All my life I've loved a good story. I read voraciously and watch films constantly. Video games taught me that a great story can also be interactive. There's one facet of gaming that takes that interactivity away from the players, though: cutscenes. Cinematic sequences can be wonderful, informing players and guiding them through games. They tell larger chunks of the story that we might not gather from regular gameplay. However, they also take away the freedom of choice and can be jarring if they're improperly placed. I noticed this myself when I played a bit of Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
I love exploring in Crystal Dynamics' Tomb Raider entries. It's fun to climb your way up seemingly impenetrable rock walls and rappel from death-defying heights. Except sometimes, those heart-pumping moments are wrenched from your grasp by a cutscene. In one moment, I was heading into temple ruins inside of a cave. The pinnacle of this pyramid could only be reached through a series of puzzles. As you can probably imagine, it was very satisfying to get there, but that triggered a cutscene! As I rappelled to the end, control was taken from me halfway down. A cutscene had kicked in and Lara moved to take what had been hiding at the top. I was left without the satisfaction of landing my boots on the ground and investigating the peak myself. This is certainly a negative when you're enjoying gameplay. No one likes being wrestled out of the experience, sidelined in favor of a cutscene.
That might be awful, but the reverse isn't much better. At the beginning of my time with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, I had a few moments where I couldn't tell if I was in control or not. Lara was walking through a location, and I had no real way of knowing when control shifted over to me. I felt myself moving the control sticks fruitlessly, unsure of when I was actually going to need to step in and take control. She did a weird little tilt-a-whirl movement when I finally did get back to the gameplay. This is much less of an issue for me, but it was the one that sparked my thoughts on cutscenes in general.
Cinematic sequences' inclusion can also be bittersweet. It's amazing when a game can transition between cutscenes and gameplay seamlessly, with no difference in quality between the two. Gone are the days where the in-game and cutscene graphics are entirely different. We're much less at risk of seeing a trailer with stunning graphics only to realize it is only used in the cutscenes. Especially with titles like God of War showing what the medium is really capable of, as far as crafting an experience that can be enjoyed almost entirely uninterrupted. The future of gaming looks bright, in this case. Even still, that awkward moment when you're standing in a location for a minute or two before realizing that you can move remains. It'll always be awkward, perhaps spawning an uncomfortable chuckle.
I'll take the silly moment of stillness over the gut punch of an interruption any day. Cutscenes should serve their purpose, but not pull us out of the moment. We've seen titles that can walk this line with ease, so it certainly isn't impossible. Let players have their action as much as possible, and then take the reigns for the crucial story development.
Have you ever played a game that made it difficult for you to tell when you should be playing and when you should be watching? Do you find yourself cursing sudden cutscenes as well? Let me hear all about your experiences below!