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Dutch avatar 1:18 PM on 02.06.2009  (server time)
Should Gamers Have An Expectation Of Semi-Realism?

As I was playing through the Resident Evil 5 Demo, something struck me. Games have for a long time been viewed as a way to immerse yourself in a fantasy world. By nature, that means “realism” can more or less be thrown out the window. But as we move up and forward with technology and time, do we have a rising expectation of realism in games?

Games didn’t always look and feel the way they do now. Remember when a gun consisted of essentially an off-colored “L” in a characters hands and the bullets were a white line going across the screen? We had no expectation of realism with games until they stopped being played on a two-dimensional environment. Playstation and Nintedo 64 were really the first systems that consistently brought what we would have called “realism” to the table. Even with that being said, they were still pixelated enough and “fake” enough to warrant out-of-the ordinary events or situations.

We’ve progressed since then.

Today, “ultra-realistic” is a term that can be used to describe the visuals in many current gen games. The reason for this? Immersion. Developers see high definition visuals as a way to help put the gamer directly into the antagonist’s shoes. Sure there are other ways of doing this, such as motion controls, force feedback peripherals, and 3D glasses (experimental for games), but the developers have complete control over how a game looks. They are hampered only by the vision of their designers, skill of their programmers, and capabilities of the machines they are creating for.

Resident Evil is no exception. Using RE5 as an almost exclusive example in this article, the characters and enemies are rendered to an almost unmatched level of detail. The weapons are perfect replicas, the characters look lifelike (beyond Chris’ too-huge biceps), and even the killer flying beetles, though non-existent in real life (I hope), look lifelike.

We are also seeing ultra-realistic physics in games. Enemies crawl, and pull themselves onto upper ledges, they also fall at what appears to be the normal speed of gravity. Everyday objects, such as helicopters, fly exactly as you would expect them to. When we see something that looks realistic on screen, and it feels like the world reacts the same way as it would in real life,should we have an expectation that the same holds true across all plains for that title?

Understanding that enemies infected with parasites capable of emerging from the necks of their walking, decapitated hosts, the expectation is set to the gamer that their bodies are somehow different than the normal human being. Hence their ability to take loads of damage without going down. But when you shoot them in a leg, they still fall. Shoot them in the arm, they drop what they are holding. They are still limited to the functions and weaknesses of the human structure which makes defeating them less a feat of raw power and more a feat of tactics and strategy.

That is, until you fight a “boss.” When fighting a boss, every expectation you had must be, for some reason, thrown out the window. Though the physics of the world are the same, the graphic realism is the same, and the boss may be nearly identical to the average baddies you’ve killed thousands of, something is inexplicably different. Again, still understanding that “boss” enemies have something more than the regular enemy, the limits are nevertheless gone.

“Larger than life” enemies, such as the axe-toting Executioner you meet in the RE5 demo, or El Gigante from RE4, are obvious exceptions to normal expectations. You would expect that they would be extremely difficult to take down because they are clearly not normal in any sense of the word. No-one expects that a bullet in the knee would take them down because they are well beyond human. They are bigger, more powerful, and less tactical than any normal baddie and defeating them is normally about evading and dishing out damage to their “sweet spots.” But what about a “normal” looking boss, such as the Chainsaw boss in RE5?

The chainsaw boss is normal in every way compared to the average infected, except he has a chainsaw and a creepy burlap sack over his head. Unfortunately, he is far from what you would expect. While playing through the demo, he was impervious to three of my grenades that exploded under his feet, two exploding barrels, several close range rifle shots as well as countless shots from a pistol, many in the head. He doesn’t falter when you shoot out a kneecap, nor does he react when you shoot his arms or even head. Only explosions or doling out certain amount if hit points would make him stumble. It becomes a battle of hit points and raw power, straying from the strategy and gameplay of nearly every other part of the game.

Not that war and action movies or even documentaries always demonstrate strict realism, but we know better. Hell, anyone who has ever watched the History Channel knows that one grenade under someone’s feet will surely cripple them if not chop them down a foot or two. Two grenades will chop them down a couple more feet, and if you get to three grenades you can assume that the target is basically liquefied. If the physics and graphics in a game hold ultra realistic vantage points, shouldn’t this hold at least somewhat true throughout the entire game? I mean, the boss characters don’t mutate into titanium or steel, nor are they diamond coated, are they?

At some point, in my honest opinion, games need to give. We are no longer in an age when enemies and games are looked at as pixels, they are full fledged immersive and lifelike experiences. With that should come a basic expectation of realism in our games. Make sense? What do you think?

[Note: This was originally posted at my blogz here.]

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