Been a while since I’ve blogged, but I was playing a game relevant to this entry, so I was kind of holding off on it.
Cut scenes usually aren’t why we play games, so it’s kind of strange having to pick which one has the best. Plus, like I said before, stories in games usually aren’t all that great, so the cut scenes can be equally bad.
What makes a cut scene the best? A common complaint about cut scenes is they detract from the game play. You play a game to play it, not to watch it. That’s what movies are for. Some people even resort to skipping cut scenes just to get on with the game.
One of the most notorious offenders is Metal Gear Solid 4. In a series that is so driven by cut scenes, the 4th installment takes things to a whole new level in order to explain everything that happened in the other games and tie it all up in a nice little package.
You spend at least half the game watching the cut scenes, while the very well-done game play takes a back seat. The cut scenes are definitely among the most well-made in gaming and some of them are very cool, like the video below, but you find yourself wishing there was more of the actual game to play.
On the other side of the fence is the Half-Life series (Portal, too), which deserves some recognition in how it handles cut scenes. For the most part, the story plays out without interrupting the action at all. You have control of your character, Gordon Freeman, 99% of the time as events in the game play out around you, and the only time you don’t have control over him is when he becomes incapacitated, so it’s not like you could move him anyway. Plus, these instances are very rare and only happen when there’s some serious shit going down.
One of the few times control is taken away from the player in any Half-Life game.
Not only do the games never break their first-person perspective, they also don’t cut at all. Unless the Gordon loses consciousness, you’re experiencing every second of his life for the duration of each game. Hell, we’ve see every second of Gordon Freeman’s conscious life since the moment the original Half-Life begins.
The result is a very effective means of story telling unique to gaming, setting it apart from movies or television, unlike Metal Gear Solid 4.
Of course, there is a middle ground out there between the interactive and non-interactive. A term usually used to described this, coined by the Dreamcast game Shenmue in 1999, is the “quick time event” or QTE. Basically, a cut scene will play out that will require the player to press the button displayed on screen to successfully execute the action.
While this can make action scenes more interesting, I find them to be somewhat annoying, especially when used too much or when a scene can be failed too easily because of a missed button, making you start all over. Plus, having to watch for the button to pop up means you aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in the scene.
I can’t talk about quick time events without talking about Heavy Rain. Essentially everything you do in the game plays out as a quick time event. Luckily, the game places the button icons in all the right places as the action plays out. It blends the buttons into the environment, so as you’re watching for the icons, you’re also watching the action.
Miss one too many buttons? Instead of making you start over, the game goes on and the events change on how well you executed the scene. The overall result is a very cinematic game that still manages to be enjoyable despite not really having the traditional game play to break up the story.
Another game I have to mention on the cut scene front is L.A. Noire. One reason is because the game’s facial animation raises the bar for video games. This is the first game I feel uses actual acting, instead of just voice acting, in real-time cut scenes.
Each character in the game is portrayed by an actor whose performance was captured using a rig of several fixed cameras. This results in the most realistic facial animations ever put into a game, which means the actors can finally use their faces to portray emotion.
The second reason I’m mentioning L.A. Noire is while the cut scenes themselves aren’t anything too special when compared to the film noir movies that inspired the game, they still manage to be vital to the game play. You play a detective in the game, and body language is used to determine if the person you’re questioning is lying or not. Not only are the cut scenes relevant to the game play, the technology used to create them is also vital.
So there you have it. Four very different approaches to cut scenes in video games. I have to say Half-Life is probably my favorite of all of them. All the other games I mention really shove the story in your face, while Half-Life’s is like the cherry on top of a terrific game. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and still manages to be very interesting without breaking things up. I have to say I’m equally excited to find out what happens to Gordon Freeman in the next installment as I am to play the actual game.