Editorial: Movie games – the best and worst

Everybody loves a good film. Everybody loves a good game. So, theoretically, everybody should love a mixture of the two. Therein lies the problem. This mixture is rarely ‘good’. Why is this though? I suppose it comes down to a matter of opinion in the end, but my opinion is that most games that are based on films feel rushed and without polish. Which games are some of the worst offenders and why is this?

It seems commonplace these days for reviewers to initially downplay the arrival of a movie tie-in game. They have a reputation for being sloppily made and haphazardly put together in order to be finished fast enough to be released alongside the film. Consequently, the games are never particularly good. They do not have the time put into them that other, big blockbuster games do. A developer has only from the initial reveal of a film to acquire the rights and then make the game, giving them maybe a year to do it, sometimes less.

However, I can hear you saying ‘Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty manage annual releases, what’s the difference here?’ Not only have games such as these already generated a fan following enough from previous instalments to ensure that, even if they don’t change much at all, the game will still be regarded as a ‘good’ game, they have also had significant amounts of money generated from impressive previous sales. With only a year, a publisher with a seemingly bottomless budget like Ubisoft can do something that is just as good as before. Acquiring the rights to the films is generally very expensive and then even with that, the developer is in the constraints placed upon them by the film studio. Both of these factors tend to cripple a developer.

We only have to look at the quality of the Harry Potter videogames to understand. Generally receiving mixed to negative reviews, the games were based on films which were based on books. The problem with this series, I think, is that is really is not the type of world suited to a video game. The films only cover so much of the expansive series and the games can only cover so much else. One of the major issues here, in my opinion, is that the imagination of the developers is restricted by the limitations and time restraints imposed on them. The same can be said for Star Wars. Games that have not had to be made to meet the release of an oncoming film, for example, The Force Unleashed and the LEGO games are generally fairly well made and enjoyable games, averaging good scores from critics and gamers alike. With The Force Unleashed, the developers were able to explore new aspects of the universe and come up with their own ideas. That, coupled with a development time of their choice, allowed for an overall better game.

It is not all bad news however. There are some movie tie-in games that have been fairly well received. One such game in fact has made multiple ‘Best Game Ever’ lists and that game is GoldenEye. Heralded as perhaps one of the best multiplayer experiences ever, the game has even been remade for the Nintendo Wii and then again for the Xbox 360 and PS3 recently. What makes this game that much better though than say, Transformers? Well, I know they are very different games, but for a movie tie-in GoldenEye was just made well…well. It was a sophisticated game and, released in 1997, was revolutionary for its time, invoking the excellent multiplayer modes. The fact that it was a good game did not stop the gaming media having low expectations of it when it was first announced. No, it seems the curse of the movie tie-in will always be prevalent.

There are some movie tie-ins that I myself have personally enjoyed as well. Despite its flaws, I actually found Peter Jackson’s: King Kong to be a relatively fun game. I think the developers made the right choice in making it a first person shooter and the graphics were not that bad either. While it was released in a short span to accompany the film’s cinema release, I just felt that as a quick title the game worked. The controls felt tight and worked fine and the finer aspects of the game, such as playing as Kong himself, were a delight. The game itself was short and at points irrevocably difficult, whilst at others, unbelievably easy, but as far as movie tie-in games go, it is one of my favourites. Interestingly, the game received very positive reviews.

One other movie tie-in that I have enjoyed, was the Spider-man 2002 video game based off of the first of Sam Raimi’s film trilogy. Now, whilst the game, as with many other movie games had its share of problems, I found a few things about it to be thoroughly enjoyable and I think the primary factor for this was the fact that it deviated a lot from the film. Not only did it barely follow the plot at all, but there was a considerable range of things to do and enemies to fight that made it interesting.

Overall, I think a lot of the time developers are constrained to make a game in time to coincide with the film’s release. It’s only natural as the game becomes a part of the film’s marketing. However, movie tie-ins have simply garnered a poor reputation for shoddy gameplay and under par graphics and quality. The tough time limits placed on them, alongside the expense of purchasing the license to create the game results in a game that simply is not that good. As I’ve said, there are some movie tie-ins that manage to defy this vicious cycle, but for the most part, movie tie-ins are not looked forward to in the gaming world, and for good reason.