MISSING boldy attempts a tentative baby step towards success in the FMV genre.
Twenty seconds into the trailer for MISSING: An Interactive Thriller, and cobwebbed memories of 90’s FMV games everyone thought would change the world of interactivity, creep out from under the floorboards, poking at potentially remixing conventional storytelling. I’ve always had an affinity towards the idea of fusing cinema and gaming but it’s been a tough and tired venture that’s often poorly executed… Until now.
Merge together popular mobile puzzler ‘The Room’, quicktime events from Shenmue and live action sequences featuring real actors, and that’s more or less the entire makeup of this SAW-inspired experience. MISSING’s first episode looks to set the scene and begin multiple story threads, in the hopes of hooking you into the rest of the series’ future shows. To start with, you play a young man cuffed up and seemingly trapped in an unknown building which you must escape from. Unfortunately for you, it’s not a straight forward escape route, as some evil entity decided to set up a series of traps, forcing you to solve puzzles quickly in order to advance – which is anything from combination locks to re-working the building’s plumbing.
The game gives off a TV drama vibe - with slick, well-executed and welcomed interruptions that slot in-between takes to prompt further action from you. These actions could be dodging hazards or simply using items you’ve found. Once the FMV’s end, you’re able to take control and move between a small selection of rooms by clicking in first-person, locating clues and trying to crack challenges in order to progress. I found the puzzles nicely varied in difficulty – they weren’t by any means impossible, but some required enough thought for them to be satisfying once completed. Anyone after hardcore brain teasers will however be disappointed with MISSING, at least for this first episode.
The whole experience can be wrapped up in around 45 minutes, so MISSING feels more conceptual than a finished product. It has however been priced to reflect that, and I feel this is a sensible move to test the market and see how people respond – after all, heavy interactive-narrative based games don’t have a commercially fruitful history and are not by any means developed on a shoestring. One key issue games like these are bound to face is the lack of quality in their production. Since rich, high production FMV’s are so paramount to its success to increase immersion – the actors, actresses, settings, costume design and everything else that comes with making a show needs to be as tight and believable as possible. The problem with this is budget – cross the costs of developing a game with production costs for a TV show and it ends up seriously bloated. The acting in MISSING is a little wooden and some of the effects can give off that low-budget feel, but studio Zandel Media hasn’t been too overly ambitious and they just about pull it off.
Perhaps we’ve a new generation of gamers who are willing to give the genre a shot. For the rest of us, we may be a little skeptical, but since decades have passed, we may be ready to open that door again.