With the semi-recent release of FMV horror game Hysteria Project on PSN, plus various Laserdisc games turning up on the Wii over the past year, I thought I should talk about my love for FMV games. I wrote so much, I’m posting this in 3 parts. My review of Hysteria Project will be in part 3 (coming later), while the above photo is explained within.
I sincerely enjoy FMV games. Not in the so-bad-it’s-good way (though this is sometimes the case), but sincerely, in the same way I enjoy Valkyria Chronicles or a really good club sandwich. Articulating this isn’t easy, since it would seem the entire world, and all of my friends/colleagues who write about games, hate the genre (actually, fellow HG101 blogger CJ Iwakura once mentioned on the HG101 forums that he liked them... I think). FMV games are finally dead everyone always cries, and cretins in the development world pour scorn on their colleagues from former years for making them, while they go on to make yet another space marine FPS. Browsing reviews, both old and new, for FMV games presents not just criticism but barely contained rage in the written form. I can’t change the world’s thinking, but I’ll carry the banner for this unfairly maligned genre. Yes they’re flawed and restrictive, but if you like cheesy horror, sci-fi or kung-fu B-movies, like Tremors, original Godzilla or Jackie Chan’s early stuff, then you should love FMV games. I mean, aren’t games on some level meant to entertain you? I could talk about the mechanics of shmup dynamics, or controlling space in a fighting game, or the depth found in some RPG battle systems, but in the end I can still enjoy something as basic as an FMV title.
Mad Dog II - DOS version
I think the main reason for the hatred of FMV games is their price in relation to the quantity and quality of the product (by virtue of using video they’re fairly short with little replay value), especially compared to titles released in the same year: “Why pay $50 for a one-hour Sega CD game, when I could buy a 40-hour SNES RPG for the same price?”
I have only once paid more than $10 for an FMV game, and that was for “the FEAR” while visiting Japan. It cost $20 and came on four DVDs. Everything I have bought has been second-hand – and for a quarter of a price, many have given me four times as much enjoyment as some critically acclaimed games. If you’re open minded and pick the titles up for cheap (or download them online), then they’re a lot of fun, especially with friends and beer, or just a casual Sunday.
Anyway, the opening photo is the work of Tom “Night Trap” Zito, from his photography website (the woman is Nicole Wittenburg, 2002).
During my time at Retro Gamer I must have emailed Tom at last six times, asking for an interview, eager to talk with the man who created so much of what I’ve enjoyed over the years. Each time he refused, until his agent demanded that I stop contacting them. Tom, if you’re reading this, drop me a line, I can guarantee you positively biased coverage.
Tom considers HG101's very promising offer.
Anyway, I’m going to list all the FMV games which I’ve played (I went through a huge 16-bit FMV binge around 2007), which is nowhere near a comprehensive list, and is missing most PC titles, but should be a primer for those curious (and hopefully the comments section will yield further titles for us to check out).
Two of the biggest problems with enjoying FMV games today, is that:
1) By virtue of them using a lot of video-footage, many are multi-disc games, meaning if you intend to pirate them they require lengthy downloads – especially if they’ve been split over 30 RAR files on megaupload. If you’re buying them, you run the risk of a missing disc, or a scratched disc which renders the collection unplayable (as happened to me with Psychic Detective).
2) There appears to have been a big console/PC split, with most console developers abandoning FMV games around the PS1 era. A few PS2 FMV games were made specifically for Japan, and according to FMVworld some were re-released for PS2 and Xbox in the US, but a lot of modern titles seem to have ended up on computer platforms without console ports. This means if you do manage to download them, you need to fiddle around to get them running on current systems, after which you’re stuck at a computer monitor playing them. For me, the joy of an FMV game is sitting on my couch, much like I do when I watch films (who the heck enjoys watching films at a computer screen?). Unfortunately this means my experience with computer-based FMV games I limited.
For quick reference, Wikipedia has a hopelessly incomplete list of FMV games. Alternatively there’s also the FMV World website, which despite lacking several major titles, is much better. For kicks, I’m going to score eachgame out of 5 stars (disclaimer: these should not be taken too seriously, since I contradict myself as and when I feel like it). The games started out in order of release, but I soon realised most lists online were incomplete, so stuff like It Came From the Desert was shoehorned into strange places. If there’s an FMV title you loved, but it’s not listed here or in the Part 2 and 3 previews, post in the comments!
I’ve focused mainly on games which are specifically FMV-based, as opposed to only containing FMV like the original Resident Evil, or Burning Rangers. I’m going to list the system I played the game on, though it’s worth checking to see if other versions were available.
Dragon's Lair (CDi)
Dragon’s Lair 2 (CDi)
The granddaddies of them all... Sort of. The thing with Dragon’s Lair and other cartoon-based FMV games, is that I have trouble categorising them in my mind alongside live-action FMV titles. At the very least you need to make a distinction between the two, with their own sub-categories. In which case I’m actually a live-action FMV game fan, who dislikes most cartoon-FMV games. Whereas live-action can take on the air of a good B-movie, cartoon titles tend to be below the quality of most Saturday morning shows, and nowhere near the level of a top-quality anime.
Dragon’s Lair is fairly good, but you take a title like Time Girl and it’s like watching the same beer-mats go round in a washing machine. Both Dragon Lairs also focus heavily on QTE gameplay, which to be fair I’m quite forgiving on if the game is interesting, but the shlock medieval setting here just doesn’t do it for me. I had them both for the CDi but traded them in because I’d probably have more fun watching them on youtube.
Cobra Command (Sega CD)
As a cartoon-based FMV game I actually preferred this to Dargon’s Lair because it plays like a rails shooter (move a cursor and fire at enemy choppers). It’s also got a cool-looking city nightscape for its opening level. The Sega CD has downgraded visuals over the Laserdisc version, but the new (at least i think it's new) synth music is pretty cool. It’s a lot of fun and is really neat homage to Airwolf (both were first released in 1984). There’s recently been an iPhone re-release.
Space Ace (iPhone)
Same problem as Dragon’s Lair. I played the iPhone version for a bit and while it’s pretty cool in places, I just got bored of it. Too much silly jumping around which annoyed me – it’s like an extended third act in a bad Disney/Hollywood movie, where the protagonist and antagonist are battling it out, the good guy always on the verge of defeat until he find his inner stren... zzzzzzzz
Time Gal (Sega CD)
There are brief scenes throughout history where you push buttons to avoid Time Gal getting into scrapes. Areas you need to jump to are shown in a bright colour, and success maintains the footage rolling. The whole thing feels disjointed and ugly and, out of frustration, I used codes to skip through the footage.
Road Avenger (Sega CD)
Pack-in title for the Sega CD. I enjoyed this a lot more than Time Gal, despite the similarities, since it does kinda feel like a coherent, extended cartoon of sorts (actually, I might be biased because of my love for the Mad Max trilogy of films). After your wife is killed, you take to your souped up car and cause mayhem and carnage as you drive down and eliminate the gang responsible.
Mad Dog McCree (CDi)
Mad Dog II: The Lost Gold (3DO)
There aren’t enough Western games, and the setting in these two is fairly cool, if a little hammy in places. It’s no Lonesome Dove, but following clues to get the sheriff out of jail and them finding maps to use the correct route to the enemy hideout is pretty cool. Enemies appear randomly on each screen, so there is a bit of variety. Letting them both down is that some versions have very strict shooting time-frames (I played on the CDi and 3DO), and if you miss-time it you’ll get hit and die. This is especially irksome during the quick draw rounds, where you need to hammer on the button to unholster your gun and swerve across to hit the guy before he can draw. Reloading is also a pain since you need to shoot your gun-chamber icon. The Sega CD versions look hideous. Re-released for the Wii in a bundle pack.
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (Sega CD)
Interesting premise, where you visit people from an A-Z directory and slowly unravel clues to the crimes. The end-game section is rather clever, where a magistrate asks questions about what you’ve uncovered, and you need to provide evidence from your book. A nice, slow burner. Received two sequels.
Who Shot Johnny Rock? (CDi)
Liking this depends on how much you like prohibition gangster clichés. Otherwise it’s quite an accomplished little detective mystery/shooter, with some perfectly suited hammy acting (note also that the bartender here is the same one from Mad Dog). Here you play some gumshoe private eye hired by some dollface broad looking to find the sleazy crooks who whacked her man. Or something. Basically you shoot through four areas to collect clues which are then used to crack open a safe revealing the murderer (one of the four people you previously questioned), at which point you must solve clue and then head back to the murderer’s place (an eightball in the safe means the killer was the guy running the poolhouse).
What makes it so great, is that instead of having to reload your gun, you have a finite amount of bullets which you can fire in rapid succession, almost like a machinegun. If you run low on bullets, you can buy more using your starting sum of $2000. This also acts as your health meter, since you need to pay a doc to patch you up. This is a clever, streamlined system which solves the problem of how to make reloading intuitive – unlike in games like Mad Dog McCree. Good use of randomisation in the shooting scenes too, which keeps things lively. I also want to point out that it actually accomplishes more than Heavy Rain does, in that the murderer here is different every time despite the game relying on restrictive video footage. Heavy Rain, which consisted mostly of QTE gameplay, had a dynamic polygonal engine which would have allowed for some clever randomisation, and yet its plot is cast in stone.
Perhaps the best known of FMV games, there’s a meaty feature on it at HG101.
Sister title to Night Trap, both of them apparently were filmed by Tom Zito and then sat in a warehouse for several years, waiting for home technology to catch up and make them a viable release. Sewer Shark plays like a rails shooter, with some clever randomisation in the form of different routes you need to select, as screamed out by your co-pilot. Although the visuals are repetitive, and the footage is recycled a lot, I’m scoring it highly because the writing is great. Dialogue is as funny as it is absurd, perfectly acted with gusto, and the sublimely ridiculous ending is well worth persevering to see. A must play for FMV fans.
Double Switch (Sega CD)
Like a more complicated version of Night Trap in an apartment, where you protect tenants from various suited thugs by activating traps as they get close. It’s got Deborah Harry (Blondie) and quite a cool music video in it (anyone got the full thing?). Although technically more accomplished, I prefer Night Trap due to the setting and story, but both are worth playing.
Ground Zero: Texas
Of all FMV games, this is probably my favourite. It’s got a plot which is kinda like Tremors meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets Battlestar Galactica, with a bit of Mad Dog McCree thrown in. Costing apparently $3 million to make, it’s actually got quite a decent B-movie plot with reasonable acting: the army have set up a secret base in a small Texas town, since they’ve become aware of aliens masquerading as humans, threatening to TAKE OVER THE WORLD.
Using a series of cameras you need to wait for an alien to reveal himself and then shoot him. What makes it fun to play is that, despite being like Mad Dog McCree with infinite ammo, there’s some excellent use of randomisation (oh, and a shield to protect your camera from return fire). In one scene in a bar there’s four gamblers playing a card game, and although you know one of them is an alien, it’s not until the final reel of footage that he reveals himself – until then it could be any of them. This keeps repeat playthroughs fresh. Early stages also have a lot of civilians wandering around, forcing to keep calm, and there’s four cool scenes where you need to rescue one of your team from being captured (this also gives you a code for later on). Later stages degenerate into all-out blasting, but it’s still a lot of fun throughout. This comes highly recommended – I have naive hopes that since Sony was involved in publishing the original, we might see a higher-resolution version made available on PSN, using the original footage. Or hell, even an emulated Sega CD version would be cool.
END OF PART 1
I will upload Parts 2 and 3 at a later date. Some likely inclusions:
It Came From The Desert
Kingdom the Far Reaches
Mansion of Hidden Souls
Star Wars: Rebel Assault
The 7th Guest
Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine
The Masked Rider: Kamen Rider Zo (beyond description – features Ryo Hazuki!)
Thunder in Paradise
Snow Job (on of the best designed FMV games I’ve played - a real gem)
Casebook series (a modern series of FMV games)
Imabikiso (Japanese visual novel on PS3)
428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de (Japanese and on the Wii/PS3)