Review by KillerTruffle

"Different enough from the norm..."

Graphics: 8/10 The game engine appears to be fairly powerful in that you can zoom out a good ways without slowdown, yet your movies can get in as close enough to see the eyeballs of your actors. Zooming in close, characters do look somewhat stiff and dated – not exactly realistic. Still, the amount of detail available is adequate. Sets often offer quite a bit of detail, and many of them have backdrop screens where a background image can be placed to provide illusion of depth. For those who know how, these set backdrops can be changed and replaced with your own images, so it is possible to further increase the apparent locations in the game.

With all the movies coming out from various players, sharp eyes will begin to easily recognize the various sets and canned action segments. Fights in particular start to look all too similar, although I have seen instances where creative cutting and editing was able to overcome this to an extent. With this initial release, variety can begin to feel somewhat limited, leaving many players looking forward to release of expansions or tools to allow them to create their own sets. Still, the graphics are nothing to complain about.

Interface: 9/10 The interface for the game is fairly intuitive and easy to pick up. Most actions are performed by dragging the item in question to the appropriate location. When you pick something up that may have a specific use, such as a script, star, or finished movie, a band of glitter and light will stretch from your cursor to some of the most likely places you may need to place that item. This is simply a help tool though, and does not mean you are required to place it there. For example, picking up a movie roll that has finished shooting, you will see a band leading to the “Release” room in your production building, since this is the most likely place you will want to place your movie.

Relevant information is also intuitively displayed. Critical information on an item will be displayed instantly. Hovering the mouse over that item for a second will display expanded menus with the most immediately relevant information to that item at the time. Continuing to hover the mouse over that item will display further layers of information in decreasing relevance, until all information available is displayed. Right-clicking on an item will immediately expand all information.

The method used to build your own custom movies is quite intuitive once you've learned the system, and is easily accessible to even those with absolutely zero moviemaking or animation experience.

Sound: 7/10 I must say I wasn't entirely impressed with the limited variety and quality of the special effects sounds for your movies. I would have hoped for more, and some of the sounds just aren't very good. There are also some abnormalities you can notice, such as the fact that footsteps typically sound the same regardless of the surface the actor is walking on. The “simmish” mumbling of the characters can also become rapidly repetitive if you don't opt to use your own dialogue.

Speaking of dialogue, however, this opens up a great feature of the game. Putting your scenes together in the order you want to tell your story can go a long way, but the movies that really shine include custom recorded dialogue. You, the player, can record voices – or have friends and family help – for your characters. The dialogue you create can go a great distance in giving the story a more specific definition and making it much more intriguing. What's more, when you record your own dialogue, once you assign that clip to an on-screen character, that character will then lip-sync to your dialogue, and the lip-sync capabilities of the game are quite remarkable.

During the tycoon portion of the game – which initially will take up a large amount of your gameplay time – the sound is definitely respectable. Silent moments are minimized by a sort of radio show that constantly plays, with various dry comments made by the announcer, some music, etc. For some reason, I just get the impression the tycoon sound elements seem a bit more polished than the movie sound elements.

Music: 8/10 There is a very respectable selection of music tracks available to use in the game, covering most styles you would want for your movies. If you prefer more contemporary or customized music, you are free to add your own. However, you must be careful where and who you share your final movie with if you use copyrighted music, because there may be some significant repercussions for illegally sharing copyrighted content. Lionhead servers will not allow movies with custom music to be uploaded to them.

Intelligence/Difficulty: 8/10 The learning curve for this game is completely manageable even to those who have never touched a tycoon game before. The tutorial explains everything you need to know to get started, and if you allow the in-game contextual tips to remain on full, nearly every detail you might wonder about is explained as it becomes relevant. Finding the balance between lot-building and maintenance, star hiring and maintenance, meeting requirements of studio prestige and star/movie quality vs. balancing your budget is left up to the player to learn, but is certainly achievable.

The learning curve for customizing your movies is a bit steeper, but the game includes a very comprehensive tutorial you can select to follow, or take by pieces, at any time once the Custom Script Office is built. Again, learning what it takes to create movies that your peers will actually want to watch will have to be learned by trial and error.

Gameplay: 8/10 This is a “tycoon” style game, first and foremost. The entire game is designed around creating and running a full Hollywood-style movie studio. You build the sets and support buildings, manage the money, hire (and fire) the stars, crew, and maintenance. You direct research, decide on film genres to have your scriptwriters work on, make sure your stars stay happy. As you progress throughout the game, you unlock additional features by completing certain goals.

One of the first of these features is the “Custom Scriptwriting Office.” This building allows you the fullest extent of control possible over your movies, if you choose to take it. You select the sets to be used, the actors, which roles are located where in a given scene (from preset options), costumes for the entire movie or costume changes for single scenes. Different scenes also have various sliders available – adjusting things like the weather, level of violence in a fight scene, level of “sexiness” in a romance scene, character mood, and many others. Once you reach the appropriate film era and level of research, you begin to get camera options as well, expanding your freedom to set up shots more specifically as you would like.

The other building that can be unlocked to help customize movies is the “Post-Production Building.” Once a movie has been filmed, you can take it to post-production before releasing it. This building allows you to trim a movie if something didn't quite look right, select color correction options, intro screens, add a soundtrack, and record dialogue. You also have control over sound levels, so you can balance those as well. The end result of all these options is that if you use them properly, you can truly create movies that appear unique, rather than cookie-cutter copies of other movies.

Overall: 8/10 This game is not perfect. Many people complain particularly about the lack of freedom provided in that when you make your movies you are limited to selecting from a large list of pre-defined elements. What must be remembered, however, is that this is a game. It was never intended to be a 3-D animation or moviemaking tool – it is a game. The game simulates the entire Hollywood moviemaking experience, not just making any movie your imagination can produce. If you go into this game actually expecting a game rather than an animation tool, you shouldn't be disappointed.

Given time, the options will only expand as expansion packs, downloadable addons, and mods – both official and user-made – become available. There is even rumor that Lionhead will be releasing a tool that can be used to create your own sets and scenes, although it won't likely be as easy to use as the game itself is.

Bottom line is, if you enjoy tycoon style games, or want a game that allows you a bit more freedom than most others to flex a little creative muscle, then The Movies is definitely worth checking out.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/23/05

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