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The Movies Review

Mike_Reilly By:
Mike_Reilly
12/16/05
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE Sim 
PLAYERS
PUBLISHER Activision 
DEVELOPER Lionhead 
RELEASE DATE Out Now
MINIMUM SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS
T What do these ratings mean?

"I laughed, I cried..It was better than Cats!"


There's really no job out there truly worth a salary over one million dollars a year. Curing global epidemics? Alright, give that man double. But if he's just throwing a ball around or talking about nothing, he's already overpaid.

And that's just scratching the surface of the film industry, where people get paid unbelievable amounts of money to pretend to be other people. Finally, you can be on the wealthy side of this sick, twisted and glamorous industry through Lionhead's The Movies, which puts you in charge of building an empire powerful enough to make even this jerk seem powerless - provided, that is, your films are up to snuff. Whether or not you'd want to commit sleepless hours to creating such an evil empire is the purpose of the following feature presentation.

At its core, The Movies is a typical tycoon builder ala Rollercoaster Tycoon, but lighter on general people management and heavier on individual sim fulfillment. Making good movies isn't entirely about declaring global edicts or building the kind of efficient economic infrastructure found in Tropico or Sim City. It's a much more personal process that involves treating fake people really well. Thus, macromanaging through careful, wide-sweeping strategic decisions takes a backseat to catering to the individual needs of your stars, making you feel less like an emperor of film and more like a human resources flunkie.

click to enlargeIn either Campaign or Free Play, your star pampering skills will define how well you fare against other movie studios. You start off with a couple of industry hopefuls loitering outside your buildings in the 1920's, trainable talent that will make movie history in the decades to come. You have to weigh their genre skills against their personality types and declare which of these wannabes should be actors, directors, simple extras, sweaty stage crew, or simply "the help." For example, an easygoing wannabe who deals patiently with his few stressors would be a good director, even if he has rat-like features. Once you sift through all the neuroses, you can just appoint the remaining hacks to manual labor.

While the people management side of things never changes, the times do. Tongue-in-cheek news briefs keep you abreast of societal trends. If you see a headline like "Aliens Come to Earth, Buy Automobile Manufacturer," you can be certain that movies featuring aliens and cars will be popular with the public, who will, in turn, have less interest in other subjects.

Apparently, there's a real lack of talent in the world of Showbiz, since fresh wannabes are few and far between after this initial hiring period. You'll have to make movies using whatever staff you have unless you feel like casting your janitor in a lead role. Pulling people from other jobs to fill gaps becomes more of a problem the bigger your studio gets, so you're always deciding what part of your movies can afford a bruise, since everything from how well the sets are maintained to how good of a fit the actors are for the roles are factors in its success. If you do wind up casting your janitor as the lead cowboy in a western, you have to worry about both his acting and his lack of cleaning, even when you're a billionaire movie mogul.

Instead of a talent agency or even a restaurant to recruit from, you get a cool but unnecessary star creation tool called StarMaker. This character creator is easy to use, but it doesn't make any sense in the context of the game. Since no wannabes come around, you'll be forced to stop what you're doing and spend time making a star to fit a given role, when it would be far easier to just pick from a template or generator. We like the feature, but it should not be our main means of providing new talent.

click to enlargeEspecially when your actors are the crux of the whole campaign. Your movies are only as big as their stars, so you'll be spending a lot of money and time making them look and feel like the biggest things since bottled water. Building trailers and decorating their personal lots with lush fauna and pricey toys is a good start, but they'll eventually get bored. Then you'll have to physically pick them up and drop them into the VIP section of a bar to unwind, drag them to talk to their fellow cast members to build up their chemistry, toss them on the chin-up bar to increase their physique rating or dump them in the salon for a makeover. There has to be a hundred things you can make a star do to build up a horde of skill meters, which combined make him or her more profitable, but also more expensive.

Unfortunately, all this micromanagement is done one star at a time and you've got tons of them to juggle. The stars are finicky, jealous of each other's trailers and salaries and won't be worth their upkeep cost if every other sellable factor about a movie isn't at least decent. It's a constant, delicate, and costly balancing act that is simultaneously annoying and engrossing. While you will get sucked into the fun of being very active in your studio's performance, you can drown in the minutia.

The Movies would have benefited a lot from better star A.I. We know actors aren't considered smart, per se, but these guys will rarely do anything besides secure their own basic survival needs í¢â‚¬" or destruction. Your stars want to fall to their own vices, whether it's Jack Daniels or Burger King, so any skill growth or rehab will have to be done manually to keep bankruptcy at bay.

Thank Godzilla most of the actual movie-making processes can be automated. Scriptwriters, for example, are just bots, so all you need to note is which one of them has a bigger meter for a genre and let him scribble out a plot that will best use your available sets and crew while matching the current trends. When it's ready, you do another meter scan, choose which stars fit best and shoot the movie. You can then take a breather and beautify your studio to boost its prestige, which will eventually attract famous stars from other studios. You can also zoom onto the sets, kick back a second, and watch the sims' cute antics as the movie is filmed. These flicks are far from art, usually so random and bad they're laughably endearing. But for those who take cinema way too seriously, The Movies also includes another optional and vast utility for making the movies themselves.

click to enlargeVia a couple of in-game buildings, you can access the wealth of scene templates and objects the developers used to generate the game's little cinematic treasures. Using an Adobe Premiere for Dummies interface, you can arrange the scenes, sets, and effects any way you want and even upload them to the Interweb for others to gawk at. The movies you make yourself only have obvious and passive gameplay effects í¢â‚¬" critics only care about the star power and quality of the sets. This gives you the freedom to make the most random movies imaginable, but it takes a lot of time and money for your stars to shoot grand epics in the campaign portion of the game, and you don't do any better at the box office even if you spend hours making your movie. Whether you generate a film or make it yourself, reviews will tell you how it could have received even higher ratings, although you'll probably be able to guess for yourself. We really appreciate the tool, but a reason to use it would have been nice, too.

The Movies comes with some flaws, but its presentation is simply marvelous. Every object and person has a sparkly bubblegum flair; the graphics engine keeps the detail levels high and the framerate seamless as you zoom in and out on your pretty creations. In-game menus tightly store every bit of relevant personnel information, while pop-up bubbles keep you apprised of everything going on, even if they sometimes clutter the screen. The ambient tunes are big band Hollywood, and the radio announcers are exceptionally well-voiced, changing with the times as much as the wild news stories. Stylish, stylish, stylish.

Unlike the brutal machine that is real-life Hollywood, The Movies has enough flexibility to be what you make of it. The more hardcore sim gamers will find just enough depth here to warrant long hours of sim management, while those with a knack for virtual direction will dig the robust tool set. Although these two elements don't really connect enough, it's still a pretty solid, compelling take on the inner and outer workings of the deliciously corrupt film business and should satisfy most who auditioní¯Â¿Â½until they invariably freak out and seek rehab, that is.

B Revolution report card
  • Flexible gameplay experience
  • Great tools
  • Looks like a star
  • But can play like a chore
  • Moviemaking / Simulation disconnect
  • Too many micromanagerial tasks

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