(sharon) #1


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 old-
fashioned 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

ABOVE With only
a torch for a
light source,
the darker areas
of the RPD
headquarters can
be terrifying.
The likes of
Half-Life and
Tomb Raider use
torchlight to
create horror-
like tension in
games you
wouldn’t expect
to see it in.

“Your eyes are constantly

transfixed on the small

portion of the screen you

can actually make out”

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.

Videogame torches are
much overlooked, but
when done well they
can be one of the most
immersive aspects of a
virtual 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? Q

More Xbox news at gamesradar.com/oxm THE OFFICIAL XBOX MAGAZINE 107
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