On birdwatching in video games

March 16, 2019
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Sit near a yucca plant in Far Cry New Dawn’s verdant, strangely pink and only slightly scorched forests and you’ll see them: hummingbirds circling the flower spike, chirping away. Get too close and they vanish, the price you pay for crafting a medikit.

The appearance of wild birds in games is increasing as open worlds become more lush and complex. Crows will land on your boat as you explore the Volga in Metro: Exodus, Far Cry’s turkeys are famously ornery, like World of WarCraft’s Plainstriders, but the king of birdwatching games has to be Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (a word Oddworld Inhabitants has forced me to check every time I use it).

Running on a PC in 4K, the amount of detail Ubisoft has managed to squeeze into its world’s wildlife is extraordinary. Apart from the occasional extremely low-poly seagull or crow, surely meant to be seen out of the corner of your eye while moving rather than captured in a screenshot and examined, the eagles, ibis and vultures of ancient Greece are all nicely detailed and just right for watching, especially during long sea voyages (as are the whales and dolphins that breach near your ship). I keep meaning to go back to the starting area and work out whether there really are American cardinals, in all their crimson glory, flitting about there. They may be on the wrong continent, the kind of rare accidental migrants that 2,000 years later drag twitchers hundreds of miles to see. Or they may not have been there at all. In some ways that’s the beauty of birdwatching: the anticipation, the fear, then the breaking wave of delight as some small brown dot half a mile away comes into focus as something new, previously unseen.

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