5 Hilariously Failed Attempts at Video Game Realism (Pt. 2)
Video games let us do things we've always fantasized about but could never actually pull off without ending up in a prison cell, a mental institution, or a closed-casket funeral. But as with every entertainment medium, there are a few brave souls in gaming who declare that they want to make their work realistic, damn it!
It's a nice thought -- in theory. In reality, it just makes everything ridiculous ...
Shenmue Makes You Get a Tedious Job
Shenmue pioneered many staples of video game realism: characters had their own schedules, almost every drawer and box could be obsessively searched, weather changed from day to day, and shops kept their own hours. It's one of the greatest and most influential games of all time. That's why we're immensely thankful that future games did not adopt the idea of making you work a repetitive, soul-crushingly dull day job.
Although we're immensely pissed that future games did not adopt the idea of
high stakes underground dapper duck racing. Get on that shit, GTA.
You see, Shenmue is about a man named Ryo who's trying to track down his father's murderer. Eventually you piece together enough clues to learn that the killer is connected to a local gang that's infamous for harassing dock workers. So of course the logical next step is for you, the player, to get an in-game job driving forklifts. You know, to attract the attention of the gangsters so you can try to get clues from them. It's a good plan that works perfectly, but it takes five tedious days of depressing manual labor to get there.
First you get training from a man who looks like a racist caricature from the 1960s.
"Have you ever noticed how black people look like this, but black video game characters look like this?"
And that's it. You're trained, so get to work. And make no mistake, this isn't some two-minute mini-game. This is an actual goddamn job. Bask in the excitement of the morning shift and the spectacular evening shift. Did you notice that the videos are each 20 minutes long? You've got to work two shifts a day for five days, which means you'll be spending over three hours picking up boxes and driving them around.
It's not like they couldn't have found a way to make this fun. Every day starts with a wildly irresponsible forklift race, and your lunch breaks are mostly spent beating up gangsters. That's a job we want in a video game. All they had to do was skip past the actual labor and get back to the action. But no -- the developers decided that, in the name of realism, you would have to spend three precious hours away from your real-life job ... working a job. You can't skip it. You can't shorten it. You can't phone in sick or tell the boss that your grandma died because her car got hit with a blue shell. Hell, we're surprised they don't make you fill out paperwork and attend a virtual workplace sensitivity seminar.
At the end of the grueling workweek, you're finally rewarded with a big fight ... and then the game abruptly ends on a cliffhanger. That's right: Your forklift job was the game's climax.
At the time it was the most expensive game ever made.
Fable II Makes Your Character Struggle With Chronic Obesity
The big selling point of the fantasy adventure Fable II is that your hero changed in realistic ways based on your actions. Swing your sword a lot and you'll get muscular. Be a jerk to everyone and people will avoid you. Have a lot of unprotected sex and you'll get STDs (yes, really). Overeat and you'll end up looking like a latter-day Marlon Brando.
But unlike the months of living off fried chicken and milkshakes that real-life obesity requires, in Fable II you can go from slim to fat in literally a minute. Just binge on 20 apple pies, and instead of vomiting and crying in shame, you'll balloon out like you ate the wrong candy in Willy Wonka's factory.
Although your Oompa Loompas are far more stylish.
But whatever -- if it's that easy to gain weight, it must be easy to lose weight too, right? This is a game based on running around and fighting, which is a lot of exercise considering that the average person now regards lifting up the frozen peas to get at the ice cream to be a workout. But no -- you could kill half a dozen trolls and then run a few victory laps and you'd still be as corpulent as you would have been if you'd stayed in town and hit on saucy wenches.
"The wenches all ran away with jealousy because my breasts are larger than theirs."
Eating healthy doesn't work either, because every food in the game (save one) either packs on the pounds or doesn't make a difference. And since food heals you and is cheaper and easier to find than health potions, weight gain is practically inevitable.
Take, for example, the grueling eight-stage battle arena known as the Crucible. Anything called a crucible is unlikely to be full of fluffy kittens and rainbows, and indeed you soon find yourself facing hordes of goblins and werewolves that want to smash your face in. You'll probably end up shoving a bunch of meat pies and apples into your mouth just to survive. To make matters worse, your fans in the arena give you support by ... throwing you food. You could therefore enter the arena as an unknown stick figure ...
With some sort of inexplicable testicular camel toe.
... and emerge half an hour later as a champion who looks like he ate half the spectators.
"Th- that was my wife ..."
So, how do you lose weight? Why, in a way that somehow manages to make even less sense, of course! Eat celery. That's right: Out of all the food you can eat and all the vigorous activities you can do, chowing down on celery is the only way to shed your love handles. Of course, thanks to the way items are randomly generated, it's possible you won't even find celery, but if you manage to stockpile enough, you can become a blob by devouring a Safeway's worth of food and then immediately slim down by shoving stalk after stalk of celery down your throat. Which is, sadly, how most people seem to think dieting works.
The developers realized that this was nonsensical and eventually introduced weight-loss potions in the downloadable content, because the whole point of video games is that this is the one area of life where we don't have to be fat.
Jurassic Park: Trespasser Gives You Way Too Much Body Control
1998's Jurassic Park: Trespasser was an overly ambitious bomb that's mostly remembered as the game where you play a busty woman who has to look down her tits to see the health bar:
Thus turning a generation of 13-year-old boys into obsessive health awareness advocates.
It was supposed to be an awesome adventure across a dinosaur-ridden island, but instead was a dull disappointment. It's the Jurassic Park III of games, and almost every single one of Trespasser's flaws is an attempt at realism that failed miserably.
The revolutionary yet utterly broken physics engine turned the simplest box puzzles into Sisyphean endeavors. The attempt to make the dinosaurs behave in realistic, unpredictable ways resulted in the poor creatures running into walls, stumbling off ledges, and generally staggering around the jungle as if they had one too many drinks at the local Jurassic Bar. But if one glitch in this hopeless realm of digital waste reigns supreme, it's the painful experience of controlling the protagonist's arm.
"Dude, have you ever, like, really looked at your hand?"
Trespasser is a shooting game, but without cross hairs to help you aim and interact with the world, because even though those are staples of the genre, they're just so silly and unrealistic. Instead, in what can only be described as the spiritual predecessor to QWOP, the game forces you to press several keys simultaneously in order to control the position and rotation of your arm and wrist.
This works about as well as you'd expect: Moving your arm feels more like operating the world's worst claw game, especially after the countless times you pick up objects and weapons only to drop them seconds later. Aiming a gun is even worse. It takes so much time to line up a shot that you're better off trying to slap the velociraptors to death with your flailing appendage. Trespasser should have been called One-Armed Stretch Armstrong versus the Mentally Handicapped Dinosaurs.
So, for most of the game, you walk around looking like you're feeling your way through the dark or constantly saluting Hitler. But your arm (your other arm is "fractured," which is code for "we ran out of time and money") also likes to defy every law of physics and anatomy, bending and twisting in crazy ways impossible for anyone who isn't Mister Fantastic after he's been possessed by a demon. It's both hilarious and creepy, but we can only call it realistic if the character came down with a sudden case of boneitis.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater Makes You Treat Your Wounds, One Step at a Time
Metal Gear Solid is the most realistic series to ever feature cyborg ninjas, water-walking vampires, and giant mechs that shoot lasers out of their robo-dicks. When you're not staring down crotch lasers, you're trying to be sneaky, because one wrong move will get you badly hurt -- you're not a near-invincible demigod like in most action games.
Snake Eater upped the ante by attempting to accurately depict survival in a jungle that makes the jungle from Predator look like the Rainforest Cafe. In addition to sneaking around guards, hero Naked Snake needs to hunt for food and treat his own injuries, like if Bear Grylls had been trapped in an elaborate Cold War thriller. With this in mind, the developers decided that healing gunshot wounds with food rations wouldn't cut it -- even in the weird world of video games, it's hard to buy that chowing down on some cold cuts will unperforate your kidneys.
"Yeah, you've got to take that pastrami rectally."
But there's a reason why games use healing power-ups that automatically restore your health by just walking over them, and why newer games have abandoned even that (in most games these days, your health just regenerates on the fly, even if you do nothing). It's because gamers don't want to stop every 30 seconds or so to go through a laborious 10-step process for healing their character.
Which brings us to Metal Gear's elaborate "cure menu," in which players could treat all sorts of ailments by choosing from a long-ass list of procedures.
So, whenever Snake finds extra holes in his body, he has to dig out the bullets with his trusty knife before putting the sewing skills he picked up in home ec to good use. And since this is a video game -- i.e., it takes place in a world where you're being shot constantly -- you wind up spending a whole lot of time examining the hero's skeletal structure.
"They had to clone me because this shit left me sterile."
With all of this attention to detail, there isn't even a logical order in which the medical procedures have to be completed. You can stitch a wound shut, wrap a bandage around it, and only then remember to dig out the bullet that's still lodged inside. It's like the developers got halfway through designing the mechanic before somebody said, "Man, nobody is going to want to do this shit."
Deadly Premonition Takes Its Cars and Hygiene Seriously
Deadly Premonition was the closest thing its developers could make to a Twin Peaks game without getting slapped with all the lawsuits. It's an open world detective story, and despite the fact that it also features a parallel world full of monsters, a gas mask-wearing billionaire who speaks only in rhyme though his aide, and a Dalmatian who gives orders to a grotesque demon disguised as a traveling salesman on behalf of an evil tree, it still strove for realism.
Six months went into the development of the mustache graphics engine.
The game has you investigating a serial killer in a small town, and you're mostly free to do as you please. What makes the game unique is that it operates on its own clock -- shops open and close, days pass, and most people and events are only available at certain times. Basically, unlike most games, you can't barge into someone's house at three in morning and root through all their shit like it's no big deal. Makes sense so far.
But the passage of time affects your character as well, and that's where things completely fall apart. FBI Agent York can starve to death after a day without sleep and food, but chowing down on a can of pickles will keep him going for hours. If you don't change and launder your suits daily, you quickly find yourself plagued by a horde of flies, while keeping yourself clean inexplicably earns you a bonus from the FBI, raising some serious questions as to where tax dollars are going in this world.
Not toward deodorant, apparently.
And then you have the driving. Where lots of open world games give you a car (or horse) to get around on, none of them have shit on Deadly Premonition. You can indicate turns, adjust your headlights, and even work the windshield wipers, none of which have any point whatsoever. What does have a point is the fuel gauge -- if you don't keep the tank full, you'll grind to a halt, which means you have to send up a flare and wait for the police to come bail you out. Don't have any flares? You're hoofing it.
Or giving a handie to a trucker for a lift.
That would be dumb even if the game wasn't full of a whole lot of nothing -- running back to town from out in the boonies can take you more time than many of us have to sit down and enjoy a game. Hell, even if you're in a car, you're not allowed to speed past a leisurely 50 mph, which is nice if you're using the game to practice for your driving test but less than ideal if you just want to get to the parts where you shoot monsters.
To be fair, you can eventually buy faster cars and unlock a fast travel method ... if you complete a side quest that's easy to overlook. Oh, and many parts of the game force you to drive manually anyway. So no matter what you do, you're forced to spend long stretches holding down the accelerator, listening to York ramble on about DVD special features (seriously), and hoping your gamble to speed past the game's single gas station won't backfire. It's like the developers couldn't decide if they wanted to make a horror mystery or Sim Road Trip With Your Weird Uncle.
Related Reading: Video game realism seldom works out well. Remember when Bushido Blade tried to make fighting realistic via magic bandages? The few games that get it all right, like Fallout: New Vegas might still make you into a terrible person. If you're anything like Brockway, at least. If you prefer to see the authentic details in games no one actually notices, click here.