Review

Fallout 76 - a Post-Apocalyptic Playground

I hit level 50 in Fallout 76 recently, so I finally feel ready to write about the game. I’ve explored the world and seen most, but not all, it has to offer. Fallout 76 has been a buggy mess since release, but I’m not going to focus on that. Despite the obvious fact that a game should be as solid as possible upon release, bugs can be fixed and I’m sure Bethesda will get to them all eventually. This write up will be about the game as a whole, so there’s going to be some good as well as some bad.

I was worried when the game was announced, you can even read my initial impressions back here, but this trailer was the major red flag. The lighthearted, “fun” tone is totally at odds with what Fallout has always been about. Well, with what it was originally about. On one of my many Twitter rants, I likened it to the frog in boiling water. Fallout has been changing ever so slightly since Bethesda took over and it’s only now that we can see how far it’s drifted away from its original course. Gone are the days of bleak, gallows humor about the worlds end - now it’s all about the carefree romp through the wasteland with your friends.

Nothing showcases this shift in focus from “the dark horrors of war” to “fun with friends” so much as having the ability to launch nukes of your own. No more philosophical debate about whether humanity deserves to live on as the masters of earth after such a monumental act of collective stupidity as the Great War.  Fuck it, nuke your friends camp for shits and giggles!

Nothing showcases this shift in focus from “the dark horrors of war” to “fun with friends” so much as having the ability to launch nukes of your own. No more philosophical debate about whether humanity deserves to live on as the masters of earth after such a monumental act of collective stupidity as the Great War.

Fuck it, nuke your friends camp for shits and giggles!

Fallout 76 is fun, I’ve played it long enough to get to level 50 and I’ll likely continue to play it, but it’s a kids version of Fallout. Remember when you were a kid and you’d play with whatever toys you had on hand? Leonardo would team up with Cobra Commando to take on Funshine Bear and his legion of Bratz dolls. It was your own version of Toy Story. Well, that’s what Fallout has become. It’s a world that’s pretending to be Fallout, and although it’s got all the right bits it doesn’t make any sense. I’m going to have to tap into some serious lore-snobbery here, but it’ll pay off so just indulge me.

Come on, I had to…

Come on, I had to…

First off, the setting. Fallout 76 has some beautiful looking environments, and they’re all very different from one another. You know when you’re standing in Cranberry Bog as opposed to the Toxic Valley, they’ve each got their own character and it really shows. Appalachia as a whole is a diverse environment and it’s great to explore, the only problem is that it was never hit with a nuclear weapon. For a series about a post-nuclear Armageddon, that’s kind of important. The rest of the world, and every other fallout game, is a radioactive desert due to direct nuclear strikes but Appalachia is lush and vibrant and only received some secondary radiation at worst. Why would you make a game about post-nuclear war, and then set it in the one location that wasn’t nuked?

It looks pretty… but has Fallout ever been pretty?

It looks pretty… but has Fallout ever been pretty?

Originally, the Brotherhood of Steel didn’t even know that Super Mutants existed until 2161 but in Fallout 76 they’re fighting them in 2102. It sounds trivial, but it’s a discrepancy of 59 years. It’d be similar to a historical fiction story about Australia getting involved in the American Revolutionary War, or Israel fighting in World War 2. Sure, all parties are technically around, in one form or another, but it’s a pretty big stretch for them to meet at said points in time. Fallout 76 has had to bend over backwards to try to explain why all these groups and monsters are present when it doesn’t really make sense for them to be.

The Brotherhood of Steel had a chapter in Appalachia who joined via satellite, even though the Brotherhood were traitors who went through some serious character altering shit. Never mind the fact that no loyal military unit would join traitors, why would the Brotherhood want to bring in people who hadn’t been through the same ordeals as them? Ever tried to get into a military bar when you’ve never served? Those motherfuckers are so cliquey they make high school cheerleaders look open and inviting.

The worst part is that they turned the founder of the Brotherhood of Steel into a whiny, idealistic bitch…and turned his son into the hardass who made them isolationist. They weakened the setting as a whole, just to get this game out…

The worst part is that they turned the founder of the Brotherhood of Steel into a whiny, idealistic bitch…and turned his son into the hardass who made them isolationist. They weakened the setting as a whole, just to get this game out…

Super Mutants are present, but they were created before the war because a company decided to test out the Forced Evolutionary Virus on a town. This totally breaks canon because the FEV was taken from them a year before the Great War, and that’s all tied in with the Brotherhood of Steels origins. Similarly, Deathclaws are this mythological nightmare that’s whispered about around campfires in 2161, but decades earlier in Fallout 76 they’re common as mud. How did they even get there? The Enclave are present, and they’re probably the only pre-existing faction that has an honest reason to be present.

But then it doesn’t matter anyway, because all humans and ghouls are dead. Which is the next major issue with Fallout 76, the fact that there are only robot NPC’s. Bethesda came up with a contrived pretext as to why they didn’t need to include human or ghoul NPC’s and it’s weak as piss. A plague killed them all, juuuust before you came out of the vault. The big moral of the story is that the different groups didn’t work together and so they got wiped out one by one - so you should learn to play nice with your fellow Vault Dwellers and develop some teamwork skills.

The second you leave the vault - dead body. And it just spirals from there.

The second you leave the vault - dead body. And it just spirals from there.

We could have come out of Vault 76 at the height of the Scorch Plague - with all the different groups at each others throats while trying to survive or solve the situation. Towns could be getting overrun with refugees, with Responders and the Free-States helping out where they could. The Brotherhood could’ve been fighting Scorchbeasts head on and the Enclave could’ve been trying to help out and profit from the shadows. Hell, even the Raiders could’ve been convinced that it was in their best interests to help out against the larger threat. We could’ve been the unifying element that worked with all of them and saved Appalachia… but instead we walk into a dead world and we save a dead world.

Who gives a shit?

As someone who has written an epistolary novel, check it out here if you feel like, I can tell you that this style of storytelling has some serious limitations. It’s great to find letters and recordings of characters scattered about the world, it can certainly add depth to a setting, but overall it can get real old. The mere fact of the document already existing in the world, means that someone had to make it which means it’s a past tense document that can only ever really deal with the past. Bethesda had to do some narrative acrobatics to have dead characters recording instructions on how to complete missions. But even then, these characters aren’t talking to you - they’re talking to a recorder in the hope that someone, someday, will listen and opt to follow the instructions of a dead person.

Prerecorded Holotape - “Feral Ghouls have overrun the town, go kill them!”

Me - “Why? Nobody lives here…”

Prerecorded Holotape - *No answer because it’s a prerecorded holotape*

The thing is that all these epistolary documents give Fallout 76 a pretty amazing backstory, but that’s not the same thing as a story. The backstory is part of the setting, it’s the worlds history and it’s what grounds the story and gives events and your own actions some weight. Story is what actually happens through the game and although the world of Fallout 76 (despite its inconsistencies) is pretty damn detailed, the story is severely lacking.

Basically, you run around and join all these factions that have been wiped out and you pick up their individual pieces of the puzzle and combine them to “save” Appalachia. Never mind the fact that Taggerdy’s Thunder, a unit of Army Rangers, shouldn’t have joined the Brotherhood of Steel, you can then go and join the Brotherhood of Steel through them. There’s no connection to the original faction 3000 miles to the west, because the satellites went down ages ago, and everyone in Appalachia is dead. But, somehow, you can still call yourself a part of the Brotherhood of Steel. Cool, in that case, can I be a Viking? They’re all dead, and I’m in Taiwan, but apparently time and distance don’t really matter for membership these days.

The Brotherhood could’ve been any military based organisation, they were already “Taggerdy’s Thunder” so they could’ve just stayed that and there wouldn’t have been an issue.

The Brotherhood could’ve been any military based organisation, they were already “Taggerdy’s Thunder” so they could’ve just stayed that and there wouldn’t have been an issue.

The thing is that the bones of a great game are here, they’re just buried under this weird mutant flesh that doesn’t look right. The Scorched are a kinda cool faction… they’re basically just feral ghouls who can use weapons, but over all the idea is pretty good when you take into account the fact that the plague can affect other creatures too. And Scorchbeasts are awesome, as long as you look past the fact that they’re basically just bat versions of Skyrim’s dragons. The automation that Appalachia was going through before the Great War makes for a great setting. Not only are there still robots buzzing around the dead world, but you can explore what was happening as miners were losing their jobs left and right to robots.

Not only that, but there was political upheaval on a grander scale as well, and that’s why we had the Free States - a group of secessionist survivalists who built bunkers and fled from the world. Also, the Responders were a great faction, they were emergency services personnel who banded together to help people and they kept helping them long after the Great War ended. Even the Raiders had a cool twist from the usual bottom feeders who raid out of necessity. They were the rich elite who were just a bunch of dicks, raiding Appalachia from a luxury resort in the mountains because they felt entitled to what everyone else had. Then there’s the Mole Miners - miners who were trapped underground during the Great War. They’ve mutated into hunched over freaks who need breathing apparatus just to survive, and they’ve got some weird connection with Mole Rats. The makings of a great game are here, Bethesda just didn’t follow through with it.

The Snallygaster is one of the few original creations for Fallout 76 and it’s legitimately awesome. This thing is terrifying to behold!

The Snallygaster is one of the few original creations for Fallout 76 and it’s legitimately awesome. This thing is terrifying to behold!

It’s pretty obvious that Fallout 76 was a cash grab, rather than a true attempt to make something creatively original or worthwhile. You can see it in the reused assets from Fallout 4, the factions and creatures included for brand recognition at the cost of lore integrity, players replacing NPC’s as a way to get out of having to pay people to write and voice NPC dialogue, you can see it in the repetitively mundane and inane fetch quests and you can certainly see it in the micro-transactions. This is surface level Fallout, a shallow attempt to cash in on the brand name and I’m honestly glad it’s failed so spectacularly. If a company as large as Bethesda can fuck up this bad, and have fans turn on them so readily, it should serve as a warning to others to take their series’ more seriously.

For the most part, the game is passably fun. The core mechanics of Fallout 4 are there, with a lot of varied biomes and great gun play. I personally love running around as a survivalist, collecting scrap and working on my base camp. Because Fallout 76, more so than any other modern Fallout game, is a sandbox. You run around and play make believe, and it’s a fun way to kill a few hours. Try not to worry about the fact that the world doesn’t make sense, just enjoy your time there. I’ll keep it, but Far Cry New Dawn just got announced and so I’m already thinking of picking up Far Cry 5 in preparation for that. I’m someone who has played the Fallout series since the late 90’s, and Fallout 76 is already falling off my radar… that’s not good.

Far Cry New Dawn is to Far Cry 5 what Fallout 76 is to Fallout 4 - an extension of the game with a lot of reused assets. The only difference is, Ubisoft don’t treat these projects as a chance to save money - rather as a chance to get great content out quickly. It worked for Far Cry Primal, which had basically the same map as Far Cry 4, so it’ll work here too.

Far Cry New Dawn is to Far Cry 5 what Fallout 76 is to Fallout 4 - an extension of the game with a lot of reused assets. The only difference is, Ubisoft don’t treat these projects as a chance to save money - rather as a chance to get great content out quickly. It worked for Far Cry Primal, which had basically the same map as Far Cry 4, so it’ll work here too.

There’s a bunch of other titles in the Fallout series that generally aren’t considered canon; Fallout Brotherhood of Steel 1 & 2 and Fallout Tactics. I think Fallout 76 will end up being considered like them. It’s fun, the bugs will be fixed, but overall it weakens the series as a whole and should probably be kept at a distance. I seriously hope that Bethesda learn from their mistakes and try harder, instead of just shelving the series to let things cool off. Because I always want more Fallout, most of us do, but that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to accept shit just to get it.

Congratulations Fallout 76, you’re among good company…

Congratulations Fallout 76, you’re among good company…

Why Gears of War is my Favorite Post Apocalyptic Series

Gears of War is the one series that I love to an absurd degree, and not just because it's post apocalyptic. I'm aware of it's many flaws but I'm willing to look past them to what the series offers as a whole. Other people go all fanboy for Star Wars/Trek, Harry Potter, The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, my brain turns to mush for Gears of War. 

I'll get this out of the way first, primarily because this is meant to be an all-positive piece but also just to show that I don't have a blind spot to the shitty bits in the things that I love. Gears of War as a whole definitely has an overly macho tone to it, and some of the lines of dialogue are so absurd that they wouldn't even be accepted in a Sharknado movie. Alongside this, the games all have this habit of throwing in ridiculously left field gameplay elements that're simply there to break up the shooty parts. For a game about hiding behind chest high walls and shooting big ass guns, there's always one vehicle section of the game that feels totally out of place. I think the only game that doesn't have a vehicle section in it is Gears of War Judgment, and as the weakest of the 5 games, Judgment has a host of other issues. Finally, as much as I love the series, not even I can escape the fact that the plot and factions are basically interchangeable with the Halo series. 

But enough of all that, a single paragraph has satisfied my pathological need for objective shredding! 

Magestic vistas of destruction are a common sight in Gears of War 

Magestic vistas of destruction are a common sight in Gears of War 

Gears of War, as a series, is about how shitty human are. War is just something that humans do, it's part of our bestial and baser nature, we're always looking for excuses to go to war. Humans fight over resources, land, nationalism, religion, revenge or because we just don't like how the other guy looks. In Gears of War, there have been generations of war, and before that there were entire eras that were defined by conflict. As civilized as humans can be, that's just a thin veneer that hides the ever present animalistic element that wants to chew someones throat out. This is showcased splendidly by the series' contrasting theme of "destroyed beauty," where the heights of human creativity (often represented by grand architecture) are brought low by the base human ability to bring ruin upon the world. Finally, as a subtle nod to all this, the planet that Gears of War is set on, Sera, is actually 'Ares' spelled backwards. Ares being the Greek god of war... duh.

If you're going to have buildings that're destroyed, you might as well have some damn impressive buildings get destroyed!

If you're going to have buildings that're destroyed, you might as well have some damn impressive buildings get destroyed!

The basic premise of the original Gears of War trilogy was that, fifteen years prior to the first game, humanity had just finished an eighty year conflict, dubbed the Pendulum Wars, that was fought over a resource called Imulsion. It's basically a yellow glowing stand-in for oil, but much better because it's more efficient, clean and insanely powerful. Hence why they fought for eight decades over the stuff. Very shortly after this conflict ended, monstrous humanoids dubbed the Locust broke through the surface of Sera and slaughtered most of humanity. Thus began a new war - the Locust War. These horrific monsters literally tunneled up from underneath the surface of the planet and could attack anywhere and at anytime. Humanity suffered catastrophic losses in the first days of the war, but they managed to hold out for over a decade since the war began.

They're grey, they're scaly, they've got two hearts and there's a metric-shit-tonne of them...

They're grey, they're scaly, they've got two hearts and there's a metric-shit-tonne of them...

A major element of the story line, and game play, is the drastic lengths that humanity are willing to go to in order to survive. Humanity didn't just bunker down and play defensively for fifteen years, no, they initiated a scorched earth policy where they used orbital laser weapons to literally burn the planet to dust and glass. The idea being that the Locust would stop raiding if there was nothing left to raid, so humanity burnt their own crops, their own cities, and their own people, just to deprive the Locust access to resources and military assets. As many humans died when the Locust first invaded, billions more died from humanities own hand.

Hammer down!

Hammer down!

This point is further illustrated by the iconic Mk.2 Lancer - the chainsaw gun. It could be said that putting a chainsaw on a gun is stupid, and basically it is, but the point that it exists actually lends itself to the overall theme of the series. The Mk.1 'Retro' Lancer, had a simple bayonet on it, but the problem was that while this was great for skewering humans, it tended to break when used against the scaly hides of Locust Drones. The situation was that dire, that someone actually had the idea to attach a chainsaw to a gun, and then someone else in a position of means actually thought that it was warranted. And so they made a gun with a fucking chainsaw on it! That's how bad the situation was, the Locust were so much of a threat that the sheer insanity of putting a chainsaw on a gun was seen as a good idea.

It's how we ended up with chainsaw-duels...

It's how we ended up with chainsaw-duels...

Finally, a point of some contention among... certain... fans, is the fact that the humans of Sera used breeding farms to boost their numbers. For some reason, which is revealed in the series later on, humanity has a sterility problem. Civilian women who were fertile didn't have to join a breeding farm, but if they did they were given extra rations, and if they didn't like the idea of pumping out babies who would go die on a battlefield then they could always suit up and go become bullet sponges themselves. There's this line in one of the comic books, or one of the novels, where a character mentions there's a rumor that the female Locust are chained down and raped, and that's how the Locust reproduce. Now, you could either take this as a way for the writers to showcase how terrible and savage the Locust are, or you could take it as the humans of Sera trying to demonize their opponents in order to assuage their own guilt. Humanity had never gotten below the surface to the Locust cities before this point, so how would they ever learn of such a process? It's far more likely that someone made up the rape-story to allow people to deal with humanities own horrific acts.

"Humanity may have breeding farms, which are disgusting, but the Locust rape... which is far worse!"

The ugly thing on the right is a male, the uglier thing on the left is a female... so you can see how people could believe a story involving chains.

The ugly thing on the right is a male, the uglier thing on the left is a female... so you can see how people could believe a story involving chains.

Humanity goes on the offensive in the second game, attacking the Locust on their own turf. There's a massive invasion of the tunnels that honeycomb the planet and we get a chance to see the Locust side of things, and we learn what should have been pretty obvious by this point. There are links between the humans and the Locust, and the government that you're fighting for might have actually had a hand in creating them. By the end of the second game, taking inspiration from a gigantic worm, the humans preform one last act of psychotic desperation - in order to flood the tunnels and kill the Locust once and for all, they sink their last remaining city and allow the ocean to pour in.

Also, they're led by a chick who is clearly human... so that's another clue.

Also, they're led by a chick who is clearly human... so that's another clue.

Of course, since there's a Gears of War 3, we know this doesn't exactly work as intended. The Locust survive and flee to the surface, becoming just as homeless as humanity. The conflict is less larger than life in Gears 3, since both sides of the conflict are battered and running on empty, but there's a new player in the conflict. The zombie-like Lambent, who, while once only an issue for the Locust, were now zombiefying humans as well. And this is where the series as a whole gets the nice little bow tied around it. The human on human Pendulum Wars were fought over Imulsion, but the Locust knew that being too close to it tended to infect people and turn them into zombies, hence why they invaded the surface all those years earlier - they wanted to get the hell away from the Imulsion. The problem is that Imulsion isn't just resource, it's a living parasitic organism that, while technically able to be used as a fuel source, is alive and has goals of it's own. With the tunnels below Sera flooded in Gears 2, it managed to reach the surface and began wrecking havoc on both the Locust and human survivors. To cut a long story short, you manage to find someone who failed to help the Locust stop the Imulsion from infecting them years earlier, and this person is finally able to stop the Imulsion by killing it, but only by also killing all the Locust as well. 

Finally gets a chance to sit down and rest..

Finally gets a chance to sit down and rest..

By the end of Gears of War 3, it's fairly explicit that the Locust are the mutated bastard offspring of humanity, evolved into horrific monsters by the Imulsion in one of the earlier stages of its life cycle. As monstrous as they are physically, they're just a dark reflection of how monstrous humanity can be internally, in their thoughts and actions. This is shown rather well in the Locust city of Nexus, which is carved into a series of gigantic stalactites that hang above an ocean of Imulsion - which is just an inversion of the human cities above. The Locust were just doing what they had to do to survive, just like the humans. When the humans successfully wiped out the Locust, they effectively proved themselves to be more monstrous than their mutated offspring.

The Locust have some wondrous architecture of their own! Well... they did.

The Locust have some wondrous architecture of their own! Well... they did.

Gears of War Judgment came out after this. It was a prequel that explored the back story of two the side characters from the original trilogy, Barid and Cole. It was great in terms of gameplay, but it didn't really add anything new the series, it was just more of the same to tide fans over. My only issue with this game is the fact that they put the Mk.2 Lancer (the chainsaw gun) into the game, even though the game was set before that weapon was even invented. Because apparently Gears of War *IS* the chainsaw gun, and you can't make a game without it. Can you imagine the sheer nerdrage that would result if someone made a Star Wars game with Lightsabers, but then set it before Lightsabers were even invented?! If they wanted to show how fucking terrible the start of the Locust War was, they should have just left us with the shitty old Mk.1 Lancers and had them break each time we tried to use them. Fucking coffee sipping hack writers, too chicken shi-

Sorry, gotta stay positive!

The new protagonists, fresh faced and happy... until the horrors of war can beat that out of them.

The new protagonists, fresh faced and happy... until the horrors of war can beat that out of them.

Finally, Gears of War 4 came out at the end of 2016, and it's set 25 years after the end of Gears 3. It's revealed that the Locust weren't exactly killed by the weapon used at the end of the trilogy, it's more like they were sent into stasis. Well, some of them woke up, and now they're messing with the genetic code of the Locust and we've got a more evolved form of Locust, the Swarm. They look like shellfish versions of Locust, but basically they're the same deal. The series continues with the son of the original trilogy's protagonist.

A Swarm Drone - the 2.0 of the Locust Drone (he's kinda naked though...)

A Swarm Drone - the 2.0 of the Locust Drone (he's kinda naked though...)

Now's a good enough time to get into these protagonists. Both Marcus Fenix, and later his son in the new trilogy, James-Dominic "JD" Fenix, are your typical gruff, loner straight white male action heroes. JD is less so in Gears 4, but he's young and hasn't the lifetime of conflict that his father had experienced in his first game. They're both massive, they were tanks for body armor and they carry guns with chainsaws on them - you'd be forgiven for thinking that both these characters are meat heads.

Father and Son, in a trailer that made Disturbed's version of "The Sound of Silence" famous.

Father and Son, in a trailer that made Disturbed's version of "The Sound of Silence" famous.

The problem is that this is a massive disservice to the characters, and ridiculously dismissive of males across the globe. A lot of guys can relate to these stoic action heroes because that's how they're expected to behave in the real world, I know that's how I was raised. When we see a big strong guy shrug off a death or risk their lives like it's nothing, it's not a cliche for us but a representation of our own reality (to borrow some totally cringe-worthy terminology...) It may not be the most emotionally healthy way to deal with things, but when the shit hits the fan in the real world, it's often the big guy that's expected to go deal with it. Trust me, I'm 6'2 and even when I'm showing ribs I'm a solid 90kg, so I'm a big guy and there have been plenty of times where I've been shoved outside to go deal with some nasty shit.

Sorry if you can't relate to this guy, but some of us actually can.

Sorry if you can't relate to this guy, but some of us actually can.

What other people see as emotionless machismo, people who actually live that life, or have a similar backstory, see the inner turmoil that goes on within these characters. With every other character in a story relying on them keeping their shit together, these guys are the central load-bearing pillars that cannot give up. But this is getting a little off track and I might delve into this in another post. The point is, if people read the novels, of which there are 5, and all the comics, they'd actually realize that there's a lot of backstory and complexity to each of these characters.

Marcus Fenix was raised in a wealthy household, but his mother disappeared and his father was always at work. As a child he drifted towards that Santiago family, who were much poorer than his, because they were a large family and there was a lot of love that he never found in his own home. He was smart, but lonely, and so he joined the military as a front line soldier, instead of as an officer, because he wanted the comradery that the rank and file provided.

Marcus Fenix

Marcus Fenix

Dominic Santiago was actually the younger brother of Marcus' best friend, and the two only really became close after his brother died just before the Pendulum Wars ended. He had a wife and children but they disappeared early in the Locust War and he spends most of his spare time trying to track them down - in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes in video game history, he finally finds his wife and she's been tortured and broken by the Locust. All he can do is offer her a mercy killing, and this breaks him. In Gears of War 3, in the second most heart-wrenching moment in video game history, he sacrifices himself to save the rest of his squad. Dom was the heart and soul of the team, the guy that kept everyone else on the right path.

Dominic Santiago

Dominic Santiago

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole was a star Thrashball (football) player who signed up to become a soldier the day the Locust invaded. You get very little of his backstory in the games beyond him being the spirit of the team, the guy that keeps everyone else motivated and moving along the path. In the books however, you find out that his parents were killed in the initial invasion of the Locust, and he threw away his absurd amounts of wealth to combat the Locust as a front line soldier. He writes to his parents as often as he can, throwing the letters into a fire.

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole

Augustus "Cole Train" Cole

Damon Baird is the arsehole techie of the team, the engineer who is better with machines than with people. He had a wealthy upbringing like Marcus, but instead of seeking connection with others, he drifted further away from them. This became worse when his parents died when the Locust invaded, the few connections he had in life had been severed. He's rough around the edges but he desperately craves connection with people, just like Marcus did as a child. Damon is the sarcastic brains of the unit, while nobody is by any means stupid, Baird is genius levels of smart. 

Damon Baird

Damon Baird

There's a several other characters that get introduced, especially in Gears 3 and 4, but this team is the core team for the original trilogy. Each of the characters in the Gears series is often seen as interchangeable, and several of the characters who wear helmets actually are, but there's actually a lot of characterization to the named cast. My favorite character across all five games is one that's introduced in the very first novel, Bernadette Mataki - she's a Northener from the South Sea Islands (basically a white New Zealander) who is a sixty year old sniper. She's an absolute badarse! And I've got a mate who loves Tai Kaliso, the unkillable soldier from the island of Irohma (basically, Samoa...) I'm fully able to admit that it took the developers a while to get this amazing cast of characters into the games, but once they were there they really beefed up the series.

See the fur around her boots? That's cat fur... 

See the fur around her boots? That's cat fur... 

At the start of Gears of War 1, Marcus and Dom have known each other for years, growing up and fighting in the Pendulum Wars together, and Cole and Baird have been together since basic training. But this is the first time these two pairs meet, and we actually get to see them grow as a team across the trilogy, they butt heads a bit to begin with but eventually they figure out how to work with one another. 

There's a lot of depth you can explore in the Gears of War universe, if you're willing to look past the macho monster slaughterer aspect of the series. There's the brotherhood between the main cast of characters, the issues with family, especially parents, and an exploration of how far you're willing to go to survive. The series also delves into the concept of governments, and the amount of control they have over their people.... because funnily enough, the side you fight for is actually considered hardcore socialist/fascist. There's also the idea that the Locust and Imulsion represent mother nature and her natural resources, and that taking too much from her has caused her to fight back. And finally, there's that whole idea that I was talking about earlier, where humanity are basically shitty creatures when you strip away the cloak of civilization.

There is depth to Gears of War, you've just got to get past the superficial elements to find it. I know there are a lot of flaws with this series, but I'm more than happy to look past and even forgive them. It's got characters, and situations, that I can relate to and it's set in a beautifully destroyed post apocalyptic world. Gears of War is one of those series that I will eagerly follow until my time is up. I've got no doubt that there will be weak entries in the series at some point, and I don't always agree with the design choices that're made, but despite all that it's still my most favorite video game series... and I really really really want to see a trailer for Gears of War 5 already!  

Horizon Zero Dawn's Single Weak Point

I loved Horizon Zero Dawn from the moment that first trailer came out a few years back, I loved it so much that I bought the collectors edition of the game when I didn't even own a PS4. When I eventually borrowed my flatmate's console and finally got to play the game, I thought it was fantastic and well worth the wait. Like all the best things in the world though, it's still not perfect and today I'm going to rip into its weakest element - Aloy. 

Proof that I've actually played the base game and gained the Platinum Trophy.

Proof that I've actually played the base game and gained the Platinum Trophy.

Now, before anyone asks; yes, I've beaten the game, I've done pretty much everything and yes, I loved it. Besides Mad Max, a game that is structurally similar to Horizon Zero Dawn, I haven't actually gotten the Platinum Trophy for that many games. I felt that HZD was worth it though, so I went for it. I'm not writing this down to toot my own horn, I'm simply telling you this so you don't think I'm just some dumbass video game journo who's played an hour of the game and is basing his opinion off that one tiny snippet.

I think HZD is a fantastic game, it handles like a dream and the setting is amazingly well thought out, with little details scattered around the world that really add a lot of depth. The backstory was great, you really got a feel for how things were before it all went to shit. I don't want to get into spoiler territory in this regard, but what humanity went through before the end of the world was horrifically tragic. The way in which you discover how the old world ended, the build up to it, was long and drawn out and you could feel the fatalistic determination in each recording you found. Those old world people knew they were fucked, but they kept on fighting to give humanity a chance at returning one day. 

The main problem with the game is Aloy, and I'll say it right off the bat - she's a total Mary Sue. 

I know this is a posed photo, but it pretty much sums up her whole character.

I know this is a posed photo, but it pretty much sums up her whole character.

Aloy was raised as an outcast of the Nora, a tribe that is considered backwater and primitive by all the other tribes in the surrounding lands. I am perfectly fine with her being a badass hunter/killer of men and machines... she was raised out in the wilds and had to do things the hard way. But once she gets out into the world she also starts giving people relationship advice, telling kings how to do their job, settling disputes and showing-up primitive tribals by lecturing them about how the world is actually round. Not to mention the fact that pretty much every major male character (and one female one) has a crush on her. A literal king asks if he could date her and she turns him down, if that's not a Mary Sue then I don't know what is.  

Nobody says no to a king... because those that do, tend to lose their heads.

Nobody says no to a king... because those that do, tend to lose their heads.

All of this is a problem for so many reasons.

First of all, it's fine that she's had a rough upbringing. She had to learn to fend for herself and become strong and independent, I've got no problem with that. The problem is that she's had no negative effects from this very negative upbringing beyond clashing with her tribe every now and again because of their backward ways. She grew up out in the wilds, with only one guy to talk to, and every other Nora either actively refused to talk to her or threw rocks at her. How does she have such a magnanimous view of humanity after eighteen years of this? Not only that, but how is she giving such worldly advice to people when she's had so little social interaction and has never left her valley? She gets involved in regional politics and gives moral advice to leaders... where did she learn all that?

She even schools this guy on ethics... how?! He's a frickin' scholar ffs!

She even schools this guy on ethics... how?! He's a frickin' scholar ffs!

Rough upbringings leave scars and these scars become the character's traits. While Aloy had the rough upbringing, she hasn't got any scars from these events and therefore no character traits have formed from them. This happens a lot in stories, where a character is given a terribly heart wrenching backstory to make them seem interesting but then that backstory has no real ramifications on their personality. A cause without an effect is just pointless, and this is the case with Aloy. Despite everything she's been through, she's still naive and innocent... yet somehow still worldly, and willing to aid a world that has wanted to ignore her existence since she was born. 

I had a rough upbringing too... but it only made me cooler!

I had a rough upbringing too... but it only made me cooler!

Beyond the weird disconnect between Aloy's background and her personality, HZD has an odd set up in regards to men and women. Now, I've got to get this out before people lose their shit over this next part. I'm fine playing female characters and I couldn't care less about their presence in video games. There are women in the world, it makes sense for them to be in video games too. It's not even a real issue, and any dude who has a problem playing as a chick in a video game has some serious self reflection to do. Tomb Raider is one of my most favorite games, I've bought four copies of that game over the years and gotten 100% all four times. Its sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, was just okay. But when it comes to HZD, all the "good guys" are ineffectual in some manner; alcoholics, inexperienced, rude, dumb or afraid etc, while all the proficient and truly badass men are "bad guys."

"I hunt bandits because it lets me murder people without legal ramifications!" (Sarcasm aside, he's actually a pretty awesome character...)

"I hunt bandits because it lets me murder people without legal ramifications!" (Sarcasm aside, he's actually a pretty awesome character...)

I think there's one male character that doesn't fit this mold, her foster father, but that's it... and he dies pretty early on. Beyond that though, she's surrounded by these men that she needs to save because they're useless and these other men that she needs to kill because they're not useless, and they're evil. This has some interesting connotations if you stop to think about it... what were they trying to say with that?

This is accompanied by the fact that there are so few female enemies in the game. When you've reached a stage in the game where Aloy starts killing humans, you're only ever rarely killing women. You could say that female enemies have always been rare in video games, but for a game that places such emphasis on female involvement in the world's events it's interesting that the developers didn't make an even amount of female enemies too. I'm not saying that I want a lady killer simulator, I'm just saying that if you're going for realism and equal representation then you need to take that to its logical conclusion. The world of HZD is clearly full of competent and badass women, so why are so few of them Aloy's enemies?

Aluki was one of the many female badasses, she was one of my favorite NPC's - the Ice Huntress of the Banuk

Aluki was one of the many female badasses, she was one of my favorite NPC's - the Ice Huntress of the Banuk

When you combine all this with the fact that the world was ended by a man's mistake, that the new world-ending threat is started by another man, and that in both cases it's saved by a woman, you can start to see how a lot of people could think that HZD is trying to push a certain agenda. It's almost like the developers wanted all the benefits of equality but also wanted to minimize the drawbacks, they wanted women to play pivotal roles but they didn't want to depict them as being as prone to villainy, or being as expendable, as men are. Equality isn't all sunshine and rainbows, if women are to be depicted as truly equal to men in stories then they need to have the same moral range as men and they need to die just as easily as men.

It's not any one thing that makes the trend apparent, it's a multitude of small design choices that make it evident.

It's not any one thing that makes the trend apparent, it's a multitude of small design choices that make it evident.

Now, we could get into the plot point that Aloy is "genetically predisposed to saving the world" but that's a rabbit hole that could lead to some seriously nasty places.... so let's just move on.

By this point though, you're probably starting to question whether or not I legitimately liked the game. While this isn't surprising, I have to reiterate that I did really enjoy it and I'm actually thinking of playing it all over again when I eventually get a PS4. My only wish is that Aloy would have been a bit more of a realistic character and less of a Mary Sue. She's got a great backstory that should have played a much larger role in who she turned out to be. I would've liked to have seen her end up a bit more jaded and socially awkward, not knowing how to operate in her tribe, let alone the outside world. These negative character traits would've given her something to overcome as the story progressed, and I think in the end she would've been all the stronger for it. As it is, she starts out as a strong and independent woman and she finishes as a strong and independent woman, she doesn't really grow from the events of the story.

I'm really excited about this series and I'm keen to see where they take it next, whether it's with Aloy specifically or with just the world in general. I have an idea of where it could go next, there are certain NPC's from the old world that could still potentially be around, but we'll all just have to wait and see. If you take anything away from this, let it be that I loved the game but that I wish the protagonist was a bit more well rounded. Because at the end of the day, you're hunting robotic dinosaurs with a bow and arrows and you're saving the humanity from apocalyptic AI - how could that not be a world you'd want to explore?

Never mind the fact that ruins wouldn't last this long - it's a beautiful setting!

Never mind the fact that ruins wouldn't last this long - it's a beautiful setting!

Why I'm so Critical of Post Apocalyptic Stories

As anyone who follows me on Twitter knows, I tend to rip into post apocalyptic books, movies and games... a lot. I'll admit that it got a little crazy when I was stuck inside for two months with a back injury, I didn't have much else to do. I usually had a running commentary of each film I was watching, just ripping apart plot holes, inconsistencies or creative choices that I thought were lame. All with 140 characters or less. You'd be forgiven for thinking that I hate all these movies, especially the low budget ones, but there's a bit more to it than that. 

There was a time not too long ago, right up until the last decade, when fans of the post apocalyptic and dystopian genres simply had to accept what we were given. For every indie gem like 28 Days Later, we got a Dawn of the Dead remake or Resident Evil. We sort of had to just accept lesser quality films, which were obviously still watchable, because that's all that was available to us. 

Don't get me wrong - I love this movie... but it's a bit shit.

Don't get me wrong - I love this movie... but it's a bit shit.

But then films such as The Children of Men, The Road, The Book of Eli and the grand Warlord of them all - Mad Max: Fury Road, were released and the bar was raised. With amazingly successful films such as these, which were profitable even in mainstream circles, I feel we're able to be a bit more discerning these days.  We don't simply have to accept lesser quality content because that's all that's available to us, we've got options now. 

What the hell happ- oh hey, Kevin Zegers was in this too! 

What the hell happ- oh hey, Kevin Zegers was in this too! 

I don't rip on these films, or books, or games, because I don't like them, I rip on them because I expect more from them. The Colony had Lawrence Fishburne and Bill Paxton and it still managed to be shit, then The Rover came out with Guy Pearce and Robert Pattinson (and a much smaller budget) and it managed to be fucking amazing. The set up for The Colony was great and it had a pretty damn solid cast - so why was it shit? 

So damn good, and not just because it's set in Australia. The mood was thick and tense the whole way through, you could feel how shitty and oppressive the world was. 

So damn good, and not just because it's set in Australia. The mood was thick and tense the whole way through, you could feel how shitty and oppressive the world was. 

I expect more from my post apocalyptic stories these days, I'm no longer willing to let the little mistakes slide in the hopes of fostering some future accomplishments. The genre is mature and established enough now that it's got responsibilities and expectations to meet. And when it doesn't meet those expectations, when it fails in its responsibilities, I'm sure as hell going to let it know.

Because I love it, so. 

This is the bar now...

This is the bar now...