At the start of last week I become the proud owner of a 60gb PS3, complete with an extra sixaxis and four games: heavenly sword, motorstorm, sega rally and resistance: fall of man (although I dont actually have the last one yet, they were sold out!). It is, however, the first game in that list that I would like to talk about, so please indulge me!
Heavenly Sword has always been billed as an epic adventure, with movie like production values and a cast of eccentric characters. Hell even the review on this very website states that it feels like a big summer blockbuster, and it is that very feeling I want to talk about. You see games now a days have stories, characters and settings on a par with films as has been discussed many times before by many people, but Heavenly Sword, to me at least, is the first one to truely capture the spirit of that hollywood action film each of us loves for no other reason than the insane action, be it The Matrix, Lethal Weapon or Bad Boys.
The Creators of Heavenly Sword have stated that they flew the cast down to New Zealand and under the guidance of Cinematic Director Andy Serkis (gollum from Lord of the Rings if do not know the name), shot the cinematics for the game in live action, with the actors hooked up to motion capture rigs. This was done at Weta digital, the company behind the special effects for all three Lord of the Rings movies and King Kong and as such represents the first true cross over of Hollywood and Games industry.
Normally crossovers of this kind involve a sub-par game based on the movie license of a film coming out that year, with no real effort put in by either side and only done as a cash-in. Ninja Theory, however, knew it wanted the feel of a big budget summer blockbuster and so enlisted the help of some true masters, and created a game that hits the same spots as movies while also letting you hack up hundreds of bad guys in a fashion only a game can. The cut-scenes in this game are some of this best I have ever encountered and I found myself not only wanting to finish the game but finish watching the cut-scences so I could found out the full story, and that makes for an excellent game.
There is, however, another way to tell a story in a game and this is evidenced by the simply brilliant Bioshock. There are only two cutscenes in Bioshock, one at the beginning of the game, and one at the end (which changes depending on certain decisions taken during the story), everything else is told from a first person perspective and by picking up audio logs of various inhabitants of rapture. No cinematic director, no shooting a movies worth of footage to be translated into the cut scenes, just you seeing through the eyes of the protagonist.
Obviously this is a very different way to tell the story than that of Heavenly Sword, but Bioshocks method is just as effective and an atmosphere that Heavenly Sword does not, but which is better, the big budget, movie like cut scenes of Heavenly Sword? or the eerie, tense atmosphere of Bioshock?
The truth is, neither. One is not better than the other, they are simply different, as different as Heavenly Sword itself is different from Bioshock. Frank O'Connor, lead writer of Bungie studios believes both are valid forms of telling a story, and having worked on Halo 3, is in a good position to comment on both. Please note that is comments are taken from an interview in games tm about FPS games in general. "...the biggest challenage in the storytelling aspect. I think that could go in a couple of directions - from the more literally immersive experience where things happen to you in-game, to better ways of dealing with the kinds of vignette and cinematic we use as tools right now. Both are equally valid directions."
Halo 3 is a good example to bring out at this point, as it uses both methods to great effect, as radio messages and mission directives are sent to you as you run about the enviroment but are also interspersed with cinematic cut-scenes. Bioshock and Heavenly Sword simply take the concepts in Halo 3 to extremes.
As games become more cinematic and story driven in nature, more and more will turn to movie companies and professional writers to give credence to the tale the developers are trying to weave. This could turn out to be the epic cut scenes of Heavenly Sword, to the deep, immersive story of Bioshock, but will mark games out as a valid story telling medium, and Heavenly Sword is leading the way, taking the action movie ethos and integrating it with a traditional game to great effect. Maybe one day, the interactive movie wont be the cheesy cutscenes of games like Wing Commander 3, maybe one day, Jonathan Ross and his ilk will be reviewing games on the same level as films of today, who knows?