A game is worthless if it isn't good as a game first and foremost. Cutscenes can either accent this or detract from it - it depends on the execution.
Two polar opposite styles of doing cutscenes that immediately come to mind are Metal Gear Solid 4 and Gears of War 3.
We've all heard about the former, and its pletheora of long-winded cutscenes (including the string of them after the final battle - which is longer than some feature-length movies, clocking in at around 90 minutes)... The most common thing I hear about the game from level-headed and intelligent individuals, is that they genuinely enjoyed the parts of the game they could play, but the cutscenes break it up just too much. Though I personally feel that the entire saga has a rather interesting story to tell, the absolute mass of cutscenes in MGS4 really detracted from the overall experience - and I think this is the reason there are so many minor interactive elements among them, such as holding a button to see Snake's viewpoint at the moment (which can show some interesting things), or pressing a button to see a quick flashback of an event from a previous game.
On the other end of the cutscene-having spectrum, Gears of War 3 takes an interesting approach. There are no more than a couple cutscenes in the game longer than 45 seconds, by design. This was done because it's one thing to give players a breather between action segments, but it's something else entirely to cause the experience of playing the game to be uneven and bore players who are there to play the game. It tells a story, albeit with some details outright missing, and keeps the important parts actually going forward, and it succeeds pretty well at it.
Of course, if you want to see a particularly-egregious example of cutscenes done in the worst way possible... Just look at the Xenosaga series. Just a tip to developers out there: If you end up feeling it's necessary to prompt someone to save in the midst of a series of cutscenes twice
, you're doing something very, very wrong.
But I think the aforementioned example of Metal Gear Solid 4 bears emphasizing the interactive elements they put into the cutscenes. I think it's a particularly interesting way of doing things, because while the cutscene is going on... Surely the player, were he in the shoes of the protagonist, would be very aware of what's going on, and able to look around and notice specific things other than the enemy of the moment regurgitating his life story. In a sense, it's a more artistic take on the Half-Life school of story events - in these games, there are no cutscenes, just parts where story is, essentially, happening
, but control is never taken away from the player. I think it'd be interesting if more games, when they came up to story-heavy segments or cutscenes, gave some real control to the player to experience optional things like those. Or maybe even have the action of the player during these scenes affect specific story events in different ways, such as changing the outcome of some incident, leading to some different dialogue and perhaps long-term ramifications.
You know, involving the player more in the storytelling of it all - letting the player actually influence the progression of the game, saying "this is your story, do what you will with it" rather than "this is our story, go here to advance it"... Without resorting to some sandboxy crap that sacrificed gameplay for open-endedness.
Originally Posted by CupOfCoffee
I generally hate 'em. I don't mind the ones that are shortish and done with the game's actual graphics engine (see: Ocarina of Time), but the long, drawn out, pre-rendered affairs in the Metal Gear Solids and other such riffraff turn me off.
Er... You know that Metal Gear Solid is one of the series that's stayed away from pre-rendered video almost entirely, right? It's all in-engine stuff except for a handful of things (like one scene narrated by Otacon about nuclear weapons in the first game, and those uncomfortable commercials at the start of MGS4, and only a few other scenes). Everything else was done in real-time.