I hate playing video games. With a passion. There were two brief moments in time when I exhibited gamer tendencies - once in the 6th grade, and again when StarCraft came out. Those outliers aside, I’ve avoided the money and time sink that is modern gaming.
Well, not entirely true.
While I don’t invest in video games per se, I have been known to watch walkthroughs on YouTube now and again. I viewed the entirety of both Rapture-based BioShock games this way, and I found them quite cinematic. There was a linear story being told, albeit between random eviscerations.
Lately, a new trend has emerged. Kotaku linked to a movie-cut that someone edited together of BioShock Infinite. They’d removed all the gameplay carnage that wasn’t integral to the plot, and left the in-game cutscenes and cinematics. The results were…well…like a movie. Since then, I’ve devoured quite a few games in this manner.
And I’m going to trivially list off my favorites. Here are my…
Top Ten Video Games You Can Watch as Movies
#10 - Final Fantasy XII
I’ll admit it. Like a lot of people, I believe that the Final Fantasy series jumped the shark after that incomprehensible movie. Their crowning achievement was VII. That said, the latter games in the series do hold up to a cinematic eye if a viewer is left with the cutscenes and cinematics. Most, however, are also boring as sin.
Not the case with FFXII.
The return to the rich and vibrant world of Final Fantasy Tactics does this game a great service. It’s a pre-established environment that doesn’t require much explanation, leaving room to explore the characters in-game. I found myself far more invested as a casual viewer than I ever was with any of the other FF installments. This is Final Fantasy done right - gaudy airships and all.
#9 - Portal 2
Portal is a classic…but it’s a short classic. When making a sequel to the breakout hit, some bloating and expansion was mandatory. Enter actors J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant as Cave Johnson and Wheatley, respectively. Their interactions with the voiceless Chell (the heroine) provide a much-needed sense of depth and urgency. Oh, and humor. Can’t forget humor.
The return of Ellen McLain as GlaDOS as a more…uh…humanized (but still psychotic) artificial intelligence also adds enrichment. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to whittle down the edits in the game to just the cutscenes. There aren’t any. The dialogue and voice-overs occur as the player is solving portal-based puzzles. However, if you have many hours to kill, it makes for a hilarious - if lengthy - voyeuristic experience.
#8 - Grand Theft Auto V
With so many unrelated side-missions and tangents that the player can take, GTA5 plays more like a loosely-knit TV miniseries than a movie. A hilarious and politically incorrect miniseries, granted. With three main characters to choose from - each from different motivations and backgrounds - the viewer is able to witness events from different angles.
Cinematically, it fits. Interwoven point-of-view plotlines are a common storytelling device. Effective in movies such as Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and…heck any of Tarantino’s oeuvre. Eventually, the events in the game coalesce into an over-arching plot, but it takes a bit of meandering to get there. But what a ride it is.
Just keep in mind, it’s seven hours or more worth of material.
#7 - Injustice: Gods Among Us
This is probably the tightest story of all the video games I’ve listed thus far. The format of the fighting game itself allows for an easy viewing experience. With the melee gameplay cut out, the viewer gets roughly 90 minutes of cutscene footage - enough for a short, breakneck epic of a superhero movie.
The plot is simple. Members of the Justice League (and the Joker) are transplanted to a parallel Earth and must fight to make it back to their own. It’s basically Crisis of Two Earths on a slightly more rigid scale. Loved every superpowered minute of it.
#6 - Tomb Raider
It took me some time to suspend my disbelief watching a British supermodel survive that many pratfalls. But eventually I grew to like the plucky (and pert) Laura Croft prequelette. The events of the game are far darker than previous installments, but they still held true to the game series’ primary dynamic - badass chick surviving booby-traps and mythical creatures in ancient ruins.
I also enjoyed the way they (surprisingly) incorporated aspects of little-known Japanese mythology. I’ve run into mentions of the mythical Himiko before, but didn’t do any further exploration past casual mentions in anime.
#5 - Deadpool
God, I love this character. One of these days, we’ll see the mutant Merc with the Mouth get a proper big screen treatment. Not like that voiceless abomination in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Until then, the video game named after the titular character will have to do. It’s a standard hack-‘n-slash as far as gameplay mechanics go, but it’s the meta-story that really makes it shine.
Deadpool holds High Moon Studios - the makers of the game - hostage and orders them to make the greatest game ever, starring him. The rest of the game plays out like a fever dream. And the best part, he interacts with his own narrator and inner-Id. The prefix “meta” doesn’t even do this justice. It is endlessly entertaining to behold.
#4 - Batman: Arkham
All of them. Any of them.
I don’t even know where to start with this trilogy. The first two games brought back DCAU alums Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, and the rest was something even Frank Miller couldn’t come up with in his wettest dreams. The designs were atmospheric and gritty, and it literally felt like you were walking in the footsteps of the Dark Knight.
The third game in the series - actually a prequel - kind of lost some of the narrative punch of the other two, but more than makes up for it in one area. One gets to see how the Joker’s mind works…or rather…doesn’t work. It is a masterpiece of inner-monologuing that not even the six-plus movies managed to pull off.
#3 - Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead
If only the TV series was as well-constructed as this li’l lightning in a bottle. Borrowing designs from the source material (the comic book), and fashioning itself as a parallel prequel to the TV series, this game plays like a choose-your-own-adventure book. (Any of you remember those?)
I watched it straight through, and it felt like perusing a motion comic. When characters died, I felt genuinely sad. And there were moments of actual tension - something the TV series is only just starting to grasp competently. After my brother watched it as a movie, I followed suit. Can’t wait for “Season 2″.
#2 - BioShock Infinite
While any of the BioShock games could be viewed as narrative movies, only Infinite works as a complete story. Part of that is helped by the fact that the POV character - Booker Dewitt - has a distinct personality. Unlike the protagonists of the predecessors.
Plus, the whole thing takes place in a steampunk sky city. F**k yeah. To heck with Rapture, Columbia is where I wanna be. The classical renditions of newer songs were also a treat.
#1 - The Last of Us
Never before has a zombie-esque game packed such a wallop. When cut down to about a three-hour movie, it plays like a grimmer version of Children of Men. However, without the “aid” of Clive Owen in the lead. Gah, he reminds me of an older, British Channing Tatum. But I digress.
I don’t think I’ve “played” a video game all the way through that left me so philosophically torn. These were deeply flawed characters, but they were portrayed (or rather, rendered) so well. One could relate to them without feeling patronized. And the ending…my gawwwww! Pure, unadulterated cinema gold.
And that’s my list. There are many, many more out there. I’m well aware of that. These are just the ten I watched recently that didn’t have me clawing at my face in frustration. Like an actual gamer. If you have any others I need (or want) to look at, let me know.
I’m sure I can find several hours to kill.
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