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 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.
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 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.
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.
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!