The Movies is a game aimed at recreating what it feels like to be in charge of a film making studio, and it succeeds admirably - although it's in a way that its makers probably didn't intend.
As anyone who's ever been disappointed by a Hollywood blockbuster can tell you, big box office takings do not necessarily translate to a good film experience. There can be a real gulf between the art and the business of film making, with the two rarely, if ever, meeting successfully. The Movies is essentially two games in one: there's the business-focused tycoon side of the game, which focuses on managing a movie lot and becoming a financial success; and then there's the comprehensive create-a-movie tools which let you unleash your full creativity to make your mini-masterpieces. And just like real life, it's mostly difficult to merge the two into a single coherent experience.
Individually, the game's two parts are impressive in their own right and present fun experiences. The "business" side of the title is a similar to other tycoon games, except this time you're in charge of a movie studio and are tasked with taking it to number one in the film industry heap. This will see you be in charge of everything from building sets, hiring writers, pampering stars' egos, researching new film making technology, maintaining your studio lot, choosing film genres to focus on and much more. The "creative" side presents a surprisingly comprehensive movie making tool which lets players create films and control practically every nuance - right down to lighting and camera angles.
The Movies allows you to play both of its halves individually, but they also both meld into the main single player game. At any time during the running of a movie studio, would-be Spielbergs can access the movie making tool and create a film from scratch (as opposed to having a team of writers automatically create a piece depending on a genre you've selected). Players can then "release" that film to the in-game world, where it's subject to the same critical appraisal as any of the other films made by your team of virtual scriptwriters.
And this is where the disconnect between the game's two halves can appear with jarring effect. Films made in The Movies are judged on a variety of factors to determine whether they're a critical and financial success. These include the novelty of the genre, the relationships of your star with the director, the mood of your actors, how well the set is maintained and more. What this means is any film in The Movies is judged solely on how well you've micro-managed the business side of the game. You can literally spend hours in the create-a-movie tool perfecting your mini-opus, choosing dramatic lighting, individually selecting each prop and costume, forging a coherent storyline, only to have the film open to dire notices and flop at the box office simply because your virtual director and actor didn't get along.
While the two halves of The Movies seem to be approaching the game from different directions, that's not to say that they're not fun to play. The business management side is as polished as any tycoon game has ever been, allowing players a wealth of management options to explore. Players start off with a bare bones movie lot in the 1920s, and have to fight their way to the top by continually building new sets, creating hit films and managing their stars' day to day lives. Creating hit movies also takes some practice. Not only do your sets and stars have to be new and appealing, you'll also have to pick genres that will appeal to the current audiences. The Movies features a world events timeline which informs you of future events which may affect audience demand for genres like comedy, action, sci-fi and romance.
The star system is particularly intricate. The quality of your movies depends greatly on your stars' moods during filming. Moods can be affected by a whole range of factors, including how much they're getting paid, how comfortable they are with other stars and how stressed they are. Stressed stars put in bad performances, and will eventually develop eating or drinking problems. As their fame rises, stars will also become more temperamental, demanding perks like trailers or an entourage.
As with many other tycoon games, The Movies can easily wander into micro-management hell. Having more than a handful of stars, for example, will result in most of your playtime being sucked up by catering to their moods. The game can also frequently throw too much information at you at once. With star moods, scripts being written, films being made, world events occurring and other details happening all at once, your game screen all too often becomes an overwhelming scene of information bubbles. To its credit, The Movies features a comprehensive in-game tutorial which essentially holds your hand through the first decade or so. And with so much packed into the business management side of this game, you'll definitely need the training.
The create-a-movie side is similarly packed with detail. Players can choose from literally hundreds of pre-made scenes to stitch their own films together. While pre-made scenes mean you can't create from scratch, there's enough variety in the scenes provided to make it worthwhile. Add to it the comprehensive suite of tools allowing players to change scenes and it adds up to an extremely powerful tool.
The Movies is an extremely fun package for anyone even remotely interested in films. Tycoon game fans will love the business management side that allows them intricate control of a studio, while wannabe film auteur will happily lose themselves in the extensive create-a-movie facility. Just don't expect your artistic masterpiece to become a super success for your fledgling movie studio.
Keep up to date with the latest games news, reviews and features by signing up to CNET.com.au's free Games Spotlight weekly newsletter. Sign up now!