Published Oct 01, 2005Somewhere in the sands of New Mexico lies an unmarked grave holding millions of extra-terrestrials. No, not real aliens, but little plastic cartridges of Atari's legendarily noxious adaptation of ET.
Blamed for driving Atari into bankruptcy, it also did seemingly permanent damage to the reputation of movie-based games. But after a quarter-century at the bottom of the cred food chain, Rockstar Games (of Grand Theft Auto infamy) is giving the genre some shine with their newest urban opus: The Warriors.
"Most film-to-game adaptations are put together by companies trying to extend revenue, not make a great game," explains producer Jeronimo Barrera of Rockstar Toronto. "A video game becomes part of a marketing campaign in order to maximise an investment return. Typically, licensed games start out with shorter development schedules and less resources than first-party titles and the game play suffers accordingly."
Not all such titles suck the Chronicles of Riddick prequel Escape from Butcher Bay was better than the movie but most wind up like the just-as-bad-as-the-sequels Enter The Matrix.
Batman Begins had a better time of it this past summer, thanks to a nice origin storyline, impressive graphics that perfectly captured the cast's likenesses, pro voice work from Liam Neeson and Christian Bale, and a short play-time which, although criticised, keeps the somewhat repetitive game play from becoming grating.
While not notable as a standalone, it worked as a solid companion to the film and wound up being the best Batman game yet (though its predecessors are notoriously weak).
One of the Christmas season's most-anticipated titles is Peter Jackson's King Kong, the game version of the upcoming celluloid epic, which not only features considerable input from Jackson himself (which he griped was denied on the Lord of The Rings games) but is being headed by respected Frenchman Michel Ancel, hired based on his cult classic Beyond Good and Evil.
But Rockstar is spearheading a new trend towards historic licenses that avoid restrictive release dates and will include The Godfather, Scarface, Starship Troopers, Reservoir Dogs, Nightmare Before Christmas and Jaws Unleashed, where players get predatory as the titular fishie.
"If you grew up in the 1970s, The Warriors belonged on a short list of movies that influenced filmmakers, art, hip-hop and pop culture far beyond the scope of the original intentions," Barrera says. "The story, characters, setting and tone, all set on the graffiti-filled subways tunnels and streets of New York, were the elements we all loved and the same elements found in a great Rockstar title. We were confident we could take this classic cult film and turn it into a game that is truly epic."
Rockstar actually purchased the license in 1999, only a year after forming, because its founders were huge fans of the gang-war classic. Released in 1979 to sporadic theatre violence, Walter Hill's ultra-violent chase movie would have been described as video game-inspired if it had come out today (and likely will when Tony Scott's remake surfaces next year).
Forced to flee back to their Coney Island home turf after being falsely accused of killing a gang-leader trying to unite New York's 60,000 delinquents to take over the city, The Warriors' storyline was lifted from ancient Greece. But its cult status was assured by the film's awesomely over-the-top stylisation, which included rival all-girl gangs, mime gangs and, of course, the bat-swinging Boba Fetts of the film, the Baseball Furies.
Sharing GTA's gritty aesthetic, The Warriors not only makes the movie interactive but also revives the dormant brawler genre (think Double Dragon), which never really crossed into the 3D era a fact given a nod when certain chase sequences briefly become side-scrollers.
Luckily, the game play doesn't have to be shoehorned into the story. It makes sense for gang-bangers to beat down rivals, steal car radios, mug bystanders, tag walls and buy health-replenishing narcotics.
The pivotal "Can you dig it?" speech and subsequent assassination, which kick-starts the movie, is painstakingly digitised but the plot itself had to be expanded to last 30 to 40 hours.
"We never intended to create a literal translation of the film. By adding a back story that begins in the months prior to the gang meeting in the Bronx, we've been able to deeply expand it," Barrera says. "The challenge was to give the characters a deeper, more complex identity and bring to life the streets of New York in the late 70s. We've always felt the game needed a better sense of how the story of the Warriors unfolded in order to give the events depicted in the film deeper resonance and meaning."
While respecting the source material is crucial, simply recreating a film plot or adding a substandard side-story is a pointless exercise that wastes the non-linear narrative possibilities inherent to modern video games. But if The Warriors proves a hit, hopefully other movie-based game developers will ditch the bottom line and start chasing Rockstar.
Killer 7 (Grasshopper/Capcom, Gamecube, PS2)
Tired of being seen as your little brother's console, Nintendo joined Sony to release the surrealist shooter Killer 7, applying kid-friendly cell-shading to ultra-violent gunplay, gross-out graphics and terror-era politics. Set in the near-future, invisible suicide bombers threaten world peace and it's up to schizo senior citizen Harman Smith and his seven assassination-prone personalities to stop them. K7 may suffer from overly restrictive movements it's essentially a point-and-click game when free roaming is all the rage. But it deserves respect for bold innovations, artistic Sin City-style visuals and out-there plotting that breaks new ground, which doesn't happen often enough in the gaming world.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (Radical Entertainment/Vivendi Universal, Multi-platform)
Bruce Banner's bad boy alter ego has been a video game mainstay since the Commodore 64, but most Hulk titles have been average at best, including the 2003 title based on Ang Lee's dull-as-dirt film. Thankfully, Ultimate Destruction delves back into the comic lore and focuses almost exclusively on letting the Hulkster smash stuff. Using a sandbox setting similar to the Spider-Man 2 game, the green goliath has a map filled with mission-launching icons, but ultimately the storyline takes a backseat to the joys of being unleashed upon an unsuspecting and gloriously destructible world.