Filling in the blanks (Uplink, Defcon, Splinter Cell: Double Agent)

I was getting into Uplink (2001) again and – again – marvelled at how atmospheric it is. I can totally believe I’m a hacker, doing illegit things to other people’s networks and data. This does not require any imagination on my behalf: the game does all this.

Uplink uses its framework to brilliant effect, only slightly accentuating the effect with extra-simulational elements, like the brilliant music, which takes you back to those Amiga days.

I’ve often noticed how adding detail to things can actually harm the illusion. Today I was playing the new Splinter Cell Double Agent’s single player demo on the 360. It looks really very good, I can totally believe I’m in war-torn Congo. But especially close-up, all the omissions to reality stick out. Like how the faces aren’t animated enough – there’s no emotion. And the way there’s no smell. And when you have textures this sharp, you begin to think that how come there isn’t more debris on the streets.

That’s why Uplink is so effective. Right from the moment you install it, it pretends you’re a hacker at his terminal. It never breaks the illusion. Everything you see, do, hear and read supports the magic. Even the music is like Amiga-era MOD tracks, making you feel so hardcore. When you screw up and get caught, there’s no game over screen. One day you just get (in-game) email which tells you what happened… and you might never know what you did wrong! Extending the illusion to “game over” is just masterful.

Just about every review I’ve read of next-gen (or should we say this gen, already) titles include a mention of how the characters look “plastic”. They do. Since the graphics have gone past the point of being just pixels, we’re beginning to reject them because of not looking quite right, instead of thinking they’re quite good enough, already. It’s not just because we’re spoiled and picky, it’s just the way we perceive the world.