Sony Pictures’ action-horror-fantasy film Underworld missed its calling. Rather than become another mediocre action flick, as it did, it should’ve switched mediums to one more befitting its gun-toting vampires and constant barrage of lycans. Imagine the cultural impact a project like Underworld could have enjoyed, if Sony had only decided to develop as a playable horror universe.
While a video game titled Underoworld: Eternal War was released in 2004, it received minimal media coverage. IGN only offers a short description of the game, and two start-menu cheat codes. It’s also a pretty hard game to find, but that’s for a good reason — the game is forgettable.
The graphics are blocky and stagnant, the gameplay is nothing more than shoot everything that moves, and it has basically no story. It’s not very good, but if a game franchise had started as a video game and not just tried to work off of what already was, the series would’ve been great.
Although Underworld has four installments to date, none of the films received positive reviews. The series did well enough in the box office to continue getting sequels and prequels, but critical reception has always been poor. The consensus among film critics is that Underworld is a mediocre movie with shallow character development and crazy action despite the meticulous mythology of the world.
Though contemporary games have come to rely more on narrative nuance and character development, when Underworld debuted in 2003, the most popular games on the market were world-builders: Prince of Persia, Max Payne 2 and Silent Hill 3. An Underworld game would have fit right in among those competitors. In 2003, Resident Evil had already released seven games, but Underworld could have been complimentary to that popular world.
The film’s story follows Selene (Kate Beckinsale), a vampire who hunts down and kills lycans. TK MISSING HERE?
Already, the main character is armed and has multiple enemies to combat. That wild and bloody action that yielded critical thumbs-down is exactly what a video game of the same action-horror-fantasy genre would have excelled at. With the movie’s already over-the-top action and gore, gameplay could be very similar to games like Devil May Cry and Bayonetta. Dante, from the former, even has two pistols which he always uses in battle, and with Selene’s vampiric abilities, developers could have added her abilities, including super jumping, speed, and strength, into some seriously compelling gameplay.
Atmospherically, the game would have appeared similar to action RPG Bloodbourne, with it’s dark streets and frightening monsters. The gothic ambiance was one of the few aspects of the movie that some critics actually enjoyed. A game would’ve allowed the director and designers to expand upon that stylistic choice and create a fresh and artfully murky home to these old creatures. A dark game would’ve let fans gloss over the film’s shallow plot, and it would have built a lush, shadowy world of aesthetics instead.
To be quite frank, if gameplay is fun enough and graphics are stunning, a lackluster story or flat characters won’t totally ruined any game, especially if said game had been released in the early 2000s.
The Underworld story would have actually benefitted from switching mediums, not only because there would most likely be another writer and director in charge, but because the narrative is already perfect for dividing up into missions and chapters. That’s not to say video games value weaker stories, but the construction of a video game’s plot is vastly different than the way a film is typically structured. Underworld, despite technically being a film franchise, is suspiciously well-tailored to gaming.
Selene, throughout the film, always has some sort of purpose — one that is constantly changing. Either rescuing the human Michael from the lycans or collecting intel on what the werewolves are up to, she’s always got something to do. And in most, if not all, cases she’s whipping our her guns to shoot someone, so it wouldn’t seem odd to have enemies pop up to add challenges to each mission. Selene acquires new enemies throughout the duration of the film franchise, so the level of difficulty in Underworld gameplay would increase and boredom would decrease.
The fights with enemies would have been more satisfying if they had only been interactive. While the film’s effects weren’t horrible, considering CGI use at the time, they definitely could’ve been better, and with a world that is entirely made up of computer graphics, seeing lycans next to a human won’t seem strange because they’d both be digitally rendered objects.
While Selene or any of the other supernatural beings leaping off buildings or flying backwards from a punch garnered eye-rolls in theaters, a completely animated cut-scene would erase those dumb wires and obvious stunt-person stand-ins, creating more fluid and natural movements.
Having hulking werewolves and sleek vampires with super strength and speed is wasted on a method of storytelling that can’t fully communicate those abilities visually. The first film’s ultimate showdown between an ancient vampire and a hybrid would have been that much more epic, if only the effects had kept up with the battle’s physics. A game could do that; a mid-budget sci-fi action film just couldn’t.
The fifth film in the Underworld series will hit theaters in October, but’s not too late for Underworld to become a revitalized series of video games. Sony Pictures Entertainment does own the rights to the franchise, and Sony also owns PlayStation, so having that organic link between media powerhouses could be a step in the right direction.