Video Games

Gears 5 - Something Old, Something New

I’ll open with a disclaimer - I didn’t buy Gears 5, I haven’t even played it. I’m in a foreign country for an indeterminate amount of time and I can’t justify buying a whole new console just to play a single game… so I watched the four hours of cut-scenes on YouTube. Does that count as dishonest, or in poor taste for an Indie-Author? Maybe, but I’m made of neither money, nor time, and so I did what I did. It was either that or wait till I’m back in Australia this time next year, which just won’t do in today’s internet environment. Who will care about Gears 5 in a years time?

Gears 5 is an interesting beast, because in typical Gears fashion the ‘Beautiful Destruction’ aesthetic is visually amazing, and the combat is as intense and solid as ever, but then there’s a few narrative and design choices that left me scratching my head. To further add to this, while JD Fenix couldn’t escape the shadow of Marcus Fenix in Gears of War 4, it’s almost as though Gears 5 can’t escape the shadow of the original trilogy. Over the course of Gears 5 you return to Ephyra, which was in the original Gears of War, the New Hope Facility from Gears of War 2, as well as Azura from Gears of War 3. Along with this, I think Gears 5 only introduced two new characters - Lizzie Carmine and Fahz, and one of them dies real early on. If you’re a Gears fan, you’ll see the names and know which one I’m talking about. Besides those two characters, everyone else has appeared in at least one other game, and most of them were from the original trilogy or Gears of War Judgment. The old antagonists make a comeback too, we see Queen Myrrah in these psychic attacks that Kait is suffering, and we eve cross paths with proper old-school Locust and Sires.

Still the biggest badass in the series… despite being 64 years old.

Still the biggest badass in the series… despite being 64 years old.

It’s almost like the developers were so concerned about other drastic changes they were making that they doubled down on the nostalgia to compensate. They added extra of the old ingredients to help mask the taste of the new ingredients. The developers continually talk about how complex and multi-faceted their new characters are compared to the one-dimensional characters from the original trilogy, but then the originals are all still there. The new heroes are running around trying to make a name for themselves while the old guard are still there, handling everything just like they’ve always done. Hell, you literally build a mural to all the characters that have died so far in the series and you end up seeing their ghosts. So in a weird sort of way, Gears 5 is something sort of fresh but also something very old at the same time.

The ethnically diverse asshole character next to the one dimensional pro-footballer… who is still bigger and badder, despite being a senior citizen.

The ethnically diverse asshole character next to the one dimensional pro-footballer… who is still bigger and badder, despite being a senior citizen.

It does work in one weird kind of way though, because there’s this sense of decaying history to the world. All the old and battered heroes running around the old and battered ruins of a second apocalypse does ground you in the story and it’s setting. Nothing new lasts, it’s just the old that lingers on. While Gears of War 4 added the Dee-Bee’s as the latest technology in use, Gears 5 takes a step back and has you scavenging for the last remaining Hammer of Dawn satellites - because they just don’t make them like they used to. The Dee-Bee’s are cool, but nothing makes a story feel Post-Apocalyptic like scavenging for Pre-Apocalyptic weapons of mass destruction. It’s the simple fact that nothing made after the apocalypse could compare to the super weapons that were built before it.

Because what could possibly go wrong with firing space lasers that haven’t been calibrated in 25 years?

Because what could possibly go wrong with firing space lasers that haven’t been calibrated in 25 years?

Kait was a fine protagonist, and there wasn’t any of the girl power rah rah rah schtick that we so often see in media these days. She’s got her internal and external motivations for chasing after the Swarm, and so she’s driven and she’s always invested in the events of the story. My only problem, still, is what I said when Gears 5 was first announced. Kait being the protagonist of the new trilogy’s second game weakens JD as a protagonist of the first. Now, that’s nothing inherently weakening about Kait, it’s just that swapping protagonists weakens every protagonist, I’d be saying the same thing if their roles were reversed. Having one protagonist over three games will always result in a stronger and more well-developed character than three protagonists who each get one game, that’s just what all that extra time in the spotlight does for a character. Which brings me to my main big issue with Gears 5.

Gears 5 introduces the game-play mechanic of player choice in regards to the narrative, which is just a weird fucking move. Kait is given a choice of who to save, JD or Del - and whoever she doesn’t choose ends up getting their necks snapped. But why? This is the strangest thing I’ve seen in a video game series. Why would you suddenly add in player choice in the fifth game when it’s never been part of the series? How will Gears 6 work out? In a narrative driven series, only one character can live and so how will this choice play out? Which choice will be considered canon? And if it’s only going to be one choice, why bother with the choice at all? I’m actually shuddering at the thought of the choice being made null and void by the other character simply dying at the start of the next game as well, allowing the developers to have their cake and eat it too.

*game show music starts*

*game show music starts*

It’s a weird choice also, because to me it sets up a lose/lose situation. If JD is killed off, then he never managed to escape the shadow of his father and he’s just left as this failure of a character - both in terms of the story and in the series as a whole. But if Del dies, then he can’t be the protagonist of the third game and so not every member of the three-piece team will get a chance to star in their own game. And what would you be left with then? A trilogy where one main character gets one game, another main character gets two and the third just dies? That’s a very strange design choice…

Moving on, I have to say that I’ve never realized how repetitively banal Gears boss fights are. While actually playing the game, and fighting the massive Kaiju monster from beneath the surface of the world, you’re a bit too wrapped up in the action to notice. But while you’re sitting back and watching someone else play, you see that it’s just this back and forward loop of shooting small glowing bits off the big bastard before going in for a king-hit. Wash, rinse and repeat and that’s basically how every boss fight in a Gears game has worked.

See those two glowing bits in it’s mouth? Shoot those, then go press a button.

See those two glowing bits in it’s mouth? Shoot those, then go press a button.

Next, the emotional levels are all wrong in this game, too. We’re following Kait on her journey and you see her and Del grow as friends, but then she’s being mentally manipulated into doubting him. It flares up in one scene but then doesn’t really go anywhere. She get’s her brain toyed with and suddenly the visions stops and she instantly trusts Del again. Kait is shown to be more emotive and emotionally well-rounded character, and she’s definitely more so than the guys, but she’s still pretty blasé about character deaths. She gets a bit upset but she still charges on. And as someone who’s been through multiple deaths already - I can tell you that that’s not really how it works in real life.

The early deaths are handled well, although they’re characters that we’re not really invested in so it’s still a bit meh, but then there’s this really weird stretch at the end where character deaths and handled really poorly. Either JD or Del are killed, and the characters are sad, but it’s nothing on the deaths of Tai or Dom from the first trilogy. Then Cole has a fake death that’s sort of brushed past, because it’s fake. He’s being his usual idiot self, whooping and leaping about in a giant robot instead of being an old man who’s perhaps grown and evolved beyond such behavior. But then when a robot dies, in the exact same way the robot in Gears of War Judgment died, the sound fades away and the sad music starts up. A main character dying, nothing. A main character from the original series (fake) dying, nothing. A fricking robot dies, bring out the orchestra and start peddling the feels.

I don’t know why they thought we’d be investing in a flying robot that beeps and squeaks… it’s not like it has any of the personality of R2-D2.

I don’t know why they thought we’d be investing in a flying robot that beeps and squeaks… it’s not like it has any of the personality of R2-D2.

I feel at this point I need to say something good things about Gears 5, because I’ve just been tearing it apart up until this point. Like I said at the start, the visuals and gameplay all look amazing, but there’s a lot more too. The lore of the series is being expanded, and we’re finally given answers to some very old questions. Who was Queen Myrrah? What’s her connection to the Locust? Along with this, we’re able to further explore the world, and despite visiting a lot of previously visited locations we also get to see a lot of new places too. The world of Sera is become a lot more fleshed out, and it is decidedly pissed at humanity. Super-massive wind flares attack cities, razor sharp hail storms dice those without protection and lightning strikes create large fulgurite structures in the desert sands of an evaporated ocean bed. It’s like the very planet of Sera is trying to eject all life from on, and beneath, it’s surface because it’s simply sick of all the shit that sentient life gets up to. Every time these people; Human, Locust or Swarm, go to war, it’s the planet that suffers the consequences.

Just to wrap things up, I’ll point out this interesting moment that’s probably more of a comment on how the military is portrayed in video games. In series such as Gears of War and the Halo, female characters were often relegated to an officer position. It got female characters into the game, but it tended to keep them out of direct combat roles. The problem was when you had front line grunts, Privates, Corporals and Sergeants, telling a female officer where to shove her orders because they know how to properly handle a situation. Halo did it in Halo: ODST with Captain Veronica Dare taking a back seat to Sergeant Major Avery Johnson. It happened in Gears of War 3 with Sergeant Marcus Fenix ordering around Lieutenant Anya Stroud. It was cool to see chicks in the game, but it didn’t make much sense for the power dynamics to play out like that. That’s just not how the military works.

Literally everyone here outranks her, but she’s still calling the shots. Not because she’s a chick, but because she’s the protagonist.

Literally everyone here outranks her, but she’s still calling the shots. Not because she’s a chick, but because she’s the protagonist.

Gears 5 actually addresses this, somewhat, at least to the extent that we can put the complaints to rest. Fahz, a First Lieutenant, is constantly complaining that nobody is listening to him despite him being in charge, and is eventually told to “shut the fuck up” by a Sergeant. Along with this, we’ve got all these male characters of varying ranks following Kait’s lead, despite the fact that she’s only a Corporal. A character of significantly higher rank than her just flat out tells her that she’s good at leading others. If nothing else, this should show that it’s the protagonist of a game that get the final say, regardless of their military rank and even in spite of the gender. It was never about power dynamics between men and women, it was narrative dynamics between protagonists and side characters. Thanks to Gears 5, it doesn’t matter what you’ve got between your legs, if you’re a protagonists then it’s your story and it goes the way you want it to.

I’ve had a lot of complaints about Gears 5, they took it in a new direction and while I applaud a lot of their efforts I think it’s been somewhat hit and miss. Don’t even get me started on how they whored out the series for cross-promotional purposes - I’ll do another blog post on all that of that. All up, I’m glad I sat down and watched the cut-scenes. I’ll still buy a copy of the game in a year or two when I get back to Australia and settle down in a location a little more permanently, because I still want to play through it on my own. I love the Gears series, and I’m interested in seeing where they take it next. They’ve managed to stay afloat this long, so I’m keen to see how this second trilogy finishes up. At the end of the day, we’ve still got Gears of War Tactics coming out… which, as you can see back here, is something I hypothesized months before it was announced. So I am very much looking forward to that game.

Days Gone - A Flawed Gem

I recently bought, finished and got the Platinum Trophy for Days Gone. Getting the Platinum is not something I usually bother with, usually I only put in the effort for games that I love the most. They’re all Post-Apocalyptic, open world games too - Mad Max, Horizon Zero Dawn and now Days Gone. There’s probably something too that, but I’ll look into it later. This post is specifically about Days Gone, and how I put in the extra time after the main story was complete because I thought the game was worth it.

Spoilers. Duh.

Look, I’ll deal with the negatives right off the bat. This game isn’t complete, and despite first being announced way back in 2016, only to be delayed until 2019, it could have used a lot more time in the oven. There are many technical issues that just seem like small things that a more experienced studio or director would have been able to handle. Dialogue popping up at weird times, often in the wrong sort of tone. Cut scenes and conversations that looked like they were meant to be cut from the game, somehow made their way into the game alongside their replacements. A few weird character animations. It’s all really minor stuff that just looks silly and would’ve been easy enough to fix. I don’t know why these issues are still there, especially when they could just be patched, but they are. Despite all this, the biggest issue I ran into was the load times, which were consistently atrocious. This is the biggest issue I had and it’s far from a deal breaker, just a niggling annoyance, so make of that what you will.

In terms of story, you’re cut off from whole sections of the map until they game wants you to go there. But instead of blocking you off organically, with something as simple as a fallen tree across the road or blocked tunnel, you get this big warning on your screen and then you’re teleported back to the play area. Along with this, cut scenes were filmed to play with certain time/weather settings, so the clock would always advance until the developers had things playing out exactly how they wanted. It worked overall, but it never really felt as organic as it could have. It’s like the developers wanted an open world game, but one with a very linear and controlled story.

That’s the negative out of the way, and so now onto the positive - I freaking love Days Gone (pun intended). The world is pretty well thought out, and the Freakers are an ever present threat that’s constantly evolving as the story progresses. Two years prior, an infection spread across the globe, and still-living zombies (picture the infected from 28 Days Later) are rampaging across the globe. Deacon St. John, a member of the Mongrel Motorcycle Club, throws his injured wife on a helicopter to get her to safety while he helps his fellow gang member, Boozer, get to safety. He looses track of his wife, spends the next two years acting as a Bounty Hunter and Freaker Killer until the events of the game. He’s a fairly typical Post-Apocalyptic protagonist, out for himself and those closest to him, but eventually he starts opening up and helping out others. It’s actually a pretty well played out character arc, and this is in no small part to the acting of Sam Witwer, the actor who lent his voice and appearance to Deacon St. John.

It’s a pretty stellar performance.

It’s a pretty stellar performance.

One of the interesting things about Days Gone is that you’re pretty consistently killing women and children. Now, that sounds like a weird point to make, so let me clarify. In zombie games, you often kill female zombies as well as male zombies. They’re already dead, so it’s never been that big of a deal to kill them. Living female enemies, however, has often been something of an issue. People just don’t like gunning down women, even when they’re trying to kill you first. I remember there were female enemies in Horizon Zero Dawn, but they were few and far between - far, far rarer than the male enemies, which you would kill en mass. Mad Max only had male enemies to kill, except for a single woman that you fight in Thunderdome. Even the shining beacon of Feminist gaming, The Last of Us, had you murdering female Infected, but no uninfected females during game-play. So much for equality?

But then in Days Gone, there are plenty of women who are Marauders, Vagrants or Rippers - and you’re killing them pretty consistently. Along with this, there are children enemies in the game too. Granted, they’re Freakers called ‘Newts’, so they’re basically still under the umbrella of “zombies are already dead, so who cares?” but they’re there none the less. It’s nothing compared to the gunning down of orphans in Fallout 1 or Fallout 2, but still there’s this strange feeling of uncomfortable awkwardness when you smash a Newt into the ground with a baseball bat. I’m not one who takes pleasure in mowing down women and/or children, merely someone who likes to see that aspect of the world realized realistically. At one point, the characters themselves even discuss how uncomfortable killing a Newt makes them feel.

Small time predators roam in packs…

Small time predators roam in packs…

It sounds weird, but if you want a realistic game then this is what you want. Why aren’t there female Hunters, or Infected children in The Last of Us? Where are the females fighting for the Roadkill or Buzzards in Mad Max? If women are equally as badass as men, which Horzion Zero Dawn purports to proudly put forward, then where are the rest of the female enemies? This is something that Days Gone gets right, because there are women fighting right beside the men. They’re not just NPC’s selling wares or defending camps either, they’re rushing in to kill you with baseball bats and rifles. It just makes sense, from a Post-Apocalyptic standpoint and from an equality standpoint. Good representation isn’t just about having more female protagonists, it’s about having more females everywhere - including in the role of cannon fodder for the games protagonist.

So, yeah… that rant explains why I’m so awkwardly happy to be killing women and kids in a video game.

The world of Days Gone is amazing. Set in the ruins of Oregon, Days Gone has you riding a motor bike through back hill forests, sandy deserts and blasted tundra. Your bike starts out noticeably shit (because where do you go if you start off with the best gear possible?) but as the game progresses you steadily upgrade it, and it quickly becomes a joy to ride. You get better and better weapons to fight the Freakers, and this is probably my only other issue with the game. You’re getting this ever expanding arsenal of firearms when I would have preferred to see something like in The Last of Us. Bigger and better guns are cool, but it doesn’t exactly help push the Post-Apocalyptic narrative, so for me I would have preferred to have a few guns that get modified. You’d still get the ever improving firepower, it’s just that it’d be the same guns being tinkered with, which is basically what the Post-Apocalypse is all about. Nothing speaks to the hardship of the world’s end than not having access to the firepower you once did, instead having to modify and make do with your initial weapon.

It’d be quite a nice time without all the psychos and infected cannibals…

It’d be quite a nice time without all the psychos and infected cannibals…

Anyway, you ride around helping out various camps, each with their own flawed views and methods of survival, and you quickly find yourself wrapped up in the greater events of the world. The main things you do in Days Gone is collecting scrap and hunting Freakers - both of these activities remain consistent throughout the game. Far from the eclectic junk bonanza of Fallout 4, collecting scrap in Days Gone is streamlined and simple. Scrap, fuel, kerosene, cloth - you only really need to collect the basics. In terms of hunting Freakers, you can take them on one by one but the real draw is against the Hordes. Literally hundreds of Freakers all swarming their way across the world map in a constant migration between their nests and feeding grounds. These Horde battles can be dramatically intense, but it usually just ended with me running and gunning, cheesing them with Molotov’s and Heavy Machine Gun Fire. They’re fun, but due to game-play mechanics they rarely play out as intended.

Though they don’t vary that much individually, when you’re facing a horde you never lose sight of the forest for the trees.

Though they don’t vary that much individually, when you’re facing a horde you never lose sight of the forest for the trees.

In terms of characters that fill the world, there’s a pretty decent swathe of personalities to encounter. There’re a lot of assholes, but there’s usually some sort of justifying reason behind why they are the way they are. Whoever they are, and whatever their defect is, it’s always interesting to watch Deacon interact with them. Say what you will about an ex-Army outlaw biker being married to a researcher with a Ph.D. in Botany, it allowed the developers to craft a story that was both world shaking and personal at the same time.

There’s a cult of psychos known as the ‘Rippers’ and while yes, they do go around ripping the shit out of people - they’re actually named that for the way their leader ritualistically carved “R.I.P'“ into his own forehead. Let the past die, wash away the mental suffering with physical suffering and you’ll be free to “Rest In Peace.” It’s a nice little bit of word play that I’m kicking myself for not thinking of. Anyway, the point here is that people are talking about the Rippers hunting down two bikers from the Mongrel Motorcycle Club, which is obviously Deacon and Boozer. Deacon thinks they just have it in for them because they’ve killed a few of them, but eventually you find out that the leader of the Rippers, Jessie, is actually a former member of the Mongrel Motorcycle Club as well. The thing is that Jessie had his gang tattoo burnt from his back with a blowtorch before the apocalypse, by both Deacon and Boozer. He started the Rippers cult because he was obsessed with the way that a persons whole identity could be burnt away in a flood of pain. He inflicted suffering on hundreds of survivors in a twisted attempt to free them, because he admired the way the Freakers were free from suffering.

Safe to say that he never really got over the experience…

Safe to say that he never really got over the experience…

Eventually Deacon and Boozer team up to go kill Jessie, and the story spirals upward to more world spanning heights. You eventually find your wife, and she’s working with a paramilitary organisation who are trying their best to preserve humanity. They’re well armed and supplied, and it looks like they may be able to save mankind, but there’s the little issue of their leader being a religious zealot who executes anyone who doesn’t adhere to his strict moral code. Eventually you work with your wife, the botanist, to learn that her research was used in the creation of the Freaker Virus. So while Deacon helped create a monsters of man that plagued the survivors, his wife helped turn men into monsters that plagued the survivors. It’ll admit that it strains credulity, but it was a neat way to personally tie your characters into the story beyond being just some guy and girl who’re saving the world.

You deal with this paramilitary force, going in and taking them out in your usual explosive style, and then you and your wife are finally united and free. After the game, the government agent who helped you find your wife lets you know of a far greater conspiracy that he’s involved in. He’s infected with the Freaker virus, though he’s somehow managed to avoid turning into a mindless Freaker. All the good stuff with none of the drawbacks, except being ugly as sin. I’m sure we’ll find out more about this in the sequel, which I hope takes less than 3 years to be released.

Despite the issues, it’s still got a great character in a great setting.

Despite the issues, it’s still got a great character in a great setting.

Days Gone is a pretty fantastic game if you’re into open world survival simulator or just Post-Apocalyptic games in general. I didn’t realize how sick I was of the Fallout series’ 50’s schtick, until I was cruising through the ruins of a realistic and modern looking Oregon. People lamented not having photos of loved ones, because everyone had used smart phones to store their photos, and high tech medical facilities sprung to life once you started the generators. It was a breath of fresh air to see a more serious Post-Apocalyptic tone, as opposed to the more lighthearted and gimmicky alternatives. Days Gone is a flawed game, but despite that I still think it’s a fantastic Post-Apocalyptic title that is well worth playing.

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…

Mad Max and the Eternal Return

Mad Max was a fantastic video game that was released in 2015, and it's one of the few games where I took the time and effort to do everything and earn the Platinum Trophy. I loved the setting and the characters because everything had this strange dreamlike quality to it, like the world was comprised of disparate parts that had been pulled together. The gameplay was great too; the fighting was fluid and brutal and the car to car combat was intense. My only negative with Mad Max was the end game experience.

Max starts the game seeking this mystical place called "the Plains of Silence", a place where he can find peace from the world at large. He's got the car and the gas and he's out looking for the Plains of Silence when he's attacked by Scabrous Scrotus - the first son of Immortan Joe. Although Scotus gets away with your car, you steal his dog and implant his chainsaw glaive into his skull. Not exactly a win for Scotus.

He had a nice weapon and a great canine companion... and you took it all from him. 

He had a nice weapon and a great canine companion... and you took it all from him. 

Throughout the rest of the game you're dismantling the empire of Scabrous Scrotus, taking out his lieutenants and ripping down his icons, all in an attempt to get your car back. Scrotus is in no small amount of pain after you shoved a chainsaw through his skull, so he's got an equally turgid hard-on for you too. 

The dude literally has a chainsaw stuck in his brain... he's got some anger regulating issues. 

The dude literally has a chainsaw stuck in his brain... he's got some anger regulating issues. 

You drive around the map in a typical open world fashion, doing lots of fetch quests and helping out the locals make a stand against Scrotus. Everything you do reduces the influence of the psychotic warlord and eventually you're able to confront him directly in one of the most brutal car fight scenes I've ever played through. You actually end up building a better car than your original, but Scrotus does something to push Max over the edge and so you go after him despite this. At a certain point in the game, it stops being about the car and starts being about revenge. You end up ripping the chainsaw out of his head, killing him, and then driving off into the sunset in your original car.

I can't find the video... but it's suitably badass. 

I can't find the video... but it's suitably badass. 

The game itself is great, I'd still give it a 10/10, my only problem is the lost opportunity with the post campaign experience. After you defeat Scrotus you're thrown back into the world with some iconic Mad Max gear, but everything is already done. The amount of enemies in an area depends on the amount of influence that Scrotus has there, but if you've already done everything then the chances for conflict post game are few and far between. 

Now, you could start again from scratch but there's nothing special about that because it's just a new game. But what if the developers had included an NG+ (New Game Plus) experience? You'd start the game again but Max would be fully leveled. You loose your gear and car at the start as part of the story, so that's no issue, and Scabrous Scrotus is back at full power. You could play through the whole game again, whittling down Scrotus' empire from full power without having to level Max all over again.

The thing is, NG+ is already built into the narrative of Mad Max without it actually being present.  All throughout the game you're running into this character called Griffa, this sort of desert-mystic who is trying to nudge Max along a spiritual journey while he traverses his physical one. He pokes holes in Max's world view, and questions his search for the Plains of Silence. And he knows things, about Max, things he shouldn't be able to know.

The sounds of a wasteland fade away and a strange humming takes their place, as though the fabric of reality were tearing apart. Strange artworks line the stones that surround you, and no one seems to be able to see Griffa but you. 

The sounds of a wasteland fade away and a strange humming takes their place, as though the fabric of reality were tearing apart. Strange artworks line the stones that surround you, and no one seems to be able to see Griffa but you. 

All throughout the game Griffa teases out the good-side in Max, the parts of himself that he's buried deep and tried to forget. Love, friendship and trust - all that Care Bear stuff. Because of this, Max starts getting close to a woman and her daughter, Hope and Glory respectively. And right when it looks like he might have a family again - they're taken from him. 

Max flips the fuck out and goes after Scrotus, he's tripping balls and hearing the voices of Hope and Glory screaming for bloody vengeance. You lose your new car in the fight against Scrotus but you get your old one back. You drive off into the sunset, without looking back, in the search of the Plains of Silence. 

The Black-on-Black is all Max ever needs. It's his chariot, but also his prison?

The Black-on-Black is all Max ever needs. It's his chariot, but also his prison?

Exactly how the game started. 

You're fleeing a traumatic past, you've got a car and you're looking for the Plains of Silence. Scotus steals the car. You build a new car to get the old one back, along the way you heal and build a new family. Scrotus kills your family, undoing the healing. You kill Scrotus and lose your new car. With your old car back, you flee your traumatic past in search of the Plains of Silence. 

The whole thing is a cycle, Griffa even says as much to you in the game. Max is stuck in a sort of purgatory, emotionally within himself as well as physically within the wasteland. The world makes no sense, not in terms of game design but in terms of the narrative. People have accents from all over the world, just like there are landmarks from distant lands within eye shot of one another. Max is far too young to remember the world from before, and there's the inclusion of this one particular History Relic.

An advertisement for the Mad Max Buggy Tour... one of the many "History Relics" found throughout the game. Max even has a little comment upon finding this oddity...

An advertisement for the Mad Max Buggy Tour... one of the many "History Relics" found throughout the game. Max even has a little comment upon finding this oddity...

Mad Max is about a physical and spiritual journey, one of healing, that ultimately fails. Max ends up right where he started, with a car and a desire to escape. The game is Max's purgatory, and he's stuck there until he can find a way out. A fantastic way to express this would have been the NG+ option, to show the literal loops he's stuck in. It would have made sense from a narrative perspective and it would have given the game some much needed longevity.    

 

 

Fallout 76 - Overcrowded No Man's Land

It's been revealed that Fallout 76 will be an always online multiplayer game, which means you're not able to play offline or alone. To reinforce this, there are no human NPC's that will be present because every other human you meet in the game will be another Player Character. Whether those players are role playing as Raiders, Traders or Scavengers, every interaction you have with another human will be an interaction with a real human.

That 3rd character is wearing a Pre-War Power Armor under-suit, they could have at least given it a color scheme change to differentiate it from the Brotherhood of Steel.

That 3rd character is wearing a Pre-War Power Armor under-suit, they could have at least given it a color scheme change to differentiate it from the Brotherhood of Steel.

Now, Fallout 4 copped some grief over it's voiced protagonists. A lot of people didn't like the scaled down response ques that had them saying something wildly different from what they expected. But it seems that in order to correct this, Bethesda have gone and taken out all the NPC's that you can interact with. How many dialogue choices can you have with a human player character? Wouldn't they just let you talk to them via a microphone? With all the human NPC's gone, who are we going to be talking to? I guess we could chat with a Robot or a Super Mutant, but neither are going to be giving us any kind of decent conversation. For a series that revolved around fantastically deep dialogue to convey it's characters, story and themes, this is certainly a strange move for Bethesda.

Can I talk to the Giant Mushroom Sloth? Because I'd really like to know what the hell it's doing in the ruins of the United States...

Can I talk to the Giant Mushroom Sloth? Because I'd really like to know what the hell it's doing in the ruins of the United States...

Being forced to interact with other people is another "interesting" move. I know a lot of people play video games for the competition and the team work, but a lot of us play games specifically to get away from people. I am an introvert, I will happily say that I play games to escape and recharge. While I will no doubt try out Fallout 76, I am unsure how I will be interacting with it's always online, forced multiplayer elements.

The developers are saying that there's going to be safeguards in place that stop people from griefing other players. This is good, on one hand, but on the other it raises the question - why even put forced multiplayer in then? I can see myself running around Fallout 76 and either avoiding other players or just outright ignoring them. I don't care if that other player wants to kill me, trade with me or if they want to team up and go questing together - I just want them to fuck off. 

This is my Fallout... walking through the ruins, alone. 

This is my Fallout... walking through the ruins, alone. 

I play games to get away from people, and if Fallout 76 refuses to provide me with a way of doing that then I'm probably not going to be spending much time with it. I get enough grief dealing with people in the real world, I don't need to be getting shot in the head by some 12 year old twitch gamer from Liverpool while I'm trying to relax at home. I don't care if there's a whole crew of player controlled Raiders that're approaching me, if I've got an option to avoid interacting with them then I'm going to take it. Which brings us back to the question of why they even bothered to include multiplayer?

If other people are in my game, then they're an annoyance. At worst they're going to be forcefully initiating some form of interaction, violent or otherwise, while at best they're going to be buzzing around trying to coerce me into interact with them. Even if they have to get through some anti-harassment safeguard to initiate combat, they'll likely be trying to get me to bring down that safeguard so they can get the experience they want - PVP. Again, as much as I want the option to opt out of interacting with other players, having that option there makes the multiplayer aspect of Fallout 76 pointless.

What do The Chosen   One  , The   Lone   Wanderer & The   Sole   Survivor all have in common?

What do The Chosen One, The Lone Wanderer & The Sole Survivor all have in common?

If I don't want to interact with this other player but they're buzzing around because they *do* want to interact with me, nobody is going to be having a good time. Nobody is getting what they want from the game because we're being forced together when we've got woefully different play styles and reasons for being there. I don't understand why they couldn't just let the multiplayers play online while letting the solo players play offline. Well, actually... now that I've written it out I'm betting it's for financial reasons. They'll probably provide solo-servers down the line, for a fee. 

Dying doesn't do anything anymore because you just respawn, so how exactly is it dying? If previous Fallout games, your protagonist never died because if you were killed you reverted back to your last save and tried again. But in Fallout 76, because it's always online you can't do that. Instead of dying and reverting to a point where you hadn't died yet, you die and just keep on going. How is death dealt with in the game? Other series have lore reasons for why characters can respawn, but Fallout is going to have to come up with something original to justify this game mechanic. Which raises the question of continuity, if respawn technology is present in Fallout 76, why isn't it present in all subsequent Fallout games? This all seems like minor points to niggle over, but death is a pretty important component in terms of game play. Apparently you don't even lose your gear when you die, so again - what exactly is the point of multiplayer? That was half the point of killing enemies in previous Fallout games, so you could get their stuff.

Great settlement... but what player will actually want to stand at a guard post like an NPC Settler would? 

Great settlement... but what player will actually want to stand at a guard post like an NPC Settler would? 

Settlement building is back, but it looks like they can be destroyed by random mobs and other players. Part of the appeal of Fallout 4, at least for me, was being able to run around on Survival Mode and set up little supply caches. Survival Mode was hard, and it made sense to set up outposts that you could travel between, they gave you a safe haven to rest and recuperate before setting out once again. But if bases can be destroyed by other players, who can now literally nuke the game world, then what's the point? Why bother wasting time and effort to build something that can be torn down or outright destroyed in a mushroom cloud? 

If the guy in Power Armor in the trailer couldn't survive this, why can the players?

If the guy in Power Armor in the trailer couldn't survive this, why can the players?

I could understand it if Fallout 76 was a hardcore Roguelike game, where you get one life and if you die you lose your character. I would hate it, but at least it would be better than this half/half game they've got going at the moment, where I can opt out of interacting with other players but I'm still forced to see them impotently scamper around my world. Not only are there people in my game that I don't want to interact with, but they've replaced the human NPC's that I actually enjoyed interacting with. It's almost like Bethesda replaced all the human NPC's with other Player Characters so that they didn't have to waste time and effort on creating compelling NPC's for your character to interact with. 

I'm worried that Fallout 76 will turn into this... a dudebro game that's basically all about running around Power Armor, just fucking shit up.

I'm worried that Fallout 76 will turn into this... a dudebro game that's basically all about running around Power Armor, just fucking shit up.

I guess you could say that I should just change my expectations, appreciate the game for what it is and play it the way it's meant to be played. But, how about no? Fallout has always been a solid single player experience, but Bethesda are attempting to make it a multiplayer experience now as well. In their misguided attempts to get the best of both worlds, it seems like they've created a misbegotten bastard mule of a game that will likely suck at both. But I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

However it turns out, the fact is that I'm skeptical and not at all excited. I was at the midnight launches for Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas and Fallout 4 and I'd pre-ordered each and every one of them. I won't be pre-ordering Fallout 76, I won't be buying it as soon as I'm able and I certainly won't be at the midnight launch. That is a terrible state of affairs for someone who has been a fan of the Fallout series for two decades.  

At least the setting looks nice...

At least the setting looks nice...

My thoughts on Fallout 5

With talk of another Fallout game being on the horizon, I figured I'd throw out an idea of what I'd like to see. Anyone who has played Fallout knows that there's always rumors of another Fallout game on the horizon, so this is more of a thought experiment than anything else. With that in mind, while I prefer the Fallout games made by the original creators; Fallout 1, 2 and New Vegas, I'll take the Bethesda games if I've got no other choice. 

I think the whole East Coast vs West Coast set up is a fantastic way to keep the works of the two development teams separate. As much as Bethesda probably wanted the distance to differentiate themselves, it's become more about them not being able to sully the works of the superior development team. Bad enough they've watered down almost every aspect of the game and story...

Sorry! I'm bitter and rambling.

Because money comes first I'll just assume that Bethesda is making the next Fallout game and that it'll be located on the East Coast. We've already had DC, we've recently had Boston, and now we're at a point where we're running out of iconic East Coast American cities. Miami, maybe, but there was a Fallout Tactics 2 game that was going to be set there. With that out of the way, I think the only other realistic East Coast city for the next Fallout game to be set in is New York City.

Some concept art from a lost Fallout sequel.

Some concept art from a lost Fallout sequel.

Now, obviously NYC got nuked to shit during the Great War. If China was going to war with the United States then NYC is the first place they'd atomize back to the stone age. The fix here is that the United States of the Fallout universe is insanely advanced, just look at Boston's skyline in Fallout 4 to see what I mean. With NYC having a population nearly double that of Boston, it stands to reason that it would be a gargantuan cityscape that once dwarfed all others. Im picturing a skyline so tall that the nuclear blasts didn't even reach halfway up the buildings.

When NYC gets hit, it gets hit *hard*

When NYC gets hit, it gets hit *hard*

Along with this very vertical map, I imagine there wouldn't be much of the usual blasted wasteland that is so iconic to Fallout and other nuclear war games. They'd have to include Central Park, but there's a lot of other greenspaces in NYC that could feed this need for radioactive desert sands. Finally, a lesson I think the developers should take from Fallout 4 is that just because the city is next to an ocean, that doesn't mean you have to devote a quarter of the game map to being under water.

We get it... there's a lot of water. We can just look at it, we don't need to actually go out there.

We get it... there's a lot of water. We can just look at it, we don't need to actually go out there.

Anyway, my final idea for NYC would be the headquarters of Vault-Tec. The main Vault where they ran the experiments upon all other Vaults across the United States. This thing would be massive and it would take up most of the NYC underground. As high as the skyscrapers stand on the streets above, that's how far beneath those same streets the vault would go. 

Just picture a massive vault having been broken into by that crater.

Just picture a massive vault having been broken into by that crater.

Because it's Fallout, there's going to be Ghouls everywhere, and because it's Bethesda there's going to be Super Mutants and Deathclaws and Brotherhood of Steel... despite all that making no damn sense. Since it's NYC we'd need to get the giant rats, that were once so iconic to Fallout 1 and 2, back into the series. No, not weird looking Mole-rats, actual mutant rats like we finally saw in Nuka-World. We'd need mutated creatures unique to the New York region as well, it can't all be the same madness otherwise what's the point?

The big power players, and probably the antagonists, would be Vault-Tec themselves. They'd have pre-war tech, as well as the mass advancements they've developed since, that would make the Institute look about as threatening as an orphanage of sick children. People were worried about the Enclave, well Vault-Tec are the ones that supplied the Enclave. When Vault-Tec decide it's time to take back the world, they do so in force. Pre-War mercenary armies that were frozen on ice, and safely housed robotic juggernauts that could take on any behemoth that spawned from the radioactive goop. The Brotherhood has one Liberty Prime... Vault-Tec would have ten.

Trash-strewn streets, crumbling towers above... NYC would be hell. 

Trash-strewn streets, crumbling towers above... NYC would be hell. 

Whatever the story would be, I would hope that Bethesda takes a leaf out of Obsidian's book and makes the world of Fallout 5 one that's full of grey. No black and white, no easy answers... just a quagmire of tough calls and unforeseen consequences. Heck, maybe your character is actually with Vault-Tec and you're part of the effort to take back the world. It'd let your character be new to the world, so the player could learn alongside them, and it would be a fresh take on an old setting.

This is just a random idea I had, it's probably way off the mark. I'm okay with that. Whatever the story may be, we're up to our 5th installment in the main series and there's still a lot of answers we've yet to receive. Let's head to New York City and lets unravel the mysteries of Vault-Tec, it's been long enough.  

Whatever they do, I just hope that Bethesda don't pull a Dark Souls 3 and end the series with more questions left unanswered than otherwise. 

Fallout, Halo and Gears of War

Contrary to the popular opinion of most fans, I actually really enjoyed Fallout Tactics. Whether you prefer Fallout 4 or Fallout: New Vegas, Fallout Tactics was a step away from the norm that brought a breath of fresh air to the franchise while simultaneously expanding the lore. Fallout Brotherhood of Steel can still go die in a ditch though...

Seriously, how do you fuck up Fallout?

Seriously, how do you fuck up Fallout?

What was great about Fallout Tactics was that it took a series that was originally a single character experience and made it squad based. You weren't just a Vault Dweller or a Chosen One, you were an entire squad within the Midwestern Brotherhood of Steel. One on one, or one on many, combat is great; it's always fun to rush into a mob of Super Mutants with a Minigun and just tear shit up... but Fallout Tactics required, well, tactics. 

Holding the high ground is very imporant... even against Baby Deathclaws.

Holding the high ground is very imporant... even against Baby Deathclaws.

The setting was roughly the same, the world of Fallout Tactics sort of did away with the Retro Futurism typically found within the Fallout franchise and went with straight Futurism. The key element that differentiated it from the rest of the series was the fact that you had a whole group of soldiers to work with, which gave you gameplay options. But it wasn't just an option, you actually had to rely on setting up your squad strategically for an encounter otherwise half of them were likely to end up as ground chuck. It terms of gameplay you could switch between turn based and real time strategy, which allowed you to set up for those aforementioned encounters and slow things down to act with a bit more precision... or to go in guns blazing. It was a great game, and if you're a fan of the series then I wholeheartedly recommend you give it a go.

Lots of Easter Eggs in this game. You could even find Riddick... and Harold... and Vault Boy!

Lots of Easter Eggs in this game. You could even find Riddick... and Harold... and Vault Boy!

Now, let's take a slight jump to Halo and Gears of War. Both are Microsoft franchises and both had exactly the same story in their initial trilogies. Humans have been at war with (Covenant/Locust) for a while, eventually humanity discovers that the enemies have been having issues with zombies (Flood/Lambent) and soon these zombies start infecting humanity as well. Eventually humanity finds a way to not only push back the (Covenant/Locust) but the (Flood/Lambent) as well. They've seriously got the exact same story, it's just that one's a bit more sci-fi while the other is more of a gritty war movie.

So many Spartans in one place... how can they lose?!

So many Spartans in one place... how can they lose?!

The reason I bring this up is that the Halo franchise eventually got a Real-Time Strategy series called Halo: Wars. You played as this group of humans that were flung far off into the galaxy where they went on this whole adventure that didn't really have any impact on the greater plot of the original trilogy. The game was pretty well received, it was Halo after all, and eventually it even got a sequel.

Now we get to the crux of this whole blog post - this is exactly what Gears of War needs. Fallout got a squad based tactical role playing game while Halo got a real time strategy game. Gears of War needs something similar, because if it can work for Halo then it can most certainly work for Gears of War.

The story of Gears of War allows for this, perfectly. Gears are soldiers that fight in squads, for the survival of all mankind, against the ever encroaching hordes of Locust. These monstrous humanoids can pop up anywhere from below the ground and have a tendency to attack in mass with a retinue of horrifically gargantuan beasts by their side. The entire series you've fought through campaigns with squads of 2-5 members, so the tactical squad based combat would suit. Also, there have been countless massive wars fought with primarily infantry units in the series canon... because it's right there in the name - Gears of *War!*

Delta Squad rolling strong!

Delta Squad rolling strong!

Seriously though, the way the creators have woven perpetual conflict into the very fabric of the setting is fantastic. 

For those who don't know, there's actually a few comics and novels set within the Gears of War universe. They really flesh the setting out a whole lot more than the games ever do, I cannot recommend them enough. My point is that there are countless conflicts within the timeline of the original trilogy that could be the basis of an entire games worth of content, or you could just do like Fallout and Halo did and create an all new campaign in a previously unexplored area.

I would literally burn down an orphanage full of sick children to get a game set in the early days of the Pendulum Wars. You'd start out fighting the Indies (other humans) then somehow get lost down in the Hollows and end up fighting the Locust long before the Human/Locust War ever even began... and you'd know your characters are all going to die at the end because you already know what's going to happen in the future!

Oh man, that'd be so cool.  #nerdgasm

The thing is - this idea isn't even mine. There was actually a game like this already planned for the Gears of War series, it's just that it was never completed. There's a very basic version in the video below, with a lot of assets taken from the original trilogy. Take a look and see for yourself, at the very least the idea has merit. 

It worked for Fallout and it worked for Halo, it could totally work for Gears of War as well. At some point the series should take a small step away from 3rd person shooters and into the more complex realm of real time strategy or squad based tactics games. It might not have the same capacity for multiplayer that the core games do but the series is certainly robust enough that it could manage a strong single player experience.

As I've previously stated, Gears of War is one of those series that I love, it's my Star Wars and/or Star Trek. I not only hope to experience it for years to come, I hope to see it diversify what it has to offer and spread out into different game types. 

What we really need is a Gears of War role playing game... but that's a post for another day.

Dark Earth - an Old School Post Apocalyptic Video Game

I've been between houses for a while now, and my plans have changed a fair bit recently so I'm shuffling stuff around and sorting through a lot of my books. My last post about Metanoia had a photo of some of my library packed away in boxes, as well as spilling out of them onto the floor. One of the books visible is the game guide for one of the stories that cemented my love of the Post Apocalyptic genre - Dark Earth.

I never understood why this guy is on the cover, he's wearing the outfit of the bad guys, but he's not even a character in the game?

I never understood why this guy is on the cover, he's wearing the outfit of the bad guys, but he's not even a character in the game?

Released in 1997 by Kalisto Entertainment, Dark Earth was a fantastic RPG that had some pretty impressive graphics... for the time. The backgrounds were fully detailed art pieces that your animated characters moved through - so while there was a high level of disconnect between all the characters and the world itself, it was still a pretty impressive game visually. 

The backgrounds were largely static, but very impressive for the time.

The backgrounds were largely static, but very impressive for the time.

The basic premise of the game was that the old world was wiped out by a meteor shower when a comet passed by close to earth, and most of human civilization was destroyed. Dust clouds were thrown into the air and, baring a few sacred areas, the earth was shrouded in darkness. It wasn't just any old meteor shower though, as the stones from space brought with them a dark power - one the Shankr. The Shankr are a race of dark beings that wish to destroy all, and they're opposed by the Runkas, beings of light that slumber beneath the earth.

So while most of the earth is shrouded in darkness and twisted monsters roam the shadows, there are areas where light breaks through the clouds and reaches the ground below. Thanks to the Runkas, these illuminated areas are safe for human habitation and are the last bastions of humanity, three hundred years after the old world ended.

One of the upper sections of the city - there ain't no poor people here.

One of the upper sections of the city - there ain't no poor people here.

As the game starts, you play as Arkhan - a Guardian of Fire in the city of Sparta. Your role is to protect the Sunseers, priests that lead worship of the holy light, and ensure that the fires which protect the city from the Shankr beasts never go out. You're caught up in the eternal battle between the light and the dark however, and you find yourself poisoned by the Shankr Archessence - a poison that slowly turns you into a Shankr beast.

You start twisting into a monster pretty early in the game.

You start twisting into a monster pretty early in the game.

Despite your role as a protector of the city, the fact that you're turning into a monster turns most of the cities inhabitants against you. You discover ruins of the old world, harness old world weaponry and discover an ancient organisation and the reason why light pierces the clouds at specific points. You've still got a few old friends, in the Guardians of Fire as well as the Sunseers, but these are few and far between.

The specter of the old world is always present in Dark Earth...

The specter of the old world is always present in Dark Earth...

You've got to unravel the a plot to overthrow the power structure of the city, discover who is working with the Shankr as well as find a way to cure yourself of the Shankr Archessence before it turns you into a slavering beast. You progress through the game and explore the city of Sparta and the world of Dark Earth, encountering devout yet poor citizens and dastardly rogues. 

Do. Not. Fuck. With. This. Man.

Do. Not. Fuck. With. This. Man.

It's one of my favourite games, despite how old it is. I'd love to see Dark Earth remade, because I think the world has a lot of potential. There was so much that was left unanswered! You get outside the city, for a very short time, and there's a whole world out there still to explore. There are Wanderers who brave the Darklands, nomadic tribes that travel between the few remaining human settlements to trade and bring news. The battle between the Shankr and the Runkas is eternal and the conflict presented in the game is just between one member of each group, so there's plenty of fertile ground there for further exploration.

If anyone out there is ever looking to purchase an established IP and put some work into it, I couldn't recommend Dark Earth highly enough. It's got a simple set up that's still prevalent to this day, look at Destiny's "Light vs Dark" story, and it could easily be built upon.

Till next time.

The Last of Us 2 Looks Amazing!

So a trailer for The Last of Us 2 has been released, and I for one think it looks fucking badass. I like that we're seeing a cast of new characters and we're already getting hints of new conflicts. There was some serious religious overtones in the trailer, so I'm thinking we're going to see a fair amount of intolerance in the next game. At this point though, I don't even care if Joel or Ellie never appear again - I just want to play as *that* chick.

This chick, this warrior woman, is a fucking tank!

This chick, this warrior woman, is a fucking tank!

I don't know who she is or where she comes from, but I *want* to know! I don't know where she's gotten the food to be that goddamn rig in a post apocalyptic world, but she is a fucking machine! And it works too, she reminds me of Scarlett Johansson's Major from the live action Ghost in the Shell - she's this bulky warrior who just stomps around. You would not want to get into a fist fight with this chick because chances are that she'd just decimate you and all your friends. I really hope we get the chance to play as her, she's got this physicality that would let her go toe to toe with any Hunter.

I'm quite interested in these other two characters as well, they were both named and they're both Asian. For all the praise the first game got for inclusivity, there were no Asians on the roster, so it looks like Naughty Dog are getting on top of that right off the bat. With all that's being going on in Hollywood lately, with titles like Aloha, Iron Fist and Great Wall screwing over Asian American actors in favor of white actors, it makes sense from a casting perspective.

Yara (I think that's what her name was) - gets her arm broken, and then still manages to kill someone.

Yara (I think that's what her name was) - gets her arm broken, and then still manages to kill someone.

The young boy's hesitance to cut the warrior woman down, and his line "but she's one of them" could potentially mean Naughty Dog have written the absence of Asians in the original TLoU into the story. It's possible that where they were blamed for the cause of the Cordyceps Virus and ostracized by others, and that's why we never saw them in the first game. Or maybe it's got nothing to do with race and this warrior woman is just part of some group that nobody likes, I don't know. The powers that be have said that the second game will be about hate, and we already know there's a high level of religious intolerance, so some sort of race-based conflict it's not beyond the realm of possibility. 

Lev seems pretty capable with a bow, he took out one guy right quick. 

Lev seems pretty capable with a bow, he took out one guy right quick. 

Of course, not even a day after the trailer was released people have been writing articles about how it's far too violent and how it's disturbing that women are involved in the violence. The fact that two men are killed is overlooked and the focus is brought around to the broken arm of one woman, and the smashed in skull of another. Killing is fine as long as it's straight white men doing the dying, apparently, but we can't have women or children getting hurt. Never mind the fact that this is a post apocalyptic world where there are raging mushroom zombies that eat people... and humans that eat people... and humans that kill children because they're ordered too... and humans that try to kill children because they're sca- okay, you get it. It's a crapsack world, is what I'm trying to say.

I don't want to spend too much time raging about this topic again, except to say that this stops being an issue when you stop trying to make The Last of Us into something that it isn't. The world has gone to shit, but there are still good people out there and sometimes they have to do terrible things to get out alive. Stop trying to politicize it and spin it so that it reinforces your pre-existing views, just let it be its own thing. If you twist it and make it less dark then the overall story will suffer for it, the emotional pay off at the end is linked to the amount of risk involved in getting there.

A lot of people die in post apocalyptic stories, and even more get hurt, this is because they're not meant to be nice stories. They're tales of hardship and struggle and about making it through to the other side against all odds, the pay off is only worth it if the danger is real and the cost is high. Nobody cares that you walked across a field of daisies, but if there were ten Clickers and a Bloater on that field of daisies then that's a story that people are going to get invested in.

See? This is the sort of walk that people pay to hear about...

See? This is the sort of walk that people pay to hear about...

Anyway, I'm damn keen to see where they take this narrative. That warrior woman looks like she doesn't take shit from anyone, I'm sure she'd make for a powerful and conflicted protagonist. Maybe we get to see Joel and Ellie again, maybe not, but from the looks of things it seems like we'll be in good company either way. 

The Spores are the Real Threat in The Last of Us

Another piece on The Last of Us? 

I know, I know... I keep going back to the well, but it is a veritable gold mine in terms of content. It's not all fluff either, which is rare these days. This time I'm going to be focusing on the real threat in The Last of Us, and it's not the Infected, or other humans, but the spores.

Just by way of the structure of zombie stories, the zombies are usually not the real threat. Sure, they're something dangerous that the characters have to avoid, but they're more akin to a force of nature than actual antagonists. The faceless masses of a zombie horde might as well be replaced with a tidal wave, or radiation, or a cloud of poisonous gas - the individual constituents don't matter, it's the collective whole that you've got to worry about. This is a point I'll swing back to at a later date, but enough of that for now.

Typically, it's the other humans that the characters have got to worry about in a zombie story. This isn't just based upon the idea that they're as individualistic as the protagonist are, enough so that they're able resist joining the faceless masses of society that the zombie hordes often represent. No, there's a pretty basic underlying logic about why humans are the true enemies, and it's because that any human that has lasted as long as you have is roughly as tough as you are. You can outrun a mindless horde of zombies or bash their rotting brains out if one is trying to give you a hickey, but a thinking, feeling and reactive antagonist that has set their sights on you is a much tougher opponent.

Just another day...

Just another day...

This is what it's set up to look like in The Last of Us. The military are willing to kill anybody who doesn't obey their strict commands and you're straight up screwed if they even think you're infected. The Hunters target other humans specifically so that they can take their gear, they've shifted from a herd mentality to a pack mentality... the Infected have less chance of having what they want, so they don't bother with them, it's specifically humans that they target. David's group is willing to hunt and farm to get by, but then they're also more than happy to kill and consume other humans. The Fireflies are willing to sacrifice any and all individuals for their idealistic devotion to the greater good, so even if you're with them they're likely to get you killed. All of these groups are more than happy to kill you under the right circumstances, but they're still not the most dangerous thing in The Last of Us.

The spores are the true threat in The Last of Us, and it's just a shame that the game doesn't reflect this. The thing is that it's also understandable, because Naughty Dog painted themselves into a corner in regards to the spores. Overall the spores basically make sense, the real world cordyceps fungus has spores that infect insects once the fungi begins to bloom. Besides this one-of-a-kind infection method for a zombie virus, the spores allow for unique game play situations where your characters are forced to put on gas masks and enter an area with reduced visibility. Finally, for as deadly as the spores are, they're actually a strangely beautiful sight to behold. 

It reminds me of a Cowboy Bebop episode, Waltz for Venus, those spores were beautiful, but they made you blind...

It reminds me of a Cowboy Bebop episode, Waltz for Venus, those spores were beautiful, but they made you blind...

The problem with the spores is that, realistically, they're a near-impossible threat to combat. A single spore can be carried on the wind, or in the water, or on an animals skin, and it can easily infect a human within a Quarantine Zone. Considering each Infected sends out hundreds of thousands of spores when they start blooming after death, those are really shitty odds. If the spores in The Last of Us were acting at their full potential, then humanity wouldn't stand a chance.

When most underground areas look like this... you've let things get out of hand.

When most underground areas look like this... you've let things get out of hand.

How do you even begin to stop something that spreads on the wind? You'd need to incinerate every Infected that you kill, which means that you couldn't just kill them and leave them where they fall because they'd still be an active threat. You'd have to go into the spore-infested underground areas with flamethrowers and burn them out, then dispose of the blooming corpses down there as well. Good luck if you run into a Bloater while you're down there, because they can toss around spore grenades for some reason.... which just makes things so much worse.

The military tried their best to stop the spread of infection, and so they carpet bombed the area outside of the Quarantine Zones in order to kill as many infected as possible. Which makes sense, if it were just the Infected that they had to worry about. The problem is that explosions tend to push air away as they expand. Some spores might get fried by the heat, but a lot of them are just going to get pushed up and away... say, straight into the Quarantine Zones? 

Why would you ever do this?!

Why would you ever do this?!

The Infected themselves even make for inferior vectors for the infection while they're alive. They're constantly trying to chew peoples necks out or rip their jaws off and they're generally going for kill shots, which is a bad way to spread an infection. The idea is to keep the host alive so that the infection has enough time to do its thing and infect the host. Cordyceps is parasitic in nature, so it needs a living host in order to grow, and if the host dies before it has time to take root then it dies as well. Why don't the Infected just nibble on fingers or forearms, the bare skinned limbs that people are more than happy to thrust towards them? One bite is all it takes, after that the Infected can just scamper off and wait a day or two for the infection to make them a new fungi-buddy. The problem is, they're too dumb for that. 

Seriously... the Infected are more of a threat when they're already dead.

Seriously... the Infected are more of a threat when they're already dead.

And why aren't humans taking advantage of the spores? Why not walk into a spore-filled area with a gas mask on, get a garbage bag full of spores and then toss them into the soldier's barracks? Or leave spore laden food and drink as a trap for some Hunters? Why not hook a barrel of them up to a building's air conditioning unit and infected everyone at once? Seriously, these spores have a million uses and nobody is taking advantage of them.  

This is a similar situation to what I was talking about in my piece on Radiation over at Post Apocalyptic Media (go check them out). You can't realistically expect people to combat spores, or radiation, and it would actually make for a pretty boring game if they were portrayed accurately. It's why the spores are confined to underground areas, when in reality they'd be drifting all over the place, infecting anyone and everyone. People want to play a game where they're forced to fend of zombies and cannibals, not run around with a can of anti-fungal spray.

"A million bucks worth of weaponry, and I'd trade it all back for a lousy can of Raid!"   See? Even Matt LeBlanc gets it...

"A million bucks worth of weaponry, and I'd trade it all back for a lousy can of Raid!" 

See? Even Matt LeBlanc gets it...

I wouldn't mind seeing this play out as it should in future games, with billions of spores being released from collapsing tunnels that infect thousands of survivors across the United States. It would actually give weight to Joel's choice to save Ellie over making a vaccine - all those people could've been immune if they'd had a vaccine, but instead they got infected. So now he has to face the consequences of his choice.

It would make one hell of a closing scene for The Last of Us series, with Joel and Ellie standing with the literal last of us, fighting off an entire continent of Infected. Half of the survivors probably have the infection already, they're just trying to maintain their sanity long enough to take out some of the Infected before they go. Joel's decision to save Ellie would come back to bite him in the arse, literally, as the Infected storm the stronghold and the final remnants of humanity are wiped out for good.

Say what you will about the Resident Evil franchise, they knew how to make an impressive closing scene!

Say what you will about the Resident Evil franchise, they knew how to make an impressive closing scene!

It's a bit too action orientated, and a downer ending, for The Last of Us - but a man can dream.  

Naughty Dog painted themselves into a corner with the spores in The Last of Us, they're the real threat, but they're an unmanageable and boring threat. They really add something unique to the game, but they're just that bit too powerful to be allowed to work the way they really should. Whatever path Naught Dog take with the spores, I'm sure the sequel/s to The Last of Us will be amazing.