The Metal Gear Solid Franchise
Before you start with the pitchforks and the CQCing, hear me out. The MGS franchise has done a lot extremely well, but not every one of their games has been a grand slam. Hideo Kojima’s seminal work is definitely worthy of praise, but a lot of common complaints of the franchise cite that it focuses too much on his story and characters and less on the stealth/action elements that the franchise was born from. MGS4: Guns of the Patriots is a heavy offender in this one. On the one hand, it was (supposed to be) the final entry in the MGS franchise, meaning that a lot of loose ends had to be tied up, so that meant a lot more story. However, Kojima made it so that the cutscene-to-gameplay ratio was heavily skewed in favor of the former, taking away a lot of agency from the player after a certain amount of time. For a lot of gamers, it was disconcerting that there were very few opportunities (relatively speaking) to play through Solid Snake’s last outing. To his credit, Kojima did attempt to rectify the cutscene length in future games, particularly MGSV, where there is a lot more time for the player to go and explore the world of Big Boss and Co. Cutscene length aside, more story based complaints (simplistic villains compared to the main characters, sexist elements that persist throughout the franchise, confusing twists and turns) also came to the forefront over the course of the franchise’s run. MGS’s successes and failures definitely go to show that every rose has its thorn.
The Order: 1886
While MGS4 had a lot of cutscenes, most seemed to agree that the gameplay was a lot of fun when they got to it. With The Order: 1886, it seemed to have the opposite problem, and players weren’t as gracious. This game, focusing on a steampunk Knights of the Round Table that went around hunting monsters, had a lot of controversy right before launch regarding its overall length-to-price ratio, with many claiming the $49.99 game could be beaten in less than six hours, gameplay included. Regardless of the “game length= or =/=game quality” debate, the game itself had its fair share of issues unrelated to that. The cutscenes themselves looked extremely nice, a good mixture of shiny and gritty, and the setting and atmosphere were both really promising. After all, it was steampunk and Arthurian lore combined-can’t go too wrong there. With that said, though, the story they told was lackluster, with characters that didn’t have much in the way of…well, character. That one’s French! That one’s a rookie and the other’s a veteran! This guy is a stickler for the rules! …and that’s about it for all of them. As well, the game is very much a set-up for a sequel; the story just sort of ends without pomp or circumstance. The wonder of the graphics did not match up with the poor quality of the narrative. The gameplay itself is just a waypoint to the rest of the story, with overall generic shooter mechanics and not all that much in the way of depth, with the exception of some sneaking elements and quick-time events that ended up repeating themselves multiple times over the course of the game. The Order: 1886 isn’t an awful game, but it squandered the possibilities of its cinematics, and the gameplay wasn’t strong enough to back it up.
Sonic the Hedgehog (2006)
Oh, boy, this is gonna be a long one.
The Sonic team had a story they wanted to tell. They wanted to leave their mark on the new console generation of the time, and to make their newest title in the Sonic the Hedgehog series an unforgettable experience, boosted by the power of the newest consoles. The whole idea behind this game was twofold-make a graphically impressive and engaging play experience, but also offer the kind of story and drama that no other Sonic games before it really had. Unfortunately, they only had half their team working on it and a deadline to meet. What players got in 2006 was a buggy, inconsistent mess on the technical side of things, but story wise, it might just have been even worse. Visually, the game’s cutscenes flipped between dramatic, high quality graphics and fluid cinematography and jerky, half-baked character models just standing around while the camera swiveled back and forth. The sad part is, there are a few places where they did honestly pull out all the stops to make this game look like it was the flagship of a new generation in gaming, which made the rest of the game just look awful by comparison.
On the narrative side…well, remember when I said they had a story they wanted to tell? This story was obviously not one for Sonic the Hedgehog. One of the opening scenes was something straight out of a Square Enix rpg, with a grand showcase for the princess of a foreign kingdom, booming orchestral music, and an apocalyptic vision of a disaster to come. Even when he shows up, Dr. Eggman fits right in, looking like the villain of a Final Fantasy game rather than Sonic. When the blue blur does show up, he looks high-res, but extremely out of place. When the cutscenes switch to the lifeless models, EVERYTHING looks out of place, but Sonic still the most noticeably. Sonic doesn’t feel like he belongs in his own damn game- if ’06 could even be considered that, considering if you swap out the Sonic cast for generic heroes and villains, you’ll probably get the exact same game. Making a cinematic story for this game didn’t improve it-seeing what could have been and what it became just made it worse.
Sonic the Hedgehog is a cautionary tale about rushing a game to make a quick buck, for sure, but on another level, it’s a warning: if you want to use cinematics to spice up your game or if you want to use them to tell a grand story, that’s fantastic. If you do this, however, make sure it’s a story that fits the kind of game franchise you have and make sure, for better or worse, that everything’s consistent. If not, you’ll end up with a mess through and through.