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Weekly Musings #1 - Do movie-license video games all suck?
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: June 12th 2004
Page: 5
On the PC, gamers have always been subject to hit-and-miss titles, and that - like consoles - doesn't include just movie games. In fact, there are TONS of games put out each year which are pretty much crap. It may be that we just notice them more when they're crap, AND based on movies, because of the hype that follows. A few examples from the PC world:


Trespasser was the first truly disappointing, horrid-by-the-standards-of-the-day Jurassic Park title. It was overblown, had a horrible mip-mapping routine, didn't play well with most video cards, required IMMENSE CPU power (in a day when the P2-300 was properly on the high end of midrange, it needed a 500 MHz CPU to really shine), and was frustrating to get going.

Once you were running, it wasn't much better either. Promises of an entirely interactive world, never came to pass; promises that the environment would be alive vanished overnight, as did the idea the Procompsognathus ("Compys") would roam certain areas. The Raptors turned out pretty dumb, running at the player once they saw her; thankfully, the T-Rex often missed that. Preprogrammed - or almost so - battles between dinosaurs were dropped into certain places, and secret areas were minimal.

Worst of all was world interaction - the player had one arm with which to reach out and grab things, and manipulated them with both arm and wrist twisting. Functionally, this meant that acquiring a new gun meant figuring out how to aim it (you actually had to line it up and aim down the barrel) before it could be used; likewise, picking up boxes that were "too heavy" or even pushing open a door while holding a gun often meant you'd drop the gun and have to dig it out from inside a wall.

When it came right down to it, Trespasser was the perfect example of a movie tie-in game gone horribly, horribly wrong. I still have my copy around somewhere today, and might one day put it in on a lark, but I doubt that it'll change my mind much.

Star Trek

Yes, Star Trek isn't truly a movie tie-in franchise as such... at least, not most of the time. However, the series is worth mentioning because it's so prolific - for every system, for better or worse, you can find multiple titles spanning multiple genres, and quite a few that are pretty decent.

For instance, there's the original Star Trek title, the one that can even be played on computers that have no monitor, just a paper printout - and which, to this day, is quite fun. Then there's the vector-graphics title from the arcades, in which a player literally sits down in a command chair and twiddles knobs and presses buttons to destroy marauding Klingon ships.

Moving on to the early 90s, we have multiple Star Trek and Next Generation titles on multiple systems - the Genesis, SNES, NES, all got their due. And to tell the truth, none were necessarily horrid. But if one wants the cream of the crop in that age, one reaches for the ancient Interplay titles, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Edition and Star Trek: Judgement Rites.

On the downside, after these titles we were treated, for a long while, to complete Star Trek crap. Star Trek: The Secret of Vulcan Fury attempted to bring in CG rendered characters, but they forgot about playability in the process. Deep Space Nine: Harbinger was an attempt at a Myst-style game, but wound up just being annoying. Star Trek: Klingon, Star Trek: Klingon Honor Guard, Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: Away Team... the list of BAD Star Trek games is nearly endless.

Sad as it is, however, there are a few gems to be found. Deep Space Nine: The Fallen was quite good. So have been the Elite Force series, the only true FPS's set in the Star Trek universe. Unfortunately for the Star Trek franchise, for every one of these, there's a Shattered Universe or Dominion Wars waiting in the wings to drag the reputation of the license down again.

Star Wars

Here too, Star Wars gets a short mention - because it's an ubiquitous franchise, popping up anywhere and everywhere, and because on the PC is where the franchise also manages to both shine, and suck, at once.

On the suck side, we'll look at Force Commander, or we can examine Episode I: Gungan. The PC version of Episode I: Racer suffers from horrid controls, and Episode I: The Phantom Menace just has a bad camera angle throughout. The Rebel Assault series was in the line of now gratefully-forgotten rail shooters, and pretty horrid at that, though they were glorified at the time for offering great graphics at the expense of even semi-decent gameplay.

On the great side, we can examine pretty much the entire X-Wing series - X-Wing, Tie Fighter, X-Wing VS Tie Fighter, and X-Wing Alliance. The Dark Forces series (Dark Forces, Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith, Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast, and Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy) have all pretty much been stellar throughout.

So the Star Wars franchise, like Star Trek, is a franchise that has the potential to creat both lousy and great games - and it does so.

Likewise, we need to consider the Xbox, Gamecube, and PS2 - though especially for the Xbox and PC, things seem to be merging.

The Lord of the Rings

Peter Jackson set 'em up, and the movie-based video games have...well, they've managed not to suck. All except the Hobbit, which was a lame attempt to score extra cash off of new Tolkien fans, they ranged from "decent" to "great" depending on player, play style, and what kind of day you've had. And it doesn't hurt that they're on all four systems - PC, Xbox, PS2, Gamecube - nor that there's also a Lord of the Rings RTS for the PC now available.

James Bond

Let's face it - James Bond is another of the licenses that lends itself to game after game after game after game... but they all seem to turn out at least halfway decent. Starting with the N64 titles, the James Bond series have been fan favorites, especially in multiplayer shoot-your-friends modes, which I guess means that not all of them truly suck.

X2: Wolverine's Revenge

Ah, now this was an interesting challenge - deciding whether it sucked or not. Why? Not because it's a bad game by itself. In fact, with the sneaking system, stealth kills, and other niceties to being Wolverine, one would assume that it didn't suck.

Ultimately, however, it's eclipsed by the Hitman series, which is in turn eclipsed by the absolutely amazing, stunning Tenchu series if you really want sneak-around-and-kill-things gameplay. So, unfortunately, by comparison it does indeed suck.

Van Helsing

Van Helsing is an interesting title - based on a movie that many would say rips off the Castlevania series in more than one spot, set up as an action movie; the game can't be looked at without being compared to the Castlevania line. Is it a decent game? Of course it is. Is it the cream of the crop? Definitely not. What's even more interesting is that it preceded Riddick by approximately one month, and doesn't suck, but isn't being given the same sort of praise that Chronicles of Riddick is for "breaking the curse."

One other thing of note: It does appear by this point that licensed video games ARE less prevalent. This might be due to publishers getting wise to the prospect of movie-based video games sucking, but it's got more to do with the further and further extended project cycle of video games - in the NES days, games could be thrown together, and be pretty good, in as little as six months. Chronicles of Riddick, on the other hand, was in planning from the moment it was apparent that Pitch Black was a success (in fact, it was originally going to be labeled as the Pitch Black video game, as shown in one of the extra movies unlockable inside the game). When the product cycle for video games is approximately the same, or longer than, the time needed to create the movie then there's a lot more notice to start, a lot more oversight, a lot more chance for collaboration, and - especially - a good many more chances for the writers or director or whoever's in charge to pull the plug if it looks like the game is going to suck.

Which leads to the current point - Chronicles of Riddick. Is it a game that escaped some "curse"?

Weekly Musings 1: Do Movie-License Video Games All Suck?

Added:  Sunday, June 13, 2004
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf

Page: 5/6

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