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Archery In Video Games - Part 1

Virtually speaking, what makes a good adversary?

Post-apocalyptic savages and mutants? Megalomaniacs who think they're making the world a better place? Monsters? Zombies are a classic. And who wouldn't want to go up against dinosaurs?

This is the introduction to a series of reviews - so to speak - on video games featuring archery, looking predominately at the archery portrayed in them.

In many games, archery is of course misrepresented - much like in films and TV. One of the worst offenders to this was an episode of the documentary series Warrior Women (2018), in which the 6th Century invading 'Persian archers' were holding one-piece field recurve bows, backwards.

Rant over.

This series won't be a bitter critique of how archery is portrayed in video games, however. For one thing, when looking at any games of a historical nature, I do not have the knowledge base necessary to critique the accuracy of the archery present - I just know that in the above image, those are field recurve bows, held backwards! And not what the Persian invaders would have been using, even if they held them the correct way around!

Here are some lovely images from upcoming reviews I took using the Photo Modes which many games feature nowadays, to make up for the above travesty which I know is hurting the eyes of archers reading this.

A great many video games include bows, especially if the game features themes of hunting or survival, for example Horizon Zero Dawn (2017) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015), in which bows are a integral part of the play style. Far Cry Primal (2016), a game sent in 10,000 BCE of course utilises bows in a major way in its gameplay, as without them, the narrative and portrayal of the Pleistocene age would have been lacking an major feature.

Historical and fantasy games obviously have to include bows to some degree, though how much they feature and the effort put into their use within the game varies from an afterthought, to profoundly researched. However, the bow appears in numerous other genres and sub-genres, more generic shooters for example, or even contemporary and futuristic type games, for example Sniper Ghost Warrior: Contracts 2 (2021).

Gameplay itself has evolved substantially over the past thirty odd years, from a linear run-and-gun approach seen in Doom (1993) to something which feels more intuitive and flexible. For example, how the bow was displayed in the original Turok Dinosaur Hunter (1997) compared to Horizon Zero Dawn is incredibly simplistic by today's standards. Not to mention the increase in popularity of open-world games, in which the whole game environment is explorable from the start as one large map, rather than the systematic single-level-environment approach.

With Turok Dinosaur Hunter, the player pulls the trigger on the controller and the arrow launches - with an arc to it, which I would argue was ahead of its time in terms of gameplay. It isn't any different from using any of the other weapons in the player's arsenal. Twenty years later, with Horizon, the player must hold down the trigger to 'draw' the bow in order to utilise its full power, accuracy, and range. It does not sound like much, however, to anyone who practises archery, this is a significant feature in which greater 'realism' is added to the 'use' of the bow, emphasising its uniqueness from other weapons and devices in the game, along side immersing the player into the role - somewhat - of an archer.

I say somewhat, and use speech-marks over certain phrases, because, at the end of the day, it's a game, and a virtual one at that. None of it is real, and none of it is archery, because archery involves a physical bow with physical arrows, used in the real world. What we have, at beast, is a vague simulation. But, something fun for those who enjoy doing archery in the real world.

Most modern games have placed defining characteristics on the bow in their games, through added gameplay features like I described above, simulating the actions archers must preform to loose an arrow. For the most part, the bow can not be wielded like the gaudy guns found in Call of Duty anymore, but must be used with precision and tact. Infuse this with many of the open-world environments games offer, and the player can adopt a greater 'archer-like' persona. Developers now have the ability to produce a game with greater versatility to the gameplay, thus making it more appealing and interesting.

Over the past thirty-odd years of games development, archery has been consistently included - even in genres where you might not expect it (see screenshots above, Power Rangers: Battle for the Grid (2019) on the left, and Mortal Kombat 11 (2019) on the right, from the beat-em-up genre). Perhaps not as thoroughly, or as accurately as we would like, but, nonetheless it is a great feature which only enhances and complements our favourite game series' and genres. Whilst in either of the two above mentioned games, it is more a portrayal of archery, the result of pressing the correct button combination, rather than something the player is 'doing', through aiming and aligning sights with joysticks, before squeezing a trigger to draw and release the virtual arrow, it is still very cool and exciting to see it present.

But, more importantly, if someone - possibly someone reading this - wants to do archery, then I'd say forget the video games, and look up what clubs are running in your area, and join one! Nothing beats the real thing.

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