August 18, 2017

Watch: When Video Games Are Better Than Movies

Sorry, film nerds: Naughty Dog, a video game company, is putting out the most exciting stories on the market.

You may recall that in our 2016 end-of-year trailer rankings, the #1 trailer we selected was not for a movie. It was—gasp!—for a video game. That video game is Naughty Dog's The Last of Us Pt. IIand to this day, it is still one of our most-anticipated upcoming releases.

This begs the question: What happens when video games reach the same level of technical acumen as films, while also delivering equivalent emotionally resonant experiences? Or, rather: What happens when playing a video game actually exceeds the cinematic experience?

There are a lot of great games out there, but there is one developer, in the opinion of both myself and Film Radar’s Daniel Netzel, that truly takes the cake. Of course, it's Naughty Dog.

Naughty Dog's first release was also one of the first video games I ever played, PlayStation's insanely fun platformer Crash Bandicoot. When the PS2 was released, the company went onto make another instant classic trilogy in Jak and Daxter. But as Netzel wisely notes in his video essay, there came a point when Naughty Dog truly became "next-level."

When the technology allowed for it, Naughty Dog decided to abandon its cartoonish characters and focus more on human stories. (Specifically, they told the story of treasure hunter Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series.) While they may have been fantastical in nature, these stories featured real human conflict and emotion as the driving point for the gameplay.

"It was like playing a game built by filmmakers."

It was that decision that allowed Naughty Dog to break through the threshold of video games and to enter the realm of cinema. Indeed, the game that ended up transcending both mediums was 2013’s zombie apocalypse epic, The Last of Us. This is a game that truly employs what Netzel has deemed “cinematic literacy.” In his experience, as for many others, “it was like playing a game built by filmmakers as opposed to your typical video game developers.”

Cinematic literacy all starts with a focus on the character and the story. Each character is fully developed and all have their own separate intentions and obstacles. In film, the conflict that any character encounters while trying to reach their intention is what drives the story forward. Naughty Dog is well aware of this; the company creates characters that you end up deeply caring about, whether it's Nathan, Sully, Ellie, or Joel.

Running Uncharted 4 on the PS4 is nothing short of breathtaking.

The characters are brought to life by the performances of real-life actors, filmed on camera, working together on sound stages in motion-capture suits. While this practice may seem like a no-brainer for video game companies, Naughty Dog truly pioneered the method of capturing performances for the original Uncharted. The company realized that splitting up the actors so that both ended up doing separate voice over work only results in stale, unemotional characters with which no player can empathize.

"Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" Credit: Naughty Dog

Of course, all of these performances mean nothing if you don’t have a talented animator to bring them to life. And Naughty Dog has plenty. With each game, it truly pushes the boundaries of the console’s graphics capabilities. What comes out is nothing short of a work of art. The Last of Us boasts graphics that, even on an older generation, look better than many of the games that come out today. Running Uncharted 4 on the PS4 is nothing short of breathtaking.

In the end, Naughty Dog uses every storytelling tool to its advantage, just as a film would. The company even goes so far as to incorporate principles of cinematography: shot composition, lighting cues, color grading, and even focus pulls and camera shake. All of these elements come together to produce an immersive experience that you simply can’t get from any other medium of entertainment. It's more than a movie— it’s a playable movie.      

Your Comment


Loved reading this! I am an avid gamer, and like both of you want to see more focus on character development and story in gaming. I think it's the newest form of modern art, and want to see it continue to develop!

August 18, 2017 at 7:47PM

Andrew Kan

I agree, some studios are knocking it out of the park with quality and content. If you haven't played Horizon Zero Dawn or the Witcher 3, I highly recommend it. Both are stellar games as far as story and visuals.

August 21, 2017 at 9:47AM


Star Wars videogame cinematics are better than all Star Wars movies combined

August 19, 2017 at 1:27AM


The Last of Us is more well-written and directed than most movies I've seen.

August 19, 2017 at 2:43AM

Daniel King
Videographer, Editor

That ending.... man.... it was down right perfect.

August 19, 2017 at 1:17PM

Torben Greve

"Begging the question" is about fallactical circular reasoning.. I think you meant "Raises the question"

August 19, 2017 at 12:49PM, Edited August 19, 12:49PM

Sari J

Bioshock series? Red Dead Redemption? GTA V?

August 20, 2017 at 6:00AM


I don't think anyone is leaving them out, Naughty Dog is just the focus here, they have produced exceptional games in both story, gameplay and graphics. Each game they have released has also been a hit.

Like what the video says, Naughty Dog isn't the only studio doing this well, but they are at the pinnacle of the group. Consistently too, in my opinion.

We could extend the list of games that mirror movies to quite a few, but Uncharted and Last of us really do have a full cinematic feel. My wife loves to sit and watch me play these games because they play like a movie, they flow like a film and they are top tier with acting and writing.

Shameless self promotion: We did a podcast the other day discussing games that are just as fun to watch as they are to play. I think we will do a podcast on story and cinematic gaming.

August 21, 2017 at 9:44AM


Greatest gangster film ever.
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September 17, 2017 at 11:38PM, Edited September 17, 11:39PM

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