Full Motion Video EXPLOSION!

I feel I should apologize in advance for some of the screenshots you’re about to see in this article. I usually take pride in the attractive images that I furnish my site with. I can ensure this aesthetic purity by carefully choosing which photos to steal from other, more resputable websites. Beggars can’t be choosers, but thiefs can. The problem I ran into here is that nobody has any pics of these games. In at least one instance, I’m using the ONLY picture I could find.

This really says something about the modern perception of FMV games among enthusiasts. These forsaken pieces of software are like the embarrassing home videos that you secretly destroy, so that all physical evidence of your abysmal forth grade stage acting ability will be forever lost. The game industry, it seems, would like to forget about this chapter in its’ history altogether. But we at Krooze’s Haunt are here to ensure that that won’t happen. Never forget.

The truth is that, while these games may have stung a bit back when you had to pay full retail price, at todays rates they can offer some good fun and big laffs for your money. And like most games known for being textbook examples of bad (Bible Adventures, E.T.), the vile reputations these games have achieved is a tad overblown. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t pathetically awful, but when done right they can even be, dare I say it, pretty darn good. So if you’re expecting me to lambaste the shit out of these misunderstood pieces of software, you should seek out the assistance of an Angry Youtube Reviewer. No, my friends, this is not a roast, this is a tribute.

Note: All games featured are for the Sega CD, though several have versions on other consoles, usually featuring less grainy video.

Masked Rider

Masked Rider is approximately 95% video, and 5% game, which sort of begs the question, “how ‘gamey’ does a game have to be… to be a game?” For instance, while watching 28 Days Later, I turn the movie off near the end, go into the Deleted Scenes menu, and play the original ending, rather than the neutered test-audience-approved one. Does this well-timed series of button-pushes mean that 28 Days Later is a video game?

Queries and quandaries aside, Masked Rider is good fun. If you’ve ever watched an episode of Power Rangers, you should have a pretty good idea what kind of campy action you’re getting yourself into. But unlike that show, there’s at least a modicum of storyline present here. Possibly too much, and you can’t skip past the boring parts, even when continuing. There are a couple choose-your-own-adventure-style decisions that break things up a bit, but really, you shouldn’t even bother playing FMV games if you don’t have the patience to sit through a few minutes of grainy, poorly acted melodrama.

Gameplay boils down to pushing whatever button or direction the game tells you to push, and fast too, dammit, real fucking fast. Sega would later repackage this mechanic in the form of the Quick Time Events featured in Shenmue, though God of War arguably popularized the concept. Luckily, you have a lifebar, so you can make a few mistakes before seeing the Game Over screen. Your enemies too have lifebars, which you deplete by entering the correct commands.

Speaking of the enemies, what a fearsome lot they are. These beasts would have caused millions of nightmares if they were featured on Power Rangers, particularly the giant spider, which is amazingly well-designed and higher quality than you would expect from an FMV game. That’s one of the things I found most surprising about these games; the acting and A/V quality are low, but the actual production values are sometimes shockingly high. These movies weren’t as haphazardly thrown together as you might be lead to believe, and Masked Rider is a prime example of the sort of care that can go into them.

It’s a good thing that the film aspect is good, because this is just barely a game. Some of the enemies are defeated after only a single command is entered, and I’d be surprised if there are even a hundred command prompts in the whole game. Still, in the grand scheme of things, this is pretty cool example of the genre.

Quality -6

Entertainment – 7

Dragon’s Lair

With Dragon’s Lair, Don Bluth created what was to be the first and most influential video game to rely solely on video. The laserdisc technology behind it was revolutionary at the time, and to this day it’s one of only three games to be on display in the Smithsonian Institute, rubbing elbows with the high company of Pong and Pac-man. With this level of success, it was inevitably made available on nearly every platform that could handle FMV, and several that couldn’t. My experience playing Dragon’s Lair in the arcade was one of confusion and disorientation. I wasn’t even sure if I had played it, or if the machine had simply eaten my unprecedented investment of not one, but two quarters.

My time with the Sega CD version has been much the same, but this time I’m almost completely positive that I did indeed play it. I have a game disc, an instruction manual, and an unnecessarily large jewel case, all emblazoned with the words Dragon’s Lair, not to mention the noticeable absence a full dozen quarters from my piggy bank. But despite all these creepy factors indicating otherwise, I’m still left with the distinct impression that I’ve been bamboozled.

Gameplay really isn’t all that different from Masked Rider, and in fact it’s got a significantly higher video to game ratio. The difference with Dragon’s Lair is that it plays coy with you, only giving sly hints as to what button it wants you to press. The instructions in the Sega CD version throws you a bone by giving you subtle hints, such as telling you exactly what to do. But what it really comes down to is timing. Even after you’ve figured out the correct sequence of button presses, you’re still likely to botch things half the time.

Dragon’s Lair has a lot of charm, and it certainly deserves a fair bit or respect. The animation, character designs and production values are through the roof, and it spawned an entire genre (maligned though it may be). I can’t say that it’s a game I get a lot of enjoyment from, but much like Castelian, it’s just barely rewarding enough to keep you playing, even though a prevailing sense of irritation permeates the experience. Only those blessed with the virtue of patience should try to tackle this classic. The rest of us would probably have a better time just watching someone else play.

Quality – 9

Entertainment – 4

Fahrenheit

I just couldn’t get into this one. It’s not a bad game really, and it’s got a lot going for it, but it just couldn’t seem to coax my hypothalamus into coughing up any precious dopamine. My primary misgiving was Fahrenheit’s occasionally confusing controls. Gameplay takes place from the first person perspective as you explore burning buildings, looking for survivors to rescue and hazards to curtail. You choose where in the building to go by clicking one of the directional arrows when they appear. Sounds good, but the camerawork makes it tough to figure out where exactly the arrows are indicating, since changes in perspective make you unsure which direction these arrows are referring to. So for example, (and I hope this isn’t as hard to understand as it is to explain) the game might give you the option to go left, but then the camera turns to the right automatically, forcing you to guess if left means left now or left a couple second ago. This can lead to frustration as you enter areas you’ve already explored and are forced to watch the exact same video clips. This wouldn’t be much of a pain, but you have a limited amount of oxygen in your life-support tank, effective giving the game a time limit.

The initial stage is a simple two story house, but subsequent levels place you in bigger and more complex structures such as a hotel, and finally, a labyrinthine University. Many of the rooms are carbon copies of one another, and completing the game requires both consultation of the maps (in the booklet) and a degree of memorization.

Fahrenheit has some high production values that’ll have you enduring it’s gameplay flaws just to see the footage. Unlike pretty much every game ever created (even to this day), the fire effects seen here are remarkably realistic, because they literally are real. A lot of work went into ensuring that the game looks and plays very authentically, and while the acting is about on par with a CPR training video, this is still a pretty intense experience.

Something of note is that this game comes with two discs, both containing the same game. Disc 1 is the standard Sega CD game, while Disc 2 is an enhanced version for those who also have a 32X. I don’t at this time, but the SCD version is pretty slick looking on it’s own, with video that takes up the entire screen rather than just a window.

Quality – 6.5

Entertainment – 5

Supreme Warrior

I know I said I wasn’t gonna do the whole Angry Reviewer thing, but what a shitload of fuck. The packaging for this game is similar to that of Fahrenheit, which led me to believe that, like that game, this included a standard Sega CD disc, as well as an enhanced version for those who also have a 32X. But sadly for we foolish souls who don’t carefully study a game’s packaging, that’s not the case this time, as Supreme Warrior actually requires both of the Genesis’ tumorous add-ons. There actually is a version that can be played on a plain old Sega CD, but ol’ Krooze is a spiteful soul, so I’m just gonna say fuck it. This is exactly the sort of thing that confused consumers and caused gamers to lose faith in the Sega brand. If it weren’t for this kind of monkey business, I might have a Dreamcast 2 sitting under my TV right now.

It’s a shame too, because I was really looking forward to this one. Being a big fan of kung fu movies, even cheesy ones, Supreme Warrior’s theme held a lot of appeal. Maybe in the future I’ll pick up a 32X and be able to amend this score, but for now the game gets an unprecedented zero. Like I said, I’m spiteful.

Quality – N/A

Entertainment – 0

Surgical Strike

Anybody who claims that FMV games don’t have any actual gameplay has obviously never played this Sega CD exclusive. Not only does this game give you a lot of control over the action, but it’s hard. It took me quite a few attempts just to get past the first of three levels. That’s right, Surgical Strike only has three levels, which translates to about thirty minutes of gameplay, but when you see the game in action you’ll understand. The developers spent all the budget on blowing shit up. This game is a nonstop orgy of explosions – some of the most terrific ones ever featured in a video game. Practically every action you make, regardless of logic, will produce one of these joy-inducing booms, which sometimes are hilariously superimposed by a man flailing his arms, just in case you weren’t convinced that your target died in the inferno. It’s stuff like this that makes FMV games cool, since these kinds of effects simply wouldn’t be possible with any other format.

The actual gameplay places you on a gridded map, where you’re tasked with shooting everything that can be shot, and then choosing which direction to go at every intersection. Hey, I didn’t say it was deep, but it’s certainly fast, and your squad mates and superiors will browbeat the everloving shit out of you if you fail. And you will fail, I guarantee, not so much because the game is actually difficult in the conventional sense, but rather because it’s lacking polish. There’s a good deal of trial and error involved, particularly at the end of each stage, where you have to choose from a variety of targets to shoot. The correct target is never obvious, and choosing the wrong one will send you back to the beginning of the level.

Despite it’s warts, this is still one of the more entertaining games in the genre. Anyone who can appreciate seeing a huge explosion from shooting a gatling gun at a terrorist in a mud brick building should check it out. And I should hope that would include everyone.

Quality – 7

Entertainment – 7

Corpse Killer

“Welcome to Hell, sucka! Get your booty down here, you poor damn fool.” So goes your greeting, compliments of a Rastafarian who will serve as your tour guide trough Corpse Killer. I guess the developers confused Haiti with Jamaica (“one of those islands with blacks”), and as a result, those introductory words were some of the only lines I could understand, since I an I always be havin’ trouble wit da Jamaica dialec, mon. But never mind that, since the game is campy enough to have you singing Koombaya, and I really don’t think I’m missing anything too profound.

It’s this very camp that makes Corpse Killer more than the sum of it’s practically nonexistent parts. At the core, this is really just a hilariously simple lightgun game (though the standard controller works just fine), where you automatically strafe to the right while shooting horribly animated FMV zombies. If you’ve ever wondered what people mean when they say “so bad it’s good,” this game takes it one step further, to “so horrible it’s fantastic.” The special effects showcased here make are about on par with a family home video from 1986, and the acting is possibly the worst I’ve ever seen. The whole experience is so atrocious that it’s hard to resist. Particularly good is Vincent Schiavelli as the villain, who’s got the perfect face for this sort of role.

The video quality in the Sega CD version is absolutely horrendous. You can barely tell what you’re looking at, but in this case I think it actually works out in the game’s favor, since the high quality video in the other versions (3DO, Saturn) seems at odds with the low quality of everything else. I mean, honestly, just look at that screenshot up there. It’s like a glaucoma simulator, but I have a creeping suspicion that it would look even worse in a higher definition.

Quality – 2

Entertainment – 7

Night Trap

Ahh, Night Trap; one of the few FMV games to have (perhaps arguably) attained the status of “classic.” Personally, I think this game is a hoot, but I can certainly see how some might disagree. The standard bad acting is even more prominent here, since there isn’t much action to break things up. Another thing I’ve heard people bitch about is the fact that completing the game is entirely based on memorization. Player interaction is also at a minimum, centering around switching cameras and pressing a button to activate the titular traps. These are legitimate flaws, and I acknowledge them, but Night Trap nevertheless has a certain je ne sais quoi that makes me look past them.

I suppose using fancy-pants terms like “je ne sais quoi” is sort of a cop-out technique to use in a review, so I’ll try to articulate the game’s greatness. For one, the concept is terrific and highly original, appealing to my inner voyeur. The Sega CD’s notoriously low quality video unwittingly plays into this concept, since security cameras are naturally grainy.

And while the acting is about on par with something you’d find late at night on Cinemax, uh, well, I’m having a hard time seeing how that would be a negative. Those who can’t appreciate a little camp need not apply, and by a little, I mean a whole shitload. Enough to start a forest fire on a snowy windless day. In fact, the biggest complaint I have with the game is that you can’t just watch the movies at your leisure. If certain conditions aren’t met, the game will abruptly end, which is natural – this is a game after all – but you’ll miss a lot of entertaining footage by actually fulfilling these conditions. This isn’t exactly a problem, since it allows you to see new stuff every time you play, but it would have been nice if developer Digital Pictures had seen fit to include a cheat code granting you freedom to just watch passively. As it stands, the spec ops captain (or whoever the fuck he is) who ends your game is probably my least favorite character in the history of games.

Quality – 7

Entertainment – 8

Road Avenger

This is easily my favorite game of it’s kind, and I think that if Sega had promoted it a bit more, people wouldn’t so often hold the belief that FMV games are inherently bad. This is a high quality product, and an immensely entertaining game; one which really showcased how much potential awesomeness could be contained on a compact disc.

Road Avenger plays out like an action-packed cartoon, 95% of which takes place from a first person driving perspective. All you have to do is steer left or right when the game prompts you, with the A and B buttons for turbo and brake respectively. Rather than tapping these inputs, you have to be pressing them when the command icon disappears, making it advantageous to keep the button held down, which makes sense since you’re suppose to be driving. This seems slightly awkward for the first couple minutes, but it actually adds a more visceral feel to the experience, and eliminates the need for the perfect timing required by similar games like Dragon’s Lair. But for those who do favor that game’s breed of masochism, you have the option of turning the prompt icons off.

But the real beauty of this simple interface is the fact that it frees you up so you can enjoy the show. And what a show it is! You’ll careen through a crowded mall, wreak havoc at a destruction derby, crash into a helicopter in mid-air; all sorts of over the top antics. The final level is particularly frenetic, and actually poses a decent challenge, as the game throws tricky commands at you in rapidfire succession. This is the only FMV game that I’ve played through again and again just to see the movie, and unlike Dragon’s Lair, the gameplay actually enhances the experience (sorry for incessantly picking on Dragon’s Lair). Anyone with a Sega CD should give this game a whirl. It’s not only the best specimen of the genre (that I’ve encountered), but one of the best games for the system.

Quality – 8

Entertainment – 9

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~ by Krooze L-Roy on December 14, 2008.

2 Responses to “Full Motion Video EXPLOSION!”

  1. The PC had the best (and many of the worst) of this genre. Hands down the best was Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive, aka, the Tex Murphy series. There are still fan sites for that series to this day. I’ve replayed them a couple times and they still hold up quite well.

    Phantasmagoria was also purported to be very good but I never played it. I got the sequel as a christmas gift and it was pretty bad, very cheesy.

  2. You gotta pick up wirehead for sega cd was alot of fun to play back in day.Otherwise nice write up nice to see someone else honest about these games there not the best. They did have some fun if had open mind

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