There’s a fabled intersection that lies between two of the great entertainment industries—namely film and video games—that has bore witness to copious amounts of dull, uninspired blockbusters through the years.
And despite its best attempts at spawning the next big movie franchise in 2016, Assassin’s Creed became the latest casualty in Hollywood’s dreary pursuit of box office glory. If nothing else, the Michael Fassbender-fronted epic, which had the full backing of Ubisoft Motion Pictures, was further proof that just because an IP soars in one medium doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll succeed in the next.
But what happens when we flip the conveyor belt on its head and examine those video games that were spun out from cinema? Forget the likes of Resident Evil and Tomb Raider for a very brief moment; instead, let’s focus on games based on movies and—whisper it—why they’re still worth fighting for.
The Double-Edged Sword
First and foremost, let’s make one thing clear: adapting an existing property—be it a book, play or sprawling television series—is so often a double-edged sword. Strike a near-perfect balance between fidelity and innovation and you wind up with a time-honoured classic in the vein of GoldenEye. But when style comes at the expense of substance, and the spirit of the source material is lost in translation, you risk creating a licensed title that’s little more than a soulless, derivative shell of a video game. We’re looking at you, Colonial Marines.
OK, that was admittedly a little harsh. But the truth is you don’t have to search too far to locate a tie-in console game that is, in fact, a barely concealed marketing ploy. Throughout the 2000s, Hollywood big wigs worked in close collaboration with developers in order to engineer games based on some of the biggest blockbusters around—Bad Boys even got its own console tie-in, for crying out loud.
It’s a line of thinking that allowed major studios to launch their products day and date with a film’s theatrical release. Every once in a while, this console tie-in would resonate with players, who rushed out to buy ‘Game X’ solely on the strength of its license—Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings spring to mind as worthy examples.
More often than not, though, innovation was snuffed out—or at the very least coerced— by tight deadlines, corporate-driven goals and a shoestring budget, given developers typically paid hand over fist to lease a known movie license.
As John Blackburn, former SVP of Disney Interactive, once said, if a video game publisher seeks out a movie licensed, “we’re going to go to [the content providers] and we’re going to promise them a certain amount of money. That’s going to be right off the top…a minimum guarantee. Because of the way those contracts work, it’s more expensive to make those games. So a lot of the time, the development budgets go down because of that.”
Put simply, these are two industries that operate on two completely different tracks—each with their own development cycles and scheduling issues, their own overheads and red tape —so trying to haul those stars into alignment can be a difficult and extremely risky venture.
But not all licensed titles are created equal. Whether it’s Warner’s vast LEGO collection or the imminent Star Wars Battlefront II, there are always a few gems glistening up from the pits of mediocrity—ditto for the Telltale series, which uses already established IP as a platform to launch multi-strand narratives.
A Risky Venture
Hoping to emulate that storytelling format is Imaginati Studio, whose Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is now marching toward its PS4 launch. Set between the calamitous events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and this year’s War, Last Frontier has been pitched as a choice-based, cinematic adventure teeming with moral ambiguity—so not unlike the films on which it is based, then.
It’s a relatively short experience, too; early estimates place Last Frontier’s campaign in the ballpark of 2-3 hours, while the promise of multiple endings will no doubt incentivise players to dive straight back in once the credits roll.
But perhaps more so than anything else, Last Frontier deserves recognition because it wasn’t inextricably tied to War For the Planet of the Apes; instead, Imaginati Studio’s licensed title, which has the full backing of franchise veteran and motion-capture specialist Andy Serkis, carves out a new corner of the Apes universe to tell the untold story of Kobe’s renegades. It’s something we’re beginning to see more and more often, given Monolith adopted a similar approach during the creation of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its newly-released sequel.
Video games based on movies may never free themselves from the shackles of old flops and preconceived notions of mediocrity, but this is a sub-genre that ought to be championed as an important bridge between two mediums–even as publishers begin to pump out mobile spinoffs and AR games based on some of the biggest franchises around.
Indeed, in biological terms, adaptation is known as the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment (or a new environment, as the case may be). GoldenEye and even Enter the Matrix are living proof that competent, entertaining games can be spun out from Hollywood’s array of blockbusters, and we can only hope that Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is remembered as one of those rare titles that’s just as good, if not better, than the film on which it is based.