Why movie tie-in games suck

Posted on May 25, 2011 by


There’s something awful, something dreadfully wearying about the inevitable movie tie-in video game that comes with any big property. Last year we saw the abysmal Iron Man 2 game (which, in a rare feat managed to be worse than the Iron Man 1 game), before that there was the Incredible Hulk, a poor man’s Ultimate Destruction (still one of the best superhero games available, half a decade later). Way before even those soul sucking abhorrences we had things like Street Fighter: The Movie: The game, which should have been strangled at birth. No property is safe, not even James Cameron’s pet project Avatar could avoid having a truly crap game made about (Reviewed here, by me).

Most recently we’ve had to suffer through the appalling Thor: God of Thunder, a god of war knockoff that manages to make Darksiders look positively original (though still great). And in a few weeks time, we’ll get hit by Captain America: Super Soldier– which looks good, from the trailers and demos, but then, so did Iron Man. These fantastic movies come out, and some game developer gets their hands on the license (these days Sega seems to make everything, does anyone remember the days when they did their own stuff? Had their own consoles? It was only 11 years ago, for crying out loud) and promptly ruins the game.

Well, okay, maybe it’s not their fault. I mean, they clearly work hard on this stuff. Making a video game, even a bad one, requires effort. Half the time, the developers have to try to drag the plot of the movie in question into the mix, and let’s be frank, movies do not translate well into games. They’re a different medium. It’s not like taking a stage play and making it into a film. There’s stuff in movies that just does not work in a video game context, and vice versa. I tend to find that the game which have to follow the plot of the movie are the ones that suffer most, because the developers get zero opportunity to be creative with things.

But what if they’re given free reign? The makers of Captain America: Super Soldier have been. They don’t have to fit their game into the movie at all. Time will tell if this pans out for them or not, because it means they have to come up with stuff on their own, and that can be a blessing or a curse. On the one hand, they can write a story that works for a video game, on the other hand, they now have to create this entirely new product and still ship it in time for the movie’s release.

This is the other problem- release dates. Most game developers these days like to take their time. Games can take at least a year to make (and even then, only if you’re Ubisoft Montreal and have more people working for you than there are in Canada) and there are a number of stages they have to go through- Pre-production, production, beta, alpha, gold. Each of these is a lengthy process, and throughout them all the product has to be continually tested for bugs, voice actors have to re-do dialogue- things change in development. And devs can do that, because they rarely have time constraints put upon them, telling them when they absolutely must release. If they get to Beta, and they’re not happy, they are going to sit down and work it out before moving to Alpha.This is why nearly every game release ever has had some sort of delay, and them games are better for it.

Studios making movie tie-in games don’t have that luxury of time to make sure everything’s perfect, or as close to perfect as they can make it with current technology, which frequently means they have to focus more on just making it ready than making it good. The movie makers don’t care, they’re going to get a ton of cash from the movie, plus their cut of the games revenue, which is likely to be huge if it’s a big movie (to the point where i’m sure all that’s keeping Sega going is awful Sonic games and marvel comics superhero games). Maybe even the devs don’t care- maybe they just want their paychecks, but the problem i have with that is that buried underneath the bugs, bad dialogue, bland gameplay and ugly graphics, I can see a good game, begging to be let free- wishing it had gotten time time and attention it deserved before being thrust before their time into this breathing world, scarce half made up.

They deserve better, but it’s not going to happen. These games are never meant to be for the art. They’re for the money, dear boy. And when people care more about the quick buck than they do about making something genuinely good, movie tie-in games will always suck.*

*except those made long after the movie, like Rockstar’s The Warriors. That was awesome.

Posted in: Comment, Games