It would be difficult to start a review column off without talking about at least one of the biggest new releases of this year. And though the rest of the internet and indeed some small tribes in Borneo who communicate with each other by thumping logs have already reviewed it almost to death, it just would not feel right to avoid covering it. So here it is: the inaugural review for this column – Fallout 4.
The first thing I noticed is how much better the game looks compared to its predecessors – the graphics were never particularly good in the Fallout series, but we have reached the point where even the least graphically notable triple A releases are at least passable, and for the latest Fallout game to look as good as it does shows that Bethesda have invested an awful lot into making it really stand out. It isn’t the next Crysis, by any means, but if the graphics were what turned you off Three and New Vegas, this game fixes that to a large extent.
The character and enemy animations too have seen a massive improvement. Feral ghouls are the most obvious example – in previous games they had the exact same animations as all the other humanoids, and they attacked by pitifully swiping at you, making what should have been a frightening zombie-like creature with sloughing skin and mindless ferocity about as terrifying as a carnival house-of-horrors. The ferals in this game, however, have had both their looks and their animations completely revamped. They now look far more like realistic victims of severe radiation poisoning – lumpy and misshapen, with irregular tufts of hair and sagging, tumorous skin. They now crawl, stagger and drop down towards the player, attacking by throwing themselves bodily at you, or clawing frantically at your face.
The second thing was the improvements to the gameplay. The gunplay has vastly improved, with the most noticeable change for me being that sniping is actually a viable tactic. The new system of weapon and armour modifications finally gives a purpose to picking up all the junk they usually cram the wasteland with, and allows you to alter any weapon to better suit your playstyle, with the description helpfully changing automatically to show what sort of weapon you’re making – adding a long barrel, stock, and scope to a hunting rifle will change its designation to sniper rifle, for instance. While some firearms enthusiasts might be saddened, most people will also be glad to know that they have cut down on the slightly psychotic number of ammunition types and removed loading benches, with each gun taking one type of round. Melee weapons have also seen some improvements, with melee combat actually feeling somewhat weighty and satisfying, rather than like swatting ineffectually at your foes until they fall down out of pity.
The narrative is at least on par with the other Fallout games, and handily surpassed Three and New Vegas for me. Without giving too much away, you emerge from a vault, as is fairly typical for the Fallout games, into the ruins of Boston, now known as the Commonwealth, in order to hunt for your son, taken from you by a mysterious ‘Institute’ which you soon discover has the entire Commonwealth wasteland living in fear due to their habit of replacing people with synthetic copies for some nefarious goal. You can, of course, befriend NPC followers, but there is also a base building/resource management side activity thing which is entertaining in its own way, though I lack the skill needed to create anything particularly impressive in it. The usual suspects are waiting in the wings, the Brotherhood of Steel, Super Mutants, Raiders and so on, but there are also some new factions – Twenties gangster themed ‘Triggermen’, an insane cult-like military group who call themselves the ‘Gunners’ and the ‘Minutemen’ who are, as the name implies, a sort of resurrection of the militia forces of the American Revolution, complete with laser muskets. Which are just as fun as they sound.
However, for me, the biggest improvement hands down is the power armour. In previous games, you were usually granted the pre-war power armour towards the end, and it was kept in your inventory and put on like any other piece of clothing, making it essentially a surprisingly bullet-resistant jumpsuit. The power armour in Fallout 4, on the other hand, is found standing in place around the world (or given to you in certain quest paths) and must be powered with ‘fusion cores’. Once you have a fusion core, you are treated to a short animation of your character inserting it into the armour, powering it up, then hitting the release button, whereupon it obligingly peels open for you, allowing you to step inside and seal it up again. The armour actually acts as an over-suit, massively augmenting your strength and speed while your supply of fusion cores lasts.
This is, for me, the first game to actually make me feel significantly like I am playing as a person in a suit of powered armour. They achieved this feeling by making the in-armour experience closer to that of a mech combat game than a standard FPS. Every action has a slight delay, then usually slightly sped-up conclusion, each step feeling heavy and powerful without feeling slow. The minor changes to the HUD when in armour make it slightly more convenient, as well as providing relevant suit data, creating a feeling more akin to being in a cockpit than a normal suit of armour. Your viewpoint is shifted about a foot above unarmoured humans’ heads, making you feel huge and hulking as you almost scrape the tops of doorways.
Fallout, on the other hand, is a role-playing game. The entire point of playing it is to experience that world and everything it has to offer. Making the Spartans in Halo feel like behemoths would have actually detracted from the experience of that game by slowing down the shooting, making you feel less empowered. But in Fallout 4, the contrast between the feeling of vulnerability outside the armour and the feelings of safety and empowerment inside it adds to the fantasy of living in the Commonwealth, and makes you feel like you have gained an edge in the fight for survival amid the nuclear wasteland of Boston.
In summation, Fallout 4 is an amazing addition to the Fallout series, and if you haven’t bought it because you disliked the slightly guff graphics or the sticky, weak gunplay of Fallout 3, then I can assure you it has fixed both of those issues.
Buy if you like: Fallout, Mech Combat, Dystopian Sci-Fi, A Retrofuturistic Fifties/Seventies Aesthetic (which incidentally sounds like a band name).
words by Arran Cunningham