Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mass Effect, More Realistic than Call of Duty?

Now you may be asking, how is a game about aliens, ancient evil robots quadruple the size of the Titanic, and spaceships more realistic than a modern-day war shooter set firmly in our level of reality? Well, to answer that, one must look into how we as gamers define realism.

Do we simply refer to realism as making the game look as photo-realistic as possible, à la Crysis? Or maybe you define realism by gameplay that faithfully represents the laws of reality with no hint of supernatural elements, like the current Call of Duty games or the Uncharted series. I keep hearing that people want games to be more realistic, and the vibe I get from this rallying call is that this statement basically means "less Ratchet and Clank, more Heavy Rain," and if that's the case... I hope that never fucking happens. Ever.

Since simple visual photo-realism is simple enough to understand, let's focus instead on physical realism in games. People who want these types of realistic games want things to react just as they would in real life. This not only extends to certain materials acting as they should, whether it be wood breaking or metal bending as it should, like in The Force Unleashed, but it also means that the human character you play as must feel human. Their abilities must be based in our current reality, so no superpowers or futuristic tech that doesn't exist in our world. I don't know about you, but to me, that sounds boring as hell.

I'm not saying realistic games are bad... well, not completely... but if you look at it, their attempts at realism push them further away from the goal. The more things they do to make the games seem more realistic, the more noticeable it is when they overlook something. Take Uncharted 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for examples. Both games go to lengths to make themselves more realistic. They both sport art styles firmly within the boundaries of real life with no artistic deviations, neither one lets you do anything supernatural like shoot fireballs from your eyes, use biotics or fly with the power of dreams, and both games are set on our quaint little planet Earth complete with real-life locations such as Moscow and Washington D.C.

And yet, they are both completely unrealistic.

They both also share a gameplay mechanic from Halo and Mass Effect, namely regenerating health. Mass Effect and Halo explain this function with a rebounding shield and suits of armor, while Uncharted and Modern Warfare simply let you grow back your health with no explanation as to how regular soldiers and a really bland average white guy can do such a thing.

It may be weird to think about at first, depending on how you judge realism in a game, but the way Mass Effect combines its gameplay mechanics with its lore makes it a much more realistic game than something like Call of Duty can ever hope to be. To me, realism is giving a credible scientific or logical explanation for the stuff in the game, and Mass Effect has an entire library of information about even the most out-there shit in its universe. The biology of alien species, the science behind your energy shields, all of it is explained in the game's Codex, and quite well I might add. We all know the main reason there are no male asari in Mass Effect is because of limits in the development of the game, but BioWare went ahead and wrote it into the backstory of the species, turning the asari into a mono-gendered race. They built the backstory of the game's setting to fit with their limitations in game design and budget constraints, and did a damn good job of making it believable.

It's the same with Halo, we know Master Chief's energy shield and super strength is from the advanced MJOLNIR armor he wears. Unlike Mass Effect, it doesn't go into great detail about the science behind it, but at least it's there. High-tech suits of armor reverse-engineered from . I don't need to know every detail about how it works, I just need a basic explanation at the very least. People who pioneer for more realism in games always diss Halo because to them, "you can jump 50 feet in the air, that's lame and unrealistic." However, the

Modern Warfare 2, on the other hand, gives no reason as to why the hell your average U.S. Army soldier can regenerate himself like he's Wolverine or something. Sure, he's just as vulnerable to bullets as an actual human being, but with regenerating health he's pretty much a mutant. Really, you could take a million bullets to the chest in one level of the game and still be fit as a fiddle at the end (unless it's a cutscene). We're just supposed to believe that the bullets collecting in his increasingly Swiss cheese-ish body just disappear, and the bullet holes covering his mangled torso just close up within a few seconds. Sure,

Uncharted 2 pulls this shit even worse, since not only is Nathan Drake channelling Weapon X with every perforation caused by gunfire while wearing nothing but a t-shirt and jeans, his enemies and even the environments take unbelievable amounts of punishment. One of the enemies in Uncharted 2, those Team Fortress 2 Heavy wannabe motherfuckers with mini-guns, take 2 to 3 rockets to take down. Rockets, as in from an RPG! How in the holy mother of FUCK does a human being survive a goddamn bazooka to the face?! Let alone two or three! There is no amount of body armor in the world that can prevent complete disintegration via rocket launcher! If they at least looked like something other than human beings, that would be fine, but they're just people. Nathan Drake is just a regular person, all his enemies are just normal people, and even those yeti things near the end turn out to just be people wearing really elaborate Halloween costumes, and then they try to quickly justify this by saying they eat magic resin that grants them the ability to shrug off more bullets to the face than is usually possible, even though the cannon fodder soldiers with a resin-free diet are almost as resilient.

Both games pull this shite in various ways. The James Bond-esque snowmobile chase in MW2 and the logically retarded train level in Uncharted 2 stand out. Sure, the snowmobile section was exhilarating and fun, but it made no sense. In a completely fantasized world, these events could be justified by simply redesigning the setting of the game into something completely unrecognisable by human eyes, thus giving the developers freedom to make up their own laws of physics for this bastard world of unrealistic bombastic excitement. As it stands, the environment in these games is one we recognize, and thus know enough about to know that a simple train cannot take missile after missile from an Apache helicopter without being completely derailed faster than you can say "logical fallacy."

In that regard, even Ratchet and Clank, or even Mario games, are more realistic than games that actually try for realism. Both of those games are absolutely, unquestionably detached from any semblance of reality as we understand it, but at the same time they adhere perfectly to their own laws of nature, mostly because their laws of nature are completely made up. But still, that works. When you see Ratchet jump four times his own height, you don't question it. He's a fucking Lombax, it's just how they roll. Compare that to the very beginning of Shadow Complex, a game where you play a very normal person, an "everyman" with no superpowers at all, where you start off as Jason Fleming with nothing but a flashlight, and yet a seemingly normal human being is capable of leaping twice his goddamn height. Someone tell that Nathan Drake clone that he's not a damn kangaroo, and not even NBA superstars can jump that high!

I'm not saying Shadow Complex is trying to be realistic, because it's not. Because of that, nobody takes issue with Jason Fleming's ridiculous jumping power. But games set in reality always have that hurdle to jump, as even though Shadow Complex isn't trying to be realistic, I still found myself hung up on how the fuck he could jump like that.

Halo and Mass Effect tailored the backstory and universe of their games to suit the gameplay and offer a complete sense of immersion and understanding while also making the universe of the game more realistic to the point where, even though they don't mean to, they feel like they could very well take place in the same universe as me in the future, while games like Modern Warfare and Uncharted feel odd from a logical standpoint when they try to actually be video games, and as a result I lose any sense of immersion when the laws of physics that I am familiar with are brutally raped in these games that are supposed to take place in the same universe as me, and yet don't feel like they do

Everyone keeps saying that this generation is the start of realistic games, and if by that they only mean photo-realism from a graphical standpoint, then yes, as of 2009 we're off to a decent start, although personally I don't mind waiting a long time for the day when beautiful stylized art is overthrown by lifelike graphics. However, if you want to point out a game that truly represents the start of realism in games from a physical and scientific standpoint, then you have to look at otherwise unthinkable choices, like Halo and Mass Effect. If I was to say I wanted a realistic game, I would say that I want believability instead of adherence to the laws of nature that I myself am forced to follow in real life. A game can be completely out of its mind and still be realistic, as long as it gives an at-best understandable explanation for what it's letting you do in the game. With that in mind, you could have a game where you do in fact shoot fire out of your eyes and still call it a realistic game, as long as you explain why you're able to shoot fireballs from your retina, whether it be a genetic mutation, pyro-optic implants or simply magic. That way, everybody wins!

Well, except for the people who want games to be realistic in the sense that everything that exists in that game also exists in real life... but where's the fun in a game like that?

Then again, if you're still wanting über-realistic games that are devoid of the supernatural to pave the way to a future where games of that sort overthrow the majesty of games like Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario Bros. or Ratchet and Clank, then I have only one thing to say...


  1. I find I'm not a big fan of "realistic" games. What you're talking about is something developers struggle with. Check any gaming forum and you'll find people arguing over graphics like they're everything. They want photo realistic graphics so developers try to do that to catch eyes. Problem is reality isn't that fun so developers have to bend the rules to make it fun.

  2. I'm, basically the same. I find games like EDF 2017 more fun than say Uncharted.


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