If you’re not including video games in your home theater demo rotation, you’re doing it wrong. I say that for two reasons. First, video games are as much the bedrock of popular culture these days as movies and music. Depending on whether or not you add hardware (like consoles and controllers) to the equation, video games either rival or outright obliterate Hollywood and the music industry in terms of dollars spent by consumers on an annual basis. Needless to say, you deserve a piece of that action. Second, video games these days are approaching a level of audiovisual excellence only dreamt of just a few years ago. At the best of times, today’s modern gaming experience is like stepping into a movie, complete with photorealistic imagery and stunning cinematic 7.1 sound, mixed on the fly. And even when things get a little more abstract, playing games on a perfectly dialed-in home theater still makes for an eye-blistering, aurally immersive interactive experience the likes of which most gamers will sadly never experience. If you’re looking to show off just how amazing that experience can be, here are a few good places to start.
Believe it or not, there are actually video gamers who couldn’t care less about Star Wars (not that I know any of them personally; I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life). Heck, you may even run across gamers who eschew wars and violence in any form. So, what do you do to hook them?
Flower for PS4 offers a free-flowing interactive meditation experience
Load up this Zen gaming masterpiece and plop a controller in their hands. Flower on the PS4 is actually a spiffy new higher definition remaster of an older PS3 game that absolutely consumed me back in 2009. Although, really, it’s questionable whether or not it should be called a game at all. It’s more like a free-flowing interactive meditation, with no time limits, no points to score, no baddies to kill, and no defined objectives. Even the controls are simplicity incarnate. For the most part, all you do is tilt the controller side-to-side, to-and-fro. Those movements are translated into the motion of your onscreen counterpart, which is best described as wind-swept petals floating through the dream of a potted flower.
So, what do you actually do in the game? Essentially, you float on the wind and capture more flower petals, which unlock new grassy lands to float through. If it sounds simple, it is, but the newly remastered visuals are anything but. Every blade of grass in the expansive environments you sweep through is individually rendered in stunning 1080p at 60 frames per second. And while you’re soaking up the sumptuous graphics, you’ll also be washed in 7.1 channels of delicious PCM sound effects (mostly the swishing of breezes and the rustling of leaves) accompanied by a happy little musical score that sounds like warm cocoa on a cold day.
All in all, it’s the sort of video game you could imagine the Dalia Lama being really good at, and it’s one of the most captivating home theater experiences you’ll ever find for $6.99.
Never Alone (PS4, Xbox One, PC, Wii U)
Another indie game that makes for an absolutely brilliant (but unexpected) home theater demo is Kisima Ingitchuna, also known by the English name Never Alone. It’s a pretty cheap download, in the neighborhood of $15 most days. But I would put it up against even the most expensive AAA games these days just in terms of its ability to delight the senses. In a way, Kisima Ingitchuna is a sort of throwback to the video games of old. It’s a platform game, if you’re familiar the term (and if not, think Super Mario Bros. or Earthworm Jim and you’ve got the gist, at least in terms of gameplay).
Never Alone (aka Kisima Ingitchuna) is a bit of a throwback video game.
But ignoring the running-jumping-climbing-things bits, Kisima Ingitchuna is genuinely a work of art. And I mean that on two levels. On one level, it’s a work of cultural art, which quickly becomes apparent as you play it. It was developed in conjunction with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council as a way of preserving the folklore of the Inupiaq and other Alaska Native people.
On another (perhaps for our purposes more important) level, though, it’s simply a feast for the eyes. Put simply, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film this visually stunning and beautifully animated. If you’re simply looking to kill a few minutes of spare time (or give a quick home theater demo), it’s easy to get lost in the visuals of the game, which are mostly a study in stark contrasts: deep, inky blacks offset by the grays and whites of the snowy Alaskan wilderness. The level of detail in the environments, the characters, even in the weather effects makes for the sort of video demo that display designers dream of. Really, the fact that you’re in control of it all is little more than a bonus.
Star Wars Battlefront (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
To create everything in this game, the developers scoured the Lucasfilm archives, used photogrammetric scanning to capture every detail of the props and costumes from the original films, and even visited the original shooting locations to capture elements and references for use in the game. The result? Honestly, the battlefields look frighteningly more lifelike than they do in the Blu-ray releases of the films.
A clip from the Star Wars Battlefront video game
More staggering still is the 7.1-channel live surround sound mix created for the game. Everything from the whizzing blaster bolts, to the whooshing TIE Fighters, to the stomp-stomp-stomp of AT-AT legs pounding the ground pulls you into the worlds of Star Wars like no game ever has before, and composer Gordy Haab’s brilliant ode to John Williams’ original score music ties it all together in one incredibly captivating audio experience.
What’s more, a good surround sound system actually gives you a tactical advantage in the game. One of the key things to doing well in the game is simply knowing where things are: your enemies, attacking ships, loot-packed drop pods that come crashing into the ground from above. With a great surround sound system, you can actually hear where these things are, and where you need to focus your attention. And if you can get your front paws on the last Dolby Atmos demo disc, there’s a lengthy snippet of action from the game with mind-boggling object-based surround sound in full effect.