All out of buffout in Fallout

July 20, 2009

I’ve just conquered a nasty addiction to mentats and buffout pills. A few days ago, I had reached the location of the source of a distress signal sent out by Reilly’s Rangers – a rag tag mercenary group – who had got themselves in a serious tangle on the roof of the Statesman Hotel. Gangs of super mutants had forced the Rangers up several flights of stairs and through countless burned out rooms, until they had nowhere else to run.

The Rangers’ backs were up against the edge of the roof. They were low on ammunition and medical supplies, and the mutants were still coming in droves. It was then that I arrived, just in the nick of time, having carved a bloody and explodey swathe through the mutant ranks.

As I reached the roof and scaled the stairs to rendevous with the desperate Rangers, I found myself walking over a trail of mutant corpses. The Rangers had made one hell of a stand. And the aptly named Brick, their main gunner, had undoubtedly done the lion’s share of the slaying. She, no doubt a homage of sorts to Vasquez from James Cameron’s Aliens, casually introduced me to her minigun, Eugene, and thanked me for my timely arrival.

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In case you were wondering, this (mutant killing, rescue missions, and drug taking included) isn’t what I do on a typical weekday. I’ve been playing Fallout 3, and rather excessively I might add.

I had quite a bit of trouble getting the game running smoothly. A series of crashes and freezes had disrupted my post apocalyptic experience in the first week or so after installation. And the numerous fixes suggested in forum threads online failed to yield results. I had tried everything: restarting, downloading and installing latest graphics card drivers, switching various graphical settings on and off in an effort to troubleshoot – all to no avail. I was at the point of losing my remaining enthusiasm for the game when I took one last stab in the dark – returning all settings to their defaults – which (shockingly) dealt a killing blow to the game-breaking instability.

With the crashes at an end, I finally had a chance to engross myself in the nightmare world of Fallout, at once following the main quest line – bolstered by the dulcet tones of Liam Neeson, indulging in surprisingly well-realised side missions, and by extension, exploring the enormous ruinous expanse of Washington DC, post catastrophic atomic cluster fuck.

It’s a grey expanse, with the occasional hint of baked brown, charcoal black, and icky, slimey green, occasionally beautiful when you’re looking out from a high point, but otherwise pretty depressing, which is, I think, more or less what you would expect of a nuclear wasteland. What Bethesda have done, and this is the really ingenious part, is scatter (in amongst this sea of arse) the occasional mutated scorpion, colony of giant fire breathing ants, bloodthirsty band of raiders (imagine something akin to Firefly‘s Reavers here if you can), and super mutant enclave. This is brilliant for maintaining a pretty relentless pace in the gameplay, but also bloody unforgiving on the player.

And that’s about where the drug addiction comes in. You see, in every RPG up until this point, I’ve been comfortable swallowing health potions, mana potions, potions of agility, strength, vitality, and intelligence – effectively ingesting anything and everything I need to get by in the game world. What I didn’t realise is that Fallout 3 does things differently. Like every other RPG to date, it has these items, but using them comes at a price.

So, shortly after butchering half an army of mutants, imagining myself high-fiving the Rangers (sadly, emotes are thin on the ground), and storming our way out of the hotel (unfortunately losing Brick to mutant gunfire in the process, but what can you do?), I headed back to the Ranger compound in eastern DC, only to find that I was having trouble walking at normal speed. It was as if I was encumbered, but I wasn’t carrying that much in my pack. It turned out that those stat boosting items which I’d been relying upon (a lot) to plow my way through all those mutants were in fact addictive substances. I hadn’t taken my scheduled dose of buffout in a while, and my body was consequently taking a breather.

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I staggered out of the compound, dumped a few heavy items to move at decent speed, and fast travelled (a necessary feature wisely carried over from Oblivion) to the friendly town of Megaton. The local doctor offered to cure my addiction by injecting me with some “pre-war stuff” which, he promised, would “flush out my system”. Thankfully it flushed well, and I’m now sober. I sold all my Class A and B substances to the nearest vendor and resolved never to touch buffout, mentats, ‘jet’ or ‘psycho’ (all equally evil) again.

Life is hard in post apocalyptia, but I think I’ll pull through. If you happen to see me clutching a pack of pills with a hungry look in my eye, smack me around the face though won’t you?

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Loving Trine

July 12, 2009

Despite a rare unpleasant and frustrating experience just now, Trine has met and exceeded my expectations from the demo.  It sits firmly in that category of games which have been perfected and polished to an uncommon degree, but which also have a unique and refreshing central gameplay mechanic.  Zeno Clash is its brother.  Portal is its sister.

Judging by my progression across the campaign map, a mottled parchment presented at the end of each level, I am nearing the end of my journey.  And it is a journey that’s been marked by a learning curve as smooth as a baby’s arse.  Although I’ve now hit a point where I’m leaping over bottomless chasms and spikey pits while dodging arrows and skeleton warriors from all directions, twas not always thus.  The game started at a reassuring but exciting pace, and the increase in difficulty up to this point has been barely noticeable.

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Trine is a platformer, but it’s special in two respects.  First, it has a joyous physics engine which you’re encouraged, nay required, to exploit at every turn, levitating boxes and platforms to reach new areas using the wizard, grappling spinning wheels to reach high areas with the thief’s multi-purpose bow, and well… smashing stuff with the knight.

Second, as I’ve already partially revealed, you get to control three characters at once.  This is a treat, and it’s accomplished beautifully via the game’s namesake, the Trine, an artifact with the power to combine the ‘souls’ of three individuals into one body.  The result is that you can instantly switch from one character to another, bringing each of their skill-sets to bear as you please.

Of course, handing the player this level of freedom is only viable when you’ve put as much effort into level design as Frozenbyte, Trine’s developers, so evidently have.  They’ve created the perfect balance between sections where you can enter into free-running mode, pretending you’re Indiana Jones on steroids by swinging from platform to platform with abandon, and others where you’re forced to stop and think, then experiment with the distinct and varied puzzle-solving abilities of the three adventurers.

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Throw in some fantastically vibrant graphics, gloriously drawn environments to take advantage of them, and a charmingly simple narrative as a backdrop, and you have a surprise masterpiece that’s taken its place as my game of the month.

I give it three out of three.