It's pitch black, and your teeth are chattering so loudly that you barely even notice the three simultaneous heart attacks you're having as you creep through the tall grasses of an open field. Suddenly, the bushes behind you rustle. You jerk your head so quickly that your body nearly doesn't get the chance to follow, as the hulking, foreboding figure of a baby bunny hops out from the bush. Phew. Heart attack number four averted. For now. You wipe the sweat from your brow – which, at this particular moment, is the world's most accurate model of what would happen if the polar ice caps actually melted – and continue onwards.
For about two feet. That's when you see it. Yep, there it is – right in front of you. Oh sweet mother of mercy. No, no – not the sprinting, groaning gray guy who's licking his unhinged chops and eying your neck. I'm talking about the thing behind him. That's right: a thermos full of coffee! Finally! Awesome! Sorry Mr. terrifying zombie man; just a second. You see, I need that coffee for an achievement.
The game in question? Alan Wake, a game quite capable of keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the moment it spills hot coffee all over your lap. And it's certainly not alone. For the longest time, triple-A games polished their graphics and tweaked their ambient bunny-in-a-bush sounds in pursuit of a holy grail known simply as “immersion.” Gamers wanted it; game developers wanted it – for everything around the player to just melt away. To be utterly, hopelessly, and completely lost in the game world, without even the thinnest bread crumb trail back to reality. These days, though, immersion is about as prized as an airplane seat surrounded by screaming babies with no nearby emergency exit to fling yourself from. Or at least, it certainly seems that way.
Oh the life I’ve lived. I’ve skipped across the tops of skyscrapers with the ease of a child playing hopscotch. I’ve busted out of prisons that were said to be inescapable, that were patrolled by minigun-toting mechs, among other things. I’ve completed the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. I’ve slain Balrogs (of bothvarieties). I’ve covered wars, ya know.
The moment I remember best, though? I was sitting in a small apartment, on a couch made more of dust than fluff. Minutes earlier, I’d gunned down some 20 mafia goons, but that didn’t matter. She leaned on my shoulder, half-asleep, and we watched an old black-and-white rendition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” on a teensy television. For more than an hour.
And that’s when I thought, “This game is incredible.”
That game was The Darkness, an Xbox 360 shooter from Starbreeze studios. Sure – as I implied earlier – the game certainly had me behind the barrel of a gun (or a giant hell-borne tentacle-snake) more often than not, but even among countless epic shootouts and swelling operatic scores, that mundane moment with main character Jackie Estacado (you) and his girlfriend dozing on a couch stands out the most. It was simple. It was quaint. But most of all, it was entirely believable.