The relationship between a video game and film can sometimes be a rocky one. Many times, the transition from one medium to another doesn’t quite go to plan. There have been some absolute successes (looking at you Sonic The Hedgehog!). There have also been many, many failures. Sometimes, however, video games and film get blended together. Which is why I’m writing this article about The Gallery.
Historically, FMV (full motion video) games have bridged the gap between the two mediums. Originating in arcades, CDs helped contribute to the rise of such classics as Night Trap and Phantasmagoria in the early 1990s. Beyond that time period, there’s been significantly less use of FMV since. This is where director Paul Raschid comes in.
Raschid, although not the only creator to use FMV in the modern day, is probably one of the most prolific. His previous works include The Complex and Five Dates, both released in 2020. Not content with using pixels or 3D geometry to tell his stories, he instead uses pre-recorded videos.
The Gallery presents two points in time and two protagonists. The one in 1981 stars Anna Popplewell of The Chronicles of Narnia fame, and the other, George Blagden from Vikings. Each portrays an art exhibition curator preparing for an extremely important weekend in their respective time, with the other taking an antagonistic role. It’s an interesting role and gender flip, one I quite enjoyed. Seeing both chew the scenery as the antagonist was thoroughly entertaining.
Both stories play out in front of a backdrop of immense socio-political unrest. If you have no interest in politics or art, then this might not be for you. The entire game is unapologetically British too, so some of the nods and references might be missed.
Acting-wise, Popplewell and Blagden are obviously the highlights, although others stand out too. Some of the smaller, more cliche roles do come off as slightly awkward. Luckily, nothing plummets into the depths of absolute cringe territory though.
Cinematography is employed smartly here. Shots help elevate the tension of the dialogue and stop some overly charged scenes from becoming too overwhelming. Each variation is essentially based in one location, so itself and the paintings take a starring role. And for a piece entitled The Gallery, so they should.
Thankfully, the use of visual effects is kept to a minimum. One particular explosion looked to be straight out of a pre-made visual effects package. I do completely understand why in-camera effects were not used though. Not everyone has the budget and expertise to be setting off controlled explosions on set. Or maybe they did, and it was poorly implemented.
A mirrored narrative
I’ve seen people complain that each narrative is the same, but I honestly think that’s kinda the point. Even though they encompass different eras, they have a similar association with some form of unrest. If one was feeling overly cynical, the use of the same actors could be seen as a reflection of this. Similar players, in slightly different roles, replaying a similar narrative. Addressing the similarly perceived problems with society decades apart. The downtrodden working class. The over-commercialisation of art. The rich getting richer etc. As I said, if you don’t like an overtly political story in your games, this probably isn’t for you.
There are some changes. Some gender roles are flipped, and choices that can be made result in different outcomes. But there are undeniable similarities throughout. Some of the dialogue is word for word the same, whilst other sentences are changed slightly to reflect the different time periods. There’s variety enough to keep things entertaining, but these similarities do lessen the second narrative whichever order they are played.
What about gameplay?
As one would probably expect, the gameplay is kept to an absolute minimum. The only real input a player has is occasionally deciding between two specific binary choices. These choices spin off to affect the relationships between several characters. The only one that is significantly tracked is the one between the protagonist and antagonist. There’s also a tally of endings found and scenes discovered.
With 18 endings, and over 300 scenes divided between the two stories, this presents plenty of replay value to be had. There’s even an option to skip ahead scenes to get to the choices on a replay. Nice to see a modern quality of life feature like that.
The Gallery recently enjoyed a number of screenings in various cinemas during the London Games Festival between the 29th of March and the 7th of April 2023. Full disclosure, I was given the opportunity to attend a screening of this and interview the director. Sadly, I had to decline on both accounts due to other responsibilities.
Regardless, Raschid’s The Gallery joins the hallowed ranks of FMV games, albeit with much better pacing and less dodgy acting than those released back in the 90s. I hope his recent foray into this art form sparks a new renaissance of the full motion variety, with Raschid as one of a few leading the charge. This does remain to be seen of course. I can’t pretend to know if this form of storytelling has widespread appeal in the modern age, although it does have fewer barriers to entry than something like VR.
Disclaimer: A code was provided for this game to aid in writing this review.