Are Cutscenes Ruining the Way We Remember Video Games?

Cutscenes: the parts of video games where you become the audience. For years now, there has been extensive debate over the issue of these non-interactive mini-movies and whether the modern generation of gaming has changed the way we play, and the future of our games. Should video games look like an interactive movie? Have the ways that developers have enhanced games with their mini-movie action scenes become too much of a burden on players’ enjoyment?

There have been a multitude of games which have caused much debate and discussion regarding the concerning length of cutscenes. One of which, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriot has been particularly concerning, with up to 90-minute cutscenes that frustrated players to no end. Fortunately, there was an option to skip right through them all, but it led to missing out on a massive portion of the game’s narrative. "Pressing B" to skip does make games a whole lot more playable for those concerned, but then if we could just ignore cutscenes all the time, wouldn’t it ruin the way videogames tell their story or would it give the right balance once more and improve the flow of the game?


Allegedly, as I’ve heard through the grapevine, the popular RPG Star Ocean: The Last Hope includes 40-minute cutscenes, but being 4-5 hours into the game myself, I still have yet to experience this. I’m the sort of person who loves a good story, so a cutscene to me is never seen as an altogether bad notion, but I groaned at the thought of a 40-minute interval that would cut into my playing time. Strictly speaking, cutscenes should not outweigh the hours of actual play, nor should cutscenes be irrelevant or jam a story into a situation that doesn’t need them.

Why can’t videogames tell the story through more gameplay rather than draw out long lengthy movies where all we can do is sit back and watch? Can we not go back to the times of being able to make the story our own by actually doing most of the running ourselves?

In Tim Rogers initial impressions of FFXIII he addresses how disappointed he is not to be able to jump into the action: "You approach the motorcycles. A cutscene starts. Your dudes get on and then fly away. They look like they’re having a lot of fun! Too bad we can’t have that fun!"

I played the beautiful FFXIII recently, and I was frustrated with just how many pointless cutscenes there were thrown into the mix. The game may look fantastic graphically, but certain areas are boring and non-interactive to the extent that wandering around outside of combat can feel more pointless than all of the previous games put together. It feels like all you can do for the first 25 hours is walk around retrieving items, entering battles with a frustratingly poorly implemented surprise attack, and then get back to watching a long stream of endless cutscenes time and time again. It just seems that the team behind Final Fantasy XIII was intent on removing the actual play from the game.

Lightning FFXIII

Another that disappointed me with its static and yawn-worthy cutscenes was Dragon Age: Origins. Though I liked the interactive stance between the characters and the way your actions influenced the things you do, I grew tired of watching mostly inanimate characters standing around. That said I do admire the way BioWare dishes out games with a realistic feeling and undertone, and how they manage to create an emotional journey through amazing character interaction. As much as it is argued against, cutscenes have their uses, especially those that are used as the most expressive tools unique to the medium.

There are some approaches which definitely work better than others. For me, Mafia II had the right balance between cutscene and gameplay, where others may argue against this. Mirror’s Edge really stood out due to its decently written first-person vocal style. In another example, cutscenes from the game Thief (particularly the opening) may look like some of the worst imaginable, but the fact that they are so focused and to the point makes them seem like some of the best. The writers omitted anything unnecessary and used perspective and cynical dialogue to give it a style that worked very well. Mass Effect 2 is another that undoubtedly had some of the best cutscenes I have ever come across. They always served the right purpose, the script was well-written, and the interaction was never far from the forefront. Even better was the glossy pre-rendering that made parts of the game never seem too dissimilar from the in-game engine.

A bad game too reliant on cutscenes will indeed only seem capable of moving the story forward when the gameplay is halted. A good game will not draw an obvious line between gameplay and cutscenes. In a game such as Grand Theft Auto IV we can play protagonist Niko Bellic how we wish, but it’s of course the cutscenes that show us the true relationships that we start to care about.

Niko Bellic in GTAIV 

It may well be argued, and I’ve had similar thoughts myself, that it is ridiculous when there is any obvious incongruity between a cutscene and the gameplay. Players have argued, "Why get critically injured by one bullet in a cutscene when you can continuously get shot throughout gameplay before you die?" It’s a problem that indeed should be addressed or avoided at all costs.

Some of the best games I have played have been memorable despite having no cutscenes, and including them would have perhaps not even improved the games at all. Fallout 3 did not include many, if any, cutscenes, but for some reason this method really worked, leaving players to live the game from beginning to end at their own pace, allowing them to interact with every scene in the game. Cutscenes just may not have been the right approach and could well have ruined the desired effect. Likewise BioShock and Half-Life 2 — two of the best first-person shooters in gaming history — omitted cutscenes in favor of more realistic senses of immersion within their finely crafted worlds.

Whether we’re pro- or anti-cutscene, at the end of the day, video games should be interactive, and they each need to develop their own unique way of presenting stories for the character to play, be they linear, emergent, or otherwise.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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