Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fallout 3: Bad Karma

Disclaimer: I do apologize for the length of my posts. The fact of the matter is that these will become standalone chapters in Bonesnack: Now a book.

I wanted to talk to you about Fallout 3. A game that had me up to a point where I almost forgot I had a blog. After playing Mass Effect I jumped right into the Fallout universe. A shooter RPG after a shooter RPG. Yet, the difference was still quite dramatic. I'll start off with the bad. Fallout 3 has the looks of a shooter. Yet it is a Role Playing Game through and through. Maybe it is too much of an RPG for it's own good. Making it hard to give it a pass as the first person shooter it pretends to be.

I was quite shocked when I first got to feel the controls of this game, expecting it to control somewhat like COD4 or Crysis or even Bioshock. In Short, it doesn't at all. All of this might be a minor thing but it does take some getting used to. For instance, I was quite horrified to see the game "complete" my steps. Which feels like when you scale a flight of steps, stepping up only with your right foot, one flight at a time. It's hard to describe because it's so unusual. Like the game has a "right foot forward policy". When you crouch down and move about, the game will "add a step" in order put your right foot forward when you have manually put your left foot forward. I'm pretty sure there's a reason for this. And if so, I'm pretty sure it's an RPG thing. And if so, I'm pretty sure it's rooted in outmoded design. To clarify, this is a bad thing. It's obnoxious and clunky and it has no place in entertainment. Are we to count our steps to prevent the sky falling down? Do not condition us to have an obsessive-compulsive disorder!

At first I thought this quirk might be there to make the third person view work. But then as I entered said viewpoint, I was met with disbelief yet again. My stomach turned. Apparently I was air-skating across the environment. My body was making a running animation completely out of sync with the environment, and in 4 directions only. This game has horrible, horrible animation! Bethesda needs contact a motion capture studio and hire some animators. It needs to film some people talking to each other. Study the motions and take note. However, I need to nuance my statements a bit, I might come off as thinking too straight. For the most part, animations are fine. That is to say, when your running around in first person, having a firefight, using VATS (hey, ragdolls don't need any animation). It works, even though it's mediocre at best.
The third person view is there just to look at your character. It's unplayable otherwise. Further pushing the game into the FPS corner where bigger, better shooters lurk.

When you engage in a conversation, or you're being talked to, the game will zoom in on the speaker. Like in real life. You have quite a powerful zoom built into your eyes. That way you get a good view of all the bad. These characters are animatronics. There faces are as bland as cereal that's been left soaking in the bowl for too long. There are facial expressions but they are so subtle and stiff that you probably won't even notice. There are no gestures, no body language. And when there is, they wave their hand about a bit, and even that animation is looped. In cases they will stand there like complete idiots and in perfect silence with a hand that makes the same "I'm weighing a bull's nutsack"-motion every 10 seconds. It wasn't that easy coming to terms with all this. But since the game is not about talking to people it's possible to look the other way, or at the dialog text and continue with the game.

But my biggest gripe with the game is the blending of RPG and FPS elements. Animation is superficial. Gun play and combat gameplay are essential. I can hear the crowd gathering on my front door, protesting in one voice 'Fallout 3 is not a shooter!'. And they are wrong. Fallout 3 is made to play like a shooter, and so should it be judged. At first glance, the game plays rather clumsy. Your gun isn't particularly accurate nor powerful and your movement isn't very fluid. You're hoping it's a level 1 thing only, that things will get better over time. Well, they do. To a degree that you'll you gain auto-aim when you're really proficient with a type of weapons. It's another RPG rule I guess. Your weapons magically become more accurate when they are put in more capable hands. It feels so goddamn feeble to be shooting an assault rifle with bullets spraying in a 30 degree cone of fire. And for no good reason. This rifle has near mint condition and it shoots as if it has no barrel. The way to fix this "effectiveness with this weapon"-conundrum is, in my opinion, to have the hands sway a bit. Like when you're using a sniper rifle. It will sway in your untrained hands. Of course, when you squeeze the trigger at the right moment the bullet should still hit the mark, or at lease have a more believable trajectory. With this it becomes that much harder to compensate for the sway while aiming. But with the current game mechanic Fallout 3 has, even this isn't possible. Being an RPG, dice are governing hits and misses. Which means, when the dice roll indicates a miss, you miss. Even when you were seemingly dead on target. The opposite happens as well. When your aim is off but the dice are right, you'll hit. The effect is basically auto-aim and it's insulting to any self-respecting shooter fan. For wanting to be an RPG so badly it sacrifices consistency. Personally I'd ditch the entire system. It's boneheaded to try and shove dice rolls into a shooter. So don't. Make a shooter with RPG elements and be done with it.
But sure. Bethesda set out to make Oblivion with guns, mission accomplished.
By the way, why is the weight limit still around? It doesn't make the game more fun or challenging. It makes you shuttle from one container to another. Because of realism? In what reality does a coffee mug weigh half a kilogram? So many elements of this game shout, at the top of its lungs, "This is not a realistic game.", that a lot of these "set in stone" RPG conventions become superfluous.

The idea behind combat in an RPG is that it's strategic on a party based level. Or on a turn based level. Fallout 3 has no party management, no (visible) turns and no strategy.
The strategy in combat is that of a shooter. It deals with positioning your character, prioritizing targets, lining up shots, leading a target. Managing reloads. getting into cover at the right moments, picking the right weapons for every encounter. Such is the ways of shooters. If you want to borrow stuff, go look at the best of their class. Go look at COD4 and Gears Of War. Don't go looking at MOH: Pacific Assault. Elements that are missing are a scaling cross-hair to indicate the bullet spread or accuracy (although giving the system Fallout uses, the cross-hair would take up half the screen), weapon sets, lean mechanics, iron sights. I could even add weapon mods to that, but I guess no one ever had a second thought about the innovation Crysis brought to the table, which is a damn shame. Combat in Fallout 3 isn't very engaging. The AI simply isn't up to par with other shooters out there. What happens most of the time is that characters will charge up to close range and stab you with whatever weapon or limb they have.Or they will get out of cover and charge up to close range and empty their clip on you. They're also amazingly accurate compared to your own gun-spray. Sometimes though, they will flee when it's clear they're outmatched.
The only time I had a challenging fight was when a group of Tesla Soldiers pressed me with long range plasma fire while one of them charged at me.
So what else is there to harp on. There are no weapon sets. So you need to bring up the pipboy every time you want to switch weapons. Which hampers the action quite a bit. A few weapon slots would have been great. But alas, Fallout•3 was made with consoles (drag and drop what?) in mind and the PC platform suffers for it. But we're getting used to this.
I think I'll postpone my comments on the voice acting in the game until I write a dedicated post on that subject. Now, I know I might sound really down on the game. But truth be told, it has taken hours a day of my time for more than a month. And it's been occupying my gaming thoughts for just as long. So next time, I'll write a glowing post about it. I just wish Bethesda had made something that could stand next to the greatest of shooters, as well as the greatest of RPGs. But maybe 1 out of 2 still isn't so bad.

To be continued...


As bonus content and just as an example of how the RPG system of this game is holding it back. The end sequence with liberty prime could have been a lot more intense and interesting if the system could "calculate" more enemies at any given time. There's always little opposition, 5 troopers tops, and more spawn in when you dispatch the former. Imagine if the game didn't have to calculate dice rolls for any of those. A lot more calculations could be put to use on AI for more troopers.
And let's take it to the extreme, there could have been an Enclave Megatron to oppose Liberty Prime. Megatron kills off Prime, since enclave tech is always better, but does so at the cost of some of his health. You are left to mop up Megatron in a bossfight not unlike that of Crysis (Warhead).
That would have been an epic close to this epic game. Unlike the luke-warm ending it has now. Hear that, Bethesda? Stop being afraid.

No comments: