Friday, 30 September 2016

Falling out of a vault in an a-bombed 50's

Fallout 4

Platform tested: PlayStation 4

I absolutely loved Fallout 3 from last gen, it's probably one of my favourite games on my Xbox 360. To say I was excited for Fallout 4 would've been a bit of an understatement, so when it finally got added to my library I was eager to dig in and play. What seems to be an alarming trend in newly released Bethesda games though, are tons of bugs and bad performance all over the board. The console versions on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 suffered the most. I decided to wait it out and let the patches roll out before jumping in. A few fixes later and a lucky Christmas sale, which gave me the game plus a season pass for the price of the ordinary game, I was set!

The massive visual upgrade and the magnificent, yet shocking, introduction level further built my excitement up. A lot of people had complained about the visuals, for me personally I was very very impressed the first time I booted it up. Sure it's not always appealing on details far into the distance and the character animations are stiff and look like they all came from an uncanny valley convention. But all in all, I really think Bethesda has done a great job visually. Especially when we consider the huge playing area and the incredible lighting and weather effects.

However, technically we are once again witnessing insane load times between the open world and indoors locations. Which makes entering and exiting buildings a tedious affair. Killing the pace and flow when you're excited about moving on quickly. Witnessing these exact same loadtimes in console versions of Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas and Skyrim, I am further disappointed in the developer for not fixing this jarring issue. The same goes for the inconsistent framerate, though it's nowhere near the alarmingly low and single digit(!) numbers Skyrim reached on the PS3. F4 struggles in crowded fights and visually taxing scenes. Bethesda perhaps needs to take a long hard look at this ageing game engine and consider beginning from scratch?!

F4 does a lot of things right though, crucial details that made F3 a classic for me. The atmosphere is incredible once again. The brutal aftermath of society's fall makes living and surviving the post-apocalyptic world the nightmare one would expect it to be. The nasty creatures that have mutated up from the radiation, the anarchy that has risen and the harsh "kill or be killed" mentality of the wasteland. There's a fascinating, yet disturbing, vision of how our world could have been, or could be if everything is pulled apart. F4 retains this scenario in a great way and sets you in a world built for more powerful consoles to depict this dark futuristic vision. I still love the 1950's inspired setting, forever stuck in the era when the atomic age rose and the a-bombs fell. Added to further envision this dark future is dynamic lighting and weather. Watching beautiful sunsets or battling it out in pouring, radiated rain makes it even easier to submerge yourself into F4's dismal world.

Great atmosphere alone isn't a saviour by itself though, there are numerous elements that brought down my excitement after being initially impressed. Dialogue options seem dumbed down to the point of simply agreeing in various forms when they want to move the story along. Rather than giving you a wide range of directions the dialogue and subsequent plotline can develop into. I also disliked the vast amount of too bright and colourful indoor environments. Some of them simply look to modern to be a 1950's believable world and lose the creepy feeling F3 cleverly gave the player when entering claustrophobic indoor environments.

Another annoynance for me was the almost nagging persistence the game had in making you recruit into one of the factions in the game. Joining one of them leads to sidemissions which mainly involve building endless stuff like buildings, furniture and electric contraptions. For me the building mode was totally uninteresting. I simply, want to be alone and away from stupid AI in the vast post-apocalyptic world. Exploringstuff on my own, not building tons of crap for some settlement I really don't care about. The building and crafting is obligatory to completing certain tasks, sadly. I guess the crafting trend in games just isn't something that interests me much, with Minecraft being an exception. People whom enjoy this though, can overlook this complaint.

So I was left with tasks I didn't want to do, in a world where the story seemed pre-determined beyond my influence. In a role playing game this felt restrictive. Sure one could argue that a game needs to follow certain paths to end up somewhere with it's story. Just don't make me enter conversations where I basically have the option of saying "yes" in four different ways. There needs to be radically different choices. As such the plot twists, and in general, the main story never really blew my mind or eagerly caught my attention. Though I'd argue that the Fallout games are mostly about making your own stories and experiences in the wasteland. The excitement lies in the smaller details and random encounters you come across.

I came in wanting this game to be all that F3 was, at least the atmospheric experience, but I left with something else. Sure, it has it's fantastic moments and if you have no history with the previous games then it's probably fine to start here. As a whole though, it doesn't deliver the hype it built itself up to be. At times F3 almost felt like a survival horror for me; creepy dark places filled with ghouls that really freaked me out whenever I fared indoors or underground. In F4 everything looks and feels too bright and positive to capture that scary atmosphere. That's my visual opinion though, the actual game still has all the gameplay elements F3 offered and perfectly captures the atomic era design. The gun feeling especially, is vastly improved and feels much more like a proper first person shooter than before. Storywise, however, there's nothing really captivating here and the feeling of making critical choices in dialogues feels bland.

I leave Fallout 4 with mixed feelings, and as such, I am less interested in a possible next instalment. To improve on the series I feel the technical side needs to be vastly optimized, with greatly improved loading and animation. Far more depth to dialogue options that will send the story in multiple directions. Even a coop to roam the wastelands would be an awesome idea. Fallout 4 though, leaves the fans kind of disappointed, while newcomers will probably fit in nicely. Good, but not good enough to leave a strong impression.



    + Plus points

    • Incredible atmospheric world with added weather and great dynamic lighting.
    • Tons of places to explore, buildings to go into and equipment to find.
    • Setting is still fairly unique for the series and unrivalled.

    - Minus points

    • Discovering buildings will be reset by sidemissions to the same location.
    • Horrible loading times when entering or exiting buildings.
    • Building/crafting things are not my thing, and it's forced onto the player.

    Sunday, 4 September 2016

    Rebooting the doomed, to hell and back.


    Rebooting franchises is a tricky one and next on this list is Doom, the Godfather of all first person shooters. So when you combine what made a franchise great, ignoring the many modern styles of shooters, yet using some of today's most popular gaming ideas; what do end up with? Something extremely great apparently, though there's a ton of technical work behind it, helping it refresh the new Doom with a beautiful graphical coat of paint and lightning fast gameplay. Lets take a trip to hell and take a closer look.

    Platform tested: PlayStation 4

    The original Doom from 1993(!) is one of the absolute most famous videogames of all time, and perhaps the most hardware ported one at that. While it's PC platform origin sparked a huge success and gave way for console ports spanning over Nintendo SNES, Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, even on ill-fated machines like the 3DO and the Sega 32X. These consoles are fairly known to somebody that's old enough to be familiar with the first Doom, the ports to printers and science calculators on the other hand, proves that Doom not only was a popular, but changed the world of gaming technically.

    Slow and ugly downports aside though, the PC original (which is available on both the PS3, Xbox 360 and Xbox One) proved that Doom not just pushed boundaries on the technical side, it redefined an entire genre with fast and smooth gameplay. The first person shooter may have been invented prior to Doom's release, even ID's own Wolfenstein 3D tried to define it, but their Doom game change the gaming landscape forever. Even replaying it in these days shockingly reminds me of how incredible well it controls, how fast it plays and just how damn entertaining it is!

    The new Doom (2016) has some large shoes to fill then, rebooting itself as a brand new game and not just a sequel. Although a good game in it's own form, Doom 3 proved to show that renewing Doom was going to be a hard task so many years after the first two titles. Lets face it Doom 1 and 2 are very alike, and could almost go for the same game. So renewing itself as brand with Doom 3 was going to be hard and in a way it failed to do so. Losing the fast paced gameplay feel and leaning into a far more survival horror territory than the series needed to be. The new Doom, however, hits all the right buttons to become the original game. It takes the essentials of what made Doom such an instant classic in the first place, adds influences from modern gaming, though without losing itself into becoming just another generic shooter clown of modern warfare shooters and ends up being a perfect mix between retro and new.

    Doom, I'm referring to the new game from here on out, sets itself on a mining station on Mars and a rift to hell has opened. Just like the old games, the short explanation is basically that the Mars station has turned into a very, very nasty place to be. You're revived from an ancient grave through a ritual, for reasons explained later in the story, and must simply stop the connecting rift to hell. Your character is only viewed from a first person view and is on a mission to shoot up enemy creatures and blow stuff up! Simple, yet refreshingly so.

    I played the game with the original Doom first person view (gun centred instead of to one side), and perhaps it should have been like this default on release in my book. It's amazing how fast this view accustoms to you, since it's rare in new shooters. Plus I set the FOV (Field Of View), an extremely rare option on consoles, to a sweet spot at 100. Man how much better view this gives than the narrow FOV on most console shooters. It runs incredibly fast and smooth at 60fps too!

    It's simply amazing to shoot up enemies and run around at full speed, there's no walking here, just speedy running around blasting your ammo and strafing enemy fire! I haven't played something so quick in a long time and you don't even need to reload! With such a smooth framerate and detailed graphics, this game is one of the best looking games on console at the moment in my opinion. Judging by the extremely loud fan noise from my PS4, the game must be hammering the hardware! At first the pace can seem almost too fast, but the game quickly gets you into it's flow and in no time you'll be slaughtering enemies while running around like a mad man, trying to pick up ammo and health as you go.

    Although the basic "shoot at everything that moves" rule applies to most of Doom, there's some new additions that lend themselves from modern games. There are instant-kills when you damage enemies to a certain point. I was initially sceptical to this feature, but it turns out to be a nice breathing room as the scripted animation you engage into, with a simply button press, slows the action down as you finish an enemy in a gruesome and violent fashion. Resulting in much needed health and ammo pickups midway during huge and crowded firefights. There's also experience points to earn and upgrade points for your weapons to unlock through challenges, Plus ability points for your actual character to find, spread around the maps. In other words there's a nice portion of depth to the game and the upgrades carry over if you wish to replay the missions, which is always a welcome feature.

    Speaking of the maps, they're huge and offer multiple routes through them. Often tempting the player to play more vertical too, jumping down and attacking from above. While it's nowhere near the complexity of the original Doom with it's maze like, but often confusing corridors, it's far more open and non-linear than most modern shooters. There are even coloured keys to find and unlock doors to progress, very nostalgic touch indeed! For a nice variety and a far more abstract level design approach, the hell areas later in the game offer some very creative layouts and look distinctly different from the Mars environments.

    I loved every minute of Doom, the action is non-stop, the exploration is perfectly balanced between throwing you into big firefights and offering secret routes with goodies hidden in them. There's a great range of enemies with various ways of killing and some insanely large boss battles. While the boss encounters felt like the low point for me with, I felt they were thrown in a little cheaply and were easily forgettable, they do offer some jaw dropping enemy sizes and fast skills to defeat.

    For anybody that loves shooters and want something different than the modern war take these days, Doom really can't be recommended enough. One of 2016's highlights for sure!



      + Plus points

      • Beautiful visuals running in smooth 60fps!
      • Large, more open structured levels with doors requiring keys.
      • Non-stop, super fast gameplay that never seizes to be fun.

      - Minus points

      • A little overuse of some environment types.
      • Boss battles feel simple and kind of tacked on.
      • Bland story that ends with hardly any excitement.