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Modern video games are probably the ones responsible for the change in how entertainment is translated in the 21st century. The break-neck speed at which the video game industry has developed in the last twenty years has blurred the line between video games and cinema: most big-budget games look and play like movies now. Nonetheless, there’s a very distinct difference between watching a lengthy cut scene and playing as the actual character. The agency that a player has compared to a film spectator is obvious, but what exactly do we mean when we call a game cinematic?
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Often, it’s the swinging camera angles, the choreography of movement, the action sequences, and graphics that look more real than real life. Of the different connotations that the (probably overused) word ‘cinematic’ has in modern entertainment, however, one of the most important is how the narrative is communicated to the person in front of the screen. When a game manages to successfully blend its emotional language with gameplay, build up a meaningful dramatic plot – which it has been meticulously building up to – that’s what makes a great cinematic game, at least as far as I’m concerned. And, as this list shows, it is possible to achieve that without high-end graphics and dazzling special effects.
Video Game Movies – These Should Be Adapted for the Cinema Next?
There is no other word in the English vocabulary that sums up the game in one word better than the word heartbreaking. ‘To the Moon’ is a game that plays as if you were in a pixel-art interactive movie, with its gameplay as primitive as its soundtrack. Upon finishing it, however, you understand that it is a powerhouse of storytelling, not falling behind Charlie Kaufman (‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’) and Ray Bradbury. A masterclass of how to execute a moving narrative and make fully grown people cry over a game with 8-bit graphics, to this day it remains one of the most fascinating stories of love, fate, and trauma. In GameSpot’s 2011 Game of the Year Awards, the game was nominated in five categories, won the Best Story Award, and was included in GamesRadar’s Top 100 Games of All Time list.
This 2005 classic excels in three crucial areas that almost every filmmaker wishes for his/her movie – atmosphere, story, and camera action. It is impossible not to be immersed in Fumito Ueda’s tranquil world where Wander and Agro gallop to meet their destiny, and the way this world constantly communicates with them in a game with practically zero dialogue is mesmerizing. The colossal fight sequences bring about groundbreaking camera work that could challenge Andrew Lesnie’s (‘Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Hobbit’) work, were it part of the domain of Cinema. This, combined with the overall aural presence of the game and its barrier-breaking storytelling, leaves us no choice but to acknowledge that above all, ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ excels in something that most games lack nowadays – originality.
Campo Santo’s critically acclaimed debut is a reminder of how little you really need to tell a compelling story. The whole backstory of your character Henry and his life story is presented in a brief interactive fiction session at the start of the game, and there is very little action throughout the entire plot that comes after that, as you find yourself in something close to a walking and talking simulator. That said, however, ‘Firewatch’ has one of the most heartfelt and soul-crushing storylines in the history of gaming, which is delivered through fantastic voice acting, amazing sound design, and beautiful scenery.
What also makes ‘Firewatch’ unique is that it definitely belongs to the very, very small list of games that play better if you are at least 25+ years old. It is a story of a 40-year-old man running away from his life, trying to find shelter in the Wyoming wilderness, rendered as an interactive thriller fueled by the inescapable sense of isolation. The game plays you throughout your journey, as you will have a growing feeling of the presence of something supernatural and mysterious, and at the same time, you will witness Henry being crushed to the ground by the realities of life. ‘Firewatch’ is all about the lemons that adult life gives you, and it uses the medium of gaming to deliver very serious messages to the player in a manner that is truly cinematic.
Hollywood has seemingly picked up the story as well – there are talks that a movie adaptation is in the works and that Snoot Entertainment, which produced 2018’s ‘Blindspotting’, is in charge of the picture.
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There is literally no chance that you won’t recognize the echoes of Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ while playing through this game, as both of these works – though almost 50 years apart – clearly are adaptations of Joseph Conrad’s eminent novel ‘Heart of Darkness’. However, both of them are also products of their own epoch, responding to the themes of their age. The game is set in 2010s Dubai, which is covered by a devastating sandstorm that has brought the city to ruins, and that’s where your special forces team is looking for an American colonel gone AWOL in the midst of the catastrophe.
People who have not completed the game can easily mistake ‘Spec Ops: The Line’ for another linear, routine shooter set in the Middle East. As the game unfolds to its culmination, however, it gradually becomes clear that the game stands in direct opposition to the traditional shooter – it’s all about narrative, as the illusions of choice and sanity lure you through the havoc of war to the ending, which is a worthy homage to Marlon Brando’s haunting performance.
This indie role-playing gem spent five years in production, and most of that time was devoted to its writing (which is a breath of fresh air in and of itself). The violent, drug-driven world around you and its selfish, Dickensian characters are so real that they almost pulsate – and in an isometric game, no less. Almost every conversation or interaction has an extensive dialogue tree, allowing you to respond to or direct a conversation in ways that can determine other moments in the game down the line. But you won’t just be talking to other people – never has a game dived so deep in rigorous self-reflection; instead of developing a skill tree of powers and abilities, you are practically building your own personality.
The game won almost every major award in 2019 for its narrative, which is dangerously well written and crescendos in an ending that is both mysterious and gut-wrenching. Think of having Tom Waits as a protagonist in an old Terry Gilliam film, written by Kurt Vonnegut – but even more bizarre, disturbing, and funny. Definitely worth the time, as not often do we have a chance to engage in a story of this depth and caliber.
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David Tsintsadze is a music industry executive, investigative reporter and a film enthusiast. As far back as he remembers, he always wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry. When that started to happen and he began to really understand how it all worked, he found that his love of both the creative arts and the relevant industry allowed him to move between the two worlds and make them relate to each other. David’s belief in meaningful entertainment coincides with Hollywood Insider’s values and in his vision, cultural intermediaries play a crucial role in shaping and exchanging culture, which he firmly believes is one of the main contribution in creation of a free and vibrant society that people want to live in.