When is a movie a game? And when does a game become just a movie?
As we’ve all discovered when encountered with a 45 minute cutscene, only to just press A to continue before another 45 min cutscene, the line between the two is a fine one.
Over the years advanced storytelling, writing, direction, and acting have all embraced the game market, with a higher quality of performance delivered while playing games. But with the new rise in FMV titles becoming available again, how do they raise the bar once more? Well, #WarGames is hoping to do just that. But does it deliver?
The world of online hackers has become a staple diet of most Hollywood movies and recently we saw this produce the brilliant Mr. Robot TV series, allowing us to examine the whole subversive counter culture. In #WarGames you are found eavesdropping on a bunch of hackers who come under the banner #WarGames, inspired by the 1983 movie, and it is they who are trying to change the world. The leader and main character is an expert hacker but coffee barrister by day, whilst another is a teenager and another a Romanian goth. The three of them are left trying to hack the news, in order to broadcast a controversial #cassetteboy political message to the people. As they get more popular they have to try and cover their tracks from the authorities, work out who the new hacker trying to get their attention is, all while at the same time trying to juggle their normal daily lives. When a story involving a North African Republic and the use of American weapons is brought to them, their journey heads in to a more dangerous world, with more risks and more exposure.
So that is a quick outline of the story, but what about the game itself? Well, if I’m honest, there isn’t that much to speak of in terms of actual gameplay. You basically have six episodes for this season (yes there might be more) with each being played separately from the last. They comprise of action that is anything up to 30 minutes in length, with each coming across like a nice little nugget. You, as the gamer, will need to watch a clip of the hacker or the subject they are hacking from a laptop, a phone, a security camera, a news report or a website. You might have to delve into multiple feeds at one time, and you have the option to choose which feed to focus on, or whether you need to switch between all of them.
The choices you make will affect the focus of the story, ensuring you get to make some very important decisions throughout. This gives you the opportunity to replay the episodes or take in a whole run through of the game again, just in order to try out the different options available. There are some other gameplay moments which allow you to control someone’s iPhone, taking naughty pictures of your partner for a honeytrap. This was the exact moment my girlfriend walked in and asked why I was taking photographs of a half-naked man in his pants. I said I was working. We haven’t talked much since.
The gameplay found in this whole experience is very limited and that is the main problem with the game as a whole. While other FMV titles – most notably like those from the Wales Interactive publishing arm – are much more involved with choices and outcomes, I feel that with #WarGames I was just left watching a movie play out without the need for me to be there. Saying that, the choice of feeds is a clever device and it ensures that you do, at times, feel like you’re in an episode of 24, looking at maps and websites while listening to how to cook French toast. Thankfully, the narrative, characters, and plot are well designed throughout though and after the drab first episode, it hooked me in all the way to the end. The acting is very good too, with some lovely characterisation and some nicely dramatic moments.
The graphical outlook is, as you would expect, all video based of course with some well-designed menus giving an insight into the actual game side of things. The filming, lighting and clever use of multiple camera angles are very well done and excellently edited together. A daring raid of a Drone factory, a nice party montage of time passing and a hotel sting are some of the best set pieces on offer, but even the quieter moments are really well put together in contrast to the loud ones. The audio is intelligently mixed and like I said before there is some nice acting on offer with a decent yet subtle use of music throughout.
Overall and it must be said that I really got hooked into this little six-episode story about hackers. It has well rounded characters, some great set pieces, and an interesting political premise. As a game there isn’t really much on offer here, and it’s not as engaging in choice as other more recent FMV games, but I am looking forward to seeing #WarGames continue and for the price alone it’s worth a gander.