Full-motion video (FMV) games were huge in the 90s. Rarely were they ever any good, but they were popular. Aviary Studios are the developer and publisher behind a new FMV game called The Gallery. How does the FMV genre of game hold up today and is this one any good? Well, that is what this review is for.
“An art curator is held hostage by a portraitist who threatens to detonate a bomb unless their demands are met. ‘The Gallery’ contains two interactive narratives – set in 1981 and 2021. Both eras are significant periods of socio-political unrest in Britain and there are distinct similarities and differences across the two stories.”
So then, as the blurb there just covered, there are two timelines being played out here one in 1981 and one in 2021. Even though the two stories are 40 years apart, they share a lot of similarities. Both stories are set against unrest in the UK. The protagonists have the same name, Morgan. They are both art curators, both working at Argyle Manor. In both timelines, Argyle Manor is struggling to stay afloat. Both stories feature a portrait artist called Dorian, who wants to paint Morgan. Then, in both timelines, Dorian has a bomb is threatens to detonate it, if their demands are not met. Basically, you are playing the same story, with some differences, 40 years apart.
I use the word ‘playing’ in its loosest possible term. This is an FMV game and you don’t really ‘play’ it, you just experience it. This is a film with some slight and minor interaction. A scene of the film will play and you get to pick one of (usually) two decisions to see how the rest of the film and story pans out. The different choices that you make will lead to different scenes and ultimately, different endings. Each of the two stories features multiple endings. The one set in 1981 has a whopping 12 endings and the one in 2021 has 6.
There are a lot of parallels between the two stories too. Some actors play characters in both tales and some dialogue is repeated verbatim (see the trailer). Some of the scenes play out almost identically too. Even the main characters, Morgan and Dorian, are played by the same actors. Only their characters are reversed depending on which story you chose. Anna Popplewell plays protagonist Morgan in the 1981 story, with George Blagden playing antagonist Dorian. However, in the 2021 story, George Blagden plays protagonist Morgan and Anna Popplewell plays protagonist Dorian. The duality of the storytelling and how the characters and scenes work between the two (otherwise) unconnected tales is really interesting to see.
The 1981 story and the 2021 yarn do follow pretty much the same premise too, but with enough differences to warrant a playthrough of each at least once. All of which brings me to my conclusion…
£12 is what The Gallery will set you back and it is available on everything, including iOS & Android. I admit that is not a bad price point but for me, this is something that is better to watch than ‘play’. In terms of being a game, there really is very little here. I did go through both stories once and despite the fact that there are plenty of scenes and multiple endings that I did not see, I really felt zero compulsion to go through the stories again. This was very much a ‘one and done’ experience for me.
As much as I enjoyed the story, as much as I loved the duality of the storytelling and as great as the acting is, this is really not worth ‘playing’ multiple times. I think that this would’ve worked better as a film experiment than a game. The FMV genre of games is flawed in that, they hardly contain any gameplay… which is the main draw of a game. So, it is not an issue with this particular title, more an issue with the genre as a whole. What worked and what was seen as ‘cutting edge’ back in the early 90s when the FMV genre was everywhere, really fails to work these days.
All being said, even though I felt that this one was a bit ‘flat’ and didn’t pull me in for multiple playthroughs. I still think that, if you are an FMV genre fan, you should look into giving The Gallery a try. The dual story is an interesting concept and the acting is great too. It’s just not a game though.