Sons of Celluloid: The 11 Best Movie-Based Video Games

We see you sitting there, clenching those gamer-glutes as you prepare to read this. Relax, man. Nobody—least of all one of your humble Game Revolutionaries—wants to strip you of your God-given right to bitch and piss and moan and hate on movie-based video games in general. It's a fact-turned-cherished-tradition that the majority of movie-based games suck rocks, and the Truth will never be able to take that away from you. Some of the worst transgressions are hard to even talk about without shuddering, and not in a good, shivery way (and oh yeah, I'm glaring sullenly at you, Ju-On: The Grudge Haunted House Simulator).

But sometimes… sometimes, the universe (and the games industry) treats us okay. Sometimes, we cringe as a release date approaches, flinching as if from yet another expected kick squaw in the nuts… and instead, we get an okay movie-based game. Or a genuinely good one. Or even a great one, sometimes. Not often. But sometimes.

Here's to when things go more or less right. They are not in any particular order.

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1. Goldeneye 007

WHAT IT IS:

The single-handed super-spy hero of N64 first-person gaming.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Tense first-person action, great audiovisual presentation, and of course, a chance to be James Bond (even if was 'Brosnan Bond'—and from a movie that had already damn-near dropped off the pop-cultural radar at the time, to boot). First-person games were coming and going even in those creaky days of N64 yore, but it was the accumulation of little touches that made GoldenEye 007 a good game: The lulling tinkle of bland muzak as one level begins in an elevator—suddenly bursting into the rousing, spy-thriller score when the elevator doors open and the real action begins. It had gadget-laden, multi-objective-based missions, and it was the four-player, split-screen beanbag-fest that paved the way for the calm, collected, Bond-style smackdown on your console-gaming friends.

2. Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay

WHAT IT IS:

A startlingly high-quality atmospheric first-person shooter for the Xbox 360, it shamed other movie-based games into admitting that they sucked by comparison.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay did avenging justice, and then some, to the notion of a movie-based game experience, and managed to masterfully combine elements of first-person shooting, puzzle-solving, stealth, melee combat, story-telling, and even survival-horror-worthy levels of dramatic tension—and all delivered without a cluttering HUD. Best of all, this was one of the titles that showed us just how closely and effectively Hollywood and the gaming world could (not) work together to deliver a kick-ass, no-compromises product.

Butcher Bay cheated, like any good con would do with a shank made from a toothbrush, and it was not based on the pile of garbage it was named after, but rather as a prequel to the previous good film, Pitch Black.

Plus, Vin Diesel's gravelly, murderous voice… I mean, brrrr.

3. X-Men Origins: Wolverine

WHAT IT IS:

The X-Men franchise tie-in game made for gamers who, on the whole, wouldn't otherwise have given a rat's ass about the X-Men franchise.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

X-Men Origins: Wolverine wasn't an industry-shaking title and quite frankly didn't bring anything new to the table… but it was a solid, engaging third-person brawler soaked in enough over-the-top gore to easily make one forget about its derivative nature. One standout mechanic that never seemed to get old was Wolverine's always-satisfying ability to suddenly lunge at enemies halfway across the current arena/chamber, hurling himself upon them in a murderous fury. The game didn't do such a good job of cinematically setting up, for players unfamiliar with the universe, exactly who all these guys were, and why you might want to rip their guts out—but the levels of action basically made you forget all about such questions fairly quickly.

4. Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy

WHAT IT IS:

A cute, kid-friendly, surprisingly-entertaining toddle through the films of the Star Wars Trilogy. The real Star Wars trilogy.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Despite—or perhaps because of, we're still not really sure—the cute kiddiefication resulting from fusing the world of Lego and the original Star Wars trilogy, this relentlessly feel-good action/adventure game just worked. And not just for kids, either. Mechanically, nothing had changed from the earlier Lego Star Wars game (based on George Lucas' second batch of Star Wars flicks, Episodes I-III), but there is definitely something to be said for better source-material.

Further, Lego Star Wars II put a notably greater emphasis on different kinds of vehicles than did its predecessor, and opened up the ability to create necessary items out of Legos to basically all characters (not only Jedi). Meanwhile, the brilliant and charming humorous overtones kept the experience entertaining from start to finish, whether one was playing as a little kid… or simply with one.

And hey—I mean, Han Solo and the Millennium Falcon.

5. Spider-Man 2

WHAT IT IS:

A Spidey-flavored, GTA-esque free-roamer, offering players the ability to web-sling freestyle across a huge city that looks great and manages to maintain a rock-solid framerate.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Even with its faults—and there was definitely a number of them scattered throughout the title, although none of them were especially game-killers—Spider-Man 2 really captured the reckless, seat-of-your-red-and-blue-pants feel of being Peter Parker, cranking off lines of web-fluid and swooping from skyscraper to skyscraper in search of bad guys. The rendered, free-roaming city itself really stole the show in this game, and the effortless, crazy-balletic swinging through the municipal jungle just about exactly made up for the game's inherent repetition, not to mention the fact that fighting most of the enemies wasn't much more than a button-mashing endeavor.

Spider-Man animated extremely smoothly in action, and other main characters from the film actually looked like their motion-picture counterparts. The sprawling, convincing-looking city was in fact so huge that it could often feel somewhat underpopulated, but fans of the movie got a decent translation of the movie experience for the console of their choice. And this time, the web-lines they shot off actually attached to in-game objects, rather than magically attaching to the sky. Now will somebody please invent some evil robot arms for me?

 

6. Wanted: Weapons of Fate

WHAT IT IS:

A full-fledged assassin on his quest to hunt down the Immortal (like some blonde vampire slayer) as an heir to a secret fraternity of assassins. Oh, and you can curve bullets.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Wanted: Weapons of Fate's easy, breezy, fighting-from-cover system might have been a little too easy at times… but there was something gratifying and somehow, cinematically right in sneakily out-flanking your enemies (and watching the deluded fools still trying to pump rounds into the cover-spot you just moved from). One particularly standout battle-locale was among the aisles of a commercial airliner, where it was possible to decompress the cabin with a well-placed shot, causing your enemies to get sucked right out of the aircraft.

Of course, the game's anchor-point of pointless, nonsensical Cool was eventually gaining the ability to 'curve' your bullets and pick off enemies who stubbornly refused to come out from their own indestructible cover. This comes complete with the dramatic, slow-mo 'bullet cam' effect, which zoomed in and closely tailed your projectile as it arced through the air—right up to the point where it entered your cowering enemy's head. It's a rather cut-rate game based on a rather cut-rate movie, to be sure… but in an already-skimpy, movies-to-games pool, you gotta be grateful for whatever comes closest to floating.

7. Ghost in the Shell

WHAT IT IS:

No, not the one based on Stand Alone Complex. Ghost in the Shell for PS1 was faithful in presentation and style to the source material and was an admirably straight-up action title to boot.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Because it was either this one or Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and that wasn't gonna happen.

The really appealing thing about Ghost in the Shell was that it wasn't an uninspired Doom-esque corridor-crawler, but a wide-open action title that gave players control of a spider-like intelligent battle tank that could jump about like an armored cybernetic flea, clamber atop buildings in a city sprawl, race down freeways, hang from ceilings in more traditional corridor-based environs….and unload enough firepower to take down a good-sized army.

Ghost in the Shell combined arcade, mission-centric and rail-shooting elements, and had a good variety of environmental types. High-quality animated sequences by manga artist Masamune Shirow mostly took the form of hidden 'goodies' for players to find/earn, while others were immediately available as mission introductions.

8. Ghostbusters The Video Game

WHAT IT IS:

A by-God-and-about-time current-gen game based on one of the most core, beloved staples of moviegoing geekdom. All the nerds of the world wanted this game to be, at the very least, funny and fun to play. And it's a good thing they got it, or we'd have been looking at a four-fold cross-rip to end all four-fold cross-rips.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Because there are those of us who had been waiting for precisely Ghostbusters The Video Game since we were little kids, and it turns out that the mechanics of using a proton pack to energy-wrestle free-floating repeaters into quantum ghost-traps are almost exactly as we had imagined. Not only do players get to join up with the fab phantasmic four as a no-name, no-talking—like, not one line of dialogue—working-class Ghostbuster, but they get to hear the entire original cast of principals doing all the game's voice-work.

Honestly, the overall script itself is no great shakes, but the actual writing is quirky, quippy, clever, and good for more than a few solid laughs. The single-player experience is on the short side, but this is countered by a surprisingly entertaining multiplayer mode (for the PS3 and 360 versions). Meanwhile, the character models for the principals are dead-on, and the game-menus and detailed environs are crawling—sometimes literally—with winking bits of glorious fan-service.

9. Batman Returns (SNES)

WHAT IT IS:

Simply put, the best Batman game which was ever—and let us carefully, pointedly qualify this here, 'cause it's an important distinction—based on an actual movie.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

(Because, as strong as the temptation is, we can't list Arkham Asylum—not based on a movie, see?. Confound it! But seriously, folks.)

Batman Returns for the SNES was definitely 'a good get' for the Dark Knight, and certainly among the best of his game-related P.R. moves. It was a straight-up, suitably-dark, no-nonsense scrolling beat 'em up action game offering seven scenes featured in the motion picture. There were some Batmobile driving elements as well—with the Batmobile inexplicably using machine-guns to defeat a gang of bikers and a heavily-armed van… but no matter… While no bombshell of originality, Batman Returns offered excellent graphics and audio, plenty of atmosphere (with game-music specially adapted from the film score by Danny Elfman) and exquisitely-balanced difficulty all around.

10. Star Trek – Strategic Operations Simulator

WHAT IT IS:

A bright, vector-graphics starship-combat action-fest, from the days of classic coin-op arcade games. There was a stand-up version, but for the super-deluxe experience, you really had to climb into the enclosed, sit-down cabinet version (controls integrated into the bridge-chair arm rests).

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Yeah, it may have featured a certain insane-in-the-mainframe probe from an Original Series episode making a cameo appearance as an enemy, but everything from the cabinet artwork to the font style to the carefully-synthesized speech mimicking the voice of Leonard Nimoy—sampled audio was a prohibitive luxury back then— made it pretty clear that this game was based on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (albeit in a completely militaristic, “Kill Kill Kill Kill Kill Kill Klingons” mode).

It used both 2D and 3D (wireframe) displays, and the controls consisted of a nicely-weighted spinner and individual buttons for phaser fire, impulse engines, photon torpedoes, and warp drive. Things started off calmly enough: Take out the red Klingon cruiser(s) to protect your starbases, use the blast-radius of your limited stock of photon torpedoes to destroy multiple Klingons in one shot, and avoid the mines laid by the spazzy space-probe Boss. As the game got faster and hairier, you'd have to warp far away from a pack of closing cruisers, quickly turn to face them, crank off a torpedo (to kill five or six of them at once), and then move out again before any surviving enemies could space-rape you. With only one Enterprise per credit, there was nothing but your own mad spinner-skills between you and the Final Frontier.

11. Death Race

WHAT IT IS:

Black and white, Pong-era primitive, and years before Custer's Revenge, 1976's Death Race was the Original Gangster of 'controversial' arcade/video games… and a sick, entertaining, guilty little pleasure to play.

WHY IT'S ON THIS LIST:

Because I made the fucking list, that's why—plus, Death Race did its bit for shit-stirring video game controversy back in the days when 'hot coffee' was something most readers of this article wouldn't even have been allowed to drink for years to come (if they were even alive at all!). Released by Exidy in 1976—one year after the cult film Death Race 2000 that was its inspiration—Death Race had primitive, blocky, black-and white graphics and put one or two players in control of a single race car (with steering wheel and gas pedal controls).

The object of the game was… well, to deliberately run down two-legged 'gremlins' who would try to flee the vehicle (the 'gremlins' claim fooled no one—especially since the game's original, working victim had been 'Pedestrian'). If a 'gremlin' was successfully run down, they would scream and be replaced with little tombstones (which would accumulate onscreen, becoming a screen-cluttering environmental hazard for the cars).