THE PCG Q&A
Find all previous editions of the PCG Q&A here. Some highlights:
- What's the one game you think people pretend to like the most?
- What are your 2019 gaming resolutions?
- Which 2018 game is still on your pile of shame?
We can agree that a lot of games have bad cutscenes, right? Even in my beloved Hitman 2, I have no idea what the overarching story is, and I skip these dry sequences just so I can see some better stories play out in its dense levels (like floating a millionaire off a roof to his death with his own industrial fan). I used to have a lot of patience for cutscenes—particularly playing games like MGS2 back in the day—but I saw too many bad or boring ones in '00s FPS games. I have plenty of time for story-based games, but cutscenes for the sake of it don't do anything for me.
When they're well-executed, though, cutscenes can enrich a game's characters and world. They most definitely have a place. This weekend's PCG Q&A, then: Which game has cutscenes you actually enjoy watching? You'll find our answers below. We'd love to read yours in the comments.
Samuel Roberts: Nier: Automata
I started Nier: Automata assuming the game was an excuse to have ludicrously stylish androids running around with swords, but of course, there's much more to it than that. Its mournful story of androids clearing out a post-apocalyptic Earth for humanity's eventual return is full of devastating twists. I'd read the praise of its themes and characterisation before giving it a proper go, but it took playing for me to believe it—Platinum normally makes games with fun, silly action. This is a very different deal.
The cutscenes are surprisingly well done: Nier's mournful music, comfortingly melodramatic writing and strong voice acting work are a good combination. A lot of credit has to go to writers Yoko Taro, Hana Kikuchi, and Yoshiho Akabane. I didn't skip a single part of Nier: Automata.
If I could've skipped 9S's interminable shooter/hacking sections, though, I'd have done it in a second.
Andy Chalk: Thief Gold (I know, I know, I have to stop picking Thief every time)
I pay attention to the cutscenes in everything I play, be it a 50-hour RPG or incomprehensible babble like, say, Hard Reset (which is great, btw), because I have a real hangup about knowing what's going on, even when it doesn't matter in the slightest. Most of them don't stick with me. One that did is Thief. The interludes between missions, filled with text and hand-drawn images that barely move, may be my all-time favorite bit of videogame storytelling, but they also stretch the definition of cutscene. Thief does a handful of conventional scenes too, though, and they're great: Shadowy, moody as hell, and filled with bizarre angles, uncomfortable closeups, creepy ambient music, and tiny pieces of foreshadowing detail. It's artistically brilliant, and also a great example of game developers creatively working around technological limitations. Looking Glass couldn't put together the lifelike mo-cap animations and realistic backdrops that we take for granted in games now—so it did something better.
Wes Fenlon: The Witcher 3
Honestly, I enjoy lots of game cutscenes. Most of them, probably! Cutscenes let the hard work animators do really shine, and can use camera angles to great effect that don't really work when I have control. The Witcher 3 has some masterful cutscenes. Simple interactions with NPCs have cinematic back-and-forth shots that emulate a TV show and keep these basic conversations dynamic. But there are two cutscenes I'd like to highlight as just blowing me away when I watched them.
The first (see above), partway through the game, has Geralt pulled into performing in a play (as himself). The animators managed to communicate with Geralt's body language that he was acting—it was a little awkward and stilted, and felt subtly distinct from movements in the "normal" game. Doug Cockle's line delivery as Geralt also does a lot of the work.
The second (see below) is the scene in which Geralt finally finds Ciri. Most of the time, games use cutscenes to make you listen to characters talk, or to show you some ridiculous action sequence that was too hard to make playable. This one is neither. It doesn't need dialogue. It doesn't need action. The emotion conveyed in this scene is what makes The Witcher 3 one of the most memorable games I've ever played.
James Davenport: Quantum Break
Quantum Break's cutscenes are just an entire season of a bad television show. It's incredible. I remember next to nothing about what happens in that game. I think there's research. A college. Clean laboratories. That guy from the Animorphs live action adapdation. On its own, the show is D-tier SyFy channel original storytelling, but it's such an earnest effort with enough fleeting glimpses of Remedy's true vision that it remains fascinating throughout. It helps that it's a decent action game too, an overstuffed Max Payne-y shooter with none of the charm and, strangely, all of the magnetism. But, like, imagine filming that bad show and then having to insert those bad performances and shoddy sets in a big-budget action game. You'll look for the inconsistencies and deformations from the forced mashing up of two expensive, awkward mediums, but there are miraculously few. Quantum Break exists.
Chris Livingston: Mass Effect
I cared about the characters so much that I always wanted to be up to speed about what was going on in the story. And I'd always watch the awkward as hell sex cutscenes when I banged the characters I cared about so much. I don't think I skipped anything in the Mass Effect series.
Philippa Warr: Eternal Sonata
I started out hating them, but I'm now really fond of the cutscenes in Eternal Sonata. It's a console JRPG where the plot is basically that the composer Frédéric Chopin is having a fever dream in his last hours where he's battling monsters via turn-based combat. Let's ignore the idea that perhaps Chopin accidentally invented the JRPG in the mid-nineteenth century but died before he could also invent games consoles, mains electricity and televisions. Instead, let us focus on the fact that, as well as regular animated cutscenes, Eternal Sonata has these gloriously out-of-place slide shows about Chopin's actual life.
You'll have someone playing the Grande valse brillante (no idea which one as I have no musical skill whatsoever) while the screen shows a vaguely relevant stock image and a caption gives you a history lesson. "In our discussion of 'The Revolutionary Etude,' we learned that Chopin received the news of the fall of Warsaw, while en route to Vienna, in Stuttgart, Germany." It's so unexpected for gaming that I can't help but love it, even if the cutscenes were sometimes so long I'd leave them playing and go and make dinner while they played out. If memory serves, one was so long I prepared a lasagne while it was pottering towards a point.
Andy Kelly: Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
You know when a cutscene starts in a Platinum game you're gonna be entertained. And Rising is the peak of their powers when it comes to daft cinematics. To the point where they're almost more fun than the actual game at points.
Fusing the most indulgent theatrics of anime with the outrageousness of Japanese videogames, Revengeance is a celebration of the absurd. Which is amazing considering it's a game based on the dull co-star of MGS2.
Fraser Brown: Loads of games
Loads of them! Rockstar, BioWare and CD Projekt Red games are high on the list, but not for the flashy action cutscenes—though I do enjoy seeing my character doing crazy shit that would be normally limited by mechanics—but rather the dialogue scenes. Rockstar’s trick is integrating them flawlessly, so you can hardly tell you’re in a cutscene at all, while BioWare and CD Projekt Red use interesting shots and additional animation to give their interactive conversations the air of a cutscene. Even without the interactive elements, they’d still be so much more engaging to watch than your standard talking heads and text boxes.
The Witchers getting drunk at Kaer Morhen ranks high, and speaking of boozy evenings, Red Dead Redemption 2 features some of the best, dedicating multiple missions and several cracking cutscenes to getting completely hammered in saloons. And then there’s Mass Effect 2’s Mordin singing—wonderfully—without needing any liquid courage. And I can’t believe I almost forgot, but pretty much every karaoke scene in Yakuza 0 is incredible.