Earlier this week, we struggled to find five movies based on video games that are worth an online rental much less a Blu-ray purchase price. Films like "Silent Hill" and "Resident Evil" attempt to take video game worlds that feel inherently cinematic in their storytelling structure and gameplay and make them as entertaining on celluloid as they are on-disc. To varying degrees, they all fail. Why? Because video games are themselves often wonderfully cinematic, tapping many of the same emotions and adrenalin buttons as why we go to the movies. The kind of fun that people have at "Marvel's The Avengers" or "Pacific Rim" isn't too distinct from the enjoyment they get from video games. And, conversely, there have been fantastic video games that play like movies. Which ones are the best? Which games play like multi-hour movies that you just happen to control? Here are the five most cinematic games that you could play on the PS3, alphabetically.
How cinematic is the fantastic "God of War III? It's success worked in the opposite direction, influencing films more than cinema influenced it. Do you think it coincidental that we suffered through films like "Clash of the Titans" and "The Immortals" after the "God of War" trilogy came to its inspired conclusion. Yes, the impact of Zack Snyder's "300" on this shirtless men subgenre can't be understated but it's impossible to watch a movie like "Wrath of the Titans" and NOT think of Kratos. The "God of War" games, part three in particular, have the pace and rhythm that we desire from fantasy/action movies but so rarely get. And they have one of the most memorable protagonists of the PS3 era. When the book is written on video games in the new century, Kratos gets his own chapter. He might get two.
2. Heavy Rain
The most purposefully cinematic of all video games is also one of the most essential games of the PS3 generation. In their effort to put you in the middle of an emotionally-powered mystery, the developers of "Heavy Rain" work with many of the same tools as screenwriters or purveyors of great literature. "Heavy Rain" is more than a game; it is storytelling at its finest, bringing you into its world often through some of the most casual dynamics. Play with your kids in the backyard and their fate will be more important to you, such as when filmmakers offer character development in the first act that pays off with emotion in the final one. Few games have been as impressively crafted in terms of narrative as "Heavy Rain." It was too long for a standard film but the producers of this could have turned it into a mini-series or novel more than any other game of the generation.
This one must be qualified. Some of the genius of the best game of 2013 is in how much it connects the player emotionally with the saga of Joel and Ellie in ways that film cannot. And yet one of the first elements of Naughty Dog's masterpiece that comes to mind when considering this game is that introduction and there may be no twenty minutes of gameplay that's MORE cinematic than the prologue to "The Last of Us." It sets a tone the way a great screenwriter does with his first act, defines the world in which the game will take place, and emotionally connects with the gamer in ways not dissimilar from Hollywood. Throughout "The Last of Us," we're actually reminded of what doesn't work about so many Hollywood horror movies, films that lack the connection we have to Joel and Ellie.
Cheating? I don't care. And like the sense of authorship in "The Last of Us," the arc of the "Mass Effect" games are incredibly reliant on the personal decisions you make within this incredibly well-crafted universe (although, one could argue that the controversial ending's point was to make clear that the impression of authorship in anything in this world was mere illusion). However, ignoring authorship and the most button-pushing ending ever, the "Mass Effect" games, part two in particular (which is the "Empire Strikes Back" of this coveted trilogy), have an amazing cinematic quality in their very presentation. The dialogue is crisper than most sci-fi movies, the characters are more well-defined, and the settings are more intricate. I take it back. These games aren't like most sci-fi movies; they're better than most sci-fi movies.