As times and graphics have moved on through the times within the video game industry, people are starting to ask the same questions: are games trying to be more like films? And has there ever been a truly cinematic game? For me the answer is yes and to demonstrate this I’m going to use the Resident Evil HD Remaster to explain why games really can be a cinematic experience.
First of all, let it be clear that I am not going to talk about the Resident Evil films at all throughout this review. While fairly entertaining, they are a perversion of the Resident Evil name and are about as far away from the early games in style and tone as they could possibly be and are if anything less cinematic than the games themselves.
Why Specifically The Resident Evil HD Remaster?
There are two reasons why I am going to refer solely to this Resident Evil in this review:
Number 1: Style
As many of you will know the resident Evil games took on a drastically different style from Resident Evil 4 onwards, moving the games away from atmospheric survival horror to more action orientated gameplay with a faster zombies and a far less gritty tone. I personally think the survival horror style of the first three games was much more immersive and compelling and make for a far more cinematic presentation which is why i have chosen one of them as my example.
Number 2: So why not resident Evil 2 or 3?
The main reason for using the original over two or three is simply because where it has been remastered it has become modernised for current platforms and is still very popular today. While the other two were also extremely popular at time of release they are still only on the original PlayStation meaning they have very limited play ability these days. The remastering process has also significantly improved the famously atrocious voice acting still present in two and three, greatly increasing the immersion (a key cinematic quality) this game has to offer as well as its dark atmosphere.
So now for the main discussion:
What makes Resident Evil cinematic?
To start with the most obvious cinematic aspect of the game which will be apparent to players as soon as they start: it looks like a film. This is largely due to the use of fixed camera angles for gameplay which makes it actually look like its been filmed, something which I had never seen in a game before and I’ve never seen since. This instantly makes the game play cinematically because you’re using a forced point of view meaning the game designers make you see exactly what they want you to see when they want you to see it instead of a third person over the shoulder camera where the player is in total control of what they see. This makes for a far more film like feel and gives the game an almost voyeuristic feel (like Manhunt) adding some extra creepiness to it’s already horrifying atmosphere.
This lack of control over your view also adds immensely to the frightening atmospherics of the game. Why does this make the game scarier? Simply because horror in video games largely centres around the concept of how much you as the player feel you are in control. If you were playing a survival horror game where you felt like no enemy could touch you it wouldn’t be scary at all. The less control you have, the less you feel you can protect yourself and therefore the more afraid you feel. The fact that you start to feel afraid also adds to your lack of control as there’s nothing you can do to stop it and you begin the cycle over again. And boy do they uses these camera angles to the best possible effect they can to make you shit yourself. For example, there’s a room early on in the game with a small closet space. If you go in that space nothing will happen on your way in and you’ll find an item. but when you turn around to come out, instead of the camera angle shifting to the one for when you’re exploring the main room, the camera stays fixed in the same spot even after your character leaves the frame. As you sit there, fear building as you wonder why the camera hasn’t shifted, you are suddenly jumped by your character falling over backwards and screaming as a shambling zombie slowly approaches, pinning you against the back of the tight space. It’s claustrophobic, panic inducing and pants wetting and a brilliant example of both horror game design and cinematic presentation. The game is filled with these terrifying moments and it leaves you on edge every second you play. This is exactly what horror movies do and usually not as good as this game which just goes to show how cinematic the game really can be. And of course there’s the famous dog jump through the window scare that I swear no matter how many times you play you’ll never be prepared for…
But atmosphere and camera angles aren’t the only things cinematic about this game. The story is written in a way that feels much more like a film than game. What do I mean by that? Well take a Call of Duty game for example. The story in those games simply serve in order to connect one action sequence with another, like a poorly made 90’s action flick. Most of the missions don’t actually feel like the plot is progressing or that you’re getting any closer to discovering the truth, they simply serve to give you an excuse to shoot things. Resident Evil is the opposite in the best possible way. Everything you do in game revolves around trying to get your character out of the mansion and therefore feels like progress and plot development. No part of the game feels added simply to provide some action. Even boss fights serve a purpose. A lot of this comes directly from the aim of the game being survival. This ups the stakes for every action because you know it could lead to your characters death or your friends death making every step feel difficult and important. This gives the story a sense of dramatic weight and gives the player a level of involvement rarely achieved in today’s game industry. Actions have a reaction and danger is never far making the game the right mix of exciting and nerve shredding. Overall, the effect is a very gritty, realistic feeling and driven story with every plot development feeling important and game changing which is exactly what good writing should feel like. In many ways this game is written a lot better than most modern horror films exactly for this reason.
What makes this game feel more like cinema than a PC game? Atmosphere, camera angles and a terrifically written story that all work together to make an experience that feels far more cinematic than game like.
So there we have just one example of a game that really can be called cinematic and I’m sure they’re are many more out there!