Far Cry 2
I know, I know, found weapons in Far Cry 2 were a hideous and irritating nightmare. Plucking a gun off the ground was often more trouble than it was worth, as the ancient and rusting weapon would jam, lock up, and sometimes even explode in your hands. No wonder The Jackal is doing such strong business in Africa: store-bought weapons are the only ones that actually work.
At least the animations for jamming and un-jamming garbage guns was top-notch, no matter how annoying it was every time it happened. And it happened pretty much every time.
Crane your memories way back to 1998 for this one, whereupon Gordon Freeman not only bravely fought his way through monsters and soldiers but actually picked up interdimensional alien bugs and carried them around with him. Good thing his HEV suit had thick gloves.
This animation where he's holding a Snark in one hand, and tries to pet it with the other, is one of my all-time favorites.
I didn't wind up enjoying space adventure Adr1ft that much (my review is here), since it almost entirely boiled down to grabbing tiny floating oxygen bottles from start to finish.
Still, the animation for doing so was pretty wonderful, as you extend your gloved hand, straining to reach each drifting O2 bottle, fingertips wiggling in anticipation.
The story-driven adventure Firewatch plopped you into the Pixar-esque body of Henry, a new park ranger. Henry is a bit glum—and he has every reason to be—but inhabiting him was a joy due in part to the attention paid to his hand animation.
Simply picking up objects in Henry's hands, turning them over, and inspecting them was enjoyable enough to spend long minutes on his first day of work doing nothing but.
The Darkness 2
You do have human hands in The Darkness 2, and you can gloriously hold weapons in both, but you also have these extra... appendages that come in quite useful. (Please give me credit for not saying 'quite handy.')
Picking up bad guys, tearing them apart, and munching on their hearts with your extra set of monster arms never gets old, and you can keep on using guns with your human hands even while it's happening.
The entire Bioshock trilogy is full of great hand animaton, as you're constantly picking up bizarre potions and syringes and drinking or injecting them without ever once questioning just how terrible the outcome might be.
It's hard to pick a favorite from the various vigors and plasmids, but here's how it looks when you down an ice-cold glug of sweet, nourishing Shock Jockey. Mmm, refreshing! And full of Vitamin E.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
There are plenty of valid complaints about the linear nature of the Call of Duty series, which at times can feel like barely interactive action movies. The production values, however, are always sky-high, and that includes some great hand animations.
Here we are, rappelling forwards down a cliff, covering some poor dude's mouth, and jamming a knife into his vital organs. (Though I'd like to point out I consider just about all of my organs vital.)
Animators worked hard on some of the special reloads for Battlefield Hardline, but few players have seen them firsthand. That's because these Easter egg animations only have a 1-in-10,000 chance of playing.
Thankfully, we've got YouTube so the lucky players who actually get to see these animations can share them with the rest of us.
Immersion in horror is a must: how else will YouTubers be able to shriek endlessly into their webcams? (Though some tend to do that for non-horror games, too. Seriously. I saw a guy screaming non-stop while playing Medieval Engineers, which is a game about slowly building walls.) To create a real sense of tension, players need to lose themselves in the characters they're inhabiting.
Alien: Isolation is tense as hell, and yes, that mostly has to do with the powerful giant disgusting indestructible Xenomorph relentlessly hunting you and ramming his tail through your spine. The game's great hands, though, help the terror feel more real because they make you feel more real.
Just as first-person platforming seemed to be dying out—because it almost entirely sucked—along came Mirror's Edge to give it new and much-improved life. Running, jumping, sliding, mantling, and hand-to-hand (and foot-to-face) combat felt fresh and exciting again.
Whether clambering over rooftops or putting the smackdown on some oppressive security guard, the animation of Faith's hands (and arms and legs and feet, as well) let us feel every roll, punch, and desperate last-ditch grab for a ledge.