Modern games seem to be on the pursuit of greater photorealistic graphics. But what if you could bypass graphics altogether and play live-action games? Interactive movie games that use full motion video have been around for decades, but have fallen into obscurity in recent years. They function in much the same way that choose-your-own adventure books do. Players make choices for characters and, in doing so, travel down one of many narrative branches.
Although you will not be getting in-depth gameplay on the level of God of War or Bloodborne, where interactive movie games shine is with their ability to provide compelling stories and the exciting experience of being able to decide how the story you are watching will unfold. As a bonus, they are also pretty good entryways into the world of video games and make for great fun with friends if you all make in-game decisions together. Here are three interactive movie games you should check out if you are interested in this genre.
1. NIGHT TRAP: 25th ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Might as well begin with a classic. Night Trap is a ’90s interactive movie game developed by Digital Pictures. It received a re-release on modern platforms in 2017 and is available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and on the Nintendo Switch.
The plot feels like your typical ’80s teen horror film. A house filled with teenagers suddenly comes under danger when waves of home invaders with nefarious intentions begin pouring in. Players are tasked with keeping the teens safe by making use of the many traps the house is littered with. To do this, players must constantly switch between surveillance cameras to survey all the rooms in the house and ensure that all is well. If intruders are spotted, the traps must be activated at the right time. If too many intruders enter the house or if characters are killed, it could mean a bad ending or game over. Depending on your sense of humor, much of the game will either feel like a hilarious sequence of dated horror tropes, or you might find yourself cringing from all the clichés.
Although the controls of Night Trap are simple, the gameplay mechanics are difficult to figure out mostly because the game does a poor job at introducing them. So, for those who are struggling, allow me to explain. The security system that controls the traps is color coded. Players must select the correct color before they will be able to activate traps. However, the code changes quite frequently, and players must eavesdrop on the teens to determine what the code is.
The total playtime is short – a perfect playthrough will be over in about half an hour – but actually reaching the end will take some practice which stretches the game out to an hour at least. Playing to unlock all endings will take even longer.
Lows in Night Trap come from the fact that it is nigh impossible to keep track of the plot simply because the game has players switching from camera to camera to ensure that all rooms are kept free of intruders. This leaves very little opportunity to eavesdrop on the teens and find out more about them. However, something tells me I was not missing out on much.
The acting is what you would expect from a B-grade horror film. However, for me at least, the grainy video and exaggerated acting has a charming feel to it. While the game will not provide the visual splendor that your modern-day AAA title offers, it excels by doing what many games fail to – provide a unique experience. No other game I have ever played had me taking the role of a glorified night-watcher, my finger ready to set off traps at the first sign of danger as I watched a bunch of dowdy teens bust out some embarrassing dance moves.
What makes Night Trap special is that all its elements come together to create an experience that is genuinely fun. When players are not laughing at the over-the-top acting and tacky outfits, they will be thoroughly engaged in ensuring that they trap as many intruders as possible. While Night Trap is certainly not the greatest game I have ever played, it does a good job at providing captivating gameplay using very few mechanics.
As a standalone film, Night Trap would be nothing more than a so-bad-it’s-good movie to watch on a Friday night with a few drunken friends. However, as a game, Night Trap carves out its own unique niche that laid the groundwork for future interactive movie games. It is certainly a skippable game, but why would you want to miss out on some cheesy fun?
Erica, a PlayStation 4 exclusive, is undoubtedly my favorite of the three selected games. Developed by Flavourworks and released in 2019, Erica follows the story of the eponymous protagonist who finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery following the death of her father. After she has a dismembered hand with the Delphic Epsilon symbol on it mailed to her, she is taken to Delphi House – a mental health hospital – where Sergeant Blake insists she will be safe until the killer is caught. There, she unravels secrets that shed light on her past and forever change her.
Erica shines at creating a suspenseful atmosphere through lighting, superb acting and the creative use of recurring symbols which makes players always feel as though they are just on the cusp of discovering the truth. Not only does Erica provide a compelling gaming experience, but the production quality is so high that I suspect Erica would still excel as a standalone feature film.
The interactive elements of the game are made possible through use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad which is used to drag a cursor to the desired dialogue options on the screen and to focus on certain key elements in the environment. A nifty feature is that players can choose to not pick any of the dialogue options when they are presented and instead allow Erica to remain mute.
The touchpad is also used to perform a variety of actions within the game such as flicking on a lighter, opening doors and grabbing a tissue for Erica’s friend, Hannah, when she gets a nosebleed. Rather than feel gimmicky, this feature blends the experiences of the player and the protagonist to provide greater immersion. Additionally, the touchpad allows for interesting interactions such as replaying a four-note piano melody taught to you by one of the girls at Delphi House.
Although I found the DualShock 4’s touchpad perfectly suited to the task, others may deem it too small. Luckily, Erica does feature a companion app which allows you to use your smartphones instead. For the best playing experience, I found that using the PlayStation Vita’s remote play was ideal as it enabled me to use the touchscreen and directly tap on the desired dialogue options or environmental items.
Through the dialogue options and choices available, players get to mold Erica’s personality. Will she be assertive and never shy away from a confrontation? Or do you prefer for Erica to play it safe and value self-preservation? The choice is yours.
A common of criticism of many choice-based games is that the decisions players make are largely illusory. Erica does not feel this way and each subsequent playthrough after the first, provided different choices were made, felt like I was unlocking entirely new narratives that offered fresh perspectives on the story. This gives Erica plenty of replay value, especially for trophy hunters and completionists who will wish to see every scenario and ending.
As much as I love Erica, it is not without its flaws. Minor continuity issues can be spotted every now again, but nothing is ever severe enough to compromise the story. Furthermore, and this may be a product of being spoiled by Detroit: Become Human, a flowchart would have been nice as it would allow you to track the pathways your decisions have led to and reveal what you need to do to unlock alternate endings. However, this may have been an intentional decision to keep the game shrouded with mystery and secrets.
3. THE COMPLEX
For fans of science-fiction, there is The Complex, which is developed by Wales Interactive and was released in 2020. Set in London, The Complex is about a scientist named Amy who has created nanotechnology to solve medical issues that come with space travel. All seems to be going well until attempts are made to steal this technology for bioterrorism. Tension arises when Amy finds herself stuck in a lockdown laboratory and must work together with a dying nanobot-infected woman and an old friend with flaky tendencies to ensure that the nanotechnology does not get into the wrong hands.
The acting is passable, and I found the story to be much weaker than Erica’s. At some points, it feels as though the game attempts to pick up the slack by titillating players. For instance, it features an almost entirely unnecessary scene of Amy stripping down to her bra as she changes into her quarantine gear, and the camera seems to zoom in on her with scopophilic intentions at every available opportunity. Despite this, I still found The Complex to be engaging and suspenseful enough to have me invested for its entire duration though I felt no motivation to attempt a second playthrough.
Unlike Erica, The Complex does not feature any object interaction and instead is solely focused on decision-making from the player to forward the story. Nevertheless, this proves sufficient to carry the game, as the choices presented are often complex moral dilemmas that will have you constantly questioning whether you took the right path. Decisions must be made in a short space of time – a feature that is pretty much a staple in modern choice-based games –, although this can be changed in the settings.
The decisions players make affect what personality Amy will have. I very much appreciated that The Complex keeps track of how Amy’s personality fleshes out. At the end of the game, players are presented with a summary of her personality according to five basic traits, namely: honesty, bravery, curiosity, intelligence and sensitivity.
Decisions made also affect what relationships Amy will have with the people around her. Throughout The Complex, I constantly found myself questioning whether I should put my faith in certain characters (especially her old friend Rees Wakefield) and the game is quite efficient at creating a sense of paranoia regarding who should be trusted. Unfortunately, however, the decisions made do not feel as though they have nearly as much impact on the narrative as decisions made in Erica do.
There are minor flaws that plague The Complex. Most notably, there are limited locations featured and the acting and dialogue are not nearly as impressive as what is found in Erica. While The Complex is far from a perfect game, it does demonstrate the potential for interactive movie games to provide immersive experiences that are appealing to both movie-goers and gamers alike. Unfortunately, The Complex’s weak story ensure that while it does provide some fun, it is unlikely to be a sufficiently memorable experience.