Is it finally okay to be excited by TV and movie adaptations of video games?

Now video games movies are attracting big stars and bigger budgets, it's never been a better time to be a movie-going gamer

This Week in Games is a weekly column where Vikki Blake pulls apart the biggest stories in gaming each week. This week, she’s cautiously optimistic about a new generation of video game shows and movies that just may not completely suck this time.

Ten years. Ten whole years. That’s how long it’s been since Kit Harrison and Adelaide Clemens rocked up to the silver screen as Vincent Smith and Heather/Sharon Da Silva in Silent Hill Revelations. Six years we waited for that sequel – a sequel we were all hoping would be Silent Hill 2, of course, but was instead based on Silent Hill 3 – and when it finally arrived, it shot to the top of my coveted Worst Video Game Adaptation Movie Ever list with dizzying speed, reminding me that no matter how stellar the cast, the budget, or the special effects, Hollywood – even the most enthusiastic, game-savvy part of it – just doesn’t seem to get video game adaptations right.

It’s a shame, really, because its 2006 predecessor, Silent Hill – though not without its missteps – was not the unmitigated clusterfuck I’d expected it to be. Director Christophe Gans had been a tad cavalier with his interpretation of the source material, granted, but he nailed the atmosphere and creature design, and even the brief detour into the world of the non-canon The Janitor wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

For a brief while there, a trembling bud of optimism unfurled inside me; could it be that video game stories – stories that I’d long championed to unconvinced friends and family – were finally finding their place in mainstream media? Could it be that my favourite rich, vibrant, virtual worlds were finally transitioning from my console to my local cinema?

Ha! As fucking if.

Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2. Credit: Konami

For every not-terrible video game adaptation – yes, I make a distinction between good and not-terrible, as not-terrible is typically the best we ever get – there’s a score of absolute wrong ‘uns that have done nothing to solidify gaming narrative design in the mainstream consciousness. Some are so bad, they’ve reached culty, kitschy status – I bet I don’t even need to name them for you to know what they are – but most have melted into obscurity. Which is exactly where they belong.

And let’s be clear: there are hundreds of them. You may remember some – Resident Evil; Super Mario Bros.; Street Fighter; Need For Speed; Tomb Raider; Sonic – but did you know that in October 2008, we were blessed with not one but two game-to-movie adaptations; Far Cry and Max Payne? How about an Alone in the Dark film – did you know about that one? What about a Postal movie? Dead or Alive? Hitman? They’re all very different, but they usually have two things in common; one, they’re adapted from games, and two, they absolutely fucking tanked (that aforementioned Alone in the Dark movie stars Christian Slater and sits on a 1 per cent score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 9/100 on Metacritic. Yikes).

It’s not that games can’t tell good stories, of course. We’ve long been shouting about the power of interactive media, and as the industry has matured, so has the themes it tackles and its ability to tell thoughtful tales that stay with you long after the credits have rolled. It’s hardly a new phenomenon, either; some of my favourite game storylines were written decades ago. Despite what video game movies may intimate, not every video game narrative has a tissue-thin premise and terrible character development… I mean, some do, sure, but not every one of them. Honest.

Sonic
The newly redesigned Sonic the Hedgehog. Credit: Paramount

But all that’s changed recently, hasn’t it? Slowly and delicately, as though doing its best not to draw too much attention for fear of spooking us, the TV and movie industries have quietly been releasing quality game-flavoured shows and movies. Detective Pikachu. The Witcher. Halo. Sonic. They’ve not all been brilliant, no – just look at the big-budget Assassin’s Creed for proof of that – but they’ve each helped turn the tide a little. They’ve each helped prove that – when handled correctly, anyway – the worlds and people we meet in video games can successfully be brought to life on TV, too.

There’s still more to come, of course; someone somewhere got a sniff that not all gaming IPs are complete horseshit, and now they’re all at it, scrambling around to paw at this hitherto untapped vein of virtual universes. And despite the current uptick in quality and critical reception, I can’t help but watch on with a hopeful grimace; the latter, because they may be shit, and the former, because the Lord loves a trier, and us gamers are a hardy bunch that never quite give up hope.

There’s an Alan Wake TV show in production, as well as shows or movies based on God of War, Mass Effect, Horizon Zero Dawn, Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Vampyr, Borderlands, Five Nights at Freddy’s, Just Cause, and HBO’s much-anticipated The Last of Us show.

If that ends up being even half as good as the game – a game that is, to all intents and purposes, a zombie shooter, albeit one dressed up in a thrilling premise with achingly memorable characters – maybe those that don’t play games will finally understand why it is those that do can be cheerfully lost for hours in these wonderful worlds. That, or we’ll get to add yet another dreadful adaptation to our shit list.

If you enjoyed this article, take a look back at the rest of this month’s biggest gaming news here.

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