Storytelling in video games: Are cutscenes necessary?

Storytelling in video games has always been very tough considering there needs to be a proper balance of actual gameplay and cut scenes. Although, I think the bigger issue is if cut scenes are even needed in the first place. Some games have managed to tell great stories with almost no cut scenes at all (look at Bioshock and Portal 2) where as games like The Last of Us, Uncharted, and Metal Gear Solid tend to use multiple cut scenes. The Last of Us and Uncharted in my mind, have a perfect balance of both cut scenes and gameplay that works really well especially in The Last of Us. Where as in Metal Gear Solid especially in 4, the cut scenes can feel overbearing and detract from the actual game itself. Now I am not saying that story in Metal Gear Solid is not really good, because it is, all 4 games in the main series tell some of the best stories ever put into a video game, but, sometimes it just uses too many cut scenes.

Bioshock is a shining example that proves that maybe, just maybe, you do not need to use cut scenes. The game only uses cut scenes really at the beginning and the end of the game which is reasonable to close up and start up the story, otherwise, it is told entirely through in game events and when Atlas talks to you. I have to say that storytelling in video games in that way is really incredible but at the same time its very justified in a game like Bioshock. Portal 2 is also a great example as you constantly being told different aspects of the story from several different characters and the game never goes to a cutscene until the end. Again, this works really well because you are getting the story told to you as you solve puzzles so it keeps things more interesting.

Now, here is where I feel that maybe cut scenes are needed as Naughty Dog seems to prove that the greatest storytelling in video games uses both in game events as well as cut scenes. In many parts in both Uncharted and The Last of Us, the characters interact constantly in game. Sure, for the most part it is small moments of characterization that are told through these interactions and it is not really the meat of the story which is left to cut scenes usually, but, those small moments of characterization are so necessary to make the story that much better. Also, it helps that the cut scenes are so graphically beautiful in both Uncharted and The Last of Us that it doesn’t bother me as much when it goes to a cut scenes. Also, rarely will a cut scene go longer than ten minutes, in fact, I sort of doubt there are any cut scenes in those games that do.

Overall, I think cut scenes are almost a necessity in video games, unfortunately. It is extremely difficult to tell a story without cut scenes and it always will be. Sure, we get a game like Bioshock that is able to change that but, it is not easily done. I am okay with cut scenes as long as I get quality gameplay and storytelling like in The Last of Us which in my opinion, could easily be the best story ever in a video game. If story is put in front of gameplay, that kind of bothers me like in Metal Gear Solid (mostly MGS4) or even in games like The Walking Dead or Heavy Rain where it’s only sort of a video game but more like an interactive movie. I prefer what Naughty Dog is doing the most or what Bioshock has achieved. Ultimately, storytelling is tough in video games, in fact, it’s probably the toughest medium to provide good storytelling since there are so many aspects in a video game that need to be done right compared to a movie or a book with gameplay, sound design, graphics, and the story itself.


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