You Know What I Love? Cinematic Games

You Know What I Love? Cinematic Games

By on January 22, 2013 at 10:14 am

You know what I love? Cinematic games. For all the times that we say the best videogames are those that are “games first” (whatever that means), I love the games that aren’t afraid to take a lesson or two from film in their representation of my actions and the world they’re happening in.

Videogames aren’t movies. That’s a statement so obvious that it shouldn’t even need to be made. But just because they aren’t movies doesn’t mean we should ignore all the similarities that both film and videogames have in common. Sure, videogames are about what we ‘do’ by pressing buttons and engaging with systems and all that, but a large part of how we understand those systems and interactions is through the way things are depicted on the screen: what things look like, and what angle we are viewing them from. Both videogames and movies rely, in varying degrees, on the depiction of moving images on a screen.

Which is why it makes no sense to me when I hear it said that it shouldn’t be a positive thing to call a game ‘cinematic’. Why not? Cinematic stylings have been helping create intimate relationships between audiences and images moving around on screens for decades. Why would we ignore all that when it comes to the relationships with screens that videogames fostered?

It was the Playstation-era Final Fantasys that first helped me to appreciate what cinematic style can contribute to a videogame. I remember, as young and impressionable as I was, watching the opening movie of Final Fantasy VII as the camera lifts up over Midgar and then swoops back down onto the train station to meld seamlessly with the opening action of the game. Final Fantasy VIII did even more with this merging of video and gameplay in its first major mission, where the player is chased by a giant robot spider through some city streets. There would be no cut from the chunky characters running off screen to the full-motion video starting. It created a breathtaking cohesion to the world between the scripted, cinematic sequences and my own actions. It didn’t just feel like I was watching an action movie; it felt like I was a part of an action movie.

Around the same time, my friends who owned Nintendo 64s were being handed control of the camera itself. Using four little ‘c’ buttons, they were moving their own virtual cameras around fully-3D worlds, setting up their own, personalised cinematic sequences as Mario jumped around the princess’s mansion. I was enjoying being a part of an action film; they were being a part of an action film and its camera crew.

For me, though, this wasn’t something I really embraced until I owned a Playstation 2 (though, I did spend hours in Driver’s replay director but that is kind of detached from actually playing the game). Playing Grand Theft Auto III, every time a car caught on fire, I would walk away from it slowly, holding down the reverse-view button so the camera would be in front of my protagonist, watching him swagger slowly as the car explodes and everyone panics (something I still do today with Niko Bellic). Or in Ico, I would hold down ‘R2’ to zoom the camera in and adjust the right analogue stick to create these cinematic sequences as Ico and Yorda walked through the castle. It looked nice, and that made it feel nice to play.

Whether the player or the game has control of the virtual camera, videogame’s have a long history of being, in part, cinematic. More contemporary genres like the sticky-cover shooter (and over-the-shoulder third-person games generally) depend on the fact that the action on screen is as enjoyable to look at as it is to participate in. That doesn’t just mean it requires more polygons to be more ‘realistic’, but that it needs to be depicted in a visually stunning and captivating way.

And that’s why I love games that embrace being cinematic—be it a scripted kind of cinematic or one that I can control myself. Just because videogames aren’t movies, doesn’t mean we should ignore the ways they are similar. Just because videogames are about ‘doing’ doesn’t mean we should ignore the role ‘watching’ plays in the virtual acts we are doing. When I am playing a game that can be described as ‘cinematic’, I don’t feel like I am merely watching a movie; I feel like I am acting in a movie, like I am bringing a movie to life, and that is something only a cinematic videogame can do.

14 comments (Leave your own)

Oh boy, I thought these articles couldn’t get anymore ‘me’. I was wrong. Cinematic games are my gaming life. Haha.


Cinematic has also lead to some atrocious games which destroyed the relationship the player has with the game. So while it can be very good it can also result in the very bad (as with most things in life, the universe and gaming :D ).

Cinematic linearity is a massive pitfall for some genre’s whereas it can be a massive boost to others. For instance Metro 2033 had great use of Cinematic pacing and pushing you through this linear single player story.

FFX was one of the first games I appreciated the cinematic’s to their full extent. There was a couple of dodgy ones, but mostly they were extremely well done and really immersed you in the story, both the tragedy and the optimism of it. FFXIII however gave you a massive linear and thoroughly boring start to the game. Again cinematics were top notch, but the sense of being trapped on a train that you didn’t really want to be on was really soul destroying. To have to go 5-10hrs into a game before the game starts, that’s just too much and caused any cinematic action to be lost in its significance or feeling.


You know what I love? Games that use cinematics to further a story and do not use them at every turn just for the sake of it (e.g. “cod moments”).


Some fair points, though I still find it jarring when the in-game graphics and cinematics look markedly different. Bioware have done a great deal in blending cinematics, conversations and gameplay in good way. On the other hand I just replayed DXHR and did not enjoy the cinematics – low quality videos of high-poly in-engine animations was just a bizzare choice.

Taking control away from the player at the wrong point can also be pretty annoying. “This is the bit where you get knocked out and lose all your gear, and there’s nothing you can do about it because we just disabled the mouse and keyboard” style.


It’s funny because I actually feel quite the opposite. Cinematic games are killing my gaming experience. I much prefer games that use gameplay and in-game elements that don’t take control away from me.


some people don’t like it

i liked MGS4 but i hear people complain that there are to many cinematics



Clearly those are people who have never played a Metal Gear Solid game before. Anyone who had played any of the other games in the series would know that there were going to be a lot of cinematics in MGS4.


I hear you. I might be in the minority but there are some games I like playing on a fairly easy difficulty setting and just like to enjoy the story. It’s probably due to the fact that I use games to relax with a after a long day at work/study and want something I can turn my brain off for. Cinematics work well when playing a game for the above mentioned reason.


Articles like this, that hold video games to the standards and conventions of pre-existing artistic mediums, that frustrate me and serve to reinforce the idea that video games are nothing more than an unoriginal, derivative art-form which do nothing except try to emulate film; and badly at that.

Video games, like any art-form, borrow concepts, elements and methodologies from other existing art-forms – that’s why we identify with them, and engage with them and understand them.

Stating that a game is better/worse for using/not using ‘cinematics’ is inferring that said game is better/worse for being more like a movie.

By the way, what does ‘cinematic’ even mean? Film techniques are so complex and varied, rolling them up into a single term which you ascribe to a game, as ‘cinematic’, doesn’t really mean much.

I feel it does a disservice to games that dare to be different, and promotes the idea that games just need to be more like movies. There’s a lot more to film than camera technique, and a lot more to games than how ‘cinematic’ it looks.


Cinematic sequences have their places. I remember being wowed the first time playing Another World for example. So many clever sequences in that, starting with the intro sequence, to the point where you meet your companion in the prison cell, the dramatic pan sequences of the landscape etc.

That said, I’d rather not be funneled to a location and then forced to look in a particular location so I can be force-fed a piece of storyline, which is usually what cinematic means in a computer game. It just usually reinforces the fact you’re not the character in the game, you’re just a casual observer who occasionally gets to control what the character does, but mostly just to perform a bunch of repetitive tasks that have no real effect on the outcome. Or at the very least an illusion of an effect on the outcome.


i love the metal gear solid games for this reason :D


This reminds me of cinematic sequences in SWTOR. They were nice at first but after sometime it became obvious that choices made little to no difference to the outcome, so they became an obstruction to game play rather than adding to it.
I guess like movies, done well and it’s enjoyable, poor implementation ruins the experience.


If there a good balance between them, I would play that game.


if you want cinematics watch a damn movie;

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