I'm sure huge numbers of people have seen a film, usually action-packed with explosions and gunfire round every corner, and thought 'that would make a good game'. As soon as the reviews come out, the inevitable pile of crap, or worse, pile of adequacy is uncovered. With the evidence in front of you, some of you may safely assume that movie-games are bad because they were based on movies.
But it's not just games based on movies; what about games based on comics or books, an 'outsourced IP'? They're little better. Superman 64 has come from an outsourced IP; it wasn't based on a movie. Superman 64 is, without a doubt, a truly awful game. What is it that makes a game like this bad?
COMIC MADNESS- THE INFAMOUS SUPERMAN 64
To find out, I'm going to look at two games, that at face value seem very similar. First, Tranformers: War for Cybertron: a truly unexceptional game. Second, Batman: Arkham Asylum; Rocksteady's masterpiece and a game-of-the-year for me and many others; a game that I played extensively (read: too much).
TRANSFORMERS: WAR FOR CYBERTRON
Not not a bad game, but such a wasted opportunity. Transformers is a franchise with an concept that lends itself most easily to video games. Apparently you can go wrong with cars that transform into machines while heavily armed-who would've thought it?
War for Cybertron is an origins story, a prequel to the recent artistic masterpieces directed by the magnificent auteur that is Michael Bay, and a story that was alluded to in the films and cartoons. The pitch was not a particularly brave one. 'Why not tell the story of the Autobots' and Decepticons' fall to Earth in a video game?' High Moon started developing and when it was released it's adequacy was revealed. It did the job.
CYBERTRON - ONE HUNK OF METAL HAS NEVER BEEN ENAMOURED BY SO MANY
While the gunplay is sharp and the controls make it enjoyable to swap from vehicle to automaton to vehicle, overall the game is uninspiring. The visuals are bland, the multiplayer is formulaic and the story is a simple affair involving Megatron leading the Decepticons to get Dark Energon, and other such nonsense. The characters are dull and about as fleshed out as...well, a Transformer. You get more information on the characters in the films, but then again Michael Bay is a master storyteller.
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM
Imagine someone pitching for Batman: Arkham Asylum. 'Did you see Christopher Nolan's Gotham? Atmospheric, gripping and in an amazing setting. Let's junk all that and put it in that Asylum place.' It would be like pitching Harry Potter with no Hogwarts.
And the result? A masterpiece of a game, a future ****c, a game that sold five million copies, five times more than Transformers; and one of the most award-winning games in history. I can't speak highly enough of a game that threw away the foundation of Christopher Nolan's films (adequate compared to Michael Bay's), Heath Ledger's Joker and even Batman's city. The choice of Arkham Asylum as the only location in the game was ingenious, but also a ballsy choice by Rocksteady. None of the film fans knew anything about it and only some of the hardcore comic readers would have an idea of what it looked like.
With their workload increased plenty by ignoring already popular stories and interpretation, Rocksteady went on to craft an engaging story in a stunning world (spending most of my time in Detective mode was a mistake). Not only were the technical graphics great but the art ****is awesome as well. I went to see a talk by David Hego, Rocksteady's Art Director, and he talked about the choice of hyper-reality (which sounds awesome in his French accent, 'iper-realiti') and how lighting and shadow was key in development. It really shows.
HYPER-REALITY - BATMAN'S PECKS ARE DEFINITELY HYPER...
The gameplay is not only good; it is unique. The freeflow system is exciting and animated so combat as Batman feels fluid, graceful and hard-as-nails, making beating up multiple guards at a time a visceral experience.
So why is Batman a better game? I think the answer lies in ignoring its cinematic foundations. Like Christopher Nolan, Rocksteady understood what Batman is about, his speed and strength, his mental battles with villains and the worlds greatest detective. Like Christopher Nolan, showing these elements seemed effortless to Rocksteady. How do you show Batman's speed and agility in a video game? The freeflow combat system. The complex relationships between himself and his enemies? Get Mark Hamill to voice the Joker. And how do you show Batman's famous detective skills? Introduce the Riddler. My advice (as a 16 year old to an experienced developer thinking of using an outsourced IP)? If you get a license, use it as inspiration, not a blueprint. The industry is struggling to find originality anywhere anymore. The irony is essentially derivative games needn't add to that problem.