Edge Of Tomorrow: An Exceptional Video Game?

One of my fondest memories with Miss N (yes, that’s her name – I’m shortening it so as not to wear it out), is when we were rugged up on the couch watching Groundhog Day. I can’t tell you the date, I can’t tell you why it was on, I just remember it was, and we watched it together. This memory is one that I hold on to, maybe because of the combination of company and choice of film, maybe because of the juxtaposition of a story about a neverending moment and the, in-comparison, relatively brief moment we spent watching it. It will stay with me for an awfully long time. In fact, if I were to have to choose a form for an everlasting limbo to take, I’d mostly likely choose this. Fact. I’ve never told her this, and she might read this, but until then let’s keep it between us, okay?

Okay.

So the reason I bring this up, is because we went out and witnessed Tom Cruise’s latest effort, Edge of Tomorrow. Now there may be spoilers, so if you don’t want spoilers, don’t read below the picture of the bewildered 50 year old…

SPOILER: This guy is in it.

SPOILER: This guy is in the film.

The trailer makes no secret that he keeps living a day over and over again. So, if you’ve seen the trailer, you’re probably expecting a mash-up of Groundhog Day and Mission Impossible. (Impossible Groundhog! I’d watch that film.) On it’s own this wouldn’t have been a terrible idea, but the film actually does one better: It creates an almost perfect video game movie.

We’ve had a few of these before that almost worked: “Mortal Kombat” is effectively a remake of Bruce Lee’s “Enter The Dragon”, but then “Resident Evil” had an interesting approach that fell on it’s face (don’t even mention the sequels), Doom was… Max Payne did….And then there’s the abominations stitched together out of otherwise-good licenses by the Dr. Frankenstein of film directors, Uwe Boll. Okay, video game movies are bad. I see that. And that may be why Edge of Tomorrow works so well as one – it’s a movie first, and a game second.

Uwe Boll: The Spokesperson For Disastrous Video Game Adaptation.

Uwe Boll: Horseman Of The Cinepocalypse

The problem with oh-so-many video-game movies is that last statement above: it’s always the other way around. When you put the game first, you are trying to retell a story whose details are either extremely limited (so as to force the film to come up with a lot of new, and probably not-going-to-be-well-received details), or they stray from the source due to the source being…a setting, for a puzzle or repetitive combat simulator. This is fact – “Super Mario Brothers” is little more than a puzzle game about getting from A-to-B. The princess, the villains, the setting, they don’t really carry much weight at all. Mortal Kombat is a tournament about extremely competent fighters mutilating each other for sport. Your story is going to be new, and not what the fans are accustomed to getting when they load up their game. On top of this, as soon as people hear that your movie is based on a video game, people switch off – games are often quite a niche idea, that simply will not appeal to a wider audience regardless of their tone, topic or tale. This is all why I like the way Edge Of Tomorrow feels like it was built the other way around, movie-first.

Now I don’t mean there is an actual Edge of Tomorrow game coming out or even pre-existing – there isn’t (Which, I admit I was a little surprised by). Instead, it’s a movie crafted in such a way that it feels every bit like a video game experience. When you first start a game, you will be plunged head-first into it’s unique world, and you will have to quickly come to terms with your role here, and what you can do. Now this is very important – every game has rules, and these rules are what defines the game itself. In EoT the rules were: you must defeat the alien menace, and you will not stay dead. Sounds like a winning combination. It also sounds like Gears of War, Halo, Doom, Marathon, Borderlands… Not to flog the proverbial horse, of course.

The structure of the movie even closely parallels a video game story – you begin with a tutorial, guiding you through the general controls and involvement you will have in the world. Are you going to be firing a lot of weapons? You’ll have some easy combat and weapon handling training. Will you be doing a lot of puzzle solving? There’ll be a door that requires you to unlock it (however that may work), but ultimately whatever the genre, this first sequence will be showing you the ropes. Sometimes this involves actual ropes. In the movie? The first battle sequence literally has Cruise grappling with his controls, unable to get them to work – he stumbles around without direction, barely knowing how to move in this new, power armour-assisted environment, and cannot for the life of him figure out how his armament operates. This all followed an exposition-laden wandering around, with Bill Paxton setting the scene and walking us to the beginning of our story. The contents of the last two sentences is literally the first twenty minutes of any game you pick up today. Sadly, no game to date has included Bill Paxton. But the important element, the stumbling and control grappling, leaves Cruise as it does many gamers – dead before they even knew what they were doing.

From here, the movie kicks into Groundhog Day territory, with Cruise reliving this battle, and every time he dies, he wakes up pre-Paxton pep talk. Luckily he recalls everything that happened in the day that was just rewound, so he learns from his experience, and improves on the day each time he relives it… Just like a gamer, who treats their digital demise as a step of learning, going back to the last save point and re-attempting the mission that stymied them, with a little more knowledge of what they are heading into, and how to face it. Probably the least subtle method of evolution in storytelling, ever.

And this here, is what I loved about it. He makes many of the same detours Murray did, getting into all manner of mortal incidents, but he kept coming back, improving his approach and making progress. There is a particularly lovely moment when he and the heroine are holed up in a barn, and he reveals that not only has he been this far before, but he’s now stuck – he cannot find a way to get them both any further. Anyone who has ever played an adventure game will be able to relate to this. There is always a sticking point where you cannot determine the next step forward, where you have exhausted your previous set of solutions, and tried to click every element, tried every combination of items, all to no avail. After trying every option within the game, we would soon turn to those outside – we’d talk to people we knew who had played the game, we’d go online and look up walkthroughs, or in some extreme cases, we’d put the game aside. But where you or I could turn to Google, Cruise is stuck in an immortal quandary. Of course he makes it through (it’d be a surprising movie if he didn’t), but he does so by effectively “mapping out the dungeon” – a process us OCD people go through, where we have to cover every nook and cranny before we can go any further. He does that, and finds it was the wrong way, so….he goes back to a previous save point.

This isn’t to say that the film is marketed and directed solely at the game-playing community. I don’t for one second think that the script was engineered to adhere closely enough to video game story techniques as to be easily ported into a game experience in the near future. It really isn’t. However it does tell a story in a language and format that we can immediately relate, which, judging by the reception it has been receiving from non-gamers (Miss N included), makes me think that the art of game stories has become something that the mainstream would be more open to, if only they were not clad in obviously licensed packaging.

And I cannot wait for the Xbox version to come out.

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~ by nick on June 30, 2014.

2 Responses to “Edge Of Tomorrow: An Exceptional Video Game?”

  1. “cannot for the life of him figure out how his armament operates” – lol

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