Let me start this review by going off on a slight tangent. How many people remember the game Theme Park? It was a tycoon game where you got to run an amusement park. It came out well before RollerCoaster Tycoon, and despite having the same great concept and roughly the same gameplay elements, neither it nor its successors fared very well. Theme Park, for whatever reason, just didn’t capture the imagination of game players like RollerCoaster Tycoon did, and now it’s simply an example of how a game can seem to have everything going for it and yet not be all that much fun to play.
So what does this have to do with The Movies? I thought the tycoon genre had hit rock bottom when I reviewed Trailer Park Tycoon in 2003. At that point, the game concepts were getting silly, and the only good games in the genre were those that were sequels to existing games. But, lo and behold, The Movies has a great concept. In the game, you run a movie studio starting in 1920, and you get to do things like hire and fire actors, research new technologies, build sets, write movie scripts, and film blockbusters. There’s even a Lionhead Motion Picture Awards Ceremony every five years, where the best studios and movies are honored. How could a game with all those things going for it go wrong?
Well, The Movies doesn’t go wrong so much as it puts the emphasis in the wrong place. The Movies is, quite literally, a drag. It is a game of micromanagement, where the only way you can get anything done is to drag objects from one place to another. As an example, consider the process of making a movie. First you have to select a script writer and drag him or her into one of six rooms in one of four script writing offices (the rooms represent different genres, such as horror and comedy, and the different offices give different quality scripts). Once the script is complete, you have to drag it to a casting office. The necessary crew and extras automatically jump to their respective rooms in the office, but you have to select the necessary “stars” (actors and directors) and drag them to their rooms on your own. But first you have to figure out who you want to use in the movie (since different stars might be better suited to the roles), but there isn’t any friendly summary screen to show you what you have available. If you don’t happen to know the exact skills of all of your stars, then you have to right click on each one individually to review them. Fortunately, you can pause the game to check on these sorts of things, but you’re not allowed to do any of the dragging while the game is paused.
Once you have a cast ready for a movie, they have to rehearse for a while, and then, once they’re ready, you have to drag the script from the “begin casting” room in the casting office to the “shoot it” room. At that point, the cast will run off to shoot the movie on their own, but they’re totally inefficient. If you want the movie to shoot in as little time as possible, you’ll need to do things like pick up and drag actors to get them to their scenes more quickly, notice when actors don’t have to appear on screen for a while, and drag them someplace like the PR office so they can publicize the movie, or maybe to a bar so they can relax and work off some stress. It’s even a good idea to peek at what sets your movie is going to use, and manually select and drag your maintenance workers to them so your sets won’t be in disrepair when you shoot in them.
Finally, once the movie is complete, you might drag it to the PR office for a little more publicity, and then drag it, at long last, to a “release budget” room of the production office, where you’ll see reviews of the film and learn how good it is. In other words, every aspect of the game requires things to be dragged, and since you might have multiple movies being shot at the same time, plus have stars who aren’t currently in movies but who you want to keep active (to practice and improve their skills, if nothing else), it’s non-stop dragging. Worse, the game doesn’t give you an alternative way of doing anything. There are barely any hot keys in the game at all, and the ones that are there only open up menus or move the camera.
But still, The Movies has some fun moments. Since you start out in 1920, there’s a steady trickle of new sets and new technologies that become available, so the game doesn’t get boring. You hire your own actors and directors, and it’s satisfying to watch them develop and grow and hopefully win some awards. You get to hear radio broadcasts as you play, to help emphasize the advancement of time (the DJ in the 60’s, for example, sounds like Wolfman Jack), and the broadcasts are all well done. It’s also fun to watch the movies being made, and if you enjoy the process, you can even create your own scripts, and then later add subtitles or audio to them to make them more polished.
And so I’m giving The Movies a mixed review. It has all of the elements of a good game, and it can be fun at times, but the endless micromanagement gets a little tedious. I played the game for about 20 hours (which got me to the year 2000), and I’d say it was entertaining enough during that time. But my guess is that the only people who will really like the game are those who plan to use it to shoot their own movies, and others will likely come away slightly disappointed.