It's a familiar, nay, almost hackneyed argument that games are becoming more like films. It's a throwaway statement that I myself constantly use when justifying both my job and my favoured pastime to the various outdoor-loving country folk who make up my extended family. In terms of ever-increasing Hollywood bombast, skyrocketing budgets and revenues, this is perhaps true; but the sad fact remains that in many ways, games still have an awful lot of growing up to do.
Bid welcome, then, to Earth No More - a game that's an awful long way away (we're talking 2009 here, people), but has a pedigree and a mission statement that make it damn hard to ignore. From a development house splintered from Remedy (the house that Max Payne built) and 3D Realms, it's all part of a concept known as the 'cinegame'.
"Our ultimate goal is to bring games to the same level as film and television in terms of providing an interactive experience with emotional consequence," says Samuli Syvähuoko, studio director at Recoil Games. "We want to tap into the whole gamut of human emotions, not just the low-hanging fruit like tension, excitement and fear. The single driving force behind all good films, for example, is drama. And to create meaningful drama, we've got to abandon the lone hero in favour of an ensemble cast. It's this cast of characters that allows us to explore a fuller range of dynamics and conflicts that we've not seen in many previous games."
The briefest of looks around Recoil's Finnish HQ, meanwhile, shows where the developer's heart lies - Terminator posters rub shoulders with those for War Of The Worlds, stills of Ripley and Hicks from Aliens bedeck designers' boards and innumerable figurines simulate an ongoing toytown war on countless desks. These guys seem to know what holds a good sci-fi yarn together.
WHEN PLANTS ATTACK
Earth No More doesn't deal with a silly alien invasion or pan-dimensional beings taking a sudden interest in world affairs; it's very much the tale of a home-grown disaster and its effects on both planet Earth and a ragtag bunch of competing personalities you find yourself tied up to.
Your name is William Forsyth, and you find yourself trapped in a small New England town shortly after a quarantine has been declared - due to a strange proliferation of War Of The Worlds-esque red vines. From here on in it's an adventure in first-person shooting through a cross-section of locations in the eastern US, as the mystery of exactly what's going on, where the conspiracy lies and which of your squad members could well be complicit unravels. Well, I say squad members - but unfortunately that raises hackles.
"We prefer to think of them as fellow cast members, as opposed to 'squad members'," explains Raphael van Lierop, the creative director at 3D Realms, as he discusses the game's 'three man, two lady' survival outfit.
"This might seem like arguing semantics, but to us it's the difference between having faceless cannon-fodder allies and actual living, breathing characters who play an important role in the larger storyline and who the player actually cares about. We're pioneering a new style of game which moves away from the 'lone hero'-type scenario and instead thrusts the player into a situation where they can experience real drama.
"Real drama emerges from an interaction between believable characters with compelling stories of their own, within a charged setting and narrative context. So, no more cookie-cutter NPCs who are essentially cannon fodder, running around a paper-thin plot."