Here’s our list of ten video games based on movies that are actually rather good.
The movie tie-in genre, often seen as a guaranteed cash-cow, has seen the development of some hilariously bad titles. From the clumsy stupidity of Superman Returns in 2006, to the Atari E.T. game so terrible that copies were buried in a mass grave in New Mexico, history is littered with rush-released tosh that has no reason to exist other than to make a quick buck.
For a licenced movie game to be successful takes talent, a fair bit of luck, and quite often a release date that isn’t tied to the movie. Movie-based games that work do so by being great titles in their own right, or by capturing the essence of a movie’s character or tone.
Here’s 10 of the best (in no particular order)…
GoldenEye 007 – Nintendo 64 – 1997
For many, GoldenEye 007 remains the king of all movie tie-ins. The quality of the game was certainly helped by being developed a few years after the film was released. This allowed Rare to take their time and create a game honed around the elements that makes the James Bond franchise so popular, a luxury not afforded to many movie tie-ins.
GoldenEye 007 thoughtfully combines espionage and gun play, creating a perfectly paced mix that makes the player feel like they have the starring role in the film. The action, although crude by today’s standards, successfully balances moments of furious action – oh, those alarms – with quieter moments of stealth and tense anticipation. To this day I can’t walk past a CCTV camera without resisting the urge to reach for my Walther PPK. Add in a multiplayer mode that was the Call of Duty of its day, and you not only have a great movie tie-in, but a landmark game, full-stop.
Movie Moment: Having picked up a sniper rifle, you spot a guard patrolling the dam in the far distance. His day ends silently, without witness.
RoboCop – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST – 1988
Ocean Software struck a vein of gold in the late ’80s and early ’90s with a string of successful licensed movie games. RoboCop was notable as it was based on an 18 certificate film that many of its players could not see – at least until they managed to grab a copy on VHS. The game follows the events of the film as closely as games of this type could, with bullets flying as RoboCop progresses through a series of side-scrolling, shoot-em up levels.
Murphy’s staccato movements are a replicated perfectly by the technology of the time. This lends the action a rare sense of weight and solidity. The home computer versions of the game also feature an early use of digitized speech, with a fuzzy “RoboCop” dialogue sample played over the title screen – although to this young player and his friends it always sounded like he was saying “PurpleCar”. And of course the game features THAT music.
Movie Moment: The action moves into first person with RoboCop having to put down a perp without harming a hostage, beautifully evoking the film’s point-of-view shots (for 1988).
Super Star Wars: Return of the Jedi – SNES, GameGear and others – 1994
Like The Untouchables and Batman, the Super Star Wars games used the same trick of taking iconic moments from the movies and setting them to a mix of platforming action with occasional racing or flying sequences.
Of all the Super Star Wars games it’s the third that gets my vote. Like its predecessors it’s incredibly tough, but the sparky graphics, wide range of characters and well executed soundtrack offset the ‘try, try and try again’ gameplay. The game’s ending is a highlight with a frustrating, but nonetheless thrilling, escape from an exploding Death Star.
Movie Moment: The battles atop Jabba’s sand barges have a perilous sense of speed with some rather nifty parallax scrolling.
Batman – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amiga – 1989
Batman was another successful game from Ocean and arrived as part of a merchandise onslaught following in the wake of Tim Burton’s movie juggernaut. The game mixed Bionic Commando style platforming combat with Bat-vehicle racing sections. Each section playing with elements from the movie, such as the Batmobile’s lamppost swing and the Batarang.
As with RoboCop the game also features a wonderful score by Jonathan Dunn. The small sprites are packed with personality, giving the game has a slightly more exaggerated cartoonish quality than its source material.
Movie Moment: Getting your hands on the Batwing was a treat whether you played the side-scrolling 8-bit version or the chase cam view of the Amiga edition.
Spider-Man 2 – PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox – 2004
Well, no one expected this. A Spider-Man title that was not only good, but actually rather excellent. In truth, the game element was fairly basic, a third person rough ‘n’ tumble puncher. The true star of the game was not the combat, it was the web slinging. Spider-Man 2 was all about giving the player the keys to the city and freedom to swing and go where ever they wanted.
Traversing the accurately mapped streets of New York is an exhilarating experience, the speed and camera movement creating a rush that, like GoldenEye 007 before it, successfully makes you feel like the movie’s lead character.
Movie Moment: Climbing to the top of the Empire State Building, taking a swan dive and shooting your web at the last moment to avoid a messy demise.
Star Wars – Arcade – 1983
Every generation of Star Wars games features an attempt at the Death Star trench run. It’s an iconic moment that is a perfect fit for the video game medium. Some attempts, such as Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, may have better graphical fidelity, but none can beat the original sit-down arcade cabinet for immersion and impact.
The wire frame graphics look simple now, but they reduce the action in the best way, boiling it down to speed and spectacle. With a booming soundtrack, and a kaleidoscope of colour, Star Wars still retains the power to transport the player to a galaxy, far, far away.
Movie Moment: “Use the force, Luke.” And eight-year old heroes were born.
Blade Runner – PC – 1997
OK, so this is not a direct adaptation of the movie, being more of a companion piece that tells a story concurrent with the film. However, elements and characters from Ridley Scott’s 1982 masterpiece do appear, and the overall tone is perfectly transferred.
Blade Runner is elevated over other point-and- click adventures by its branching storyline and atmospheric presentation. It’s a game that still looks good today, and the low-res nature of the well drawn art assets gives the game a certain level of authenticity.
Movie moment: The sound of rain, accompanied by the strains of Frank Klepacki’s Vangelis-inspired score, transports you to a version of the film in which you, not Harrison Ford, got to play the lead.
The Thing – PS2, Xbox – 2002
Like Blade Runner, John Carpenter’s The Thing is a film that goes in heavy on mood and atmosphere. And fortunately so does the game. Picking up where the movie ended, Computer Artworks’ 2002 game is a remarkably forward thinking piece of entertainment. There are plenty of monster thrills to enjoy, but it’s the game’s trust mechanic that’s the most interesting element, successfully playing on the movie’s constant sense of paranoia. It doesn’t quite come together to create an all-out classic, but it deserves plaudits for genuinely trying to work with the thematic elements of the movie, rather than its grizzly spectacle.
Movie moment: The visceral thrill of seeing the Thing’s handy work splattered around the environments is strangely delightful.
Alien Resurrection – PlayStation – 2000
Sega’s recently revealed Alien: Isolation has been garnering much interest, mainly because the game is taking the franchise back to its roots after the excess of Aliens: Colonial Marines. However, it’s arguable the finest articulation of that Alien premise has already been made, back in 2000, with Argonaut’s Alien Resurrection.
Ostensibly an FPS, the game is also something of a survival horror classic, superior in every way to the film upon which it’s based. Where the film is goofy, the game is dark. Whereas the film aimed for action, the game tempers the violence with tension and atmosphere. It’s a nerve jangling shooter has only recently been surpassed by the Dead Space series.
Movie moment: Lights off, sound up, and the lonely sound of your footsteps as wait for the moment you know will come…
Ghostbusters – ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and others – 1984
Ghostbusters – The Video Game, released in 2009, is without doubt the better ghost busting title, but nothing takes me back to my youth faster than the map screen of David Crane’s 1984 original. To me the game had everything, a map of New York, or so I thought, driving sections, cars, gadgets, cars with ghost vacuums, and the ability to earn cold hard cash.
Movie moment: Catching Slimer, without crossing the streams.
There are a few other video games worthy of entry in this list, such as EA’s surprisingly fun hack and slash The Lord of the Rings effort, The Warriors, and 2006’s Scarface prequel. What would be your choice?