Please don’t do the math, but many moons ago, I played the E.T. video game. I’m still angry about it. Heck, my dad is still angry about it and he doesn’t even play video games anymore. Games based on films have mostly been, to put it nicely, suck fests. It’s so bad that when I mention that I’m covering a film-to-game adaptation, people say things like, “All movie games are crap.” Or, “I’ll pay my rent this month instead. If I’m going to annoy my landlord, it’s going to be for Call of Duty or Halo. At least I can distract him by offering to let him play.”
I just spent three very long and brightly lit days at E3 (and a few days before that doing previews) and saw some of the latest crop of tie-ins. (Check out all of Game Front’s coverage HERE) Some were successful, some not so much. Part of the reason is what they’re basing it on. Let’s be honest…it’s really hard to milk 40+ hours of content off of a two hour story. Very often, the mistake is basing the game off the film alone. It’s what appears to be the case with the upcoming Captain America: Super Soldier. Now, I played this on two different platforms at E3, and I only played the demo they had available. I’m not saying the full game is going to be boring. I’m just saying that it appears to be a single story, set exactly when the film is set and looks to me like a generic game setting/style with characters from the film shoved in. The game play was pretty meh as well, but that is a failing any game can have. It’s also an article for another day. From what I saw, there was just nothing different about it.
Studios often think of a video game tie-in like a Happy Meal accessory. The marketing department wants this game to come out with the film and there isn’t time to make it happen with any sort of quality. This is not always the case, of course, but let’s be honest here. When was the last time you saw a film and said, “Ooh, I bet the game is going to be super duper cool, just like the movie! Let’s stop and pick it up on the way home.” Consumers are pretty savvy and we know how this all works. Tie-ins are a quick way to make a buck with recognizable characters. (Another article for another day? Why films based on games also suck. Anyone care to weigh in below? Anyone else excited/terrified about the upcoming Warcraft?)
That said, there were a few titles that stood out in the film-to-game arena. My vote on why? They didn’t stick to the script of one film. They expanded the universe or used the long history of the genre to create a playable story. A long form story. One in particular was Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 in a new story line. As far as I know, this has nothing to do with the film. A rift in time is opened by a scientist who sends Anti-Venom to heal Amazing. And healing our web-slinging friend leads to his death. The scientist has gone back in time to start his company early, creating a new, alternate time line. 2099 and Amazing have to work together to change things back to the way they were. We just saw a preview, but aren’t you already intrigued? Yes, I know Spider-Man games come out regularly, but not making this a direct story tie-in means that they’ll get mileage out of the name, get people excited to see what Spidey is doing in the upcoming film incarnation (despite it being way to early for a reboot) and have a game that doesn’t bore the spit out of me.
Same thing goes for the upcoming X-Men: Destiny. X-Men: First Class is out in theaters, and in my opinion is pretty darn fantastic. Well, except for January Jones acting like a piece of very attractive cardboard. It would have been very easy to do the latest game as a film extension. You play as a young Magneto…you fight Kevin Bacon and all the baddies in swingin’ sixties garb. The final boss? Professor X, of course. Or your own demons. You know what I mean. No, in X-Men: Destiny, we’re back in the present. Well, the future, actually. There are three brand new mutants who have to constantly decide what side they’re on, while they take on x-genes from mutants throughout the game. A scientist (again with the evil scientists) has isolated these genes, which are unique to the mutant they came from, and using them to upgrade his abilities. So here, you’re getting that battle from the film, but outside that specific story.
And then there is the holy grail of movie games, Arkham City. If you played Arkham Asylum, you know how amazing the gameplay is. But again, it’s a story outside the film…at least I assume it is. It has Catwoman as a playable character! I watched her kill someone with her thighs! (Sweet dreams tonight boys!) As we all know, Selena Kyle is in the upcoming film, The Dark Knight Rises. But this story works all on its own. Hugo Strange has stolen the cherished possessions of the denizens of Gotham away in a vault. In the level we were shown, Catwoman needs Poison Ivy’s help to get in the sewers and steals back Ivy’s precious orchid in exchange. Now, she crushes it beneath her high-heeled boots, but hey, that’s what you get for trusting a crazy cat lady. Again, this is a story that involves the greater universe, not just a two hour story stretched out far past its limits.
Now I know we’re dealing with comic book universes as well as film stories here. Those aren’t the only ones that look promising. We got a preview of Aliens: Colonial Marines as well, which didn’t rely on a film script. Now we didn’t see much here, but you start off on a ship that crashes into Hadley’s Hope. It takes place immediately after the events on LV-426…I don’t want to spoil anything here, but let’s just say that I’m going to be having nightmares about fighting off “the crusher.” The action was intense! This is being touted as a true sequel to the film Aliens. See? Beyond the film! I’m not reliving something I just watched. I’m living and gunning down xenomorphs in an expanded universe.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you like to replay the film or do you want to go beyond the script? Do you agree that sticking too close is part of the reason film games often fail? Feel free to expand into complaints/compliments about gameplay. I’ll be reading every single comment. And…I know this is opening a can of worms…tell everyone your vote for the worst film-to-game adaption out there. Okay, fine. You can vote for the best too.