Oi, shouldn’t you be dead?

 

Why is a perfectly aimed headshot not always followed by death?

Here’s a little question to get your brain a’ grinding. What happens when you get shot in the head? The long answer is that there’s a bloody fireworks display that coats the room in claret and traumatizes nearby children. The basic and far shorter answer, is that you die. In real life this is not only a rule, but an unavoidable law of the universe that we are all bound by. But in the land of video games, the laws are not so strict, and the repercussions even less so.

The other day I was playing the joyous Uncharted: Drakes Fortune (yes I know I’m late to the party, but I brought wine). It’s a cracking adventure that thrills and excites in boundless ways, but there is one little problem that bugs the hell out of me. When baddies take a well aimed bullet to the head, they often survive. Even on the easy setting (I said I brought wine, what’s the problem?) the bullet-begging bad guys can often take a shot to the face, and then seconds later start firing again. It maybe just me, but this drives me mental.

You’ve just fired a piece of metal the size of a baby carrot, at nearly the speed of sound, into a human’s (not an alien, mutant or Terminator’s) face, but they haven’t died, and you’re left screaming “You cannot be serious, the bullet was on the spine, blood flew up!”

There are numerous other games when this crime against gaming humanity happens. Rogue Warrior (terrible game anyway), Just Cause, Gears of War (those Locust were tough though), Fallout 3 (again, those Super Mutants were tough), Far Cry, Kane and Lynch, even the exceptional Half-Life 2 has this problem.

We’ve all been in the position when you’re creeping up on a baddie who’s got his back turned. Straight away, you line up your sights with the back of his head, knowing that a perfectly aimed silenced shot will not only kill him, but also not attract the attention of any nearby guards. So you take aim, hold your breath and squeeze the trigger (or in reality, just push a button). Your shot is perfect, and you hit him right in the back of the skull. But, as you’re high-fiving the air, the baddies turn around, yells ‘guard’, and starts firing. What just happened? Shouldn’t he be dead?

At this moment, you feel like stopping the action and marching through the screen into the game itself like some irate director, yelling at the baddies for not dieing on cue. What makes it so annoying is that you’ve done something that takes an immense amount of skill, but you haven’t been rewarded for it. In a way, you’ve been punished. And what makes it doubly annoying is that you’ll probably hit the baddie in the hand with your next shot, and he’ll die. Where’s the justice?

At least most games get it right, and reward the perfect headshot with a quick death. All the COD games have this, as do most other realistic shooters that value their morals. Even GTA4 has the instant death feature, and seeing a policeman’s The Ring-like death-face after a perfect headshot makes for hilarious and rewarding viewing. Also, if you want to see what actually happened when someone gets shot in the face (albeit if they have a skull with the residual strength of an Easter egg) then give Solider of Fortune 2 a go. You can actually burst someone’s head!

So, to finish off this rather disturbing insight into a game writers mind, how do you make sure a baddie dies when he’s been shot in the head? Well you could move your sights away from the brain husk, and pop a couple of pieces of hot lead into their chest, but that’s a bit dull. What I like to do is shoot them till they drop, then empty my entire magazine into their corpses face. Doesn’t really help me on a gaming side, and I’ve been kicked out of a lot of playtests, but it makes me feel a little better.

Scott Tierney

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