Fallout 3: A Review.

I am currently playing Fallout 3. This is a game coming from the design studios of Bethesda, who are responsible for the Elder Scrolls games, most noticeably Oblivion which was released in 2006. Fallout 3 was released in 2008, and uses a more recent updated version of the Oblivion engine. It is a Role Playing Game, with action elements and I know usually we have FPS games with RPG elements, such as Bioshock, but this time Fallout 3 is an action RPG. It is a continuation of the Fallout series of games released during the late nineties by Interplay; these were based around a post-apocalyptic future, set in America after a nuclear attack sometime in the second half of the twenty-first century. People retreated to what are known as ‘Vaults’; underground bunkers which protected them from radiation and the wandering people who never managed to find safety and hence have become radiated, mutated and all living in a wasteland where lawlessness abounds. Imagine a sort of Mad Max world, with various settlements dispersed across the South-eastern US and Washington DC, otherwise known in game as the ‘Capitol Wasteland’, because it is such a ruin two-hundred years post apocalypse, and you would get an impression of the game world. Both Fallout and Fallout 2 were very popular PC RPG games and back during those times the advent of the 3D Graphic cards which we are so accustomed to today never existed; instead, the first two games were coded in a 2D isometric display, utilising a turn based combat system. They were also quite non-linear, with many sub-plots to do which allowed you to develop your character, gain experience and level-up. Fallout 2 is seen now as a classic game, although it is quite hard to play today because of the graphics and the combat system. However the storyline is still seen as holding one of the best for an RPG of that time, probably only equalled using a similar system by the Baldurs Gate games.

Fallout 3 utilises state of the art graphics with a first person perspective compared to the top-down isometric view of the old games. Modern PC’s and console systems bring this original idea a new lease of life and interest, and you don’t have to have played the first two games to understand it as this game is not a direct sequel to the previous titles. Like Morrowind and Oblivion, the world is free-form (however lacking the beautiful greenery of Cyrodiil – instead it’s a very dark, grey waste), which means you can travel anywhere that is on the game map; it is a large world and there are many places to visit and explore, sub-quests to do and Raiders, Slavers and Super-Mutants to combat who patrol the wasteland. Finding safe havens and small communities to trade and stock up are your primary focus, all the while developing your character as you level up and grow in experience. Again, as in Oblivion, progressing the main plot when and how is entirely up to you, as the game is very non-linear and dynamic to an extent. The story behind the game is that you grew up in a vault, protected from the wasteland outside, your Mother and Father being Scientists who were working on a water purifying system. You Mother died at childbirth, and almost twenty years later your Father disappears from the Vault and you go looking for him. Enter your life into the post-nuclear world.

“Just walking the Dog”.

As in the first two games in the series, your actions in the game world are based around gaining or loosing ‘Karma’. Good choices, playing the role of a do-gooder, a saint if you like will gain points for your Karma, whilst doing evil-deeds, killing needlessly, doing questionable things will loose points and create your infamy. And this is quite a neat way of encouraging players to role play their character they create; the game is free-form as I mentioned, so, quite basically, you can do almost anything in Fallout 3. Doing the sub-quests really help to flesh out what type of character you develop; you could be someone who wants to help everyone, protect people, play the role of a paladin fighting for truth and justice, or you could become its arch-rival; the choice is yours – you are the role-player. Your Karma status also influences your dialogue options when you speak to other Non Player Characters (NPCs) in the wasteland and what followers you can pick up along the way. Also, there are various radio stations broadcasting which you can pick up, and one of these – Galaxy News Radio – follows your exploits in the game world, commending or scolding as you complete quests. It’s a nice touch and adds a sense of immersion in the game world, along with its period 1950s music because even though the game is set in 2277, the world never evolved post 2077 when the bombs fell. Also, worth noting is that the setting, the décor, the cars etc have this retro 1950s feel; it is a future still stuck in 1950s mentality but had technologically evolved very quickly post WW2 – an alternate history, an atompunk reality. Voice acting is pretty impressive too – another gripe from Oblivion which became too similar and repetitive. We have Liam Neeson, Ron Perlman and Malcom McDowell amongst others; big names for sure.

Technically the game improves over Oblivion, with much nicer graphics (which are actually astounding with some views looking over Washington) and a few of the gripes I had about Oblivion have gone, such as the levelling up method; Fallout 3 appears to be more balanced when you reach higher levels which is good because in Oblivion things became very challenging when you reached a high level as everything levelled the same time. As in Oblivion, it is still a dynamic world with all the NPC interactions and trading going on; this I believe is its most defining feature. Combat is a very bloody affair however, with its emphasis on exploding body parts which are played in slow motion when you use the VATS, an almost turn based system which heralds back and acknowledges the previous Fallout games turn based combat. It is a neat original touch to the game, but after a while it does become repetitive.

“If it wasn’t so depressing it would almost be good”.

In summery, Fallout 3 is a technically good and interesting game. The setting, the post-apocalyptic wasteland is quite depressing, however if you always wanted to feel what it would be like to live in a Mad Max world, then this would be up your street. It is interesting how Bethesda have brought new life into the Fallout franchise, and in all effect they have probably made it more popular than it ever was on the PC during the late 90’s. There is also downloadable content – expansions that add new quests, new sub plots and increase the games replayability allowing you to increase your level further, so I guess this proves that it sold well and still is supported. If you buy the Game of the Year Edition then all the DLC is included which saves money. Be warned however that this game carries an 18 rating because of its unsettling theme and the language and violence in the game. It also is a long game, especially if you take your time to complete the side quests. Interesting.

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BioShock 2: A review.

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Well, one of my best games of 2008 spawns a sequel which is released this year. BioShock held some of the most defining gaming moments for a First Person Shooter (FPS) that I think I have ever had the pleasure of playing, and I am not usually a FPS player. My gaming genre I think would gear more towards Strategy and Role Playing Games (RPG), but nonetheless I am still a long time gamer and I usually play those games that break boundaries, put new life into the industry, break barriers both in terms of gameplay and new ideas as well as holding and meshing a fantastic storyline within their virtual world. I am not an FPS lover, end of story. I do not want to analyse the pros and cons of the usual level of violence contained within many FPS game – I think the word hypocrisy might offer itself on a plate if I were to go into this. So I won’t. But there was something about the whole franchise of the BioShock world that kept me interested and after much deliberation I decided to purchase the sequel, even though Irrational Games, and most importantly, Ken Levine – the original creators of the first game – were not included in its sequel. This is a problem, not just within the gaming world, but also with film sequels too that I think, sometimes, makes them not as good as the original material. Is this because the powers that be see a successful original idea, for want of a more intelligent word, as ‘cash cows’ i.e something that can be ‘milked’ to still try and make a profit based on the success of its predecessor ? It is not my interest if this is the case – case closed. Creativity, talent and success – rather than an underlying profit motive should be the binding factor. But I digress.

However, after digesting several reviews, I brought BioShock 2. The whole story with the original game, the Andrew Ryan utopia, the whole Ann Randian perceptions of her ‘idealistic society’ formulated in her novel ‘Atlas Shrugged’ which Rapture was based around, have been brushed over this time. Rapture, the secret underwater city beneath the Atlantic Ocean which was set up post WW2 to include the crème of humankind, fell into disarray with the first game because of their discovery of a deep-sea species of slug that scientists found a way of altering peoples genetic code; ‘Adam’ and ‘Plasmids’ started to rule, a kind of drug which citizens used to ‘splice up’, causing many of them to go mad from its use –and this was the introduction into the first BioShock – an underwater city in ruins caused by increasing authoritarianism and rebellion against Andrew Ryan with ‘Splicers’ roaming around. See my review. BioShock 2 is set some eight years after the first game and this time your character is one of the Big Daddys, the ones used to protect the Little Sisters in the first game who go around collecting ‘Adam’ from dead citizens. You were the prototype Big Daddy, called Delta, who died ten years ago and is awakened from hibernation to rescue your daughter who is under control by Lamb. The underlying plot is that Andrew Ryan recruited a Psychologist, called Sofia Lamb, to help people cope with underwater life, who now ends up in control of Rapture after Andrew Ryan was killed in the first game. Whereas Ryan placed the individual as paramount importance in the first game, and used this philosophy to build and guide Rapture, Sofia Lamb rejects this ideology and placed an emphasis on the collective and community, and proceeded to start brainwashing her clients to join what is known as ‘The Family’, probably trying to give the Splicers some form of redemption and you uncover some of their stories as in the first game by listening to all the audio tapes found throughout the levels. The Little Sisters you encountered and (hopefully) saved in the first game are now grown up and have become ‘Big Sisters’, who start to kidnap people from the Atlantic coastlines, all under the control of Lamb. Again, we can see elements of System Shock 2 here, probably more so than the original – a survival horror FPS/RPG hybrid, mind control, scavenging, audio tapes, female adversary and so on. This is not a bad thing as SS2 has cult status amongst some sections of the gaming community.

big sisA Big Sister. She ain’t happy.

Technically BioShock 2 improves over the first game, but not by a huge margin. Rapture still looks as impressive as ever and graphically both games still excel, being built on a heavily modified Unreal game engine. The biggest changes, apart from plot, are gameplay related. Splicers are more numerous in this game and work together, as well as fight against each other. Because you play the role of a Big Daddy, one of your tasks is to help protect the Little Sisters when they go on their Adam forages, and there are many many ways to set up traps and suchlike, making use of hacked security cameras etc, which makes battles much more interesting and dynamic. The game and gameplay appear to have become more refined, learning from what made BioShock so successful and improving and adding to the experience and we still are subjected to morality checks when it comes to dealing with, not just the Little Sisters, but also how we deal with people who you need to hunt down; you have choices to kill or save which has an impact on the end game, as in the first game because of the different endings depending on how you role-play (for what its worth I had the ‘Good’ ending after my run through because I saved all and everything that was saveable). Musically, the game still excels and improves, again with period music being played on the old gramophone players found in locations throughout Rapture, and this I believe added such a neat, cultural touch to both games. I will not be able to listen to Billie Holiday quite ever the same again.

In summery, BioShock 2 is as equally good as the original. The storyline behind this fictional undersea city is added and improved upon, much more so, as well as retaining the initial originality the first game had. However, my main gripes with it are that I think it has become much more shooter-orientated and the RPG elements are less than before but I suppose that this is balanced with an equally interesting and intelligent storyline, so that’s a bonus. There is talk of another game in the franchise, but considering the wreck that Rapture has become after two games, and the fact that it is hinted that it is close to discovery by the world, I cannot see how they can effectively build on it. I hope they can.
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Bioshock: A review

Again, for posterity.

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‘No Gods or Kings, Just Man’. So is the premise to the fictional underwater city of Rapture, a kind of utopia set up by one Andrew Ryan, consisting of the crème of humakind; artists, scientists, people who excel at their field. A city rejecting big government, both capitalism and communism and god:

“I am Andrew Ryan, and I’m here to ask you a question: Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? No, says the man in Washington. It belongs to the poor. No, says the man in the Vatican. It belongs to God. No, says the man in Moscow. It belongs to everyone. I rejected those answers. Instead, I chose something different. I chose the impossible. I chose—– Rapture. A city where the artist would not fear the censor. Where the scientist would not be bound by petty morality. Where the great would not be constrained by the small. And with the sweat of your brow, Rapture can become your city as well. “

So he creates this kind of Ann Randian Utopia underneath the Atlantic Ocean in 1946, away from post World War Two society. Rejecting any form of socialist projects, it is firmly some kind of capitalist society of several thousand people, all unrestrained from censorship and, most importantly, not guided by any form of morality, either from government or religious organisations. Each person, guided by their own free will, would be able to create and succeed in their respective fields, not being constrained by society and authority. After several years of growth, mainly in the field of genetics, things start to go wrong; the lower classes start to rebel against the increasing authoritarianism of Ryan (so much for his ‘utopia’) and riots ensue, resulting in the destruction of rapture; enter dystopia and the protagonist.

Bioshock is a first person shooter (FPS), no doubt, but it has role-playing elements in it, such as building up your character through the use of ‘plasmids’, created from a substance called ‘ADAM’ which alter your genetic code to make you more powerful; essentially, processed ‘ADAM’ created stem cells in its host which allowed new genetic material to be ‘spliced’ into the DNA of the host. something that the scientists had discovered from a deep sea species of slug. These plasmids became Raptures ‘drug’, resulting in many of its citizens going mad from its use. And this is what you see when you first enter Rapture; a underwater city in ruins, with ‘splicers’, citizens who suffer from excessive plasmid use, roaming around.

I do not usually play FPS games, but I make exceptions for ones with a good storyline and not just mindless killing; Bioshock contains a fantastic plot, probably one of the best plot for an FPS to date. It is a ‘spiritual successor’ to the System Shock games, being made by the same company, Irrational Games who created System Shock 2 (SS2). In fact, the way the game plays out is very similar to SS2, which was a kind of survival horror game set in space. I found SS2, released in 1999, to be an incredible experience, again with its RPG elements, its use of audio tapes found throughout the levels detailing what had happened to the space ship and the use of music, which underlined its scary atmosphere. And Bioshock is set in a very similar vein; its a survival horror FPS with RPG elements – this time set in some kind of steam or cyber-punk setting – and equally as scary. Musically it excels as well, with 1950s era songs contained throughout the game, such as Billie Holiday & Django Reinhardt. Always nice to be scared witless out of your chair whilst the Jitterbug Waltz is playing in the background…

Bioshock is also probably one of the first FPS games to contain a quite important moral element to its plot; you have to decide whether to save what are known as ‘little sisters’, little girls who go around collecting ‘ADAM’ from dead splicers/citizens. Your choices are to either save them, or kill them for their ‘ADAM’. Saving them can alter the way you play the game later on. One of the reasons why I avoided Bioshock when it was released in 2007 was due to this fact; after playing the demo, and not really understanding the game that much, I found it quite distasteful. However, there is a moral issue here which I found to be quite novel for a computer game, and fits in well with the storyline.

I don’t usually like telling the world that I play PC games; at my age I guess you could get quite embarrassed? No? But due to its intelligent storyline, questionable morality and intense gameplay, I think it (hopefully) will set a standard for future games, or at least make companies create FPS games with slightly more depth other than mindless killing, which I think are just not good. If there is a message, or at least a moral to the storyline in Bioshock, then maybe its that without guidelines, whether they be of an ideological or theological one, or at least have some underpinnings of each, then perhaps we would be doomed? It also raises the question on how far genetics should go. The theme underpinning the storyline is the results of excessive misuse of genetic modification, resulting from an idealistic utopia into a hellish dystopia. Also, Ann Rand was totally against any form of socialism, or socialised society, placing the individual and free market above all; if Rapture would be the logical creation from her philosophy, then it certainly would result in a, well, total breakdown of society. Noam Chomsky called Rand (according to the wikipedia article):
“one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history.”

I hear that they are creating a sequel, and also a film version, directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring director), which should be more than interesting.

Update:
I wrote this brief review before I had actually finished the game; well, I have just finished it. All I can really say is that it probably is one of those gaming moments that live with you for a long time; games come and go, none really passing the excellent mark, but just serve as to waste away time in front of a virtual experience. Some games however you do remember, either for their new ideas incorporated into the gaming world, their storyline or how well they captivate you into their world. Over the years, being a gamer, there are few that have really struck me as being really good. I find it also strange that the ones which I do remember fondly are actually from Irrational Games, or Looking Glass Studios; System Shock and the Thief series of games had defining gaming moments for me, more so probably than Half Life, which is seen as a ground-breaking FPS. Both Thief and SS2 were games that actually scared you, I think probably SS2 was the most scariest game I have ever played, although Bethesdas ‘Call of Cthulhu’ came pretty close as well. So what are we looking at here? I think it is a combination of having a well written storyline, intense gameplay, great level design, with music and background sounds playing a key underlying role. Good graphics help too. Both SS2 and Bioshock contain all elements.

The ending of Bioshock is pretty spectacular; you kill the bad boss at the end of the game, and as I stated in my review above, how you dealt with the ‘little sisters’ during the game has an impact on the final scene, as there are two different endings. I chose to save them (well I don’t think I could have actually been as mean as to hurt them seeing as they were savable), so you get the final cut scene of being thanked by the now-ordinary little girls, helping you all escape from the hell that was Rapture, and living back in the real world, where they grow up, get married….oh well you get the picture. It was a happy ending. I know this game will stick with me for a long time; I might replay it, because there is a lot of audio tapes which I missed first run though as well as other things, but the main thing about Bioshock was its intelligent plot. Good game.