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Andrew Sheivachman

By Andrew SheivachmanThe Daily Northwestern

In 1982, Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial released to critical acclaim and unprecedented financial success. Americans adored it because of the modern spin which presented universal themes and messages; it was the classic story of a visitor forcing himself upon others in an attempt to find his way home, except this time the visitor was literally an alien from another planet. Many dug the movie and it was quickly cemented as one of the greatest films of all time.

An E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial video game was also released for the Atari 2600 in 1982. Atari purchased the license rights for more than $20 million and produced four million cartridges when the game was released during the holiday season. However, the video game version of E.T. would prove to be such an incredibly abysmal title that it would contribute to both the bankruptcy of gaming giant Atari and one of the worst commercial ventures in the entire video game industry. The game was so bad that excess copies were buried forever in a New Mexican desert. This is a strange coincidence because the game’s main game play mechanic was falling down holes without being able to climb out.

Video game adaptations of films mostly begin as a publisher’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of a franchise of license. In the Nintendo Entertainment System era, dozens of crappy movie-based games were released; especially atrocious examples include Total Recall, Die Hard, Dick Tracy and Robocop. Games like these tended to be basic, uninspired affairs where you jumped around shooting crudely rendered crack addicts, robots and poltergeists. I remember getting lost in the NES’ Die Hard because designers were too lazy to make a door look like a door.

I can name hundreds of terrible movie-to-game adaptations, but I won’t bother. Just pick a popular action flick or cartoon movie, and there is probably a video game based on the license. The bottom line is that publishers continue to make movie games of poor quality because consumers keep buying them. Quality movie-based titles are hard to find, but a few do exist.

Rare’s adaptation of Goldeneye 007 was especially revolutionary, although it wasn’t close to its source material. James Bond never fought his enemies with rocket launchers in the film, but it made for compelling game play. The game used a first-person view to charge you as Agent 007 himself, and the perspective was wonderfully successful in immersing you in his world of explosions and intrigue. Not that there is much intrigue in shooting terrorists and disarming bombs. It felt like the real thing, at least.

The most valuable and transcendent game ever based off of a movie franchise is an unlikely candidate for such a title. I would never have guessed that a Vin Diesel game would be an amazing experience. Maybe I really am a member of the lowest common denominator.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay is an intense adventure that tasks you with escaping from a maximum-security space prison as Riddick, the most badass outlaw in the galaxy. But the player becomes Riddick – his body is your body. When you look down, you see Vin Diesel’s muscularly deformed chest and legs. You move with weight and gravity, and swinging your fists offsets your balance ever so slightly. You’re inside in a prison with nuanced characters and a realistic atmosphere that boasts gambling, small talk and drug use. Gang rape and showering, thankfully, are missing.

Riddick makes a gamer feel like he is in control of a character that has agency in his world. You have relationships with different characters that slowly morph over the course of the game. You fail in many attempted escape plots, and the frustration is tangible. Riddick stresses the unique aspects of video games as a medium and the paltry fact that you commit actions and interact with others in the game world on your own accord. You can craft your own experience within the game. Every game has the potential to make the player think and feel, but few do it as well as Riddick.

If more movie-based games were designed with this attitude in mind, they actually would be well-received.

Besides, can’t E.T. float?

Reach Andrew Sheivachman at [email protected]