To start with:
That’s my new car. My first car. Ever. For anyone reading this from uncivilised lands, that’s a VW Scirocco, and they’re notoriously difficult to photograph – it looks much better in person. Mine is a 2 liter TSI manual with panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate whatever, and a chorus of bells and whistles that I’ll likely never ever care about. This may be because after a week and a half of commuting in traffic, I want nothing more than to unleash a venomous insect plague upon the drivers of boxes, that they should wail and gnash their teeth, and hopefully perish with blood pouring from every orifice and stop clogging the goddamned freeways already.
Anyway. Yeah, it’s basically a squished GTi with a nice interior. The gearbox tolerates my n00b mistakes far better than a car with this kind of power should expect to, it handles with sharpness, vigour and grace and it accelerates in such a manner as to cause serious cheshire cat syndrome on this motorcyclist’s heathen face.
In other news, since giving up on WoW, I decided to play the successors to a couple of old games that I had held dearly beloved. Specifically, Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Fallout 3. I’d avoided these games, since the early feedback – largely from afficionados of the predecessors – was not entirely great.
But at some point you’re got to rope in that sacred cow, bring out the bolt gun and get ready for some steak. So I got DX:HR first. It was a revelation. Actual conversations, randomised no less? The philosophy and politics of transhumanism? This game delved so far into what it might mean to be human v2.0 that it made the first game look shallow and simpleminded along with hideous and clunky. HR isn’t the most graphically advanced game, but its design really carried the tone well. And I really liked that the main character wasn’t some overbuilt beef-monster.
Encouraged by what was really a marvellous experience, I decided to throw in my chips and take a shot at the successor to my second-most beloved game of all time, Fallout 3.
If there is a spectrum that can contain both of these experiences, then one end is bathed in invigorating sunshine and the other is caught directly beneath the ichor-steeped throne of the Adversary, who is the Devil.
An exercise: go to the wiki for the Fallout series. Pick any page at random relating to F3. Scroll to the bottom. There is a Bugs section. I guarantee it. This Bugs section is not uncommonly longer than the actual content. Every single NPC, quest, area, perk, everything bugs out. The save games bug out and corrupt if you overwrite them, but because crashes can and will happen at any time, you have to save constantly. Which means a scruffy trail of about a million savefiles shuffling through your system like something out of a Warsaw ghetto. Oh, and basically unusable quicksave functionality, since what point is a corrupted save?
Technical matters were never Black Isle’s specialty. No, we played titles like Torment or Fallout in spite of their shoddy cloaks, because behind that meager interface dwelt storycrafting and worldbuilding of such genius that it transported the user’s imagination, directly bypassing the screen and taking sturdy hold of the frontal lobes.
Bethesda, in their efforts to provide ‘immersion’, went with a show-don’t-tell 3d world. In the process they’ve certainly inherited the mantle of the previous games’ technical incompetence, shooting past to new levels of microcephalic inadequacy. Say what you like about Fallout 1 and 2, it was rare that the game actually crashed. Much less locked up the user’s OS entirely. Meanwhile, searching for that spark of naughty, winking humour and humanity, I’m only coming across generic knights-and-knaves style ‘hero, save us all’ and ‘kick puppies cos you bad’ morality with zero finesse or subtlety. This sort of over-serious renaissance faire writing is why I don’t play swords-and-sorcery games like the wildly successful Elder Scrolls series. It has no place in the world of Fallout.
This. Game. Does. Not. Deserve. The name on its box.
Human Revolution might have issues with the storyline of its parent game, and it might have taken a very different approach to storytelling. But in the end that can be overlooked, because in and of itself, it is a very good game, and in my opinion a worthy successor. It has used the updated technology to produce an experience that is smooth and natural. Meanwhile, every time I load up Fallout I’m astounded anew by the fact that my character handles like a quadruple amputee in a greased hamster-ball, and that the artists honestly thought they could get away with textures that evoke Doom II.
So the moral is: sometimes your problem isn’t that your fanbase is a legendarily near-unpleasable rabble obsessed with the past. Sometimes the problem is simply that your product is shit.