PC Game -- The Movies

Sadly, while The Movies has a lot to like, it's hindered by awkward interface design and poorly balanced game mechanics. The premise is simple; build a studio and make movies. In practice, it's a lot more complex. Actors and directors have to be developed and cosseted, facilities need to be staffed, sets built, and scripts written.

Starting in the 1930s, you're given enough starting capital to create your first silent flicks, with the leading roles and director positions filled from the line outside your casting office. As you gain momentum, you'll need more stars, more staff, more sets and better equipment - up to a point where you'll struggle to house it all.

As your stars (directors and actors) gain status from successful films, they'll demand more money and accoutrements. But you'll have to put up with this, as their experience and star quality goes a long way to producing a successful film - and successful films gain you money, status and those all-important awards. Neglect them, and they'll leave; overwork them, and they'll develop habits that need weeks in rehab to sort out.

But you can't overlook new talent either, as your leading lady/man can only take so many nips and tucks before being put out to pasture, and if there's no-one waiting in the wings, you'll be back to making no-name B-movies that the critics will pan.

The game can be largely left to its own devices while you concentrate on the key aspects of running a studio. But you can use the built-in scripting, directing and production facilities to create and polish your own flicks - including your own vocal recordings that your actors will lip-sync to - which can then be posted online.

On the whole, The Movies' interface is pretty intuitive, but having your actors and directors bundled together gets needlessly cluttered, and building can be irksome at times. But the biggest problem lies in the way your progress is crippled by the amount of staff available. As your films require more talent, and your facilities need more upkeep, you'll be faced with staff shortages that halt your progress, regardless of your studio's bank balance or success rate. It's possible that there's a balance that can be achieved here, but after a serious amount of playtesting, I was unable to avoid a critical breakdown towards the latter stages of the game.

That said, it has the "just five minutes more" factor that makes games like this infuriatingly difficult to walk away from, and it can be a lot of fun to play in spite of its faults. So if you'll excuse me, I have a film to make.

Click here to view screenshot 1, and here to view screenshot 2.

Visuals: Great looking and well detailed from the top-down to up close and personal.
Audio: Excellent era-based background music; radio announcements soon become repetitive.
Gameplay: Frustratingly difficult to manage towards the later stages, but you still go back for more.
Score: 3 1/2
Developer: Lionhead Studios
Publisher: Activision
URL: www.lionhead.com
Price: $89.95

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