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After all the mystery surrounding what must be Lionhead’s least hyped game, after all your expectations of cinematic glitz and glamour, your first experience of The Movies might be one of mild disappointment. Stick with it. The Movies might look like Theme Park given a cinematic spin and a 2005 makeover, but it’s so much more than first appears.
You see, when the initial tutorial takes you through the basics of running a studio, you’ll be hard pressed to see what makes The Movies different from the average Tycoon game. As with Theme Park, so many years ago, it still seems a case of building resources (the sets, production and staff offices, makeover departments, restrooms, bars and restaurants), adding decorative features (seats, plants, fountains, statues, trees) ensuring your team all pull their weight, everyone is happy, and that paths link everywhere up in the most efficient manner possible. Yes, there are scripts to be written, roles to be filled and movies to be made, but if you were expecting something substantially different to the usual tycoon formula, you might come away feeling short-changed.
But let’s not be so mean: even if The Movies was just a tycoon sim, it would still sit somewhere high above the average. For a start, check out the graphics. Barring Rollercoaster Tycoon 3, The Movies is easily the most attractive tycoon game in town; brightly coloured and slightly cartoony in the best Theme Park tradition, but with a level of detail that goes far beyond anything we’re used to. Somehow, the engine handles scores of characters onscreen at any time – stars, crew, maintenance, flunkies – while managing to imbue each with real personality. You can zoom in from the standard birds-eye view, then get right down to ground level. Watch the assistant call action and work the clapperboard, a drunken star stagger onto set, and the whole cast and crew going through the motions as they shoot the take. You know it’s just Hollywood razzamatazz, but it doesn’t half make you feel involved in this odd way of life.