Sunday, 3 January 2016

Fallout Flaw

(Fallout 4 Review By Neamo)

It's been a long time since I've sat to do a review, and I've no excuses. So, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get to it.

The Fallout series is one steeped in nostalgia, and boasts a deep legacy of beloved and acclaimed titles that build upon it's lore. I, having only played Fallout 4, do not buy into this and instead shall review Fallout 4 as it is without trying to apologize or even cover it's flaws for the love of previous titles. In many ways, this review shall be one more frank and earnest about the product at hand than many you will see, and likewise, many subtle nuances that would delight will utterly evade me. If you are a fan of the game and the series as a whole, I shall wish you well and invite you not to read further, as nothing good lies within. For those willing to trudge onward, a few things I need you to note are that I am reviewing the game as it is, with no allowance for mods to sway my experience, and no open ends for what I'm sure will be additional content patches. Furthermore, I write, as any critic would, about the things that I looked for, and my own concerns, and there are most certainly topics missed or abbreviated in lieu of things you the reader may not care for. If you disagree or feel I've missed an important point, I look forward to reading your own lengthy review on the matter, so please link me to any carefully crafted articles below. Now, let's get started.

One of the big draws to this particular game, aside from the promise of an open world to explore and the inherent adventure within was the settlement mechanic, a system for building better and brighter new things within the wastes that you could claim your own. My interest was piqued, a bold fusion of Minecraft and The Witcher 3 beneath the glow of a thousand radiation tubes? "How could this possibly go wrong?" I asked. The answer of course became evident almost immediately. In your arsenal of tools to build a better and brighter world, you are given the workbench. Able to scrap a fallen building in an instant, or a cluster of trees in but a moment, you are tasked with clearing your homestead of the debris of two centuries of nuclear winter to give you a foundation to build upon. To note, I shall use Sanctuary, your starter as an example although I'm well aware of the other locations. After scrapping that which can be scrapped, the tires, burned out cars and fallen through houses, you are left with a clearer space. It's filthy of course, covered in leaves, detritus and rotting matter that no amount of coaxing can convince your later arriving settlers to clean, but it's clear. Well, almost. The 'structures', and I say it loosely for they no longer hold any structural integrity, that remain are indissoluble, unmovable and irreplaceable eyesores that continue to haunt any project you might venture forth. The only way past that is of course to accept that perfection is beyond your limited means.

Once you've moved past that particular disappointment, it's on to making lemonade out of lemons and placing down walls for your new fortress. This is where the buggy and otherwise unyielding mechanics of building come into play. With terrible snapping detection, poor collision avoidance and a limited palate of hobo-clique articles to splatter and spatter your new kingdom with, after several hours of rifling through every trash can in Boston, you too, with a lot of invested time and effort can make your own redneck motel. I say that disparagingly of course, well knowing that the aesthetic of the game is meant to lean toward the hobbled together ruined world, but when every wall has holes, every ceiling leaks and you are limited to building squared boxes of cobbled together crap, what your accumulative effort and energies afford you is a home that you would be ashamed to show Jed Clampett. I'm not entirely sure I want to live in that world. Surely things will be improved once you invite some new blood to tend your shanty town, right? Well in order to do so, you must finagle your way through the game's power system with no prior explanation and build a beacon, and in doing so, the cavalry will come and help restore order!

On to the settlers! At last, they've arrived, and once you've managed to herd and collectively pen in your motley assortment of thugs and vagrants, you can militarize them! That's right, lured by the siren song of a beacon hobbled together from garbage and wishes, your settlement can attract the denizens of the radioactive new world. Surely to survive such a world before your arrival, they must have garnered and cultivated the skills to endure, each with their own backstory of struggle and victory through the nuclear hell-scape that surrounds them? Well, no. Not exactly. As it turns out, those wily globe trotters can't be lured by the promise of your meager offerings and have all set themselves against you. Instead, you can summon the rejects of the wastes, the invalids. That's right, that's where this particular criticism lays. Like an armada of tamagotchi, they exist purely for their own purposes adding almost no benefit to your otherwise meager existence. Unable to improvise and unwilling to aid, they will without direct supervision languish in their own feces. It's one of the area's that for me felt the most lacking in building a settlement, that after you've trekked into the wastes hoarding anything you can find, from mugs to tin cans, and hauled them back to attempt to forge your empire, it serves the same purpose as an animal pen. Your denizens, capable of following only the most basic of tasks will never help you in any real way, other than repelling invaders that only appear in the wake of said settlers, or farming food, which you can if you should obtain a surplus, turn into adhesive in order to make more things for the settlers. One could argue about the shop function and the idea of using them to make bottle caps, and you'd be right, but the agonizing sloth and set up around that makes the entire affair a fanciful whimsy of misplaced passions. It all feels like a wasted avenue of the game.

I could talk at length about the hideous character models, the drab and faded textures and the overall lackluster world of Fallout 4, but it's been done at length by others and, well, it's plain to see. While some may speak of it being a non issue in the face of modders, it shouldn't be up to outside parties to add polish to your product. While excuses have been made, namely that it was done to make the game accessible over a wider array of gaming machines, I remain dubious in the face of the products and indeed the mods currently available. Add to that character models that look like Leatherface's sex dolls and you've got a remarkably ugly end product for a triple A title! Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I didn't buy this for the sparkling sunsets or lush vista's, so consider this a minor gripe, albeit a bitter one, so instead I'll move directly on to the exploration.

In being an open world game, or rather one where you have free reign to explore off of the beaten path, Fallout 4 succeeds in inspiring a certain wanderlust. What lays beyond that mountain? Is there more garbage? Will I find a semi casual reference to an earlier title or some form of meme? The desire to roam is endless and one without bounds or measure. What if I move slightly to the left of my settlement? Is that a cave? Where did those mole rats come from? The rewards are endless. Endless, and yet as you've probably noted from the dripping cynicism I've written this with, largely hollow. Certainly, should you wander in any given direction you will find something, some forgotten furrow of the wasteland that on the surface seems deeply interesting, but as you dig your way within it quickly becomes evident that it's either a hoarding spot with others teased at on repetitively hacked computer terminals, or a junk dump filled with mutated stragglers. At first, that's wonderful! After all, the game boasted of it's dazzling array of weapons and touted it's unique crafting system, of course you need the targets and materials! And yet, hours into the game having trekked to yonder shore, aside from the flat and lusterless new visuals of a meme based structure, what are you left with? Where is the intrigue or impetus to continue? There are of course rare examples of something new being dangled before you, an immortal doctor possessed by an alien headdress, a crashed UFO and a 'haunted' house naming just a few examples, and they do add shreds of variety until their conclusions where each is a quickly dispatched foe and a new gimmicky weapon without any form of lasting impact. Hardly something to laud, and more a distraction from the general monotony of countless hours hamming it up with a propane torch stapled to a katana I'm afraid. That's my main problem with the overall reward of this exploration, that you could spend literal months scouring the well crafted map for new locations and hidden secrets, for little to no reward and no impact other than bragging rights to yourself for having the largest and shiniest bullet dispenser in a single player game with no real story line, like a budget and stretched out Borderlands, without the chuckles.

One of the main failings of the game, and I say this knowing full well that I may receive flak from apologists of the series, is that the main story, the impetus for you to crawl from the cryo-pod and venture forth into the irradiated land ahead, is garbage. I realize that some will argue that the age old quest to save a child and avenge a lover is one tried and true, but it was a story executed without prowess or skill. Introducing your soon to be departed loved one only through a gender selection screen and a series of scant compliments, the child and indeed beloved are taken within the first few moments of the opening act. While that allows us to get to the meat and potatoes of the game ahead at a brusque pace, it leaves nothing to invest upon in terms of story. No one cares, nor should they. It's about the most impersonal and rushed story mechanic in the world with no real ties, and in all honesty has very little to do with the game at hand. The game, bar a few small deflections for choice alternatives, would be no different had you toddled into the vault on your lonesome. That's an awful thing to say when in the face of a plot that in most instances would have far deeper implications. It was badly told, and left me with absolutely no desire to scour the wasteland for my missing son, instead leaving the only real motive to play that I can shoot things and pick up broken desk fans for gears. It turns what is meant to be an RPG into a single player open world sandbox in but a moment, and destroys any canonical interest in any story within. To make things worse are the laughable companion romances that you can cultivate by changing your actions to effectively woo your rabble. That's right, mere days after escaping the vault, lovingly prying a ring off of your lovers cold dead hand and embarking on a quest of family honor, you too can mack with a stranger for perks. Who was Shaun again? Do you care?

Something that instilled ire within me through this game was the illusion of choice. What I mean by that is the idea that you, the player, can make decisions of consequence and lead the story through your own initiative in any meaningful manner, all the while being hemmed in to one of a handful of very suspect conclusions. For instance, while it says you are the 'lone wanderer' that has been so heavily tagged throughout this installment, you will of course, naturally, have to sidle up to one of four misguided groups striving for the betterment of the new world for perks and general progression. Unable to progress without sidling up to bigotry, you are effectively pigeon holed into picking your own racist overlord to appease; be it the slavery endorsed megalomania of the Institute whose missions resemble lynchings of the KKK, the gentle Nazi parody of the Brotherhood of Steel, the ever feral anti humanism of The Railroad which drifts into the darker realms of the Black Panther movement, or the feckless Minutemen who more resemble the last march of a communist trope than the Minutemen of old. Surely however such a dubious selection, and such moral fragility would leave you the choice to join up with the raiders or progress on your own steam? No dice. You must forever play the good guy who joins a morally bankrupt group to progress the story down one of four avenues of unrewarding and unremarkable player 'choices', forever rounding down to what is basically the same conclusion.

And so now we come to the voice acting, the game's control system and those things that make it tick. I am a console peasant, not a member of the PC master race, so I feel any notes I try to make on the controls of this game will largely fall to parody or deaf ears, but suffice it to say that when I tried to aim my gun, my character aimed his. I shot, and he shot. It was a very standard affair that moved quickly. The dialogue system of course is broken, displaying the ghost of text options past, and when attempting to make small talk I often found myself saying the worst possible things guided by the barest of clip notes, but it's not that large of a flaw in the grand scheme of things. The inventory system is bare bones and clunky in places, and the AI for this game regarding companions, settlers and monsters in general is hideous, but having learned to suffer Dogmeat as my companion, I moved past it in my stride. It's what I should expect from those bred from desperate stragglers after two hundred years of nuclear wind and rain. The voice acting was generally sub par, with the exceptions being Nick Valentine and Codsworth, who should have starred in this game as he was the only real focus of any emotion other than disdain. Overall, it played as I expected, it just didn't gift me with the experience I paid for.

In brief summation, and note I'm reviewing the base game and not the mods or additional content, Fallout 4 markets itself as an open world RPG and rapidly turns into a kleptomania simulator with less replay value than Paris Hilton's sex tape. I'd advise picking up the original Bioshock if you're a lover of the retro-ruin aesthetic, or the Witcher 3, if you want an open world with variety and actual story craft.

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