I remember one of the first times I encountered this feature in a game. It was Thief: Deadly Shadows, back in 2004. Now it might not have been the first to use it (that would be Trespasser: Jurassic Park, apparently), but it was likely one of the first I encountered. Certainly most of the other major titles of that year, like Doom 3, Half-Life 2, or Far Cry, didn’t incorporate it, as far as I know.
What is this feature? Full Body Awareness. And to date only 30-odd games seem to have this feature.
There have been other titles from around the same time that did too, like the excellent Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, and most of the games in the F.E.A.R. franchise, starting with the progenitor of the series back in 2005, as well as Condemned: Criminal Origins – a game by the same creators of the previously mentioned series. Other more well-known examples would include Dark Messiah of Might and Magic.
Full body awareness is a feature that when, in a game, you look down, and you can see the character’s legs and feet as well as their arms and hands. It adds to the realism of a game. And it seemed to be a big thing a few years ago, but nowadays it just doesn’t really make it in to many games. One exception would be Mirror’s Edge, a game by DICE – but that was released a couple of year ago now… in 2008.
A lot of games released before the time period described above, and a lot of titles today, have that disembodied set of arms and hands holding a gun. When you move the mouse downwards, you see nothing. Some games might have a shadow or something on the ground, but few actually go to the lengths of having a chest and a set of legs which makes it seem less like you’re barely a torso with arms and a camera for a head, floating in mid air. And when you realise this, it kind of lets me down, for one. This is what I call Lack of Legs syndrome, or “LOL” for short.
“Hey, where’s my legs?! I can’t feel my legs!” - Lack of Legs [LOL] syndrome as demonstrated in Metro 2033 
There are those games that make up for this lack of realism by being able to switch to a third person view – like Fallout 3 or Oblivion – where you can see the character move and so on. But still, it seems like a cop out, especially when you factor in that sometimes the animation of the characters in third-person, or just the animation in general, isn’t all that good; something that a game like STALKER has a problem with.
Some other games cheat in a way by not allowing you to look all the way down to the ground, but less than the full 90 degrees.
A title like Thief: Deadly Shadows does both first-person and third-person, as well as full body awareness to boot. It’s one of those games, that although not recognised as one of the greatest games of all time, or even within the series, does something right; and that was one of them.
Full Body Awareness in Thief: Deadly Shadows  – image courtesy of Giantbomb
I don’t know why this is. It’s a small thing that I often find myself checking with new games from time to time. It’s like a test on my checklist, and I’ll be going along in Modern Warfare 2 or Battlefield: Bad Company 2, and after being wowed by the gunfights, and the explosions, and the destructible environments, I’ll be like: “Okay, this all seems to be in order. I’ll just take a look down here, and… oh, dear. FAIL.”
Like I said, it’s a small thing, but something that I often think about. Full Body Awareness was a small but thoughtful addition to games and realism a few years ago that seems for some reason to have gone out of style, and developers just don’t go to the effort anymore. I don’t know if it’s a lot of effort to put it, seeing as I’m not a programmer or an artist or any sort of game developer, but still. They claim that leaving out the legs is a sacrifice in order to enlarge upon the quality of weapons and items that the player holds.
Needless to say, it’s a little thing that I would like to see make a comeback, and become a regular feature in not only first-person shooters, but in RPGs, and so on, to add that extra little bit, so a game gets an A+ instead of an A- for realism.
Check here over at Giantbomb for more on FBA, or Full Body Awareness.