Version tested: Xbox 360
I've done some bizarre things in pursuit of my gaming fix over the years. I kept my ZX81 RAM pack stable with a large blob of blu-tac, and spent hours working out the optimum volume for each game to avoid the dreaded "R Tape loading error" on the Spectrum. I blew dust out of SNES cartridges, and turned my moribund PlayStation upside down to help the wheezing laser read the discs. Yet I've never had to completely rearrange the furniture in my house and even change my clothes in order to almost get a game to vaguely work as it was intended. Until now.
You're In The Movies is a camera game for the 360; rather shockingly, it's the first commercial release to require use of the Live Vision peripheral since it was released two years ago. As the over-confident title makes clear, the idea is that you fanny about in front of the camera and the game then inserts your hilarious horseplay into a silly movie clip. It's a great idea, and one with immediately obvious appeal to the party-game crowd. It's just a shame that the technology isn’t up to the job.
Up to four people can play, taking it in turns to take part in camera-based mini-games. Sometimes the game will require two people to play at the same time, but it's mostly a solo affair designed to be played in a group. The motions you use to play the games are recorded, and will later be dropped into the movie in a different context. So in the game you may be hitting buttons to launch rockets at boats, but in the final film it'll look like you're a mad scientist activating some ludicrous apparatus.
As well as the minigames, you’ll also be asked to do some basic acting. The in-game director calls each player to stand in front of the TV and line up with an on-screen silhouette. Then you'll have to act shocked, scared or surprised. You may have to move in for a close-up and make kissy faces. Or maybe walk or run on the spot. After four rounds, the footage is chopped into whatever movie trailer you elected to make at the start. They're all purposefully cheesy, incorporating horror, sci-fi, action, disaster movies and "classics" - a catch-all title for various drama and romance stories.
It's a fairly long-winded process, though, and with four players it can take up to half an hour just to get to the incredibly brief pay-off at the end. There are loads of mini-games, but since they all revolve around a small handful of similar movements, repetition soon sets in. You can also expect to spend much of the game time sitting on the sidelines - which isn't always a bad thing, since it’s often more amusing to watch people doing this sort of thing than to actually do it yourself - but with no guarantee that all the footage will be used, the effort to reward ratio is unbalanced. It's also a bit stupid that you're forced to unlock the 30 movies as you go along, rather than simply having free rein to try everything from the start.
However, You're In The Movies is a social game, so these quibbles aren't too damaging in the short term. What is damaging is the simple fact that the game's key concept – that you’re in the movies – is fundamentally broken. The Live Vision camera was hardly state-of-the-art back in 2006, but here it's being asked to do things far beyond its meagre capabilities [or indeed any camera's, as noted by Sony's Eye Toy team - Ed.].
Your image is captured by having everyone step out of the frame in the "cutout studio". The game then analyses the background and when you step in front of the camera, it removes everything that isn't you and replaces it with an in-game backdrop. But it doesn’t work. The software is too easily confused, and the hardware too cheap, to ever produce a satisfactory effect.
Lighting is a particular problem, since the camera requires everyone to be well-lit but without any glaring light sources in the frame. As you’ll be moving about – sometimes even moving right up to the camera – the odds of your house lights consistently doing the job are slim. After moving the 360 from my office to my lounge, I still found myself dragging lamps from other rooms and carefully arranging them so I could get a decent image. I also had to create a pile of DVD cases in front of the TV to get the camera at a workable angle. My t-shirt was a vaguely similar colour to the wall, so I had to find a dark jumper to wear, just so I could actually register on-screen.
And even then the results were poor. The slightest change in the frame can send the software screwy, whether it's a minor change in the ambient lighting from outside, or someone standing in a slightly different place and changing a shadow somewhere. Rather than seeing a clear image of yourself on-screen, what you end up with is a crude wobbly shape with constantly shifting edges. Bright white blobs covered my head. Sometimes my torso would disappear. If you play with any less than four people the game fills the missing roles with actors, and the jarring difference between their crisp cutouts and your blobby smudge is all it takes to show just how wide the gap between intent and execution really is.
Worse still were the times when the camera begins expanding the capture area for no apparent reason. It's hard to believe that you're in the movies when you're represented by a flickery, jittery lo-res image with spooky floating chunks of your living room in tow. The game even acknowledges that this is a recurring problem, with frequent prompts to restart the cutout studio and advice during the loading screens telling you what to do when – not if – the image deteriorates. The Live Vision camera may be OK for video chat or sending surprise photos of your genitals to people who take you down in Burnout Paradise, but it’s clearly not up to the task of compositing a moving image in household lighting into an HD movie clip.
After an entire day on the game, I managed to create just one movie trailer that looked passable. The option to replay any of the mini-games may add some longevity, and the Director Mode allows you to arrange any of the 600 sequences in the game to create your own stories. You can even record new dialogue using a headset microphone. But even this feature is undermined by the good chance that the result of your hard work will look rubbish.
You're In The Movies should be a casual game, but there's nothing casual about it in practice. As I painstakingly returned all my additional lamps to their original rooms, and dragged my 360, cables and all, back to where it belonged, I wondered just how often I'd want to go to such ludicrous extremes just to take part in some limp camera-based mini-games. There's just no way you'll be able to fire up this game and get the expected results straight away, but nor does it justify the effort you need to make in order to get the image quality up to a bearable level.
People don't live in movie studios. They live in houses and flats that are lit for comfort, not to fulfil the technical requirements of an ageing webcam. If you really want to put yourself and your friends on the TV, leave this failed experiment on the shelf, and put the money towards a digital camcorder instead.
2 / 10