After a spate of FPS madness, I recently returned to the raceway world of Forza 3. It is sometimes nice to break away from the shotgun-in-the-face stuff and play something with a bit more realism and challenge. Turns out, with Forza 3, I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d tried to invest in a company that sold sandwiches made of poo while using the sales pitch of “tasty”.
At first I was optimistic. I Had a few online races and invariably lost them all to folk in much faster cars on tracks that featured fewer corners and bends than an airport runway. So I opted for the Bugatti Veyron, the previous title holder of the fastest road car in the world. But, yet again, I was trumped by other players who used cars which were one step down from a jet fighter. It didn’t help that in the process of racing I was shunted, several times, into the tyre wall, which resulted in a damaged steering column that only wanted to go left. It was then that I became discouraged at this distinct lack of realism in a realistic driving game, and stormed off like a four-year-old with no lollypop.
Now I’m not going on about how the cars in Forza handle or how the mechanics and physics of the cars react to impacts or changes in the camber of the track. The point I’m getting on is how the players themselves react in any game. If those Forza races had taken place in a high-profile competition, in front of millions of fans at a real racetrack, I would have been the hands down winner every time. I would probably have won every race on a technicality – with all the other contenders being disqualified for unsporting behaviour (or because they were on their way to the hospital with a steering wheel for a nose).
Realism has been the shortfall of many games and the success of others. Modern Warfare is one of the more triumphant titles in this regard. The graphics, as we all know, are excellent and the game-play is intuitive. But all of Modern Warfare’s spontaneity revolves around firefights. Infinity Ward made it dangerous and threatening.
But what if I want go beyond the pops, bangs and whistles? If you take a step back from any game that prides itself as being “realistic” you’ll immediately notice how many of them fail in this regard. Realism depends on the level of responsibility that is placed on a person and the penalties that result from failure. In a game, failure usually results in little more than waiting for a respawn, being carjacked on Halo or loosing a certain weapon, because in all of these examples you’re probably dead. Who cares though? Dying, loosing a life, loosing a territory, a flag, round or crate has little adverse effect on the way you play. Sure, next time through you may be a bit more careful around a certain area or against a certain opponent, but in the long run nothing will change. But there are other factors.
In team games, even with close friends, there isn’t much of an obligation to intervene when your partners are being shot at. The worst thing that can happen is they’ll die and respawn. I wouldn’t imply you shouldn’t intervene when your friends are getting hammered. (In fact, you often get a nice warm feeling when you save the day or when a friend turns up to save you at just the right moment, but I digress.) The underlying issue is that there is no real pressing motivation to keep you or your buddies alive. And that is inherently unrealistic.
Those of you who are still reading and haven’t lost the will to live may be wondering where I’m going with this.
Well, lets go back to the Forza example, but let’s assume it’s a real race. You’ll immediately notice that if you push the car too much, and it rolls, you may end up being scraped off the track with a spatula. This is a major consequence, and it’s something that not a lot of games successfully convey. In most games today, there isn’t that weighty sense that “If it all goes wrong now, I’m screwed.”
Most gamers don’t jump into a game of Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Modern Warfare 2, or Bad Company 2 with a bunch of strangers and decide to work together as a bonded unit. As a game player, you don’t keep your head down when the bullets fly because you want to live. You do it because you want to win. The motivations of the player to stay alive aren’t exactly based on realistic consequences.
This may be an area where Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) have managed to push ahead. In a constantly evolving universe where your avatar, character, or ship is being affected in a persistent and consequential manner, the penalties are far more relevant. But MMOG’s still have a long way to go.
In truth, I doubt any game will be able to deliver the true grit of reality because if they do, then you might as well be there in person. That being said, I would like to see a gaming environment where a sense of responsibility is far more prominent, where people take things more seriously without loosing that enjoyable sense of fun and adventure. Maybe one day I’ll see this happen and subsequently not be shot in the back by a team member in Halo 3, or pushed into the tyre wall in Forza. Until that happens, I’ll just have to resort to passionate cursings while waiting for a respawn.