Sunday, 3 January 2016

Fallout Flaw

(Fallout 4 Review By Neamo)

It's been a long time since I've sat to do a review, and I've no excuses. So, now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's get to it.

The Fallout series is one steeped in nostalgia, and boasts a deep legacy of beloved and acclaimed titles that build upon it's lore. I, having only played Fallout 4, do not buy into this and instead shall review Fallout 4 as it is without trying to apologize or even cover it's flaws for the love of previous titles. In many ways, this review shall be one more frank and earnest about the product at hand than many you will see, and likewise, many subtle nuances that would delight will utterly evade me. If you are a fan of the game and the series as a whole, I shall wish you well and invite you not to read further, as nothing good lies within. For those willing to trudge onward, a few things I need you to note are that I am reviewing the game as it is, with no allowance for mods to sway my experience, and no open ends for what I'm sure will be additional content patches. Furthermore, I write, as any critic would, about the things that I looked for, and my own concerns, and there are most certainly topics missed or abbreviated in lieu of things you the reader may not care for. If you disagree or feel I've missed an important point, I look forward to reading your own lengthy review on the matter, so please link me to any carefully crafted articles below. Now, let's get started.

One of the big draws to this particular game, aside from the promise of an open world to explore and the inherent adventure within was the settlement mechanic, a system for building better and brighter new things within the wastes that you could claim your own. My interest was piqued, a bold fusion of Minecraft and The Witcher 3 beneath the glow of a thousand radiation tubes? "How could this possibly go wrong?" I asked. The answer of course became evident almost immediately. In your arsenal of tools to build a better and brighter world, you are given the workbench. Able to scrap a fallen building in an instant, or a cluster of trees in but a moment, you are tasked with clearing your homestead of the debris of two centuries of nuclear winter to give you a foundation to build upon. To note, I shall use Sanctuary, your starter as an example although I'm well aware of the other locations. After scrapping that which can be scrapped, the tires, burned out cars and fallen through houses, you are left with a clearer space. It's filthy of course, covered in leaves, detritus and rotting matter that no amount of coaxing can convince your later arriving settlers to clean, but it's clear. Well, almost. The 'structures', and I say it loosely for they no longer hold any structural integrity, that remain are indissoluble, unmovable and irreplaceable eyesores that continue to haunt any project you might venture forth. The only way past that is of course to accept that perfection is beyond your limited means.

Once you've moved past that particular disappointment, it's on to making lemonade out of lemons and placing down walls for your new fortress. This is where the buggy and otherwise unyielding mechanics of building come into play. With terrible snapping detection, poor collision avoidance and a limited palate of hobo-clique articles to splatter and spatter your new kingdom with, after several hours of rifling through every trash can in Boston, you too, with a lot of invested time and effort can make your own redneck motel. I say that disparagingly of course, well knowing that the aesthetic of the game is meant to lean toward the hobbled together ruined world, but when every wall has holes, every ceiling leaks and you are limited to building squared boxes of cobbled together crap, what your accumulative effort and energies afford you is a home that you would be ashamed to show Jed Clampett. I'm not entirely sure I want to live in that world. Surely things will be improved once you invite some new blood to tend your shanty town, right? Well in order to do so, you must finagle your way through the game's power system with no prior explanation and build a beacon, and in doing so, the cavalry will come and help restore order!

On to the settlers! At last, they've arrived, and once you've managed to herd and collectively pen in your motley assortment of thugs and vagrants, you can militarize them! That's right, lured by the siren song of a beacon hobbled together from garbage and wishes, your settlement can attract the denizens of the radioactive new world. Surely to survive such a world before your arrival, they must have garnered and cultivated the skills to endure, each with their own backstory of struggle and victory through the nuclear hell-scape that surrounds them? Well, no. Not exactly. As it turns out, those wily globe trotters can't be lured by the promise of your meager offerings and have all set themselves against you. Instead, you can summon the rejects of the wastes, the invalids. That's right, that's where this particular criticism lays. Like an armada of tamagotchi, they exist purely for their own purposes adding almost no benefit to your otherwise meager existence. Unable to improvise and unwilling to aid, they will without direct supervision languish in their own feces. It's one of the area's that for me felt the most lacking in building a settlement, that after you've trekked into the wastes hoarding anything you can find, from mugs to tin cans, and hauled them back to attempt to forge your empire, it serves the same purpose as an animal pen. Your denizens, capable of following only the most basic of tasks will never help you in any real way, other than repelling invaders that only appear in the wake of said settlers, or farming food, which you can if you should obtain a surplus, turn into adhesive in order to make more things for the settlers. One could argue about the shop function and the idea of using them to make bottle caps, and you'd be right, but the agonizing sloth and set up around that makes the entire affair a fanciful whimsy of misplaced passions. It all feels like a wasted avenue of the game.

I could talk at length about the hideous character models, the drab and faded textures and the overall lackluster world of Fallout 4, but it's been done at length by others and, well, it's plain to see. While some may speak of it being a non issue in the face of modders, it shouldn't be up to outside parties to add polish to your product. While excuses have been made, namely that it was done to make the game accessible over a wider array of gaming machines, I remain dubious in the face of the products and indeed the mods currently available. Add to that character models that look like Leatherface's sex dolls and you've got a remarkably ugly end product for a triple A title! Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I didn't buy this for the sparkling sunsets or lush vista's, so consider this a minor gripe, albeit a bitter one, so instead I'll move directly on to the exploration.

In being an open world game, or rather one where you have free reign to explore off of the beaten path, Fallout 4 succeeds in inspiring a certain wanderlust. What lays beyond that mountain? Is there more garbage? Will I find a semi casual reference to an earlier title or some form of meme? The desire to roam is endless and one without bounds or measure. What if I move slightly to the left of my settlement? Is that a cave? Where did those mole rats come from? The rewards are endless. Endless, and yet as you've probably noted from the dripping cynicism I've written this with, largely hollow. Certainly, should you wander in any given direction you will find something, some forgotten furrow of the wasteland that on the surface seems deeply interesting, but as you dig your way within it quickly becomes evident that it's either a hoarding spot with others teased at on repetitively hacked computer terminals, or a junk dump filled with mutated stragglers. At first, that's wonderful! After all, the game boasted of it's dazzling array of weapons and touted it's unique crafting system, of course you need the targets and materials! And yet, hours into the game having trekked to yonder shore, aside from the flat and lusterless new visuals of a meme based structure, what are you left with? Where is the intrigue or impetus to continue? There are of course rare examples of something new being dangled before you, an immortal doctor possessed by an alien headdress, a crashed UFO and a 'haunted' house naming just a few examples, and they do add shreds of variety until their conclusions where each is a quickly dispatched foe and a new gimmicky weapon without any form of lasting impact. Hardly something to laud, and more a distraction from the general monotony of countless hours hamming it up with a propane torch stapled to a katana I'm afraid. That's my main problem with the overall reward of this exploration, that you could spend literal months scouring the well crafted map for new locations and hidden secrets, for little to no reward and no impact other than bragging rights to yourself for having the largest and shiniest bullet dispenser in a single player game with no real story line, like a budget and stretched out Borderlands, without the chuckles.

One of the main failings of the game, and I say this knowing full well that I may receive flak from apologists of the series, is that the main story, the impetus for you to crawl from the cryo-pod and venture forth into the irradiated land ahead, is garbage. I realize that some will argue that the age old quest to save a child and avenge a lover is one tried and true, but it was a story executed without prowess or skill. Introducing your soon to be departed loved one only through a gender selection screen and a series of scant compliments, the child and indeed beloved are taken within the first few moments of the opening act. While that allows us to get to the meat and potatoes of the game ahead at a brusque pace, it leaves nothing to invest upon in terms of story. No one cares, nor should they. It's about the most impersonal and rushed story mechanic in the world with no real ties, and in all honesty has very little to do with the game at hand. The game, bar a few small deflections for choice alternatives, would be no different had you toddled into the vault on your lonesome. That's an awful thing to say when in the face of a plot that in most instances would have far deeper implications. It was badly told, and left me with absolutely no desire to scour the wasteland for my missing son, instead leaving the only real motive to play that I can shoot things and pick up broken desk fans for gears. It turns what is meant to be an RPG into a single player open world sandbox in but a moment, and destroys any canonical interest in any story within. To make things worse are the laughable companion romances that you can cultivate by changing your actions to effectively woo your rabble. That's right, mere days after escaping the vault, lovingly prying a ring off of your lovers cold dead hand and embarking on a quest of family honor, you too can mack with a stranger for perks. Who was Shaun again? Do you care?

Something that instilled ire within me through this game was the illusion of choice. What I mean by that is the idea that you, the player, can make decisions of consequence and lead the story through your own initiative in any meaningful manner, all the while being hemmed in to one of a handful of very suspect conclusions. For instance, while it says you are the 'lone wanderer' that has been so heavily tagged throughout this installment, you will of course, naturally, have to sidle up to one of four misguided groups striving for the betterment of the new world for perks and general progression. Unable to progress without sidling up to bigotry, you are effectively pigeon holed into picking your own racist overlord to appease; be it the slavery endorsed megalomania of the Institute whose missions resemble lynchings of the KKK, the gentle Nazi parody of the Brotherhood of Steel, the ever feral anti humanism of The Railroad which drifts into the darker realms of the Black Panther movement, or the feckless Minutemen who more resemble the last march of a communist trope than the Minutemen of old. Surely however such a dubious selection, and such moral fragility would leave you the choice to join up with the raiders or progress on your own steam? No dice. You must forever play the good guy who joins a morally bankrupt group to progress the story down one of four avenues of unrewarding and unremarkable player 'choices', forever rounding down to what is basically the same conclusion.

And so now we come to the voice acting, the game's control system and those things that make it tick. I am a console peasant, not a member of the PC master race, so I feel any notes I try to make on the controls of this game will largely fall to parody or deaf ears, but suffice it to say that when I tried to aim my gun, my character aimed his. I shot, and he shot. It was a very standard affair that moved quickly. The dialogue system of course is broken, displaying the ghost of text options past, and when attempting to make small talk I often found myself saying the worst possible things guided by the barest of clip notes, but it's not that large of a flaw in the grand scheme of things. The inventory system is bare bones and clunky in places, and the AI for this game regarding companions, settlers and monsters in general is hideous, but having learned to suffer Dogmeat as my companion, I moved past it in my stride. It's what I should expect from those bred from desperate stragglers after two hundred years of nuclear wind and rain. The voice acting was generally sub par, with the exceptions being Nick Valentine and Codsworth, who should have starred in this game as he was the only real focus of any emotion other than disdain. Overall, it played as I expected, it just didn't gift me with the experience I paid for.

In brief summation, and note I'm reviewing the base game and not the mods or additional content, Fallout 4 markets itself as an open world RPG and rapidly turns into a kleptomania simulator with less replay value than Paris Hilton's sex tape. I'd advise picking up the original Bioshock if you're a lover of the retro-ruin aesthetic, or the Witcher 3, if you want an open world with variety and actual story craft.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

10 Superhero Movie Recommendations

(10 Superhero Movie Recommendations From Neamo)

Before you begin reading this top 10, I must impress upon you that I am not a comic book aficionado. I have little to no interest in the sweat drenched pandering of Marvel and it's vague attempts to keep a fifty year old gravy train on the rails, and I won't be quoting source material or advising films based on fan service. In this sense, those of you looking for the Avengers to top this list should stop reading now as aside from a rant it has no place here. Instead, I've picked a collection of superhero films I genuinely enjoy, and while they are in places off brand, I don't feel that detracts from their value.

The Incredibles
(Honorable Mention)
A classically underrated film that deserves at least an honorable mention. Often overlooked in place of the larger Pixar productions, it's only with the announcement of a sequel in the works that people seem to be glancing back fondly, but for me this was already a fond favorite. Snappy dialogue, a warm heart and a great voice cast lend themselves easily to a film that by rights should have garnered more praise. I haven't included it in the running as I'm trying to keep it to the realms of live action, but I had to give it a mention. Please, watch this film.

(10th Place)
Venturing quickly into the realms of controversial choices, we arrive at my 10th place, Hellboy. Unconventional at best, the brooding anti-hero lives in a world of ingrained corruption, elder gods and monsters called forth by the Nazi mystics of yore, our hero being one such creature. With beautiful creature designs, a perfectly cast Ron Pearlman and a taste for witty repartee, this film would be higher on the list if it didn't suffer from pacing problems and a total lack of anything resembling romantic chemistry. A decent offering, though I would advise you avoid it's sequel.

Mystery Men
(9th Place)
My 9th place goes to the eclectic and dysfunctional troop known only as The Mystery Men. I shall go on record as saying I'm not a fan of Ben Stiller, and while he gives a passable performance as the lead main, his brand and branch of comedy remains firmly beyond my grasp. The supporting cast however provide the backbone to this, from the bumbling Hank Azaria to the ever intriguing Geoffrey Rush, who steals the show as the unquestionably alluring Casanova Frankenstein. Over the top, wildly exuberant and often flamboyantly awful, this film knows what it is, and revels in it. A beautiful if at times caustic lampoon of a bygone era of superhero iconography.

The Shadow
(8th Place)
This was a tricky film for me to place, as while it remains unrelentingly cheesy it also delivers a stylish neo-noir take that the genre til that point had seen precious little of. Dark and brooding, our hero appears more villain than vigilante, and the sobriety of his performance lays in stark contrast with the gaudy guile of his exaggerated foe. While the acting is nothing I can really adorn with any form of praise, the film's feel and direction at least help to smooth over the rough edges. Could it have been better? Certainly, but is it worth my 8th place? Without question.

The Rocketeer
(7th Place)
Taking place during the second world war, The Rocketeer is an unusual 7th place I'll grant you, but it's no less valid. During a time of innovation and wartime madness, a stolen jet pack falls into the hands of a man soon to be hunted by Nazi's who will stop at nothing to retrieve it. It sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Well in a peculiar mixture of Iron Man and Indiana Jones, that is exactly what this film is. With a well cast adversary played by Timothy Dalton, a great plot and a generally relaxed and casual attitude to the genre, the real detractor would be the now extremely dated special effects. With that in mind, brace yourselves for a good time, albeit an ugly one.
(6th Place)
Hugh Jackman and Wolverine for me have become interchangeable. I'm not entirely sure I can give it a higher compliment. In my 6th place comes the debut act of a franchise that rose to acclaim, fell to utter disgrace and over the past two iterations has attempted to rise from the ashes like Jean Grey. With a star studded cast featuring the esteemed Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, it's casting remains a true joy to behold. In saying that, the film also sports some of the worst script writing Hally Berry's agents have ever approved (And that's saying something. Seriously.) and while it's hark to the era of spandex is rightly lambasted, it's iconic visuals and performances ease any literary tension. A strong superhero movie that deserves respect, regardless of it's faults, sequels and spin offs.
Iron Man
(5th Place)
Robert Downey Jr is a man of many talents, but for the larger part of his career he was known more for his excessive whore mongering and alcoholism than the acting prowess shown in later years, and much as is the case, life imitates art. My 5th place goes to Iron Man, the film that forced people to give a shit about the Avengers. With great action sequences, a plethora of pop culture references and beautiful special effects, this film was always going to be a contender for one of the higher places. Let down perhaps by a characteristically shoddy end fight, this is a fun romp through a middle aged actors era of hedonism.
The Crow
(4th Place)
And now for something a little more bitter sweet. Brandon Lee was set for stardom, and as my listing this in 4th place will reflect, the man could act. With a vibrant air of the goth culture and it's own rather unique spin on the idea of revenge, The Crow is a film that mixes the excessive flamboyance of camp villainy and pun filled dialogue with a far grittier feel. There are no leotard clad superhero's here to clear the streets or happy endings to bring resolution, just a spirit hungry to avenge his love. While at times the imagery can be a little over the top, the film itself remains a good watch, and a sad reminder of the lead actor's talent, who was accidentally killed on set.

(3rd Place) 
Blade remains the benchmark when all else fades to prove definitively that even in the face of Anne Rice's dreary erotic novella's and Stephenie Meyer's abominations, vampires are cool. Our fanged hero, called the day walker due to his penchant for a sunlit stroll, is a halfbreed and dukes it out with the legions of the undead using a samurai sword and a bag full of sass. The special effects haven't dated well admittedly, but they serve only as garnish to the main course, Wesley Snipes in a trench coat. A 3rd place that will never go out of style.

(2nd Place)
In 2nd place I have Watchmen, a film that keeps a close tie in my heart for first. An easy summation of this movie would be that a psychopath, a warmonger, a genius, a nerd and his girlfriend walk into a bar, and God doesn't care. With a plot that's far too convoluted, and in the same stance too good for me to pick apart in a paragraph, our band of heroes are dysfunctional relics from an era of beloved vigilantes. Lacking real super powers, they were discarded when a man through a horrifying experiment attained super powers, and effectively became a god. I'm not overstating. In the face of that, the film revolves around struggles and loathe in the presence of genuine divinity, and a god who is feeling ennui in the presence of mankind. Wonderful, but depressing.

The Dark Knight
(1st Place)
It had to appear on the list at some point. In 1st place comes the performance, quite literally of a lifetime. That seems like a cold and callous remark of my point, and I apologize if it came over with anything but loving respect, but Heath Ledger's role in the Dark Knight soars above anything else in this film. Crazed and maddened to the point of brilliance, unfortunately if rumors are to be believed it's this same mindset that caused the premature passing of a man who clearly had much more to offer. Does it matter that Christian Bale sounds like he's gargling with a mouth full of marbles? No, as this isn't his film. It seems like ardent flattery, and perhaps it is, but this movie is all about the Joker, and that's exactly as it should be. The rest of the film was okay too.

That's it. It's been a long post and it's been difficult to write, but I'm as happy with it as I can be. Why didn't I include other Marvel recent releases? Well, the Spider-man franchise while entertaining enough hasn't produced an offering I feel I can get fully behind. Thor and Captain America aren't so much film franchises at this point as they are explaining why we should give a shit about Iron Man's friends, and are notably of a lesser quality. Oh, and the Avengers is an over rated cluster fuck. I hope you find this list helpful.
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