Sunday, November 29

Fallout 4 Review (XB1): The revolution will be safe

Fallout 4 is safe. For a game about traversing a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it is so fucking safe.

Fallout 4 is also an ugly game. It doesn't look exactly like (or 'as bad as') Fallout 3, despite what the social media cesspit may have you believing, but the improvement is slight enough to be dismissed as "incremental." That being said, post-bombing Boston isn't a technical marvel, but in terms of concept, it's consistent and effective.

Fallout 4 looks dreadful, but it's supposed to. Dogs aren't supposed to clip up and down through closed elevator doors, but this is the price we pay for Bethesda's janky brand of open world adventuring. To be able to wander through an expanse rarely-rivalled in terms of sheer width and possibility, we need to expect the frequent stuttering of frame rates and V.A.T.S-engaged combatants.

The possibilities aren't quite endless, but they are worth enduring technical difficulties for. How many other games allow you to create a strong, sarcastic woman warrior who brings violent peace to scorched earth? How many other games allow players to work with a diverse cast, including people of colour and women; in leadership positions, no less? Very. Fucking. Few.

But this is what New Vegas did. This is what, to my fallible memory's recollection, Fallout 3 did to a lesser extent.

This is iteration, not innovation.

The attempts at innovation fall flat for anyone rocking anything other than a strength and intelligence-tuned S.P.E.C.I.A.L build. My luck and charisma build made difficult conversations a cinch, but it also barred me from engaging in weapon and armour modding (in any sort of meaningful way) for more than a day's worth of play.

The settlement building is just as poorly explained, and is obtuse as all get out. I purposefully abstained from completing the tutorial mission on the hunch that any friendly territories I acquired before that point would not be subject to invasion.

For more than 40 hours, and the duration of the main questline, this hypothesis proved true. Funnily enough, the second I fast travelled away from the setting for the ultimate action, I received notice that an outpost was under attack. I don't want to say this new system is unusable, as some creative (if not, puerile) players have already published some impressive creations; it's just a little too indecipherable for my tastes.

Another reason I'm failing to engage with these new features is that the barriers to entry in terms of raw resource requirements are set too high for characters who can't carry an abundance of junk that has no application outside of combat. If I want to have access to weapons that will (eventually) kill an array of deadly enemies, I can't carry 10 pounds of paint thinner, 50 fuses, and my entire arsenal.

Yes, inventory management is still a pain after nearly 20 years of Fallout games. I'd love to offer a solution (like, for instance, being able to send companions to nearby settlements a la Torchlight), but I'm sure the internet as a collective would not deem it worthy. For now, at least, I must continue to return to my home settlement and stuff a fabric suitcase with miniguns and power armour pieces. Don't y'all get between gamers and their fucked up notions of realism now.

The main quest line is home to one too many pointless twists, with inconsistent pacing and some choices that left me feeling indifferent. I don't want to go too far into it for fear of spoiling anything, but the choice of faction for me was obvious, as the two alternatives that I had (could've been three, but I didn't pursue the Minutemen quest chain) had some moustache-twirling, vaudevillian creeds by which I couldn't abide. That being said, my choice didn't result in the satisfying, life-affirming conclusion I was expecting. It wasn't abjectly apocalyptic, but it didn't give me the warm feeling I was hoping for.

As was the case with Fallout 3 and New Vegas, the best meat is in the off-cuts. A short sojourn to collect baseball collectibles for a fan who had no idea how the old game worked was far more enjoyable than the central revenge plot. The guy who wanted to experience every drug-induced high available was far more relatable than any of the Brotherhood of Steel lackeys I came across.

I could continue complaining, like say about the conversation system that leads to seemingly-random outcomes based on vague prompts, the transmisgonyst robot gag that is KL-E-0, or the near non-existent changes to V.A.T.S (or the the combat system as a whole, for that matter); but I'd be missing the point. Fallout 4 is a time sink, and for the most part, it's a sink that I and most other nerds are happy to piss into. War never changes, but Fallout does ever so slowly.

Saturday, September 26

Pets and pariahs

The Beautiful Sing
First Lady of Leeson pets
May your garden grow

The Grey Ghost, Kaylee
Vibrant, rebellious cat
Eternally small

Matriarch, Elaine
Ageless and always regal
Please sleep well, my Queen

Constance, the Fragile
Mother's most precious creature
In our hearts always

Carefree Millicent
Naturally peerless white
Grimey pariah

Cautious Adeline
Selfless, quiet, Addy Pie
Love and peace to you

Friday, September 25

Destiny: The Taken King reviewed

I got commissioned to review the latest expansion to Destiny, The Taken King for If you're interested in hearing my thoughts on Bungie's latest triumph, be sure to check out:

If you're not one for scrolling, you can also read my reviews of:

Tuesday, August 25

Volume: Trilogy


The staggering blow
The staggering blows
Every triumph met with defeats
Nothing is gained in this constant attrition
The number subtracted is always greater
No noise can be heard above the screaming
The maddening howl of consistent grief
I will love you forever
Can you hear me?

Volume II

I would rather not speak
I would not control the flow
The careless sound
I would only speak truth

My version of it is loud with blame
My version has lots of details
There'll be no chance to jump in
My version must be heard

You consider protesting
You know this requires energy
The silence is victory for me
You don't need us anymore

Your version is soft and pointed
Your version cuts and runs
Too bad it won't be played
Your version keeps you here

They know we will end
They sense broken trust
I know the damage irreparable 
They will have to meet us half way

Their version is not final 
Their version spans space and time
You know them better than I
Their version would take years to hear



Saturday, August 22

Listen to your heart

She presses against his face
That lost look in his eyes digitised
Immortalised in high definition 

I've seen that face at home
In other countries
It speaks of hurt
That you want to run
"You might as well rip my heart out"

You answer quickly
I can hear your shame bounce off her cheek
You'll return at once

"You might as well rip my heart out"
A lost vocation 
A locked shed
A set of keys
A single name on a policy

"You might as well rip my heart out"
Reminders of what's been taken
By disease and with the passage of time

Saturday, July 18

Batman: Arkham Knight Review (PS4): About a Batmobile

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a good game. It was also a good licensed game; which meant that people -- particularly people with an affinity for the Caped Crusader (like myself) -- may have been a little prone to hyperbole when discussing one of the better games of 2009. Still, there was no denying that it looked amazing, the punching and kicking felt appropriately hefty, and the boss fights did justice to the Rogues Gallery.

Fast forward to 2011, and Arkham City seemed to lack everything that made its predecessor a revelation. A large environment with a lot of dead space, featuring unlikeable interpretations of some of my favourite characters, and strung together by an absolute fizzer of a story. What stuck with me most, however, was the feeling that Bats had almost too many gadgets. I would often forget how to use or find the gadget I needed to progress. Compounding this was the near necessity of integrating gadget use into the previously enjoyable combat system. It was a big, forced, flop. 

Arkham Origins felt like more of the same, and it was the first game in the series I failed to complete. A similarly dreary environment, a painfully slow start, and the most powerfully frustrating boss fight I've endured in years was enough to force a premature exit. 

Why the history lesson? To give a little bit of enthusiast games press-style context, and to show that my expectations for the series followed a classic bell curve (low, high, low, lower). On the topic of the games press, I'd also witnessed a litany of complaints about the omnipresent Batmobile's role in Arkham Knight.

I was ready to have my expectations met. I was ready for another tedious stroll through Gotham.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed Arkham Knight. More than that, I actually liked the Batmobile-based combat sections.

Don't get me wrong, the game is far from the embarrassing hyperbole of "Next-level next-gen..." (yes, someone actually wrote that sentence). Much like Arkham City, Knight suffers from an overabundance of gadgetry. Worse still, some of the items in your inventory seem to have no use outside of cinematic sequences. Control of everything from the UI, to Batman himself, to the combat (mainly in the later stages), to the Batmobile is overly complicated. This is a feature-bloated romp that could've done with some editorial wrangling.

More troubling is the role of women in the video game version of Gotham. They exist to be saved or to be killed. They exist for titillation and motive. One of the game's many elaborate, multi-stage side quests exists solely for the purpose of rescuing one of the comic book's stronger women characters (by that I mean, she hasn't been immune to the damsel in distress trope, but she can kick buttocks) from a gruesome, explosive fate. The story as a whole is pretty unsatisfying and, much like the recent 'Death of the Family' arc, major punches end up being pulled.

Batman's motto of never killing bad dudes and dudettes is also mind-bogglingly adhered to through the Batmobile electrocuting people on impact, rather than crushing them. Moreover, the ragdoll physics produce some God-defying body crumpling.

Most of these are minor quibbles, but if you go in with lower expectations, I can guarantee you'll have fun with Bats this time around.

What I loved most about Arkham Knight was its near wholesale abandonment of boss fights. In Asylum they looked and played well, but in City it was all sizzle and no steak. This time around, the focus is primarily stealth (with a refreshing lack of insta-fail segments), and the usually satisfying one man army brawling.

As mentioned previously, the Batmobile also gets its fair share of the spotlight. Batmobile combat is super agile tank against more fallible, less agile tanks and I actually found myself going out of my way to shoot shit. The racing and tailing sections are less compelling, but by the end, I was still happy to press L1 and jump in that iconic hulk of an automobile.

One final note on the Batmobile: mixing up rooftop traversal with vehicle segments worked really well for mine, as I found it tedious grapnel(ugh) hooking, bashing X, and maintaining glide after a few hours in the last two sandbox affairs. I realise it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I loved me some Batmobile (unless the Riddler was involved).

I liked Arkham Knight. I'm pretty sure I won't revisit it, but I found it far more entertaining (and less tedious) than the last few iterations. This is a fitting end to the Arkham series, and well worth playing if you've previously enjoyed Rocksteady's brand of awkward stealth and solid fisticuffs.

Learning to walk again

Having conquered all of Destiny's Year One 'Moments of Triumph' and hoarding max level gear for two character classes was almost enough for me. Last night, after having helped a friend through a Prison of Elders run at level 32, I felt satisfied that there was nothing left for me to do.

When I woke up this morning though, I felt a renewed sense of longing to have a max level Hunter. The final piece of my Destiny puzzle was still yet to be placed.

After a few story missions it became painfully apparent that I had made a huge mistake. The Hunter should have been my second choice after the Warlock. The class is fun to play, and the Golden Gun super is infinitely more satisfying to use than the Titan's dome shield or Fists of Havoc (basically an Incredible Hulk-style ground pound).

What's also been humorous, if nothing else, has been witnessing the careless bravery of new Guardians taking on some of the game's early challenges. I was playing the Nexus strike on Venus, and more than once saw different players walking out of cover with an uncommon rocket launcher thinking they could topple Sekrion with a single shot.

Example scenario:

Teammate: [walks into the open] It me, bebe. [fires rocket]
Sekrion: [takes minimal damage, shreds player to death in seconds]
Me: lelz [revives fallen, courageous teammate]

Won't be long now before I can take my third Guardian into the endgame. I already have the coveted Celestial Nighthawk ready to plonk on her head too. What a time to be alive.

Image source: