With games this fulfilling, who needs Hollywood?

Even the mission objectives in Splinter Cell: Conviction integrate into the interface to make this feel more like a movie than a game.

Ubisoft

Even the mission objectives in Splinter Cell: Conviction integrate into the interface to make this feel more like a movie than a game.

With the Tuesday release of the Iron Man 2 tie-in game, Sega has apparently carried on the long tradition of making sub-par interactive movie adaptations. But with the state of storytelling in today's video games, why bother doing tie-ins at all? The best games are doing fine on their own merits.

This occurred to me with the latest round of sequels flooding consoles as of late. As derivative as they are (that's another discussion), BioShock 2's continuation of the pitfalls of objectivist, free-market and free-will ideals gone awry and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves' strident, Indiana Jones-inspired treasure-hunting are pretty rich source material that are at least as entertaining as anything coming out of Hollywood these days. Better, in some cases.

The litmus test lately, however, is gaming's ability to convey subtlety and complexity without ham-handedly spelling out the conflict at hand. Gone are the days of 1989's Zero Wing, when an evil villain had to announce "All your base are belong to us." The technology has advanced to the point where Mass Effect 2's Commander Shepard has to decide which among his squad members lives or dies based on the player's decisions, and can convey all the emotion necessary for that conflict. In a climactic battle that finally lets you include your entire party, all of whom have a backstory that's been developed in detail, it packs a real emotional punch when someone perishes — including, possibly, Shepard himself. Marvelous.

But both cinematic presentation and character-driven plot dovetail best in last month's Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Conviction, the fifth title in that series from Ubisoft. The saga of bad-ass protagonist Sam Fisher is nothing groundbreaking, but is illustrated in a decidedly mature and professional way. Combine that with a technical package that far exceeds the series' predecessors and the tale is woven so intricately that all you need is popcorn.

The literary device of having Navy SEAL Victor Coste recount the game's story as a flashback is not new, but it is an effect wielded so slickly, you can't help but be drawn in. Using Michael Ironside as the voice actor for Fisher doesn't hurt, either.

The real trick here is that the conventional problems of video game narratives have melted away. There are no real loading screens; the heavy lifting is done while Fisher is speaking with an NPC or performing an unplayable action. Levels and mission objectives — eliminating surveillance tails, chasing an assassin through a crowd, performing surveillance on a mark — are varied and most important of all, playable.

Compare this to past attempts to make story-rich games like the also-spy-themed Metal Gear series. Hideo Kojima's saga, in hindsight, is a mess, frustrating players by forcing them to sit through cinematic after cinematic while waiting for a few moments of clumsily controlled action. Consider the penultimate entry in that series, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, which we were told was the end-all, be-all of the genre, was released just a few years ago and you'll see how far we've come in such a short time.

Conviction, meanwhile, progresses its convoluted plot by making you learn the story to advance. Quicktime events are limited to interrogations of NPCs. Controls and instructions are seamlessly projected onto the screen in such an unobtrusive way, you barely notice the jerky, Paul Greengrass-style camera direction, which is likely just how Ubisoft wanted it.

This is in contrast to the adaptation of Avatar, a low-selling title that got awful reviews and a less-than-middling response from gamers, despite its inspiration's billion-dollar box office status. It's interesting that title, while based on source material that was hardly original yet well-made (just like Conviction), has fared so poorly. Maybe that's because it tried to hard to be like a game.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at jgillin@tampabay.com

Having already caused a fuss this spring with the depiction of the prophet Muhammad on South Park, Comedy Central said Thursday that it has a cartoon series about Jesus Christ in the works.

JC is one of 23 potential series the network said it has in development. It depicts Christ as a "regular guy" who moves to New York to "escape his father's enormous shadow."

His father is presented as an apathetic man who would rather play video games than listen to his son talk about his new life, according to the thumbnail sketch of the idea. Reveille, the production company behind The Office, Ugly Betty and The Biggest Loser, is making JC.

A development deal is a couple of steps ahead of a series making it to air and, in fact, most such deals don't result in series. The network would have to like the scripts enough to produce a test episode, then like that enough to put it on the air. — Associated Press

 With games this fulfilling, who needs Hollywood? 05/06/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 6, 2010 8:57pm]

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