Play Acting Movie Games No Longer Suck
Published Jun 23, 2009Don't cross the streams. That was the memorable refrain from iconic '80s flick Ghostbusters , but it doesn't just apply to proton guns. That catchphrase may as well be referencing crossed revenue streams, since the mixing of movies and videogames generally produces a big bomb. This dates back to Atari's infamous ET: The Extra-Terrestrial game, which was so epically crappy that millions of unsold cartridges were buried in the desert and ET took the brunt of the blame for the subsequent "great videogame crash" of 1983, which nearly bankrupted the industry.
Still, that lesson was never taken to heart and in the ensuing quarter-century, game publishers have proven ever eager to pump out game adaptations of the latest blockbuster. Thing is, there's no joy of discovery in playing scenes you've already seen on film and a two-hour storyline simply doesn't stretch into game-length without repetitive and/or nonsensical filler. They also wind up technologically glitchy - as well as narratively boring - because the games are rushed to meet movie release dates.
But there is a solution to bringing film franchises to a console near you - an original story. Escape From Butcher Bay, set before Vin Diesel's sci-fi breakthrough Pitch Black and pegged to the 2004 release of its sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, actually got better reviews than the lacklustre film. It became such a fan favourite that it was recently enhanced and re-released by Atari, packed-in with the new Riddick game Assault on Dark Athena. LucasArts' Star Wars games saw a similar infusion of acclaim from The Force Unleashed, which admittedly had a few game play problems but excelled with its trilogies-spanning story.
Now both publishers are continuing to produce original licensed games, with new chapters in the beloved Ghostbusters and Indiana Jones series. Released on the first film's 25th anniversary, Ghostbusters: The Videogame is essentially a threequel. Set in 1991, two years after Ghostbusters II, it stars the voices and likenesses of the movie cast, from Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis and Ernie Hudson down to Annie Potts as the secretary and William Atherton as the villainous EPA bureaucrat still rocking the douchey beard and pretentious enunciation. (Salinger-like recluse Rick Moranis refused to participate and Sigourney Weaver is also absent, replaced by a new love interest voiced by another '80s icon, Alyssa Milano.) You play as the team's latest recruit, to whom they give all their experimental prototype paranormal weaponry.
Ackroyd and Ramis even wrote the game's story and the cast engaged in considerable improv in the recording room, making the game something like an unedited film. There are plenty of one-liners but also, because this is a game, lots of ghost busting. Fan favourites Slimer, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the New York public library's Grey Lady make early appearances before the game sets out on its own, albeit still Gozar-related, storyline.
Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings plays it closer to the vest, with you starring as everyone's favourite archaeologist (though I'd love to play a Short Round game!) and using the wii-mote to unleash your trusty whip. Not burdened by Harrison Ford's real-world age, the game is set in pre-WWII 1939 and sees Indy traipsing around the globe, between San Francisco's Chinatown, downtown Istanbul, snow-covered Tibet and the jungles of Panama while escaping from collapsing temples, flying biplanes, riding elephants, rafting rivers and, of course, battling Nazis.
It's a somewhat less-ambitious game - there aren't PS3 or 360 versions, Ford declined to participate and the Staff of Moses plot gets a little disjointed. There are also some inconsistent motion-control concerns (which wouldn't, of course, impact the PS2 or handheld versions) but Staff provides a vastly preferable experience to playing through a lame adaptation of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Oh, and as an unlockable bonus, LucasArts included another original story game, the 1992 point-and-click PC classic Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis.
The hilarious Lego takes on the Indy and Star Wars trilogies are exceptions to the rule - they're more like interactive sketch comedy - but otherwise most straight movie-game adaptations are not only pointless to play but an insult at $60 for a lesser version of a $15 film. Really, all we need is a little fan service - our favourite characters and settings but placed into an all-new adventure purpose-built for playing, not watching, and preferably of canonical quality. Game and movie buffs alike deserve to be respected - cause who else you gonna call?