The Movies Reader Review
Lights, Camera, Friction!
It's an enticing prospect to be sure when one of the gaming industry's most outspoken figures announces that his studio is turning its attention on the movie industry to produce their next game. As far back as 1998 I remember whispered talk about "The Movies" and how you would take on the role of a frantic movie studio head, and be able to free-form your own movies from scratch.
Once again Peter Molyneux's eulegising cannot match up to our imagined expectations of such a title but let's strip things down to basics, what you have here is the modern successor to all those beloved "Theme" games. They didn't call it "Theme Studio" but they might as well have because that's effectively what it is.
You start off at the beginning of a timeline somewhere in the 20s, you have an empty dirt lot, a starter fund of cash, and it's from these meagre beginnings that you have to become the next Louis B Mayer or Sam Goldwyn.
With a few buildings up and running you can start to hire your staff. Actors are a given, as are directors but you will also need extras, roustabouts and hired hands to carry equipment and man boom rigs, mechanics and cleaners to keep your lot in peak condition, script writers to actually pen your masterpieces, and scientists to research new tech to use on your films. Keeping this little lot happy ensures a smoothly running lot, and quality productions. Easy as pie? Think again. You'll understand why the tabloid press have such a great time picking on movie stars when you see how petulantly they behave, stressing about everything from a lack of a decent trailer, lack of assistants to what their image is like. Keep them sweet though and they will reward you with truly stellar performances, and ensure your studio stands out against your competitors.
That's your lot!
As time progresses in the game, you unlock new and interesting sets, decorations, core buildings and even plant life to populate your movie lot with. Eventually you can win awards for a well kept lot, and these all add to any released film's standings in the all time top ten, and can garner you more cash from every release. Comparisons with Theme Park are inevitable here, as you seriously start to think more about the logistics of your lot and how it works and how films "flow"...
Does anyone know the way to Blockbuster?
...And then the game takes a more interesting turn. You get your first insight into what Molyneux was talking about when you unlock the Custom Script building. Here, you can build movies from the ground up yourself with a simple, advanced or freeform structure. You take a bunch of pre-made scenes, edit in your own actors, costumes, props and later on camera angles and lighting, and then you can truly start to exercise your imagination producing short films of your own in any of the given genres (action, comedy, sci fi, romance, horror etc). I did find that the scenes were a little lacking, but with clever editing with the later-available post-production unit, you can start snipping and cutting your film together, adding in custom soundtracks, subtitles and even dialogue (much hilarity ensues if you're the sort of person like me who loves doing stupid voices). At last you get a sneaky but limited peak into what could've been possible had the technology been up to the challenge.
It goes further when you realise that you can "publish" your movies to Lionhead's own website, allowing others to watch and review them. Already the EG community has produced some excellent work, even having a wry dig at Molyneux himself!
It's a wrap! No it's a Burrito!
"The Movies" longevity is boosted by allowing players to ditch the "game" side of things entirely, start with an unlimited budget and a pre-built lot, and use the "Sandbox" mode to just make movies. This can be fun, and allows you greater freedom to produce your own flicks. I have spent more time in Sandbox mode than actually playing the game, which does seem to lack long term appeal once you've seen the great majority of what's on offer, and once the timeline gets to the Y2K mark. Once you've started producing movies it becomes an addiction, working out new ideas and reworking some classic movie moments to your own ends. "Bridget Jones vs Reservoir Dogs" is my own personal opus, running currently to about 20 scenes on about 10 different sets and ending in one of the bloodiest gunfights ever committed to (mock) celluloid. Fancy a piece of the action? Pick up the movies. It may be slightly more limited than you've been led to believe by the Lionhead hype machine but it still stands as one of the most impressive and most original-feeling titles for the PC this year.
8 / 10