Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Spoiled Gamer, Am I.

I am a spoiled gamer. For the past few weeks I have done little but play videogames and write about them; in between deciding that I don’t want to pursue a PhD and career as a life-long student, of course. However, that is not exactly what has spoiled me.

I’ve been playing Fallout 3 for the past two days (pretty much to the exclusion of all else) and while it’s certainly a lot of fun, by my reckoning it seems weirdly perverse to award the game a 10 out of 10 score, as a number of outlets have[1]. I can’t help but wonder if these reviewers were even playing the same version of the game as me. A 10/10 game you expect to be polished to perfection and bug free. Fallout 3 is not. A 10/10 game you expect to push gaming conventions forward in new and unexplored directions. Fallout 3 largely does not. Finally, a 10/10 game you expect to be as good or better in every respect to other, lesser scored games of a similar vintage and again, I cannot help resist making certain comparisons that say Fallout 3 is not.

The main thing that I find particularly hard to swallow, amplified a hundred fold by the fact that the last game I played was Far Cry 2, is the sense of embodiment in the world. Far Cry, in this respect, is the more truly Next-Gen game in my opinion, and I discussed how a sense of embodiment is one of its greatest achievements in a previous post. While there are obviously other areas of the game that are less inspired, the importance of what Hocking and his team have achieved in giving you a sense of body, I believe, cannot be over emphasized.

So comparatively Fallout from the moment you begin feels different. Ignoring the fact that I had an audio bug during the intro video which obscured the voice-over behind some static noise (10/10? Really?), your character’s movements in Fallout seem like a direct rip from Oblivion. While Far Cry 2 goes to extraordinary effort to animate and portray you as a character to the best of current technical limitations, Fallout 3 reflects a character design aesthetic stuck in yester-year that doesn’t seem to mind stilted and jerky animations. It was fine in 2006 that your character slid around the world on somewhat greasy shoes, but in 2008 (nearly 2009 now!) haven’t we come a bit further? I’m by no means the only person to pick up on this aspect of the game, notably Alec Meer in his (in my mind much more clear-headed review of Fallout[2]) noted some very real issues with the game and scored it much more appropriately, giving it an 8.8. Additionally, I was linked to a piece on Boing Boing Gadgets by friend of SLRC, Aandnota, that described an encounter with a prostitute, saying:

The prostitute NPC mutely follows you up to your room and lies down on the bed beside you like a fetal lump. You then get to sleep on the bed beside her. And that's it. The next morning, you wake up, and she patrol-puppets out without a word.[3]

After experiencing Far Cry 2 in all its whacky, embodied insanity I am now spoiled for a sense of physical connection to my character. If Kieron Gillen is right, and Far Cry 2 follows a similar trajectory of influence to the original Half-Life, it will probably be two to three years before we see games directly ripping-off its focus on a sense of body. Which somewhat saddens me because I think a Bethesda-style RPG with Far Cry’s animation and determination to be grounded in the world would be an absolutely KILLER combo. I hear all the time people saying that they just wanted a tiny bit less of being always on the run in Far Cry and maybe a little bit more of some RPG elements, like a heightened sense of factions. Traditionally, these things could be sorted by fan made modifications, however it’s been stated that there will be no modding tools for Far Cry 2. What I wouldn’t give to see that change.

Ah well, a guy can dream, right?

[1] See, - The list includes, Eurogamer, Gamespy, GameRevolution, G4TV, Thunderbolt, and LEVEL.

[2] See for a quick summary and a link to the full text.

[3] John Brownlee, “Fallout 3, or "Why can't Bethesda make fucking post-apocalyptic hookers fun?",


Unknown said...

Sure Fallout has it's share of bugs but so did Farcry (once I was playing on PC and EVERY ENEMY IN THE GAME went into a frozen pose and refused to move until I loaded a previous save).

To say that they are not both top notch games (in their own ways) is certainly missing something.

In my opinion though, Farcry 2 simply attempted to create a "real world" (which is the main thing I think they set out to do) purely through technology and the first person animations were nice but ultimately do not lend alot to your fairly lifeless character.

In Fallout 3, your actions have real, far reaching consequences on the world, that you have total control over and it's for this reason that I think certainly deserves some attention.

I wouldn't put too much worth on reviews either, I would still consider both games to be "must buy, play through". :)

Denis Farr said...

Which points out the taste of players. As soon as I could, I rid myself of the feeling of embodiment. I prefer playing in third person, something I would have done in Oblivion had the aiming reticle been actually useful in that mode.

However, I agree. While I may love the game, I wouldn't score it perfectly. Perhaps a 9/10, a few decimal points deducted here and there if I wanted to be really thorough.

Ben Abraham said...

Denis, you're totally right that it's a matter of taste. Fable 2 has made that abundantly clear to me, with a lot of people liking something that just isn't my thing.

Jon - I haven't really gotten the feeling that my actions have much of a consequence. I don't know whether it's the feeling that life in the wasteland pretty much goes on without me, or the sense that there's actually not much out there anyway... =S

But you're correct in saying they're both high quality classy games in their own right. This post is about how, after experiencing Far Cry 2, I have a hard time going back to a less perfect sense of embodiment. (Not that Far Cry is beyone criticism or anything, far from it).

Unknown said...

Third person in Fallout 3 is terrible, your character moves so.. ugh.

Anyway, Ben, I hope you have the L4D demo and are playing it thoroughly. Do you have Steam? Add me! (SteamID is nuclearfriendv2)

Ben Abraham said...

Ugh! I so hate that I don't have the demo, but I feel so bad spending my money on games when I don't even have an actual income at the moment!

Still - Left4Dead is the last of the years rush that can't wait till Christmas... sorry Mirrors Edge and GoW2.

Unknown said...

Also what is your gamertag. :p

Sonance said...

Does the sense of embodiment in Far Cry 2 really make up for every other element of the game being so mediocre?

In STALKER and Fallout 3, I can point myself in a random direction, walk for about two miles and discover all sorts of hidden nooks and crannies with their own microcosm of emergent gameplay. If I do the same in Far Cry 2, I either see nothing but empty African wilderness, or I'm geographically funneled into one of the respawning checkpoints.

Maybe I need to play Far Cry 2 for more than 10 hours (Fallout 3 intervened), but I found more variety and solid gaming fun in STALKER's first 30 minutes than I encountered in my first 4 hours of Far Cry 2.

deckard47 said...

I couldn't agree with you more. I love playing Fallout 3, but it's like playing a game made a year or two ago, that is distinctly unmodern in many aspects. It's still great, but a lot of its greatness comes from it being an RPG, and not from its actual gameplay. Next time, maybe?