Fighter: The Movie was also released. The notion of playing a lousy game based on a lousy movie based on a groundbreaking game is just too stupid for words.
The give-and-take relationship between the mediums is stronger than ever now—games are becoming more narrative-driven, and big-budget action movies are virtually indistinguishable from big-budget video-games. These developments can be traced back to 1999’s The Matrix, the movie that popularized bullet-time, whereby the heroes could slow down time in order to dodge bullets and mow down loads of bad guys. In 2001, movies and games came full circle with Max Payne, a third-person shooter in which “bullet-time” was an essential part of the gameplay. (For the record, there was a Matrix game. It was terrible.)
Movie-based games are showing signs of progress, and it looks as though game-based movies might not be far behind. While the Angry Birds and FarmVille features now in development seem like bad ideas, there are several other adaptations that sound a helluva lot better than a fifth Resident Evil sequel. The most exciting news came when a French press release divulged that Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks were involved in pre-production for a movie based on an upcoming novelization of the popular game Halo. A high-profile collaboration like that could give game-based movies significantly more credibility. None of this has been confirmed, so let’s just pray that Uwe Boll doesn’t step in to adapt this great franchise into an abysmal movie that gets turned into an even worse game.