Twenty years from now, when we want to be entertained, will we still look to Hollywood? Or will our pop-cult fantasies rise from farther north, in Silicon Valley? Perhaps neither: There may well be a middle ground, a sort of metaphorical multimedia Fresno.
Already filmmakers and game creators are sizing up each other’s territory, gauging relative strengths. The two sides are both nobly collaborating and ignobly ripping off, and results are slouching toward software stores to be born. Blown Away comes from the Hollywood side of the map: It has been created and marketed as a ”CD-ROM sequel” to last summer’s Jeff Bridges-Tommy Lee Jones movie misfire. Under a Killing Moon, however, is the most serious salvo yet from the computer-game industry: It’s a sci-fi detective adventure that combines computer graphics, live action, and a faux virtual-reality interface into a four-disc extravaganza — plus Brian Keith.
You can tell where each of these programs comes from as soon as it hits your computer screen. Blown Away, for instance, has a polish of presentation that can only come from an industry skilled in storytelling. Since Bridges and Jones are nowhere to be seen, the CD-ROM’s plot is only vaguely connected to the feature film. Instead, you play Jimmy Dove, a retired Boston Bomb Squad detective whose loved ones have been kidnapped by Justus, a tringy-haired mad bomber played by character actor Jimmie F. Skaggs. To free the hostages, you have to solve 22 puzzles and challenges, and that’s where this CD-ROM gets dicey.
The puzzles range from the simple (switch a letter at the beginning of a word) to the knotty (open and close valves to keep explosive chemicals from combining). But few of them seem integral to the story line. The best parts of Blown Away are the live-action scenes, both technically (love that full-screen video) and in terms of fluid, fast-paced narrative drive. And Skaggs makes such an amusingly caustic villain that it seems a shame to slam the proceedings to a halt for a dippy game of high-tech Concentration.
Blown Away shows the edge that professional actors can bring to a computer game. Under a Killing Moon proves that famous stars guarantee diddly if you don’t give them a script to work with. Long touted as the first really interactive movie, Moon, like Blown Away, tells its story in two modes: live- action scenes and a separate game interface. But in Moon, the actors are weirdly laid atop a computer-generated background. No surprise, the game’s the thing here.
As futuristic gumshoe Tex Murphy, you take on a case that starts with a simple pawnshop burglary and ends, countless hours of game play later, as a sort of outer-space Maltese Falcon. To find clues, you use your mouse to glide through virtual-reality locations, clicking and collecting. It’s an impressive trick — imagine a more fluidly explorable Myst — but becoming skilled with the mouse takes a good long time, and you may find yourself wishing the narrative would just show up and take off.
Unfortunately, when the story does show up, it’s clear it wouldn’t even cut it as a direct-to-video movie. Name actors Brian Keith and Margot Kidder are on hand to spout functional dialogue in small but crucial roles; as for Native American activist Russell Means, who plays a villainous goon, let’s just say he makes a good Native American activist. Most of the acting is done by Chris Jones as Tex: You see him in the video scenes and hear his voice-over in the game interface. He’s not bad, but he’s not all that great, either. He is the VP of the company that made this game, though.
Killing Moon offers a good puzzle but cries out for Hollywood pacing, performances, and story sense. Blown Away has those qualities but is hobbled by a scattershot, kitchen-sink approach to computer play. Both discs will please gamers, but neither is likely to appeal to the untapped larger audience that, in all probability, doesn’t care about games. In short: Neither of these vehicles makes it to Fresno. Both CD-ROMs: B-