Friday, June 5, 2009

Game review: Fallout 3

Last year I wrote about Fallout 3: "Visuals are stunning, but will the new Fallout be as good or better than previous Fallouts?" What's the verdict, now that I've finished the game?

I can't tell whether Fallout 3 is better or worse than previous ones - it's simply too different to be compared like that. But it's still a Fallout game, Bethesda managed to convey the overall feel and atmosphere, including splatter brutality and loads of black humor. There are two main differences: first-person look, obviously, and Bethesda engine for creating vast, yet somewhat monotonous worlds.

My main problem with the game is the same one I've had with Oblivion - after a while side quests and dungeon crawls get boring. The difficulty is also unballanced (although not so much as in Oblivion), after 10th level fighting gets too easy. There are tough spots here and there, but most of the time it's no contest, you're just advancing through large dungeons and yawning.

Level cap at lvl20 sucks (it's been raised to 30 in recent add-on which I haven't played), but on the other side, you're superman on lvl20 anyway. In previous Fallouts you had to very carefully choose your character attributes and distribute skill points, here it's not as strict - but I don't see that as a minus, previous systems seemed too much strict to me (firstly you picked some cool-sounding skills like science or gambling and half-way through the game you found out that they are practically useless and you're constantly getting your a** kicked because you should have put your skill points elsewhere).

Ok, so far this sounds more like a rant than a review, but I'm getting to the good things in Fallout 3. Atmosphere. It really feels like you are out there, in twisted post-apocalyptic world, alone in the wasteland full of dangers. Thank god there's at least a radio to cheer you up with some music from better days. The most impressive moments I'll remember from Fallout 3 aren't the battles full of flying limbs and exploding heads, but a simple walk through the wastes or city ruins with radio turned on. The contrast between bleak scenery and cheery music is sad, strange and poetic. This idea actually comes from Fallout 1 intro, but making it "playable" makes the experience much more intense.

The world is kinda monotonous in second half of the game, when you've seen it all and things start repeating itself, but exploration in the first half of game is fun. The main story is well written and so are some of the side quests: you can become a researcher for wasteland survival guide book or settle down the clash of superheroes in a small town, for example. The design of the cities is impressive. V.A.T.S. combat mode is a nice innovation. You can make your own weapons and all of them are pretty cool.

If you like to play as a bad guy, you've just found your ideal game. You can nuke town, become a vampire, cannibal, slaver or murder whole neighborhood in slasher style (I actually refused to finish that quest, it just seemed wrong). There are just a few other RPGs with so much content for bad characters - Baldur's Gate 2, KOTOR2 and, well, Fallout 2.

Bethesda did a great job again. Their games have some rough edges (which is inevitable, given the scope of game) and are too easy (it can be fixed by mods), but still, they're games unlike other games on the market and they get better with every game of theirs - yes, I liked Fallout 3 more than Oblivion.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Game review - S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

This game had a good start, but it turned out to be a big disappointment for me. At first, there's a nice new location - swamps - and lots of changes for the better compared to the original Stalker: weapons have to be upgraded in order to be effective, so you're motivated to earn money; artifacts are rarer, more valuable and much harder to find; anomalies are invisible, you gotta throw screws around to detect them (just like in the book)... Nice.

First thing I didn't like was that the game was always pushing me into some action. Your faction constantly gives you orders to conquer this or defend that and usually you don't even have time to do everything they want, let alone to just wander through the location or go treasure hunting. Shadow of Chernobyl was like experienced stalker guiding you in the strange world of Zone, while Clear Sky is agitated drill instructor on the training ground yelling at you: "GO GO GO!"

There aren't many new locations: Swamps, Red Forest, Limansk and Hospital (which is not really a location, but just a one long corridor). Old locations changed only a little, so overall there's not much of a new content. I didn't mind though, I was happy to play improved Stalker in new clothes. Then I arrived to Limansk and the game suddenly changed into Medal of Honor: Chernobyl. From there on you play linear shooter, the rest of a game is basically a "tunnel" from Limansk to the power plant, full of enemies. And you can't go back and buy better weapons or armor. Drill instructor has definitely taken over the show: "Say goodbye to the the open-world gameplay, you f***ng hippie stalker, and GO GO GO YOU MAGGOT, you're in the army now!" So you're obediently trotting onwards as game throws enemies in your path, you're lowering the difficulty as your medpacks slowly vanish and hope that you won't run out of bandages and ammo and that the game ends soon. And when it does, you're rewarded with short lousy outro (however, the biggest reward for me was that the game is finally over).

So there you have it. Clear Sky doesn't have much new content, it's unbalanced and the second part is downright frustrating. I wonder why the game creators switched genre so drastically in half - I don't think it was an intention, maybe they were simply in rush to finish the game.

Game review - Civilization IV: Colonization

Great remake of a great classic. Lots of tweaks were added to the game which improved the gameplay (colonists learn specializations faster, you have to fulfill certain requirements in order to recruit founding fathers, Indians can give you their land if you're friends with them...). I wasn't happy about the newly imposed limit 300 turns to finish the game, but don't worry, there's plenty of time. Graphics is OK and music is great - new melodies, but as enjoyable as the old ones. I was also pleasantly surprised by the elegant and user-friendly interface.