A Murder Simulator: Receiver
Everyone knows that videogames are murder simulators. Why, just earlier this week, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon was teaching me how to take down 1980s rogue cyborg armies with a laser machinegun, and later that evening I put my skills to use by transforming into a gun-slinging vigilante who single-handedly cleaned up Salt Lake City before dawn. Weren’t no thing at all.
The one downside is that while a handful of hours of mouse-clicking will transform even the mildest-mannered child into an ultra-aggressive and super-competent killer with skills on par with the years of training required to be a special forces operator, even the manliest nerd might find it hard to perform those firearm actions not modeled by most videogames — such as how to manually fill and then load a magazine, manipulate the slide, check the chamber for a live round, and disengage the safety, among other skills.
Thank goodness for Receiver from Wolfire Games, helping you and your family become far more efficient killers!
Kidding aside — Receiver doesn’t even contain any murder, unless you count mechanical drones as having a right to life — the difference between the actual handling of firearms and the videogame approximation of it mildly fascinates me. My mind was blown (again, mildly) when the original Crysis allowed your weapons to carry x+1 rounds to indicate you had one in the chamber (I have no idea if Crysis was the first to do this, and you’d be surprised at how little I care) and when Red Orchestra let me manually operate my Mosin-Nagant’s bolt-action or guess at the capacity of my magazines by their weight. Little tricks like these infuse a little real-world heft into videogame weapons, which as anyone who’s operated a firearm knows, are usually helplessly floaty and totally unlike the real thing. In fact, most game weapons function more like loud science-fiction lasers than anything you’d find in a gun shop.
As someone who possesses a little knowledge of firearms and their operations (for instance, for my final project in fourth-semester German was to report on the company Sig Sauer, for which we created a video to look much as a Deutsch gun nut’s might, though of course our intention was much more tongue-in-cheek), I recently had the pleasure of introducing one of my gamer friends to actual firearms.
As you’d expect, videogames had failed to prepare him for the technical and physical realities of operating such a tool; for instance, before even firing the pistol I’d brought, in this case a Sig Sauer P229, he was surprised to find it heavy, angular, oily, smelly, and rough on his keyboard-soft hands. It was unpleasant and unnatural to hold, difficult to load, and the four buttons and levers along the left side of the weapon were totally alien to him. It took a few minutes to figure out how to eject the magazine, how to release the slide once he’d managed to pull it back, and how to hold it firmly enough — though not too tight — to aim. Upon firing, which was also difficult to control, he discovered it was now even smellier, much hotter, and the process of learning how to drop the magazine and reload the weapon was still long in coming. And that’s without considering other difficulties, like his confusion at how to avoid or clear a stovepipe jam, or why on earth the bullets were shooting so low on the target. Oh, and he was an absolute menace with that thing, pointing it all over the place. If he killed anyone, chances were it would be himself.
The fact is, most videogames don’t teach you all that much about firearms other than the fact that they shoot bullets in roughly the direction they’re pointed and that you must occasionally reload them, however much certain sources would love to convince you that Doom is going to turn your daughter into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Receiver isn’t most games.
Made by Wolfire Games for a seven-day FPS challenge and periodically updated, Receiver actually bothers modeling some of what makes handling firearms so challenging. Bullets must be manually fed into a magazine before you can load it into your gun, and pulling back your slide at the wrong time sends a perfectly-usable cartridge spinning into the shadows. There’s no HUD telling you how many rounds you have left in your gun, just a simple visual representation of how many magazines you have in your belt and how many spare bullets in your pocket.
When using the Smith & Wesson revolver, the brass casing of your rounds can expand and cause them to get caught in the cylinder, forcing you to jiggle the extractor rod to force them out — and all its rounds are going to fall out, spent and live alike. Likewise, the Colt 1911 can cause momentary confusion when the slide refuses to go forward because the safety is locking it in place, and the Glock’s full-automatic mode will waste all your bullets on a single encounter. On the plus-side, there’s an option to spin the revolver’s cylinder before slapping it back into the frame. Every game with a revolver should have this feature. When using one of the game’s semiautomatics, you can even pull back the slide just a little to peer into your gun and make sure a round is loaded — and that’s such a satisfying trick I find myself checking my gun before every other room.
If it sounds challenging, it’s because it is. Much as with real firearms, you’re working with an actual machine with actual moving parts, and remembering those parts and how to interface with them can be counter-intuitive and confusing. Especially when you keep fumbling into the path of taser drones and gun turrets.
But! Just a few games later you’ll come under surprise attack — a drone whirring down at you from above, taser crackling mere feet away! In that moment, you’ll realize your magazine is spent thanks to the previous room’s two turrets, so you’ll drop your mag to the floor, pop in a fresh one, and swat that sucker out of the sky with a single shot like John Wayne rocking the socks of some snaggle-toothed cattle rustler. And when that happens, you’re going to feel like twenty times the badass you actually are, and that gun is going to be yours.
Of course, Receiver is still an extremely limited simulation. Tactility is tough to approximate in games anyway, let alone when it relies on the feel and heft of a tool it can’t actually place in your hands. But if you’re the type who’s curious about firearms, or the sort who knows a bit and gets annoyed with simplistic videogame portrayals of them, Receiver is easily the closest I’ve seen a game come to capturing both the difficulty and the elegance of handling a firearm.