During The Fourth Generation of Console Video Games, when just about every game was making the leap to 3D, graphical fidelity was all the rage. The better your game looked, the better it would sell. One way developers achieved this was rendering certain 3D models with a higher-level quality than the game could actually achieve beforehand.
The other way to make your game look great? Just use real people, of course! By filming actors either in front of a green screen or using cheap sets, you could have the best-looking cutscenes on the market.
In theory, at least.
In reality, many of the cutscenes were of crude-quality, often (though not always) harder to take seriously than their pre-rendered counterparts. This was largely due to inexperience, both with the actors — some of whom were actually the developers themselves, who had zero acting experience whatsoever — and those in charge of writing and directing these live-action cutscenes. Animation and voice acting is a very different beast from real people that are interacting with each other in the same room. Recreations of the live-action actors' appearances for the in-game graphics usually look off when placed side-by-side with the real thing, especially in the days of more primitive graphics.
Some developers weren't happy with just using live-action for their cutscenes and opted to make entire games with them, which lead to the birth of the Interactive Movie. See that page for more details.
Some games, despite not utilizing live-action for any in-game cutscenes, still used it for their promotional material. Sometimes these trailers were simply recreations of pivotal in-game moments, other times they provided extra world-building, and other times still they had basically nothing to do with the game at all, only featuring the characters doing random or mundane things, the latter of those mostly being reserved for more family-friendly titles.
Like pre-rendering, live-action cutscenes have seen a significant decline in use, due to both game engines getting more powerful and capable of rendering more photorealistic graphics, and also just the inherent limitations of them. Motion Capture has also proven to be a much more seamless option for integrating actors' appearances and/or non-vocal performances into a game since it allows their movements and facial expressions to be mapped onto an in-game model, rather than jarringly cutting to live-action footage. Some games do still use them from time-to-time, though.
The term "Full Motion Video" or "FMV" is mostly used these days to refer to Live-Action Cutscenes, though the term actually refers to Pre-Rendered Cutscenes in general, regardless of whether or not they're live-action.
- Enter the Matrix: Some of the live-action cutscenes were filmed alongside The Matrix Reloaded for the video game. Said cutscenes were later repackaged as a special feature for the DVD and Blu-ray collection sets.
- Steel Harbinger depicts it's cutscenes in live-action format, as well as unlockable video clips mid-game detailing the alien infestation. The rest of the game is depicted via Motion Capture.
- Alan Wake:
- Everything on-screen on any in-game TV is shot in live-action, including whenever Alan himself is on screen. Most notably, the Show Within a Show "Night Springs", which is an homage to The Twilight Zone.
- Alan Wake's American Nightmare uses live-action for cutscenes and other in-game videos.
- Alan Wake II continues the tradition with live-action footage appearing on in-game TVs and projected films. This is utilized to Mind Screw-y effect during Alan's portions of the game, which has some screens that need to be interacted with in order to progress, replacing the gameplay with the video, and turning the in-game Alan that the player was just controlling into the live-action one.
- Batman Begins used scenes from the movie for its cutscenes, though since the game was actually released one day before the movie, the scenes used are hastily edited to avoid spoilers and are largely devoid of context.
- Bram Stoker's Dracula on the Sega CD used clips from the movie for its cutscenes.
- Control has various film reels and VHS tapes interspersed across the Oldest House with various live-action cutscenes showing things such as onboarding tutorials for new employees and a creepy puppet show explaining aspects of the Astral Plane.
- Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors, a spin-off game in which the player is trying to rescue the first seven Doctors from the Master, had live action cutscenes in which the Master made derogatory remarks about the Doctors and taunted the player. This is pretty much the only thing the game is remembered for, as it was Anthony Ainley's last performance as the Master before his death. The cutscenes are included as an extra on the DVD release of Ainley's last TV story, "Survival".
- Grand Theft Auto 2 used live-action cutscenes where Claude Speed was angrier and more talkative.
- In Zelda's Adventure, the cutscenes are of live-action people portraying the characters. Interestingly, the character sprites are also live-action people shot from above, pasted into the otherwise computer-generated world.
- Iron Helix: Every character is portrayed by a live actor, and since everybody on board the ship is already dead, you never interact with any of them, so they are all relegated to cutscenes. Most cutscenes are shot with a green filter over them to mimic the ship's screens, but the Sega CD version features an exclusive ending cutscene shot in full-color.
- Jurassic Park (Sega CD) uses live-action to demonstrate navigation between areas of the park, and a computer in the visitor's center provides you with video phone calls from an Emily Shimura as well as a representative of BioSyn.
- Myst: All characters are portrayed by live actors in every game in the series, except for Myst V: End of Ages, which used real-time graphics to portray its characters. Live actors' faces were still scanned and used as character models, however.
- Shivers (1995)
- The first game begins and ends with live-action cutscenes of your "friends" locking you on the museum grounds and arriving to find you, respectively. There are also three ghost scenes that use live actors.
- Shivers Two: Harvest of Souls has a big sequence for the final confrontation — which can end in three different ways — that uses live actors.
- Ween: The Prophecy uses short, looped live-action scenes to depict characters speaking to the player. These scenes are heavily tinted so as to better blend in with the background graphics.
- Power Rangers Zeo Vs The Machine Empire uses recycled stock footage from the show in its between-level cutscenes, mostly of King Mondo and Queen Machina.
- The Korean gangster drama Yainsidae has a video game adaptation titled "Age of Wanderer" that uses Stock Footage from the show as cutscenes. Which seems like an odd choice considering the video game is named differently from the show to make itself more distinct.
- LocoCycle uses live-action for cinematics between levels.
- MegaRace: The host of the in-universe show "MegaRace", Lance Boyle, is played by Christian Erickson, who portrays him in every game. Erickson is set to reprise the role in the upcoming reboot, assuming it ever gets released. Lance has an assistant in MegaRace 2, played by Alice Evans.
- Need for Speed featured live-action actors acting in front of pre-rendered backgrounds in Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005) and Need for Speed: Carbon.
- Off-World Interceptor used live-action for most of its cutscenes. In the Extreme port, the cursing was censored.
- Road Rash had numerous live-action cutscenes, ranging from loading up on weapons before a race to a Badass Biker dragging a cowboy by the belt after a win.
- Roundabout's cutscenes are live-action clips specifically made to look like a 70s B-movie.
- Twisted Metal
- The first game was meant to have these for its cutscenes but they were cut in the final product. They were showcased as extra content in the PS2 version of Twisted Metal Head-On.
- The 2012 game, likely harkening back to said first game, uses them in full for its story mode.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops uses live-action during the game itself multiple times, though this is mostly to get around the aging id Tech 3's inability to load multiple levels at a time.
- CyClones uses live-action actors for the opening FMV and level transitions to portray politicians and scientists behind the Havoc project. Due to the work being a budget game from the 1990s, according to the producers the live-action parts went overbudget and puts a dent in the game's production.
- The cutscenes in Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II were done with live actors and CG models interacting on matte backgrounds.
- Strafe features live-action cutscenes in its tutorial, fitting with its 90s look.
- Her Story is a series of interviews of a woman played by a live-actress.
- Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (Sega): The Sega CD version is a bunch of episodes condensed down to just their action scenes, utilizing quicktime prompts for its gameplay.
- Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective similarly plays out as a series of witness interrogations and miscellaneous investigation conducted by Holmes and Watson using actors and sets.
- Earthsiege and its plethora of oddly named sequels used live-action portraits for mission briefings, but the majority of the cutscenes were pre-rendered.
- Omega Boost: All human characters are portrayed by live-actors, and dubbed over by professional voice actors. The intro of the game is basically a Short Film establishing the war between humanity and AlphaCore. The Omega Boost and its pilot, Lester, are shown beginning their journey, and a brief scene of Lester encountering (and annihilating) one of AlphaCore's fleets, all set to a Real Song Theme Tune (different depending on which version you play). Throughout the game, several more live-action shots of Lester are shown, though these last only a few seconds each. The ending to the game is another live-action scene coupled with some real-life ENIAC Stock Footage.
- Command & Conquer used live-action for every cutscene in every game, except for Command & Conquer: Renegade and Command & Conquer: Generals. Westwood Studios's casting director, Joseph D. Kucan, played the series' Big Bad Kane in every game after recording some placeholder footage for the first entry. Later entries included more high-profile names like Tricia Helfer and Billy Dee Williams.
- Dune 2000 and its sequel Emperor: Battle for Dune replaced the 2D illustrations of the original Dune II with live-action actors, including moderately well-known actors like John Rhys-Davies and Michael Dorn.
- Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War used live-action cutscenes as a deliberate stylistic choice: its Framing Device is an Osean journalist conducting a series of interviews with Belkan War veterans to investigate the mysterious pilot going by the callsign "Cipher". Said interviews star live actors and punctuate gameplay segments where their characters fight either alongside or against Cipher.
- Biing! – Sex, Intrigen und Skalpelle uses one for the tutorial, which features a blonde model dressed as a nurse, gradually stripping down to her underwear, as she explains the game's mechanics. A disclaimer at the beginning of the video assures us that she is an actual medical professional.
- Warhawk (1995) had live-action cutscenes before each mission.
- Wing Commander:
- Wing Commander is noted for being one the few early examples of live-action cutscenes that actually did them well, using quality movie actors and solid writing, with Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom being a particular standout. (Unlike III, it was shot on film with actual sets, and had a stronger script than the later Prophecy.)
- Metal Gear Solid often used live-action stock footage in its (in)famously long-winded cutscenes about real-world issues.
- At Dead of Night uses live-action actors in every cutscene, as well as every Jump Scare. In fact, most of the game really feels like you're exploring a live-action movie, and less like you're playing a game.
- Resident Evil used live-action actors in its opening and Multiple Endings cutscenes, as well as a character gallery.
- Resident Evil 3 (Remake)'s opening cutscene jumps between a live news broadcast about the T-Virus outbreak in Racoon City, Umbrella Corps. publicity ads, and footage of some scientists creating and activating Nemesis, all shot in live-action. Everything else in the game is graphics.
- Inscryption shows video clips of a guy named Luke Carder of his takes for his YouTube videos and blogs of him finding and playing the game Inscryption in between parts of the game. The game you're playing is actually a recording of Luke playing the game.
- Power Rangers Zeo: Full Tilt Battle Pinball is a pinball game which liberally recycles clips from its source material, both for cutscenes and bonus alerts.
- An ad for the canceled free-roam horror game, Dead Rush, featured a live-action bit at the start of a reporter reporting on the events of the city and set to enter into it through underground access... right before her cameraman and she are attacked by an unseen monster.
- The ad campaign for the original Driver featured Antonio Fargas of Starsky & Hutch fame; he would later voice Tobias Jones in its sequel.
- Halo's ad campaigns often feature live-action elements.
- Halo 3 had an extensive ad campaign titled "Believe" which includes several live-action shorts that take place years after the end of the Human-Covenant War, and revolve around Master Chief's legacy.
- Halo 5: Guardians had live-action ads featuring the public reacting to Master Chief's alleged death. Each ad has a counterpart which showed that he was still alive, and heavily implied to be on-the-run from the UNSC.
- Resistance 3 was announced with a live-action trailer set to "Masters of War", featuring a group of survivors riding a train before being ambushed by a group of Chimera.
- Animal Crossing: The original game had multiple ads that featured real people in full-body suits that resembled the in-game characters.
- Ratchet & Clank had several live-action ads of people testing real-life versions of the weapons from the games. Each ad involved the weapon working surprisingly well at first... and then a little too well.
- Crash Bandicoot used a full body Crash costume for its early ads. These were brought back for some old-school goodness for the release of the N. Sane trilogy.
- Deus Ex Universe
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had a live-action ad featuring the Dragonborn entering a village under attack from a dragon.