WHY I LOVE… TORCH GAMES

Guns and weaponry in games are all well and good, but some­times a trusty light source is the best tool

XBox: The Official Magazine - - CONTENTS - Alex Nel­son

Im­mer­sion. That fabled con­cept that game devel­op­ers ev­ery­where strive for. It’s why we have in­creas­ingly life­like graph­ics, equally as im­pres­sive au­dio technologi­es, and why we’re so eager to strap pieces of VR kit to our faces and punch about a room like we’ve just been jumped by a Face­hug­ger.

But if there’s one thing that re­ally grabs me by the mind lapels and has me be­liev­ing the world I’m see­ing on-screen is real, it’s a good old­fash­ioned videogame torch. Yes, a torch. The thought struck me while I was nav­i­gat­ing through the dusty cor­ri­dors of the Racoon City Po­lice Depart­ment build­ing of the ex­cel­lent Res­i­dent Evil 2 re­make.

The early stages of the game take place in near com­plete dark­ness, and even once you have re­stored the power in cer­tain ar­eas, you’ll have a tough time see­ing any­thing out­side of the cone of your flash­light. So your eyes are con­stantly trans­fixed on the small por­tion of the screen you can ac­tu­ally make out, not dis­tracted by the pass­ing scenery. Of course, you’re free to move the light beam around, but this just gets you in­ves­ti­gat­ing much more ac­tively. You might be search­ing a room for the item you need to solve a puz­zle, but in­stead of scan­ning the scene and catch­ing some­thing out of the cor­ner of your eye; you must search, pay­ing at­ten­tion to hidey-holes and in­ves­ti­gat­ing dark cor­ners ner­vously.

Mod­ern gam­ing torches have the tech­nol­ogy needed to be to­tally re­al­is­tic ob­jects, and often you’ll ac­tu­ally need to shine your torch away from the ob­ject you want to fo­cus on, to cut down on glare – if you’re try­ing to read some­thing in the game world for in­stance. But even when things are sim­pler, when HD shad­ows aren’t bounc­ing off ge­om­e­try in a re­al­is­tic man­ner, a good torch can still an­chor you in the vir­tual world.

They’re an ex­cel­lent 3D ret­i­cle. While your stan­dard crosshair can tell you in which di­rec­tion you’re point­ing on a 2D plane (up, down, left, right), it can’t com­mu­ni­cate just how much dis­tance might be be­tween you and your tar­get. A torch’s beam of light, on the other hand, can swell or shrink de­pend­ing on how far away the sur­face is, giv­ing the player more tac­tile in­for­ma­tion about the size and the scope of the world around them.

Wake up

2010’s Alan Wake took things fur­ther, turn­ing your trusty flash­light into an ac­tual weapon. Aim­ing your torch beam towards one of the game’s ‘Taken’ en­e­mies will slowly drain their shad­owy shield, but you can boost the beam’s power with a press of a but­ton. This burns away their pro­tec­tive shroud faster, but it also de­pletes your torch’s ‘ammo’ – lithium batteries so cen­tral to the game­play that Mi­crosoft couldn’t re­sist wan­gling a prod­uct-plac­ing tie-in with power cell brand En­er­gizer. When you’re not daz­zling ghostly bad guys, Alan’s torch re­verts back to be­ing a trusty 3D ret­i­cle, and the way the game’s cam­era swings around lack­adaisi­cally roots you in the world. That move­ment is also im­por­tant; as Alan’s hand­held light flits about a few frames be­hind the cam­era, it ac­cu­rately repli­cates the re­la­tion­ship be­tween your eyes and mov­ing a torch in real life. When you spot some­thing shift­ing in the dark­ness, you shine a light at it.

Flash­light de­volved

Halo: Com­bat Evolved is the first game in which I re­mem­ber be­ing ob­sessed with such a light source. Not only did hav­ing it on make the game look a touch nicer – your beam bounc­ing pleas­ingly off tex­tures – there were game­play ad­van­tages, and you could stun a swarm of Flood head­ing your way by daz­zling them. But as the torch was fixed to Master Chief’s hel­met, it was static. It went where you looked, with no de­lay be­tween the two – it served its func­tion of al­low­ing you to see in dark cor­ri­dors, but didn’t re­ally add to the game’s im­mer­sion.

Com­bat Evolved ’s space opera game­play didn’t need any ex­tras get you hooked in, but the opposite is true of last year’s Shadow Of The Tomb Raider. That game is dark in places, and while Lara does have a torch, the game de­cides for you when it needs to be turned on, and it doesn’t al­ways get it right, and fum­bling through the op­tions menu for a non-ex­is­tent torch tog­gle isn’t the most im­mer­sive of moves. So while games ben­e­fit from the clev­erly crafted use of por­ta­ble il­lu­mi­na­tion, if done poorly, it can re­ally take you out of the world.

Now where did I put that pack of spare batteries?

“Your eyes are con­stantly trans­fixed on the small por­tion of the screen you can ac­tu­ally make out”

ABOVE Alan Wake‘s flash­light is ar­guably more pow­er­ful than his gun.

Above With only a torch for a light source, the darker ar­eas of the RPD head­quar­ters can be ter­ri­fy­ing.

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