Iâd never really heard of Lionhead productionsâ The Movies before NZGamer asked me to write the preview for its expansion pack, Stunts and Effects, a couple of months ago. Writing the preview really piqued my interest in the game, so I was rather chuffed when I was sent the actual game and expansion pack to review last week. And the result? The game and expansion are as good as Iâd hoped they would be.
(NB: for all intents and purposes this is a review of the expansion pack, however as Iâm new to the game itself this review will cover both the original game and the expansion.)
Yes, you may say, Iâve tried out other simulation-type games, and theyâre fine and dandy. Whatâs so great about this new one? Well, what impressed me was the breadth and depth of the game, the incredible detail and structure of it all. The Movies is a simulation, sure, but one that incorporates all the minutiae of managing a Studio lot and its resources, as well as being quite a good primer on creating your own films. The handbook even outlines the basic story structures associated with some of the most common film genres.
Weâre all steeped in movie lore; in many ways we feel quite at home with the old stories about the grand studios of the 1920s, and how they built up their empires from rather humble beginnings. Perhaps because of this common shared experience with film, The Movies succeeds where many other simulation games do not. Perhaps this is why I just canât get that excited about, say, becoming a rollercoaster tycoon. Alternately, creating your own film, watching it being shot, reading the test audienceâs reviews, budgeting for your PR, releasing the film, and then seeing it win an award - sure itâs virtual, but itâs still exciting.
The Movies has a huge initial learning curve, where youâll spend your time examining all the different types of buildings you can put on your lot, and figuring out what they will allow you to do. You also need to learn about the basics youâll need in order to actually begin making your first movie. I donât mean just hiring the director and starring actor; youâve also got to think about the janitors, the builders, film crew, and, most importantly, whether youâve installed enough toilets on your lot. Thankfully there is a very good tutorial section that Iâd advise you run through before you do anything else.
Once you start off on your own though, youâll be presented with an empty lot, which you then are able to build on and design the layout of. You can choose which sets to build, which can ultimately affect which type of movies you wind up making. (That said, itâs completely possible to set your romance on the bridge of an alien spacecraft, if you really must.) If you wanted to you could focus purely on sci-fi, or horror, though youâll have to be prepared for the fickle interests of your audience, which can be affected by everything from the saturation of the market with one genre, or world news such as man landing on the moon.
In addition to building your studio, youâll need to hire some employees â make that a lot of employees. And youâre going to have to keep them all happy. That means toilets, lots of toilets, food carts, a restaurant and a bar. These places are where your employees relax, interact with each other, and indulge in their addictions. In particular it is difficult to keep your actors and directors happy â they can often get stressed out, and can then turn to food or drink in order to relax. They b*tch about the size of their trailers, and even how many there are in their entourage. Salaries can be a headache as well, as actors will become more dissatisfied if you give someone else a raise!
One of the coolest parts of the game is the ability to watch the movie that your crew has just shot. Sure, the resulting films donât always make sense, but itâs still funny to watch what youâve seen being rehearsed and filmed. Whatâs also cool is that the films you produce correlate to the technologies and storytelling of the time, and so gradually you will see them move from silent black and whites to full sound with colour.
Later on, youâll be able to unlock a custom script facility, which will allow you to completely plan out your film. You can even record voice tracks directly to the game, and then watch as the stars lip synch to your recordings! Itâs worth pointing out that all the care you put into your own custom movie wonât necessarily guarantee it a better rating, as ratings are dependent on a range of things, including the abilities of your crew, the novelty of the set and/or genre, and whether stunts were performed as planned (note that stunts that go wrong still make it into the final cut!).
You wonât see a lot of impact from the Stunts and Effects expansion pack until you reach the 1960s. If you prefer, you can access the âQuick Startâ menu, which will allow you to launch straight into 1960s moviedom. This option includes a tutorial specific to the stunts and effects expansion. Fortunately stunt people arenât as difficult to keep happy as your stars, but you want to make sure they practice their skills, as a failed stunt can affect the rating of your movie. Most importantly, stunt people look damn cool: they cruise through your lot in black leathers and capes and make your actors and actresses look a bit wishy-washy in comparison.
From this point onwards, you see a lot of really interesting new features which are unlocked as you progress through time: sets like blue and green screens, miniatures and scrolling landscapes, for those car chase scenes; new stunt-focussed awards and resulting bonuses to your studio; you also get a huge range of new costumes and accessories. Youâll now be able to write stunts into any genre of film, allowing you to, if you so desire, write a romance with stunts â or an action with stunts (now thereâs an idea!). Even if youâre not making a stunt movie, youâll notice that the expansion pack will introduce other elements into your movies, including better fire and explosions, lasers and shattering glass.
There are, of course, some areas in The Movies which can be frustrating, for example, scrolling through a list of hundreds of costumes one at a time, or having to re-allocate employees from one position to another because you canât hire enough janitors or builders. Overall, though, these donât really detract from the brilliance of how complex the game is. The advanced movie making and custom script writing facilities do interrupt the flow of the game, so you may choose to approach these from the âsandboxâ mode, which allows you to just concentrate on creating your film. I expect these different aspects of this game will appeal to different people, so perhaps this wonât be an issue after all.
With regard to my above ratings, the graphics of the game arenât spectacular â âsimsesqueâ is really the only way to describe it. Thereâs still a good degree of detail however, which is revealed when you zoom in. The new particle FX engine, introduced in the Stunts and Effects expansion, does a great deal to improve the look of your films, as detailed above. The sound is fantastic, and changes as you pass through the different eras. There are even excerpts from radio DJs now and again, which also change depending on which decade youâre in.
All in all, Iâm surprised that I havenât heard more about The Movies and Stunts and Effects prior to playing the games myself. This is a game which will appeal to a wide range of people: non-gamers, strategy buffs, sims fans, and creative types looking for an initial outlet for their stories. Itâs certainly a game I know Iâll be returning to again and again.