Now some of you may or may not know that I enjoy movies. I’m willing to bet that I probably watch more than your average “movie fan” and have on occasion been known to talk in great, and generally angry, detail about various movies. Now with that in mind I’m going to complain about cut scenes. It’s not that I’m against cut scenes, if used correctly they can be a crucial and important part of any game but here’s my issue. At some point, whether it is length of an individual scene or frequency of cut scene occurrences they stop aiding the plot of the game and instead take over in a savage blood coup. Now I know that most of us fear change and at the slightest sight of it we run and hide under our covers and wait for mommy to come in and tell us everything is alright, but let’s face it at this point in video game history we’re at a place where we don’t honestly need cut scenes. Cut scenes apart from acting as a narrative device only have one other function and that is removing the player from the world that the game had more than likely spend a chunk of time trying to draw you into. It’s at the cut scene point where you’re no longer an active participant but rather a passive spectator.
Now, an opening cut scene is somewhat crucial, it helps ground the player on the world they’re entering into and helps establish a place and time. Games that instantly drop you into the action can be jarring, which itself can be an effective narrative tool, but are then usually followed by a cut scene that pulls you out of the game you just got your feet wet in. Sometimes developers try to sugarcoat it and add the word “interactive” to their cut scenes but usually this is only a gimmick packed with busy work to try and trick the player into believing that they’re still actually playing the game. Take for example Assassins Creed; cut scenes gave the players the chance to pay attention to binary code effects in the background rather than the actual dialogue being spoken so they could change get the chance to button mass their way to a different camera angle. Then you have my main problem with cut scenes, when they appear more frequently than the phrase “Hero your health is low” in Fable. We’ve all experienced this game, you’re running your little character around shooting and exploding creatures with glee and whoa, cut scene. Ok we sit through the cut scene and walk down the hallway and what’s that? It’s another cut scene. Ok, we sit through that one and walk up to the guy with the giant arrow on his head saying “COME TALK TO ME” and knock knock:
Cut scene who?
Fuck you you’re not playing anymore because it’s another cut scene.
The biggest offender in my opinion is Metal Gear Solid 4. Referring to this as a “game” only applies if you consider the “let’s see who can sit quietly the longest game” (commonly employed by my parents as a child) an actual game. It becomes very clear very early on with Metal Gear Solid 4 that you’re not playing a game, you purchased a movie that on occasion will allow you to control the main character, much like a choose your own adventure book.
In my fantasy utopia where every game is well thought out and beta tested by large chested women cut scenes will go the way of the dinosaur and be replaced by more scripted events. Not to say that every game needs the endless dialogue tree where saying nothing or replying slowly are valid options (Mass Effect comes to mind) to give the player as much input into a scripted scene as possible are necessary but giving the player the feel that even though a scripted event is happening they’re still a part of this world. Bioshock does a fantastic job of storytelling and really only relies on two cut scenes. The first is a brief intro which does a good job of setting up the environment that you’re in, then as the game slowly weans the player into the simulated world you’re privy to witnessing certain scenes that help get across the opening narrative. Shortly thereafter you’re locked in a room as a scripted scene plays out that will never change by way of the player’s actions but because you can still move freely in the locked room it lends a sense of urgency and stress to the scene that is unfolding. The only scripted scene that takes control away from the player blends seamlessly into the game play experience by making it relevant that the player is no longer in control.
Basically, leave movies to Hollywood, let gamers play.