Movie licensed games have quite the checkered history. They’re generally considered to be abysmal, and this can be for a variety of reasons. Maybe development was rushed, maybe there wasn’t a big enough budget, or maybe the developers just don’t know anything about the movie. These are all exceedingly common factors, so it’s no surprise that most of the games turn out sub-par. However, there are a few notable examples of teams that managed to pull through despite everything being stacked against them. Obviously I haven’t played every movie game ever made, but I’d like to credit the ones I played growing up.
These are in no particular order, so don’t take their place as a hard indication of quality. However, I do plan to pay lip service to titles I feel are under appreciated.
Number 5: Spider-Man 2 (PS2)
Honestly? The only thing sub-par about this one is the story, and even that’s only due to the forced relationship with the movie. When the game is allowed to come into its own, it actually has quite a few fun and creative moments that draw straight from the comics. The voice cast is… mostly solid. It varies. Most of the good ones are once again, characters that didn’t show up in the movie. Some members of the movie’s cast do a good job, even Tobey Maguire manages to get some funny lines in.
Gameplay is fun, innovative, and skill based. It’s a beat ‘em up, but that’s not where the gameplay shines brightest (not that it’s bad, quite the opposite). To this day, this game has the best web swinging mechanics gaming has ever seen. It’s entirely physics and skill based. You latch onto something, and the rest is in your hands. You even have some control over where your line goes. Late game play practically turns swinging through the city gracefully into an art form. There are even a lot of side challenges to compliment this aspect. And in regards to the beat ‘em up aspect: This game actually invented the combat system that the Batman Arkham games have lately been falsely credited for.
If you haven’t picked this one up yet, it’s absolutely worth the five dollars you’ll likely pay for it.
Number 4: Jaws Unleashed (PS2)
Yeah, really. You might not have even known there was a game based on Jaws. But this exists alright, I played it quite a bit as a kid. Yeah my parents didn’t know what ratings were either. A game where you swim around as a killer shark and wreck shit. Why the hell was this only attempted once? I hear this game is getting a spiritual successor soon, but I don’t know much about it. The game was surprisingly educational too, imagine that. This was a free roam game with expansive wildlife, and you could collect descriptions full of facts about each one. Not to mention trivia about the movies and books. If you liked movies and marine life, this was a surprisingly comprehensive package.
The gameplay is a mixed bag. But in their defense, this was completely new territory. Games based entirely underwater playing as an animal were only attempted before on the 2D consoles. There’s a story here, but I never finished it. It’s basically just you going around and wrecking shit like the free roam, but in slightly more interesting ways. The quality varies. But hey, any game that lets you fight a giant killer squid as a giant killer shark gets automatic points for creativity. It was an ambitious title for the generation honestly.
It tried a lot of things. Failed at some of them, but damn if it didn’t try. This is a huge open world game with a fully realized underwater map where you play as a raging wild beast. It’s the same kind of fun you get from games like the old GTA’s. It’s worth a look if you can get your hands on it.
Number 3: Predator Concrete Jungle (PS2)
I’m gonna level with you: This is one of my favorite games of all time. I feel it’s very underappreciated. It’s not technically based on any movie. But it’s based on a movie license, and it came out during the run of AVP movies. Besides, when else am I gonna get to talk about this in a list? Yeah you heard that right, it’s not based on any of the films. It’s a completely original story. A good one too, if I’m being honest. You play as a Predator, on a quest to reclaim his lost honor by cleaning up the mess you created on Earth. The prologue (and one later mission) has you tearing through gangsters in 1940’s America. However, the game really takes place in the same location in an honest to God cyberpunk future setting.
Gameplay is solid for the most part. It can be a little wonky, but what game trying something new isn’t? You feel like an apex alien hunter, jumping and climbing around the buildings of this dystopia. It’s a hack ‘n slash game with a surprising amount of stealth opportunities. You have a lot of tools to help you in both cases, and secrets to find that will upgrade you. Thanks to the events of the prologue, the existence of your species is at least known to the controlling powers of Earth. Which is basically a story excuse to allow you to handle things pretty much any way you please. You’re almost never penalized for exposing yourself, but you’ll often find stealth the easier course of action. One moment you’ll be flaying gangsters and hanging them from billboards, and the next you’ll be ripping apart police mechs.
This is a unique game with a fair bit to unpack. It’s got a lot of style all its own. It attempts to tell the story of an honor bound alien that never actually speaks, even to it’s own kind in cutscenes. It has surprisingly good gameplay with well realized mechanics. It’s a diamond in the rough I’d say, an underrated classic. Give it a look if you haven’t already.
Number 2: Aliens vs. Predator Extinction (PS2)
This kinda falls under the same reasoning as the last pick. Despite being based on a movie license and releasing during the run of the AVP films, this too tells its own original story. I can’t remember much about said story, but I recall it being at least okay. This is a strategy game, on the Playstation 2 and Xbox. It’s unique for that reason alone, and it functions surprisingly well. There’s a campaign for each faction: The Aliens, the Predators, and the humans (no, I’m not gonna expose how much of a nerd I am by calling the alien factions by their real names). Each one tells a part of an overarching story, much like the first person AVP games released on PC.
You’d think a strategy game played with a gamepad wouldn’t work very well, but this game actually paved the way for it. It’s the first console strategy game I remember seeing. Each faction has its own unique functions, and their own unique gameplay styles as a result. The campaigns are decently long, and simple enough with enough variation for a good bit of replay value. Which is good, because that leads into my biggest gripe with the game. There are no free or custom modes like what PC strategy games often have. You’re only option for that sort of gameplay is to pick a mission you like and neglect the objectives. It’s really a shame.
All in all, you should check this one out. I don’t think it really ever got the attention it deserved.
Number 1: Small Soldiers (PS1)
This is one of the main games I think of when someone says “under appreciated” or “hidden gem”. This honestly had the makings of a classic, clearly constrained by either time or budget. Maybe even both. The story is entirely separate from the movie, actually taking place in the fictional world of Gorgon. Some clear effort went into flushing out the universe, thought put into how things function and the architecture. They really tried with this one. They even got Michael Giacchino to do the soundtrack, the man who composed the iconic Medal of Honor score. It’s tribal hymns mixed with inspirational military themes and it’s fucking fantasic. They were really passionate about this, and it’s one of the most unique games I’ve ever played. It has a presence and style all its own.
The game is a third person shooter with the level design of an old school first person shooter. It’s actually a blend I quite like. It also has some adventure game platforming which… mostly works. Honestly gameplay is pretty good, even despite its age. There’s ammo types (essentially acting as your different weapons), spawnable companions, controllable turrets, drivable mechs, it’s great fun. Unfortunately, the biggest downside to the game is it’s draw distance. It’s low, even by PS1 standards. It surprisingly doesn’t hinder gameplay too much, but it’s still a shame you can’t appreciate the artwork more. Earnest effort went in to making this feel like it’s own world. This game even has competitive multiplayer modes, makes me wonder if they were hoping for a PC release.
If you’re looking for something a little different, try to get your hands on Small Soldiers. There’s PSX emulation software out there, so you probably don’t even need a console to play it these days. I recommend this one, it’s a fun game.