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There's a Lot of Bad FMV Games out There, but These Moments Remind Us Why We Play Them

In honor of Night Trap's 25th anniversary re-release, we dove into the best of the often-controversial genre.

Article by Caty McCarthy, .

Full-Motion Video Games, commonly dubbed as FMV games, have been making a comeback in recent years.

Long gone from CD-ROMs, the experimentation that was alive in the FMV era has risen again thanks to games like Sam Barlow's Her Story, which blends desktop simulation with FMV elements. Other games with higher production values—from Late Shift to Contradiction to The Bunker—have been popping up all across Steam and beyond in recent years as a result, paving a new shiny path for the so-so genre.

On August 15, the controversial classic FMV game Night Trap will be re-released in honor of its 25th anniversary. Night Trap was an odd hit, a voyeuristic slasher-esque FMV game where you attempted to save teen girls from vampiric beings. It was appalling for some, even landing itself as a focal point over a United States Senate committee hearing regarding the prevalence of violent video games. The hearing had one positive though: it led to the formation of the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (also known as the ESRB), which is the ratings system that is still kicking around today.

In honor of Night Trap's special re-release, I've come together with me, myself, and I to create a (non-)definitive list of our favorite moments or parts across FMV games (or games with FMV elements). In league with keeping this a tight list, I'm only considering games that implement live-action elements, leaving the likes of Dragon's Lair and the Castle of Cagliostro-lifting game Cliff Hanger to the wayside. (The latter counts more as a laserdisc game, but whatever, I just wanted an excuse to namedrop the atrocity that is Cliff Hanger.)

Cibele

Cibele is more of a desktop simulator than anything else. In the game you control the young girl Nina as she navigates a life spent online, and as luck would have it, falling in love for the first time. The game's separated into a few acts, with FMV scenes in-between of the game's designer, Nina Freeman. The game feels unnervingly voyeuristic at times, especially when skimming through Nina's selfies or watching her get eventually intimate with her woeful first crush. The moment that has always stuck out to me though is one of heartbreak: where Nina's used by her online crush, and then cast aside like nothing. As a girl, as a human being, it captures something that so many people go through, and is rarely (if ever) explored through video games.

Director's Chair

What if I told you that once upon a time Steven Spielberg made an FMV game, would you believe me? Trust me, I wouldn't believe me either. But here we are with Director's Chair: a gem that puts you in the shoes of a filmmaker like Spielberg himself directing some familiar Hollywood stars (Quentin Tarantino, Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Helmond). The game allowed players of its time to stitch their own mini-movie together using the game, which in itself makes it the type of moment that shifts depending on the stories players decide to spin when given a mini-sandbox of familiar stars. When you wrap it up, you're plopped down in a faux-theater, Spielberg introduces the "film," and you watch your mastery in profound silence.

Goosebumps: Escape from Horrorland

Before Goosebumps was revived with a modern-day Jack Black movie, it was a series of children's horror novels by R.L. Stine crafted to make kids wet the bed in fear. Goosebumps inspired a legion of other properties: a television show, and as luck would have it, a series of FMV games. The first FMV game, Escape from Horrorland, is easily its most memorable. It was a sequel to the book One Day at Horrorland, carrying on the Goosebumps canon in an endearing interactive way. Escape from Horrorland had an extra special cameo too from Jeff Goldblum, where he plays a creepy vampire who seduces the game's young tween stars. YIKES. This game was released around Goldblum's peak in the 1990s.

Her Story

Her Story is often credited as reviving the FMV genre in the modern day, and for good reason. Her Story tasks you as someone navigating a police officer's desktop, sifting through the many bits of interrogation video of seemingly one woman. At the start you don't know what has happened, what crime has been committed, if this woman is a suspect or just a witness, but over time, as you search keywords and pull up non-chronological tidbits of information, you learn. You know. You seethe. While the story at hand isn't the most intriguing, through the actress Viva Seifert's performance and the non-linear way you reach a revelation, Her Story's moment is unforgettable. Because the juncture at which you realize what's going on is different for each and every player. Thrre is no end game. The game is over only when you feel satisfied.

Resident Evil

I was a little kid when I first saw Resident Evil. (I'm a baby.) My mom was playing it after I had gone to bed, and I emerged out of my bedroom for some reason only to come face to face with—again this was the 90s—a terrifying looking zombie. I cried, hollered. My mom felt really bad. Nonetheless, Resident Evil was a true survival horror game, a game that scared the pants off me. Going back to its FMV opening specifically though, it looks quite the opposite. The FMV opening has all the characters we come to know in Resident Evil, from Jill to Wesker. The acting is cringe worthy and corny, a staple for anything in the FMV genre. It feels remarkably out of place in the narrative of Resident Evil (along with all of its FMV elements), even as it sets up how Chris and Jill got to Spencer Mansion.

Night Trap

Of course, it's impossible to curate an FMV moments-stuffed list without the champion of FMV games itself. It was a controversial game for many reasons, but one scene in particular disturbed angry parents and uncomfortable players everywhere. It was a game over scene where a girl in a nightgown was attacked by the vampiric people in a bathroom, with a drill clamped to her neck to draw out her blood. She screams as she's taken out of the room and it's incredibly unsettling, even with the campy flair. All the wrongful death scenes in Night Trap are awkward and eccentric, but this moment in particular struck the biggest nerve in some players.

What FMV scenes are your favorite? Does something more recent with higher production values stick out in your mind? Or perhaps a part of the John Hurt-starring Tender Loving Care? Or are you into how disgusting Phantasmagoria is? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments 8

  • Avatar for nimzy #1 nimzy 9 days ago
    Oh, man. I'm having all kinds of flashbacks to live-action FMVs. The news reports and pilot communication of Mechcommander, the sheer variety of ham on display in Command and Conquer, the stuff of legend in Wing Commander, and even adventure games like Myst and the Journeyman Project -- it was an era when games had movies before games were movies.Edited 2 times. Last edited 2 weeks ago by nimzy
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  • Avatar for yuberus #2 yuberus 9 days ago
    I am a fan of the cdi/pic game Voyeur. Yes, there are salacious bits, but watching those sequences mean you miss out on the dramatic, corrupt moments needed to derail a rich businessman's presidential bid (alas, if only). The unreleased Voyeur 2 was similar, but also had you managing electricity and using a rifle to save the day!

    Man, for all the trash talk the CDi gets, it's an FMV fan's dream console.
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #3 Vonlenska 8 days ago
    The Myst series should count, I think. At least in part.

    Late Shift is one that just popped up on my radar, mostly because it exists and the production values are actually fairly good. It doesn't really appeal to me much, but I'm kind of glad it exists.

    And then there's the woefully unreleased Duelin' Firemen, which would have starred ("starred"?) Timothy Leary, Tony Hawk, Steve Albini, Ivan Stang and Mark Mothersbaugh in...well. Um. From an old GamePro:
    Singing firemen. That's right, singing firemen. In this full-motion video outing, Air Force One crashes into the Sears Tower, setting all of Chicago ablaze. Emergency personnel have abandoned their posts, so it's up to the player, in the boots of the fire captain, to find "buildings that are not burning, where the captain and his crew quickly create an intricate dance accompaniment to the captain's musical selection of choice." If a rival brigade shows up in the same building, "Watch out! It's time for a hoedown!" To win the game, you have to score a contract with a Japanese record company.

    (Un?)Luckily), a lot of the FMVs survived.
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  • Avatar for catymcc #4 catymcc 8 days ago
    @Vonlenska oh my god, I have no idea how I forgot Myst. That wasn't even on my longlist before narrowing things down. Shame on me. D:
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  • Avatar for Vonlenska #5 Vonlenska 8 days ago
    @catymcc
    I never really thought of Myst as FMV games until someone else suggested it, and then my brain exploded.
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  • Avatar for Neifirst #6 Neifirst 8 days ago
    @catymcc If you want to try a game that's sort of a cross of Night Trap and Clue, seek out Double Switch. I had it on the Sega CD but I think it also came to PC eventually. As a bonus, it stars Corey Haim and Deborah Harry!
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  • Avatar for metalangel #7 metalangel 8 days ago
    I had a Sega CD. FMV games were only a small part of what it offered but are all it's remembered for, unfairly.

    The FMV games did get better - Loadstar being one of the best examples. Carefully edited and adjusted video meant it didn't have nearly as much graininess or compression as earlier games. Tomcat Alley was ok, too, and there was another one involving helicopter gunships that I never got to try.
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  • Avatar for StrwbrryJams #8 StrwbrryJams 7 days ago
    I always liked the Saturn game, The Horde, which managed to get Kirk Cameron in the avatar's role.
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