I'm an avid gamer who loves all types of games from any genre.
In every single creative medium, there have been trends. They come and go with the interests of the consumers and dictate what kind of content gets made. The medium of video games is not any different in this aspect. There have been many distinct trends in the history of video games. Zombie games, motion-sensing technology like the Wii, battle royales, etc. Most of the time I feel that trends help prop up new or unpopular ideas within the scene. However, I think there is a recent trend that hurts the medium as a whole. That trend is the cinematic game.
What is a cinematic game?
What I mean by a cinematic game is a game that markets or puts a lot of importance on the presentation and writing of its story. My definition might be different then other people’s, but this is what I mean when I say a cinematic game. When I think about them I think of games such as The Last of Us, Uncharted, The Witcher, and God of War. These games usually have many cutscenes in them and put a lot of resources into their graphics.
Why is it bad?
The reason I think this trend is bad for gaming as a whole is that they don’t explore what makes video games special. Now, what problems do I have with these games? Whenever I play or watch these games I cannot help feel like they put gameplay to the side to focus more on the quality of their graphics and story. For example, I feel that The Last of Us has a compelling story and is quite stunning visually. However, I feel that the game does not innovate or expand upon any aspect of gameplay for its genre. The shooting, stealth, and crafting systems are all very bog-standard and could be applied to any other story or setting. Another example is The Witcher 3. The storytelling and graphics are both very good, but I felt the gameplay was lacking. It used a very basic RPG level-up system and the combat felt mediocre, even clunky at times. There are also games like Ghosts of Tsushima which I was very excited about the release of. Its presentation is beautiful and it had an interesting enough story, but when I viewed its gameplay it looked like nothing more than a slightly different Assassin’s Creed.
Now I do not think these games are bad at all. I played through The Last of Us twice and The Witcher 3 is one of my favorite games. Their stories are mainly what makes me like them so much, The Witcher especially. The standard gameplay is what I have a problem with. I am also not saying that each game has to bring something completely new to the table to be good. I still like playing Call of Duty even though its gameplay has not changed pretty much at all. The fact that these types of games have become a trend not only encourages lowering the standards of gameplay but also gives incentive to AAA developers to make these kinds of games. This is where I see the real problem. That the companies with the most resources to make great games are instead making ones with great stories (most of the time) and mediocre gameplay.
There are a few games that I think do both fairly well. Red Dead Redemption, for example, has a very compelling story and immersive gameplay that not many AAA games have. Titanfall 2 is another example. It has a fantastic cinematic campaign while also expanding greatly on the FPS genre. I feel that AAA studios putting seemingly little effort into their gameplay does a great disservice to what makes the medium special. These studios who make the most expensive games are paying more attention to their presentation than the gameplay. In a way, I feel that this trend has made games more like interactable movies.
I do not see this trend stopping anytime soon, either. With the advent of newer and faster graphics engines, I fear the trend will keep growing because it will be even easier to make a cinematic game. Hopefully, this will lead to more interesting gameplay if games are easier to beautify as developers will get to spend less time on the graphics.
The gameplay is what makes video games special as a medium. No other creative medium whether it be books, movies, music, etc. can replicate this aspect successfully. Video games allow you to be immersed in the setting and feel like the character you are playing. At times they can do this for hundreds and hundreds of hours. They can also be very social, creating memorable moments for millions of people. Cinematic games take away from this amazing aspect, instead, they try to accomplish what other mediums do just as well.
In conclusion, I believe the recent trend of cinematic games to be harmful to gaming as a whole because they do not focus on what makes video games great. AAA studios put increasingly more importance on the presentation of games at the expense of increasingly mediocre gameplay. Thankfully there are still indie games to fill this void of innovation, but they will not be able to achieve what a resource-rich AAA company could.