Game review: Fallout 4

Enough has been said about Fallout 4’s flaws by others and I will not repeat what has been said before ad nauseam other then to note that Bethesda has finally done away with the roleplay elements of the game, which isn’t really a surprise as we shall see shortly. In fact it is the goal Bethesda has been progressing towards.

I will concentrate on what for me simply breaks a game, which is the story. In this respect Bethesda has been very consistent in that none of their flag ship games, being the Elder scrolls series and the Fallout series, have anything resembling a good story. Take the story lines of both Oblivion and Skyrim, they are very similar and just bare bones enough to get you out into the world. The world is basically a sandbox where you can roam around doing repeat missions that have no consequences. Go and kill some elder dragons up on the mountain and return to town to find out that nothing has changed. In Skyrim Bethseda has made boring what in other games is the summon of tension: fighting dragons. Next we will see fights with demons, as boring as can be(compare this to Dragon Age III)

Fallout is now the same game as the Elder scroll series. It is a sandbox game that has a flimsy storyline to get you going. It is so inconsequential that the game spends less then 10 minutes on your background story, it might be longer if you take the time to extensively alter your look.The whole story in a nutshell: a short introduction to your family, after which you agree to a place in the nearby Vault. Then the alarms sound, you run to the Vault getting while the bombs drop. You get frozen in, wake up for unknown and unexplained reasons, to see your partner getting killed and your kid stolen. Some unknown time passes and you get out of your cryogenic module, to find everyone in the Vault dead. Except for the radroaches, that is. It ends when you escape to the surface to enter the world of Fallout.

Fallout fails as a story because there is nothing to make you go out there. There is no imminent danger, no sword of Damocles or time limit. There is no evil character to beat, a threat to thwart or a world to save. The kidnapped son is supposed to be the MacGuffin that ought to get you going, but there is no pressure and, given that no time is spend on making him matter,  you basically don’t care what happens to him. In fact you know nothing will happen to him as the story won’t progress unless you talk to the next NPC in line. He is so unimportant that I even forgot his name until it popped up in my conversation options.

This game now has the option to build things, not that it matters to the world at large. It won’t get any safer or more advanced. In fact nothing happens. The same goes for the killing of all the monsters and raiders. What you get is empty looted places, not safe havens: the beginnings of a new civilization. You make a wasteland by killing everything and then that might be called peace.

Someone compared it to State of Decay and indeed even that game shows how soulless Fallout has become. In State of Decay you cared for your small group of survivors and building mattered for it made your base safer and for you especially when you had to find resources that were important and in short supply. It also had a story with a definite end and a heightened pressure when more deadly monsters appeared. There were many faults in State of Decay, but you felt that it what you did mattered, you had your favorite survivors you cared for and gave the best of your equipment.

And this then compared to the empty world of Fallout. No story to be had, no characters to care for, you don’t matter, the world doesn’t matter and nothing matters. It is a sandbox where you can roam around for ever for there are always randomly spawned monsters and raiders around the corner. It has no story and no soul. How utterly soulless it has become is shown by the fact that any humor is lacking. This game is as dry as a desert and devoid of life as a graveyard. Compare that to Fallout 1 and 2.

And this is what Bethesda wants. Offering a sandbox game without a story so they don’t have to spend time on writing, without roleplay elements so they can go on forever, and with just shooting and looting. What is next? Fallout online or Elder Scrolls online no doubt. Perhaps that already exist? Maybe. It is what a MMO is basically: sand box games with a flimsy story. Soulless worlds.

Not a game review: Legions of Ashworld

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Don’t you like these dubious post titles?

I deny to do what I seem to be doing.. writing a review about a game.. And in all honestly.. it isn’t. A game review touches on the game as game and should take most aspect of a game into account.  Or at least.. attempt to. The reason I don’t make game reviews is that I do not look at all aspects.. but only at a few ones.. I cherry pick. so to speak. I usually only look at the use of graphics and story telling.
An example is the game the cat lady.. which I have written about it before. As a game it is probably not that good, the puzzles must be fairly easy to solve for an experienced puzzle gamer as I found them easy to resolve and I am not an experienced puzzle gamer. However I like the game because in a way it is unusual and new. It tells a story and uses graphics and style to support the story. It is sometimes gruesome perhaps.. but it is never too shocking.
Now I like to take a look at the game Legions of Ashworld(LOA of short) because it is inspired by the game Lords of Midnight(LOM for short). If you have never heard of Lords of Midnight I would not be surprised. It is a game that was made in the eighties of the previous century and looks pretty awful by current standards. However it was an innovative game at the time because it was one of the first open game worlds in which you were allowed to roam around at will, you could look into the distance, it combined a wargame with a fantasy system and allowed you to win the game in two ways: either defeat the evil army or destroy an artifact that gave the evil lord his power(a third option was to do both.).
Legions of Ashworld is a game that is inspired by Lords of Midnight and those who, like me, have played it feel that similarity.  This similarity can best be seen in the below screenshot.

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This is an ingame screenshot of the world. You are actually looking through the eyes of the Lord Taraz towards fortress. Currently you are looking towards the north(the north pointer is highlighted)
You can look all around by clicking on the pointers. When an object is nearby, it  is big and when it is far off it gets smaller. The pictures are thus layered over each to create a feeling of depth. This is very similar to Lords of Midnight.
Like in LOM you start with a small group of people when the war breaks out and you have to recruit the lords of the land, the wizards and even invoke the help of giants.
The initial phase of the game see you gathering your forces while the enemy makes inroads into your country with overwhelming forces. And you will find you won’t be able to battle your enemy until well into the game because you simply lack the troops to do so.
For most of the time you need to keep track of things by consulting the map. Below you see a map from the tutorial that gives you an impression of various symbols.
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And with that the similarities with Lords of Midnight end.
Lord of Midnight was an epic game that mimicked the essentials of Lord of the Rings. The game came with  a short story that introduced us to the three main characters: Luxor the Moonprince, Morkin and Rothrn the Wise. Thus the characters got a kind of presence. There was a feel and mood created.
Anything like it is lacking in Legions of Ashworld. LOA has no epic feel. It feels as a basic wargame. This lack of epic feel is also caused by the visual style. The makers of LOA have chose for a neat visual style in yellow and earth tone colors and set the tale in a desert environment. The characters have a similarity in look and name and coupled with the lack of background this makes them unremarkable and interchangeable and thus dull.

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This lack of sense or authentic feeling  coupled with the fact that it is simplistic wargame makes the game interesting for one or two play troughs.. It is a pity for the art style shows promise.. especially when you look at image in the picture above.

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Perhaps the maker of this game might try to make another inspired game that captures more of the epic feel that made LOM so great. I certainly would recommend to consider another color scheme and make the visual less..uniform. More colors perhaps or different colors..

Of course a game doesn’t simply get better changing the visuals, but visuals help.

Merit

A game: The cat lady

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Starting a post by writing  that I like a game counts probably as a spoiler and it certainly would be -I think-  if this post was meant as a game review, but this isn’t mean as such. The reason I write about the game the cat lady is because it is one of those small little games that linger in the dark recesses of steam(the online game shop) and  is likable, even though it might not be  a good game according to many standards.

So doesn’t that mean the game isn’t worth the money you pay for it?

Not at all.

First off, the game isn’t that expensive, I bought it for just a  few euros so based on the cost you don’t need to set your expectations high.  But  the most important reason is that it combines pictures, music and voice acting very nicely into a neat story.

So what is the story about?

The cat lady is a story of Susan Ashworth, a 40 year old single woman, who is called the cat lady because  she feeds the neighborhood cats,  who has had some pretty nasty experiences in her past and who commits suicide, she then gets send back by a rather strange(and creepy) lady  to take care of the ‘parasites’; people who prey on other people up to the point of killing them  So that is basically what you are expected to do: stop the parasites. The story will see you move between realities, between death and live and back and forth between then and now. And your most powerful tool? You can’t be killed. Well, you can be killed, only you come back to live in a short while.

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Death is just the start of the tale and will be one of the ways to solve the mysteries.

The story is  a bit morbid, and certainly gruesome at times. Most of the scenes are set fixed scenes that you look at from one side. There is a little bit of animation to the scenes, but not much. At various points sounds are used and music. It is all used sparingly, but properly and to the point.

So instead of seeing this game as a game, you might also see it as a kind of interactive narrative. Sometimes you are allowed to make different choices, although I don’t think the choices will ultimately result in a dramatic different story. I didn’t explore alternatives, but considering the price and the smallness of the game, I doubt they would have spent a lot of time and effort on exploring alternative story lines.

What I most like about this game was the imagery and therefore I took some screenshots, killed about sixteen of my darlings and show you the remains below.

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The cat lady and the strange old lady

 

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So guess who has to do something about it?
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So what else can you do?
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The cat lady’s apartment. The mood is gloomy.
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The chapters are all headed by gloomy colors. Not an atmosphere that will make you happy, but then again, some people might feel better because of it.

 

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The story often depicts the state of mind of the cat lady and goes back in time, like in this scene in which a traumatic experience in the cat lady’s past is explored.

 

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Some scenes are probably a bit gruesome to some and I was hesitant in posting this one, but I thought it should be posted because there are gruesome moments in this game/story.

 

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There are some beautiful depictions in the game. The atmosphere painted with images as this. While they might be cliche to some they still invoked a powerful feeling.

 

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Susan Ashworth, the cat lady.

 

The walking dead videogame: interactive storytelling.

(This movie shows three key scenes.. if you do not like spoilers you should not watch after the first scene has ended. There is a red walking dead sign dividing the first and second scene.)

I was fortunate that I did not buy the video-game the walking dead. I was somewhat suspicious about it actually being a game, so I decided to find out what kind of game it  before buying it. You see, the maker of the game, tell-tale games. made and makes click adventures. Click adventures are the kind of games where you have to click on objects in the game to combine them so they can be used to make the game proceed. It is not my kind of game. In fact ever since  I played Zork way back I stopped playing those kind. I vaguely recall that I had to do something with a piece of string and a clay brick to open some kind of doorway. I think the piece of wire was meant to go into the clay, then the clay was made into a brick and the brick with string attached had to be put in a wall to open a secret door.

The walking dead game was exactly the kind of ‘game’ I expected it to be. So based on that conclusion it would not be very interesting for me. However I became fascinated by the game movies that one guy called the rad brad had made. I followed him playing this game from start to finish.  And it was clearly not a game but rather an interactive movie. The whole story line did progress along the same path regardless of what options the player choose.  Most of the options available were more to give the story a slightly different feel then make for a dramatic different game or create an complete different conclusion.

The game might be disappointing for people who want to play a game that gave them the option to make decisions that had important repercussions. However as a story it captured me even though it had it’s weak moments.

I was wondering what actually made the story work for me and after some pondering I figured that the most  crucial thing in the game is the relation between the main character Lee and  the little girl Clementine. Lee acts as Clementine’s replacement dad. It is therefore that I made a small movie showing two crucial moments in the game…the one where Lee and Clementine meet and the one were they part.  In addition it also shows you how the game ends.. So that is three scenes.

In addition to the central relationship in the story I have to name the voice acting as a impressive. The fact that the game makers stick to a simple story line seems to work well and most of the characters are believable people that you can identify with, care about, understand, suffer or perhaps even hate.  Unlike many characters is other movies and games where nobody really cares about them because they are not believable people. Lee, for instance, is the kind of guy I liked from the start as being a former teacher. Clementine is a kind of kid that you like.

Because I like pictures above typed text, let me go through some of the movie scenes and comment on a few scenes that makes this video game/movie stand out.

The walking dead opens with the skyline of Atlanta

The walking dead opens with the skyline of Atlanta and it is a link between the television series, comic and the game. That way people will know the setting. In a later post I will comment further on the interaction of thoughts, feels and the use of language and imagery to invoke stories. Above the picture   somehow I thought it read “A brand new day.” Note the beautiful blue sky and the sunny setting.  Interestingly.. while this is the skyline of Atlanta we do no go to it.. the story takes us away from it. In this manner a possible conflict can be avoided. Bye bye Atlanta.

The conversation between Lee and the cop.

The conversation between Lee and the cop is done partly via the rear view mirror. This way we can follow their expressions. It also underscores the relation between the two and will aid in setting up the scene where they have the accident. Note that setting is still pleasant. There will be message on the radio and police cars driving towards Atlanta. We know what is going to happen.

After the police car hits a zombie, it slips, crashes through this rail and ends up at the bottom of this slope.

After the police car hits a roaming zombie, it slips, crashes through this rail and ends up at the bottom of this slope. While this is a very unlikely occurrence (those rails can stop trucks) this makes for a very engaging shot from above. Note the corpse of the cop in the right top corner and the trails of blood that runs from the car to him. The shades and dark lights create for an ominous scene. The sunny happy mood has been replaced by gloom and creepy shadows. It is a cool way to make a picture. The look from above to below zooms out give an overview and also makes everything remote. Note that the darkness is on the edges. It creeps in from all sides.

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A shot from the car through the cracked window.. the dead cop catches the attention. To make us focus he is in the light and the rest is dark, with the darkness being at the edge of the picture.

Again the above shot is almost like a painting.. which perhaps it is. The low quality of the graphics is used to the advantage by changing it all into a more comic kind of style. I suspect it was a way how the makers had to deal with a technical limitation, yet kept the whole in style and interesting. Incidentally.. the original comic is done in black and white which is probably a way to save cost on having to color the pictures

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When Lee gets out the car he looks around and reaches down.. this gives the maker the change to create this upward shot where the light of the sky turns Lee into a silhouette. The sky is a sickly yellow.
Lee finds out that the cop is dead but still moving. It lunges for Lee. Lee crawls backwards until his escape is blocked by the car. This is just prior to him picking up the shotgun and killing the now zombie-cop. The camera is set at an angle and we look down upon Lee. This supports the feeling of fear, strangeness and confusion.
Lee escapes zombies that have been alerted by the gun shot by climbing over a fence.

After escaping from the zombies Lee finds himseft on the grounds of this suburban home. The shot is zoomed out which show us he is completely alone.. his shouting made me cringe. This will be used several times during the game. Someone shouting in an otherwise silent place. Did you notice the eerie yellow sky and gloom? In the distance it almost looks like there are yellow vapors rising from the ground.

Lee enters the nearby home.

When Lee enters the nearby house he moves from out of the light into the darkness. Again creating an eerie atmosphere. This is the home where he meets Clementine. As you can see this whole setup is deliberately. In the previous pictures it is dark as if the evening has fallen. Then the scene is changed to an eerie sick yellow color. Here the color outside is almost golden, while inside darkness is hiding unknown dangers.

The central working element in the game is the relation between Lee and Clementine.

The central working element in the game is the relation between Lee and Clementine. While the art could be better and is not that original as some people claim – it resembles that of other games and movies(Borderlands spring to mind) – the use of expressions and the voice acting coupled to the images make the story work. In fact it works better than many movies with real people.

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Lee crouches down and talks to Clementine. His fatherly caring attitude towards the frail girl shows him to be a gentle person. We care for this person because he cares for Clementine.
This is perhaps one of the most telling shots.. Lee taking Clementine by the hand to brave the unknown dangers of this zombie plagued world.
Another classic scene.
At the beginning of the game Lee meets Kenny.. the relation between Lee and Kenny is another important one in the game. Kenny is the other dad.. and his relation to his wife and his son is a mirror of that which Lee and Clementine have. Note that we will never see a scene in which Kenny talks to Clementine. His looks is that from a country guy or mechanic. This is a working class man(as opposed to Lee, who is a teacher.)
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Kenny’s wife Katjaa and their son Duck. Duck is an obnoxious brawny kid and almost the opposite of Clementine. As such he functions as a kind of lightning rod.
This is Lilly who leads the group of survivors that Lee and Clementine join.

Lilly is the leader who continuously struggles with her role. I am not sure how other people feel about her, but I think she was wrongly treated in the story line. She was obviously put in a role she felt uncomfortable with and she tried to do her best in a bad situation. Nobody, not even Lee, actually volunteers to take over her leadership role, yet she is keenly aware of unvoiced (imagined?) criticisms towards her own short comings. She has to make though decisions and at one moment during the game she makes Lee, who is the main potential challenge to her leadership, even if he does not want to, choose whom to feed. The makers of the game do something harsh towards her halfway into the series although  it is not out of character. This act makes her flee the group and thus leave the story.. although there is possibility she might return in  future episodes.

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Lilly’s father is an overbearing bitter person. His appearance supports this very well. He has a broken nose and a jutting jaw like he is some kind of street fighter (bully?).. It is also hinted at that he is a racist which explains his hostility towards Lee. At some point he warns Lee off to keep his hand away from his daughter, thus adding a sexual undercurrent to his dislike for Lee,
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This is Ben, like other characters in the story he seems to be in the game to supply the story with someone who can be written off at some point during the tale so that we keep being aware of how dangerous this world is.
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Molly appears in the last episode of the game and she as fast in as she is out. Without her wanting to she almost causes the group of survivors to be overwhelmed by zombies. She is a resource full athletic girl and one of the few people that survive. It is almost in her nature to survive.
Chuck, another survivor that has a small role in the story. His role seems mostly to make Lee aware that the world has changed forever and he needs to learn Clementine some basic things like.. firing a handgun. Skill we in a normal society would not want to teach to our children. His is the wise guy… even though he is portrayed as a hobo.
This picture invokes a strange scene. The group sits near a abandoned train out in the open. Chuck is playing music. It is explained before that the place is secluded and protected, yet with all the roaming zombies around one wonders why there is not one single guard.. on the top of train for instance?

As a story element the above scene creates a placid scene. The sky is blue and it almost looks like they are sitting around a campfire as if on holiday. Not even someone on guard. Which might be a deliberate move. A guard would spoil this ideal camping picture.  Note that nobody seems to change clothes throughout the game, except for Kenny, who switches t-shirts..

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Another set of picture that show the interaction between Lee and Clementine. He explains her that she has to cut her hair because zombies could grab it. Later Lee learns her to shoot.

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The group enters the city of Savannah. The place of hope. Note the sunny colors..
While zombies are a constant threat in the background the game does not overdo it. It uses them appropriately. In this scene the previously empty streets of Savannah are suddenly filled with zombies because Molly uses bells to lure them away. She is however unaware of the group of survivors entering the town. As consequence she lures the zombies right towards them. From a technical angle this image shows the limits of the game as well. The avatars have been lightened but they do not match up to the surrounding lighting and they cast no shadows where other things do. As such they almost look like they have been cut out and pasted into the scene.

Another use of colors in the above two scenes. When the group enters the city of Savannah.. the scene is set as if it is a nice summers day.. when the zombies arrive.. the colors are turned to dark and threatening. It is one of the ways to underscore the mood…

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The game at various moments shows us empty streets that are suddenly filled with zombies. It is one of these weaker features in the story. Why would zombies linger in the houses to sudden erupt into the street? Because it is story wise more exciting and.. it is probably also a limitation of the game.

Note the sky above this scene.. bad things are about to happen….

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During one of the moments in the game a hunting party send out by the group finds three other survivors.

This scene is cast in an almost pleasant like forest view. In this case the dark threatening colors are no used.. because the sunray that shines into the clearing makes for a nice contrast with the next scene.. The light guides our view towards the center..

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One has been caught in a trap while zombies close with the group they frantically try to release the trapped survivor.

Zombies shamble towards the group…

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There are tough moments in the game like these where you have to choose whom to feed. Curiously enough the whole food issue is never mentioned again.
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More issues.. this girl is about to be overwhelmed by zombies.. your can choose to kill her or hope she makes it, but it is obvious from the situation that she has not a shadow of chance to get out alive.

The above scene with the dark clouds that seem threatening is the stage for this little drama.. you have to either see her killed by the zombies or you have kill her yourself. Watching this scene gives me a sad shocked feeling. I know what is going to happen.. You can see she must have been through a rough time with her being dirty… she almost looks like a zombie at this point, and you can see the desperation on her face. He looking as a zombie creates this feel that she has been in the pit.. tries to escape.. Lee and Kenny are near.. yet within sight of salvation they can not help her..and only kill her quickly to spare her an agonizing death…

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More tough choices. The camera is set low so that it show the kid in the middle and the gun in the foreground.

This camera is set low.. so we are at eye level with the kid.. the two grown-ups loom over the dead kid.. It is a classic scene of a vulnerable kid being at the mercy of two strong grown-ups.. The gun illustrates this to a point.. If we did not know from the story-line this might be even interpreted in another way. This is one of the things about a story.. like a house it is made up out of smaller parts that give it context and meaning.. Context and meaning that could be changed by changing the constituent parts of the story.

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Tough moments like these abound.. you can choose to rescue Ben or not. There is a reason you might want to drop him.. which is why the choice is not easy.

The camera shot is marvelous: the one hand holding Ben, the zombies roaming below and climbing the stairs. The darkness creeps in from all sides.. again.

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Almost at the very end we discover what happened to the Clementine’s parents.

This last scenes are done in a stark dark color. We are in the pit of darkness…

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Halfway during the story the group find this train blocking the road.
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The survivors get the train to work. It brings them to Savannah where they hope to escape by boat.

This is the scene of Savannah just before the group enters the town..They travel towards the sun.. the bringer of light, warmth and hope.

Yellow dust hangs over this scene and obscures the zombies.. suggesting there are a lot of them. If you look closer you will see that there are not that many there..
Lee hangs out of the train.. the group barely escaped this horde of zombies. You could swap the zombies for any other kind of pursuit.. it is the classic.. we got away! scene.
One of the final scenes…It could be dusk or dawn..but the landscape signifies a change of state. Considering it was dark before.. this must be dawn..