During the early to mid-'90s, Hollywood used its influence to briefly alter the direction of gaming--literally. Various game studios, from Acclaim to Sega, fell under Tinseltown's intense spell and put the fate of their games in the hands of small-time directors, producers, and other second-rate film folk. Interactive movies began cropping up when CD-based systems like Sega CD, 3DO, and CD-i invaded the market. The CD-ROM format was relatively new at the time, offering considerable disc space for richer audiovisual experiences. Thus, many game developers initially exploited the format's multimedia capabilities by basing games around full-motion video (FMV). Of course, the results were disastrous, with the finished products being equivalent to B-movies. But just like cheesy movies, FMV games have their following. So, without further ado, here are the selections for the top 10 FMV games, all of which share the same thing in common: They're more fun to watch than to play.

Long before ESPN NFL Football unleashed first-person gridiron action on the PS2 and Xbox, Quarterback Attack for the 3DO and Sega Saturn let armchair quarterbacks experience the thrills of being the QB from the safety and comfort of the couch. Starring Mike Ditka as the belligerent coach, Quarterback Attack was one of just a few FMV games that revolved around a sport. It was quite a bit more interactive than other FMV games, in that players had more control and options at their fingertips. Naturally, the acting was atrocious and the playbook was limited, but the grainy, up-close video gave a sense of what it might be like to be the quarterback--albeit on a team of flunkies.

Time Traveler (aka Hologram Time Traveler) was a quasi-holographic arcade game released by Sega and developed by Rick Dyer, the creator of Dragon's Lair. As with the other games on this list, Time Traveler featured full-motion video, but the arcade version's unique display made the video literally jump off the screen. Gameplay consisted of timed button presses, à la Dragon's Lair, and the story involved a time-traveling cowboy named Marshal Gram, whose job was to--get this--rescue a kidnapped princess. Although neither the story nor the gameplay was anything revolutionary, the crisp, three-dimensional video attracted many onlookers when the game hit arcades in 1991. It took nearly a decade for a home version to arrive, via DVD-Video and PC CD-ROM. While the home conversion included a 3D mode, complete with 3D glasses, it wasn't as well received, largely due to the game's outdated gameplay and the absence of the hologram gimmick.

The Sega CD was a real haven for FMV games, and Wirehead was one of the last ones released for it. Wirehead starred Steve Witting, who's perhaps best known for playing Burt in the TV series The Hogan Family. In the game, Witting played Ned Hubbard (aka "Wirehead"), an electronically modified suburban family man embroiled in a nefarious scheme, with players deciding his actions...or, more precisely, his reactions. Like most other FMV games, Wirehead's gameplay consisted of pressing the right buttons at the right moments; i.e., it played like Dragon's Lair. In this case, you had to help the bumbling protagonist escape from his unrelenting pursuers and survive all types of sticky situations. Wirehead differentiated itself from other FMV games with its humor and presentation. The game had some truly hilarious scenes, as well as the production of a direct-to-video movie. An enhanced version was planned for Sega's ill-fated 32X add-on but was eventually scrapped.

If for no other reason, Corpse Killer deserves special recognition because it starred the late Vincent Schiavelli, who played the lead villain in the game, Dr. Hellman. Now, Schiavelli was already a creepy dude in real life, but his creepiness was turned up a notch in Corpse Killer. The actual game wasn't the least bit scary, though the generic gameplay surely scared off more than a few gamers. In short, Corpse Killer played out like Operation Wolf meets Night of the Living Dead, with ungodly acting and cutscenes interspersed between mediocre shooting segments. What Corpse Killer lacked in gameplay it more than made up for in presentation by making you feel as though you were smack-dab in the middle of a low-grade horror flick. While the game infected multiple platforms, the ultra-grainy video in the Sega CD version perfectly complemented the game's laughable production values.

Ah, the question of the ages: Who shot Johnny Rock? And more importantly, just who in the heck was this Johnny Rock fella? Well, it was your job to find out in this shooting-gallery game composed of FMV instead of sprites (Lethal Enforcers) or polygons (Virtua Cop). Developed by American Laser Games (ALG), Who Shot Johnny Rock was one of several FMV-based light-gun games released in arcades throughout the '90s. With its hammy acting and 1920s gangster vibe, this was one of the better ones. In addition, it tested both your reflexes and your wits as you shot bad guys and gathered clues to solve the mystery behind Johnny Rock's unfortunate demise. Various versions of this and other ALG games made their way onto several different platforms. In fact, a company called Digital Leisure continues to pump out CD and DVD versions of them, even though they quickly become fodder for bargain bins.

Let's face it: Everyone has a soft spot for a horrendously acted and poorly dubbed kung fu flick. No?! Well, those who dislike cheesy martial arts movies obviously overlooked this fine FMV fighting game. Like Prize Fighter before it, Supreme Warrior featured first-person fighting, letting you beat the snot out of bad actors. Of course, being FMV based, Supreme Warrior was no Virtua Fighter, but it did contain a surprising amount of depth. As with every other FMV game, though, it didn't take long for repetition to occur. But the game's B-movie ambiance will forever be enjoyed by admirers of all things rotten!

Quick: What do '80s icon Corey Haim and Blondie singer Deborah Harry have in common? Give up? They both starred in this game, alongside the great R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket). Double Switch played very similarly to Night Trap, which should come as no surprise, since both games were created by the same company, Digital Pictures. Where Night Trap tasked players with trapping creatures of the night, Double Switch had players using traps to remove unsavory "guests" from a lofty mansion. Double Switch, however, had slightly more involving (and hectic) gameplay, not to mention a couple of unexpected plot twists (hence the game's title). The eclectic music was also particularly noteworthy, as it was masterfully composed by the talented Thomas Dolby. Double Switch was released on a few platforms, with the Sega Saturn version featuring the best video quality of the bunch.

Psychic powers sure are cool. Who hasn't wanted the ability to peer into the minds of others? Psychic Detective, released by none other than Electronic Arts, let gamers do just that--virtually, of course. A decade before Psychonauts came along, this was all psychic gaming enthusiasts had to call their own. It was also one of the first M-rated games released on the Sony PlayStation, not to mention one of the few FMV games available for the system in the US (Japan has its own pile of FMV games). The interesting thing about Psychic Detective, other than the fact that it comprised three CD-ROMs, was that you could "play" (or is that watch?) the entire game without pressing a single button. Actually, the game featured multiple endings and plot branches, though the overall gameplay experience was similar to Night Trap and Double Switch (i.e., you had to interact with the right scene at the right time).

Most gamers probably wouldn't associate Capcom with FMV games, but the company did indeed dabble in the seedy underworld of interactive movies, releasing Fox Hunt for the PC and PlayStation in the mid-'90s. Fox Hunt was billed as an "interactive comedy spy-thriller," and it appeared to have everything an interactive movie needed to succeed: high production values, solid acting (for a FMV game, anyway), multiple outcomes, and most important of all, gameplay variety. Unfortunately, it was released at the wrong time and on the wrong platforms. FMV was yesterday's news when Fox Hunt finally saw release on the PlayStation in 1996 (the Sega Saturn version was quietly canceled), and Sony wanted nothing to do with games that didn't boast 3D graphics. As a result, Fox Hunt bombed and had a limited run, with the rare PlayStation version being a prized commodity among game collectors. Nevertheless, it's a game any FMV fanatic would appreciate.

No list of FMV games would be complete without the infamous Night Trap, a game mired by controversy. After all, it was one of the "morally reprehensible" games investigated by Congress in the '90s, leading to the formation of the Electronic Software Rating Board, or ESRB. Less publicized was the fact that it starred the late Dana Plato (of Diff'rent Strokes fame). As a game, Night Trap didn't offer much: Watch a scene, press some buttons--repeat ad nauseam. Indeed, Night Trap immediately exposed the limitations of FMV. However, at the time, it was one of the only games made up entirely of filmed footage. That was something extraordinary in a generation of 16-bit, sprite-based graphics.

Go ahead--mock them if you must, but these games deserve some respect. OK, maybe not, but they will forever be ingrained in gaming infamy. Still, you just can't beat a good B-movie, and an interactive one is all the more better. In closing, while FMV games were colossally bad, they were thusly bad in a good way. Thanks, Hollywood!


List by Arcade Perfect (03/20/2006)

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