Let’s take a moment to talk about video game adaptations of movies and TV shows.
I’m not talking about ones that take a retroactive look at movies and shows from days gone by, such as Telltale Games’ Jurassic Park and Back to the Future series. Instead, I’m looking at games that are released around the same time as their film and TV counterparts. I have nothing but the highest respect for Telltale Games and think they’re doing an amazing job.
For as long as video games have been around, studios have tried to use the medium to market their movies, TV shows and other pop-culture phenomenons. This can be traced back all the way to 1982, when a little Atari game based on the movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” came out — forever scarring thousands of movie fans by being one of the worst video games of all time.
Since then, hundreds of video game adaptations have been released, and hundreds have failed. It often seems that the better a movie or TV show is, the worse the video game. So why is it that many video games can’t or don’t translate the visual medium of movies and TV shows successfully? Let’s take a look at a recent example.
Electric City The Revolt is an iPad game based off a unique Web series by Tom Hanks for Yahoo!, which creates a multi-dimensional experience through heavy interaction and social media usage. Electric City tells the story of a dystopian society dependent on electricity and communication, two things the secretive Knitting Society rules with iron needles, pun intended. It’s dark, mature and heavily engaging.
Each episode runs about five minutes long — and by the time you’re finished with it you’re practically begging for the next one. I’m already through the entire first 20 episodes, and am eagerly awaiting the next installment.
The game, however, is bad. Really bad.
It’s a basic Pacman-style “finders keepers” game where the main character, Frank Deetleman, is searching for money or items in a maze-like environment. He has to retrieve the required amount of items before time runs out or he gets busted by the always present AMP. There are several levels that apparently get more complex and involved as the game progresses, but I wouldn’t know about most of those (I’ll explain in a bit).
Here’s the first problem with the game: It’s boring. It’s nothing I haven’t played a million times before. This gaming concept is literally an entire generation old. There’s only so many times you can slap a fresh coat of paint on a wheel and say it’s reinvented.
And the paint isn’t even that good. The graphics on this game are little better than Farmville and the background music is incredibly repetitive.
This could be mildly forgiven for unoriginality, except there’s a second problem with this game: The controls are terrible. This game uses the D-pad in what is probably the worst way I have ever seen it used before. It’s stubborn and it sticks. I can’t tell you how many times I got stuck. This would be fine except the game is timed. Every time I got stuck I lost precious time that I couldn’t get back because there are no time bonuses. It also made it easier for those darn AMP guards to catch me.
I barely got past the first level of this game before I gave up due to a combination of boredom, apathy and blind frustration.
The final problem I had with the game is it did little to expand on the series. It just presented the same information I’d been shown before, just with less creativity and originality. For a series that prides itself on its multi-dimensional interactivity, this game is a real disappointment.
So why is this game so bad, as well as most other video game adaptations of films and TV shows? It’s a complicated question, but I think it boils down to the fact that studios push developers to rush out these games without giving them time to create something worth selling.
The few times studios have given developers a bit of breathing room have resulted in better products, such as 2003’s “Enter the Matrix,” which may have had some technical glitches but at least it had an interesting and unique story. The many times they don’t, you end up with half-baked products like “Monsters, Inc.” or the recent “Battleship” video game — which surprisingly featured little-to-no actual battleships.
My advice is to definitely check out the Web series, but pass on the game. It’s just another rushed product to make a few bucks during runtime. If this game doesn’t sell well, maybe it’ll inspire movies and TV shows like Electric City to spend a little more time creating a game fans would want to play.
Here’s an App Store link for Electric City The Revolt; it’s currently priced at $0.99.
Disclosure: This app was independently purchased by the post author in the iPad App Store. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.