src=”http://tweetmeme.com/i/scripts/button.js”>Throughout 2009, the intersection of video games and films has been a seething hot spot, both culturally and for business. And though this marriage is fraught with plenty of potential hazards — best seen in the unkillable and still usually awful game-to-film adaptation — there’s no denying that’s plenty of room for both mediums to share and grow.
Games tend to be more successful when they focus on their essentials, and films usually thrive when they don’t try to hard to duplicate their interactive competitors, but there are no hard-and-fast rules for this developing relationship. And there’s no reason to believe that, as films and games continue along semi-parallel tracks, they won’t become even better at synthesizing their unique elements.
And new developments are already taking place. 2009 was a banner year for games that delivered movie-like experiences by blending user-operated mayhem with filmic set-pieces, storytelling and structures. You can definitely make the argument that games would be better off refining their own mechanics instead of emulate the silver screen. But when done properly, games — buoyed by ever more sophisticated aesthetics, technology and voice and writing work — have an unparalleled ability to place players in control of adventures normally reserved for the multiplex. Here are my picks for the seven standout titles of 2009 that did just that.
The “Indiana Jones” sequel that “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” could only dream of being, “Uncharted 2” drops player into the midst of a treasure-hunting quest full of showstopping sequences that practically demand a movie adaptation. From an opening in which you have to make dashing hero Nathan Drake climb up a train dangling off a mountain cliff, to a Jeep-hopping gunfight with pursuing enemies, to battles with airborne helicopters and hectic clashes with armed baddies in jungles, city streets and ancient ruins, this PS3 exclusive doggedly delivers a movie-ish experience and, amazingly, actually succeeds without sacrificing its own gameplay. It helps that it has both a great script and matching voice work. “Uncharted 2” rocks not only because of its Spielbergian tale of globe-hopping derring-do, but because of its strong, varied action that’s seamlessly integrated into its thrill-ride narrative.
The third entry in the “Red Faction” series is built around a decidedly action-movie brand of blowing stuff up. From the intro’s trailer-ready narration to the stylized camerawork that accompanies the game’s most extravagant set pieces, “Guerrilla” is coated in a big-screen sheen. Unfortunately, these flourishes are mostly just superficial trappings meant to enhance a story — told, for the first time in the franchise, from the third- rather than first-person perspective, and amidst an open-sandbox environment — that revolves around detonating as many structures and enemies as possible. But while the game’s plot and character work may leave a bit to be desired, the implementation of its cinematically presented core gameplay — making things go boom and crash via a variety of awesome weaponry — is exhilarating.
It’s easy to use a license to make a subpar game, as proven by innumerable tie-in titles. But to take a beloved celluloid property and create an original adventure that’s faithful to its predecessors? That’s nearly unheard of, which is what makes “Ghostbusters: The Game” — a virtual sequel to 1989’s “Ghostbusters 2” — such a welcome surprise. No new design ground is broken by this third-person title, but between proton-pack gameplay that feels just right, character models and locales that actually accurately resemble their real-world counterparts, and voice work from the original iconic cast, Atari’s game (developed by Terminal Reality) lived up to its potential about as well as anyone could reasonably hope. More diverse levels might have made it a classic, but “Ghostbusters: The Game” is still a new benchmark for film-licensed games.