You know, I've realized recently that despite my love for videogames, I haven't written much about them. I guess I have been around them so long that attempting to even start talking about them felt like too daunting a task. However, I was recently part of an online course handling videogame development and we had this assignment at some point. Our job was to look at specific genres, select two games of our choice from each genre and talk a bit about them.
And then I thought that I should maybe write about some games I love here on my blog as well. I will write about 1 game each time, since I have a lot to say about the ones I love. You know me. I talk and write a lot.
Before we get started, I have to say that there is something I greatly value in games. I call it the "Holy Game Trinity" and it consists of story, characters and voice-acting. I believe that there are many ways and mediums to tell a story, but at the end of the day, it's the story and how it's told that draws a person in. And it's the characters that you can sympathize with. A brainless movie or game is good for fun, but it won't stick with you unless it reaches deeper.
So, I am very much a story person. I view games as a medium for telling stories in an interactive way and I view them as art. This means that any games I have loved over the years have had something more to them than fancy graphics and lots of boom booms. Although those are always appreciated.
Let's get crackin' then.
Action games is a painful category for me. These are games where fast reflexes, hand-eye coordination and the ability to stay calm and focused are essential. Unfortunately, my hands and eyes don't like working together, I usually only realize the danger when I'm eating floor texture and the minute I get attacked, I tend to panic and lose it. Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but it's true. Some games put too much pressure. You should see me during time challenges in games like Grand Theft Auto IV. Especially when driving is involved. There is not a single pedestrian granny left with her hip intact.
Although grannies in the GTA universe are hardly defenseless sometimes...
However, first-person shooters are a part of this and ever since I got my Xbox 360, I've warmed up to them, if they have something special to offer story-wise and aren't just about the same soldier guy running around killing every evil foreigner who is being mean to the fuzzy and warm-hearted Americans. In fact, some of my most favorite games of all my gaming years are shooters. So, let's take a look at them.
I know fans of the first two games will kill me for this, but I am not stuck with originals and I can't very well play every single original work just to play a sequel or reinterpretation. I judge this game alone and this game alone rocks. I've played through it thrice and have spent over 300 hours of my life on it.
Fallout 3 puts you in the shoes of a person who grew up in an anti-nuclear vault. Things in there go South and you go up to the surface, where you find a world destroyed by nuclear war and lying in ruins. But ruins are rarely as interesting as they are in this game.
You are given an entire huge map with creepy crawlies and deranged people, since the Apocalypse can kinda do that to you and all. You are also given and are forced to acquire weapons to kill said enemies with and make your way through the story and world. You have regular action where you kill anything that moves by shooting every which a way and flailing your melee weapons as if there's a pesky fly in your face and then you have the V.A.T.S mode; a mode where you can "pause" the action, aim at the body part which would make the biggest mess and shoot.
Yoo hooo! Look at the birdie!
What I like about this game, action-wise, is that it's good for all kinds of players. If you're a pussy, like me, you can take your time and snipe enemies or then use V.A.T.S. Right before you realize how much fun it is to run into a Super Mutant compound screaming and shooting while listening to Cole Porter's "Anything Goes" as you are rampaging your way through. I'm not cowardly enough to miss out on that.
The game is set in the future, but post-war American culture of the 50's is the theme found all around. The in-game promotional materials, music, some locations and other elements are retro-futuristic in that sense. I've mentioned it before, but this era is my favorite when it comes to style, architecture and design. Late 1930's to early 1960's in America. So, games and movies that feature that style in some way get an extra point from me.
Story-wise, I love this game for the things it does. It explores humanity and the impact such an event would have on people's mentality, emotions and values. There is SO friggin' much in this game. The contextual storytelling amount is staggering with many different sources of information and stories. You have computers with shit loads of data, you have sound recordings, texts, characters revealing stories, places revealing stories.
Uncle Sam has long gone down the crapper by the time the game timeline kicks in
I love that about the game. One of my very favorite stories was that of the Keller family. You discover holotapes of the members of this family all over the Wasteland, each containing a message and a digit for the password to a family vault. All of the messages are roughly recorded at the time the bombs hit (meaning these people are long gone), with one particular recording which, due to the content and voice acting, gives me goosebumps every time. It made me cry the first time I heard it. You hear a woman sending a message to her mother as the bomb is falling. It's a gut wrenching experience when you are playing and so is the discovery of the family's fate. This is a story completely irrelevant to the game's main story and seemingly insignificant, but it helps build the bigger image. You can hear the recording here.
As far as characters go, I really like the different types of people you can find in the Wasteland. There aren't just good and bad, but people looking after their own business and depending on whether they have common goals with you or not, they can either be friends of foes. Some have given up. Some are hopeful. Some are delusional and some are trying to survive unscathed.
Agatha's violin solos are comforting and saddening to listen to while roaming a dead world
It's so interesting to explore people in such a setting. When the world has collapsed, how would we act? Is it society's rules and "what people think" that stop some of us from doing certain things or enable us to do others? What would become of the person if you took all that away? I like post-apocalyptic settings because I am interested in people.
Which brings us to decisions and decision making in games; something which is still very "off". The problem with decisions in games is that there aren't as many outcomes as there would be in real life and they are too idealized. You do good, good happens. You do bad, bad happens. But there is one specific instance in this game that actually defeats that.
This does have spoilers so be warned.
There is a tall apartment building in the middle of the wastes called Tenpenny Tower. It has actually survived the bombs in almost perfect condition. Its boss is Allistair Tenpenny, a rich snob who's lost his mind. Its inhabitants are equally not-right-in-the-head humans who are spoiled and prissy, almost as if they don't realize the world has collapsed. These bigots have a safe place in which they live.
A bit further down the road, in the subway tunnels, there is a group of ghouls (people who have been deformed by radiation), lead by Roy Phillips, which are constantly in danger from the elements and creatures that live in the Wasteland. They asked Tenpenny if they could live in his fort and be protected. Of course, being the snobs that they are, the residents of Tenpenny tower don't want to be living with a bunch of deformed abominations.
Tenpenny Tower, Allistair Tenpenny and Roy Phillips
This conflict pisses a lot of people off, including Roy Phillips and Tenpenny himself. He asks you to get rid of the ghouls and Phillips asks you to open the basement door to the tower and let feral ghouls in to kill its entire population and make space for him and his people.
Now, you can choose to do either or you can try to find a middle ground. You can make negotiations to actually allow the ghouls (the none crazy ones) to move into the tower and live in peace with the residents there. The ideal solution when it happens and everyone is living happily together. For a while. It's what every decent person would do. Try to avoid conflict and make everyone happy. Now, in most games, this would be the "good" solution and it would work. But if you go back to that place a few game days later, you find that the ghouls killed all of the human residents because their leader was too hostile and everything they did insulted him.
Oh, I just love what you've done with the place!
And there you're left, with your good intentions in ruins. Literally. Although this "isn't fair", I liked it because for once, it did feel like real life. You do your best, but that does not automatically mean things will work out. Sometimes, something bad can cause something good and vice versa. This was the first time I had experienced such a thing in a game and although it feels unfair for the player who wanted to fix things, it's a good lesson for the person playing. It also makes things feel more realistic.
This game is fun, it's immersive, it gives you interesting things to do and despite its many shortcomings, it is one hell of an experience. Enough to make me want to play the older games now. Which I should do, while I have time.
Join me next time for some words on Bioshock.
Pictures found by intense googling. Credit goes to the original uploaders.