The word has been used to death by certain parties in the gaming world, even becoming the name of a company, but the importance of a visceral nature to games is something I can't ignore. In a lot of ways, a visceral feeling can feel like a no-brainer. If you are making a game in which you shoot a gun, make the player feel like they're shooting a damn gun! Shooting a shotgun should not be a peaceful, quaint affair. It's a brutal action with smoke and fire violently propelling shot from a barrel. The same goes for hitting something with an axe or a sword. Finesse is not the name of the game unless we're talking Ezio or Altair. I know that games can overdo it by making you try to feel the action in your brain (I'm looking at you, Solider of Fortune). Yet too often, this seemingly crucial attribute can be overlooked.
With that in mind, I think it's worth applauding those games and developers that do get it right. Or at least two, that is.
Epic with Gears of War
Perhaps this is the painfully obvious choice for something like this, but those guys in North Carolina know how to make you feel what's going on in their games. All the actions in Gears seem to have the perfect amount of "oomph" behind them. From the way Marcus takes cover up against a wall to the feeling of firing a big-ass mortar, Epic nails how I would think every action should feel. Thankfully, I've never been in a war zone and, oddly enough, I've never used a Lancer or fought an alien invasion. And while some of ways in which Delta Squad hurl themselves around would probably result in serious bodily harm and brain damage (if it hasn't already), it sure as hell looks and feels right.
Criterion with Burnout
Burnout Paradise was the game that got me thinking about all of this in the first place. No game has demonstrated the look and feel of going batshit-crazy fast while barely feeling in control. The sense of speed in all the Burnout games consistently strikes me. Even Paradise, a game I've played more than any healthy adult should, keeps amazing me with how great the action feels. Every racing game should use Burnout as a example of the best way to shape a player's experience. I'm rarely bored with it. There's rarely not something totally awesome happening. Does the crashing have anything to do with this?....well, yeah. When your car can crumple like a Hershey's wrapper, there's an inherent giddiness it brings to the table. But it's also only a piece of the puzzle. The rest of picture is what truly makes the action great.
Every time I pop in a game that doesn't give me good feedback from what's happening on the screen, it just makes me sad. Then I take that game out and play something that's actually fun. Huh...I guess the problem is easier solved then I thought.