Fun Movie Videogames?
Not so long ago – to me anyway – Full Motion Video games were looked down on thanks to crude effects and often weak acting. The likes of Phantasmagoria, The 11th Hour, and Night Trap weren’t really all that great, and were more of an experiment now that developers had all this capacity on new-fangled CD-ROMs. So they’d fill them up with video and build a game around them, which was certainly ambitious, and whilst some may disagree, they frequently weren’t very good. In recent years though, the use of FMV in video games has improved vastly, thanks to quicker load times, significantly higher resolutions, and actual budgets to hire actual actors.
I’ve found myself becoming more and more entertained by the genre, and take most opportunities to play any FMV game I can get my hands on. For me, they tend to fall into a handful of categories. You have your short-form stories that encourage you to replay them to discover numerous different endings through your choices like She Sees Red. Then there are the much longer ones filled with twists and turns, the likes of The Infectious Madness of Dr. Dekker for example. Alternatively, you could try out ones that involve you having a lot more freedom to explore and discover, such as The Bunker. Finally, there are more free form options that ask you to explore and understand the videos at your own pace, like the recent Telling Lies. I’ve found all of these approaches to be enjoyable in their own way, so here are five particularly good FMV games that I’ve liked in the past few years. No spoilers ahead!
This is the game that prompted me to write this article. Wales Interactive have been making choice-driven FMV games for some time, and some are really quite good. Who Pressed Mute on Uncle Marcus is their most recent effort and is a fun murder mystery that takes place via a family Zoom quiz (remember those) with elements of Knives Out about it. Your uncle has been poisoned and you have less than an hour to work out which member of your family did it and why. Your choices will determine what you find out and by the end you’ll have enough information to make an accusation. It’s fun, silly, well-acted, and it won’t take long for you to have favourite characters.
It does have that irritation of the short form FMV game where you really need to replay it, meaning you repeat some scenes. But each time you play you uncover more and more, and with a 45 minute playtime on your first run through it’s not excessive. You can keep the evidence you collect on each run too, giving you more and more choices for your accusation at the end. It’s pretty neat, and seems to have been entirely filmed during lockdowns too.
It’s hard to write a list like this without mentioning the award-winning Her Story. Taking a more free form approach than other games here, Her Story has you investigating a case of a woman’s missing husband. You’re sat in front of an old fashioned CRT monitor connected to a police database, and by searching for keywords you can find videos of her interviews with the police. Over time you’ll piece together the sequence of events that led to this interview.
There’s no real ending here, save for you deciding that you’ve got to the bottom of things, and the unstructured format of the videos can be a bit intimidating if you aren’t willing to take notes. For those of a certain age though, this is a wonderfully well put together game. You genuinely feel as though you’re working through footage and piecing together a convoluted puzzle. There’s a real satisfaction to be found by getting to the conclusion or even figuring out a new keyword to search for. The excellent acting just adds to this package, and the fact you can even play it on your phone makes it pretty much an essential play.
The Dr Dekker universe is utterly mad, with three games to choose from. The Infectious Madness of Dr Dekker and The Shapeshifting Detective are hugely impressive and well worth your time, but I feel that Dark Nights With Poe and Munro is overlooked due to the excellence that has come before. Taking an episodic approach, you follow and make decisions for the titular characters as they run their radio show and investigate weird goings-on in their local community.
The acting is top notch, with real chemistry between the leads, and each episode presents a different tale to explore. It reminds me of The X-Files at times, something that is occasionally played with. Sometimes what your decision means isn’t always clear, and the episodes don’t tie together in any real way, but Dark Nights with Poe and Munro is genuinely funny and wildly creative at times. If you’ve skipped this one, it’s well worth a go.
This is a really fun one, giving you a haunted hotel to explore whilst a murderous manager stalks you through the halls. You and your friends are planning to stay at a hotel overnight, but almost immediately your compatriots are kidnapped and locked up leaving you to sneak around, uncover secrets, and escape with your friends (hopefully) still alive.
Unlike others in this list, At Dead of Night allows you to freely explore whilst live-action video plays out at certain points. This is the closest we’ve come to a modern – and actually good – version of The 7th Guest. There’s a dark story to uncover here, with well-acted scenes playing out before your eyes. It’s also nice to actually solve puzzles yourself to progress the game, rather than just making choices to move forward. That could start threat of being caught maintains the tension throughout, although having to replay sections after capture is a bit irritating, especially towards the end. I’d like to see more games of this style come out now that the technology is there to make something this impressive.
If you’ve read some of my reviews before, you might be expecting this. I’ve previously said Not For Broadcast is the best FMV game I’ve played, and I stand by that. Another game that takes an episodic approach of sorts, you play as a broadcast worker for a TV News show in 80s Britain as a new political party takes power and starts making sweeping changes to the country. What you choose to show the public will change their perception of this party, and lead to significantly different events and endings. In between episodes, there’s a choice-driven system in which you decide what your family do in this new world, and some of them may even survive.
Whilst a few of the sections you broadcast are a little tedious, the story and characters are hugely engaging. Some of the acting is fantastic and I genuinely felt for the people I’d come to like over the hours. There’s creativity here, and the developers have really taken the chance to create a game with a serious political message shown in a unique way. I still recommend Not For Broadcast as the strongest example of an FMV game thanks to how it plays with conventions of the genre, doing things that you might not expect, in a package that includes over 42 hours of recorded footage! There’s a lot of bang for your buck here.
That’s your next few movie nights sorted! Five excellent games with good stories to keep you engaged whilst you enjoy some well-acted action. There are plenty of other options out there too, some of which I might even get to eventually. If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear them.