Most games´ focus in terms of visuals lies on the pure impression of the picture you get at a certain point while playing the game. Focus is the ability to present the game as well as possible to the media masses. One aspect that cannot be shown on a picture or not even in videos are games´ animations.
There is no doubt that video games animation have come a long way, and while we´re not yet on Pixar-level, video games are capable of outputting gorgeous animations. Games look fluid, smooth and natural. Still, if you actually play those games you come to realize that it´s not as great as you thought it looked to be. Obvious examples of video games that don´t give a thing about believable, natural feeling animations are first person shooters. It´s simply not something to sweat about when you´ll never see your character anyway. And who cares about perfect animation in a game like Unreal Tournament 3, where all that matters is to shoot the enemy.
The majority of today´s games DOES have good animations, though. At least well-looking animations. That´s where the next split between good and bad (oh well, “not so good”) happens. Dead Rising looks great, but its animations are completely capped. As are Monster Hunter 3´s. You have these stunning moving monsters, but if you keep watching them you realize that it´s one set of animations over and over again. And no matter how you hit them with your weapon, they always react the same.
There is a small minority of games, though, that is doing it perfectly right. For one, there is ICO for Playstation 2. Key-difference to most other games is that animations aren´t just pretty, they also feel great. Or to be more precise, they are combined with gameplay-related physics. When you run on a path and it has small obstacles, you can feel those obstacles and you can see your ingame-character moving accordingly. Another even older example would be Super Mario 64. That is in stark contrast to Super Mario Galaxy, where animations became actually less responsive to the gameplay. In the Nintendo 64-Mario, you have to gain momentum, you have to plan your next move or it´s game over. In Galaxy, you can heavily change the course of your jump even when already in midair. The 64-Mario moves, jumps and stops and you can feel and see it. That´s what made this 3D-introducing title the popular game it is even today.
I believe that there is an important connection between responsive animations and a “good feeling”, which in turns leads to higher levels of immersion. The following may be one hundred percent subjective, but I can still play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time today, and enjoy it, even enjoy its visuals. In contrast, I don´t have that much fun with re-playing Twilight Princess, where animations have become less responsive, where Link jumps in such a weird, stiff way. A detailed blockbuster-game may be nice to look at, but I strongly think that animations are a key-element in the world of video games, that is the connection between visuals and gameplay.