Tag Archives: video games

The perfect game for post-apocalypse fans

fallout3Post-apocalyptic stories abound in science fiction, in novels and movies far too numerous to list. For some reason we just love seeing the world wiped out by disaster, and have a fascination with the broken landscape that remains afterward. For those who share this interest, and who also like to play a good game from time to time, there couldn’t be a more perfect game than Fallout 3.

The game takes place a couple of hundred years after a nuclear war that occurred in the late 21st century. So, while the world is basically a wasteland, the environment (architecture, vehicles, etc.) has a slightly futuristic look to it. And while humanity is still devastated and downtrodden, there are pockets of high technology here and there, and groups struggling to rebuild society and/or grab power for themselves. You play a character who grew up in an underground facility built to protect a small group of people during the war. When your father leaves the vault under mysterious circumstances, you decide to go out into the big bad wasteland and find him. And that’s when the real fun begins.

The action takes place in the remnants of Washington D.C. — the Capitol Wasteland — and the surrounding countryside; and this shattered post-nuclear landscape is beautifully presented. The crumbling buildings and roads, the isolated sections of raised freeway, the abandoned cars, everything is portrayed in fine detail and contributes to a satisfyingly haunting atmosphere. And while there are plenty of other characters to interact with, one of the most appealing parts of the game is simply the ability to roam around and explore the ruins, whether it’s the sinister subway tunnels, the rubble-choked streets, D.C. landmarks (Capitol building, Washington monument, Arlington Cemetery), or the open hills and grasslands outside the city.


The game packs in a lot of sci-fi elements besides the post-apoc setting. There are mutant humans in several varieties, giant mutant scorpions and ants, robots, runaway androids, a certain sub-plot that bears a strong resemblance to The Matrix, futuristic weapons, and other assorted pieces. There is also a huge amount of space to explore. After I finished the main story sequence, I realized that there were still huge areas of the map I hadn’t even touched. Obviously there were many side quests I missed out on, making me eager for a replay (something I don’t often do with games).

There seems to be quite a bit of flexibility in how you play the game, as far as what kinds of skills you develop and in your basic moral stance. My first time through I played pretty much the straightforward “good guy,” so next time I think I’ll try the dark side and be an evil S.O.B. As far as mechanical aspects, the controls and such, I have no complaints. Everything was easy enough to learn quickly and use effectively. There are a couple of features I did like. One is the ability to switch between 1st and 3rd person views. Another is the targeting system by which you can attack specific parts of an enemy’s body. Oh, one other point in the game’s favor: the voice of Liam Neeson.


Plenty of exhilarating combat here, as well as a decent story to immerse yourself in. But the best part by far is simply the exquisitely-drawn atmosphere of a ravaged post-nuclear world. Roaming these wastelands was some of the most fun I’ve had from a game in some time.

Recent games played — quick reviews


The Force Unleashed had been my most anticipated game of the year, but sadly it didn’t live up to my expectations. At least it has an appropriate title, for in this game the Force is indeed unleashed, and unleashed big time — so much that it’s actually ridiculous. Take all the power of all the Jedi in all the Star Wars movies, add it all together, and you get an idea of what you can do here. So Yoda can lift an X-wing out of the swamp? He’s an amateur. YOU can rip a freakin’ star destroyer out of the sky, and barely break a sweat doing it! Tie fighters? Swat them away like flies. You can throw around so much lightning the Emperor would be envious. Your Force powers are so strong, you can pretty much get through the game without using your lightsaber at all. And you’re just an apprentice? What happens when you’re actually a Sith master, I wonder?

The story is rather lackluster and muddled. There’s no role-playing aspect to it, no moral choices to be made, no different paths to take (except for one minor choice near the end). You’re stuck playing the character the game gives you, doing the things the games wants you to do, sitting through the boring cut scenes trying to figure out what’s going on. You’re forced into this double/triple agent kind of arrangement, never knowing for sure if deep down inside you’re really evil or not. And the characters are flat and unimpressive, especially the main character, who is just some average-looking human guy with no unique presence at all. I feel the designers could have put in a little effort here, to give us someone more interesting, a character as compelling as Darth Maul for instance. The Jedi you have to fight are similarly unimpressive — no wisdom to impart, no witty dialogue, no evidence of their vastly greater experience with the Force, but simply opponents, just there to be killed.

The Force powers are fun, but altogether unbelievable and not consistent with everything else we know about the Star Wars universe. The graphics are good, but nothing spectacular. The voice-acting is poor. The combat system is adequate; the basics are easy enough to learn, but all the extra “combos” involve overly complex sequences of button-pushing, making them just about useless. Of course that hardly matters, because you can get through the game just by blasting those Force powers constantly.

There have been previous Star Wars games that were better than this one. Better in terms of role-playing, in terms of story, and in terms of having a more balanced and reasonable approach to the Force. I don’t know, maybe I’m strange, but I feel that games should get better as the years go by. There’s still not a Star Wars game better than Jedi Outcast, and hell, that was released six years ago. The Knights of the Old Republic games also put this one to shame.

Fracture is also disappointing in several ways. There’s a superficial veneer of science fiction, but it’s used as nothing more than a cheap background. Basically this game is a shooter largely modeled on (read: ripped off from) Halo. In fact, much of the game feels almost exactly like Halo, but without Halo’s sense of story and drama. There’s an added twist with the ground deformation technology: you are able to use the ground around you, raising it or lowering it to suit your needs (for cover, or to reach a ledge, or whatever). That’s kinda cool, but not really interesting enough to save the game from mediocrity.
It’s a satisfying, if unoriginal, combat experience, but that’s all this game has going for it. Maybe my standards are just too high, but I think there should be something more than that.

A challenge: better science fiction in games

At Psychochild’s Blog, a game developer recently put out a challenge for game designers to do a better job of drawing on the strengths of science fiction and to use it as more than just a cool-looking setting:

Science Fiction tends to be the second most abused setting (after Fantasy) in games. As Arthur C. Clarke said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” and game developer are mostly just rehashing Fantasy type games even in Science Fiction settings. Unfortunately, I think this means that developers doing Science Fiction games are missing some of the great literary strengths of Science Fiction when they make games that are just Fantasy with laser weapons.

Exactly right. Too often, a “science fiction game” is nothing but a standard shooter with futuristic scenery and weapons. The article discusses how good science fiction can give us new perspectives on the future (and uses Vinge’s Rainbows End as an example). Why can’t a game do what a book can do — give you a new perspective, make you think about the world, engage your sense of wonder?

There have been some partial successes; for instance, Mass Effect had a satisfying sci-fi story behind it. But there is so much more that could be done if game designers took science fiction seriously and got really creative. I, for one, would love to see that kind of effort, and the kinds of results it might bring.

Another thing I’d like to see in games is less of a focus on killing. Now I enjoy blasting away at the baddies as much as the next guy, but sometimes I reach a point where it all just blurs together, and it seems like combat is the ONLY purpose of most games. Why can’t there be something more? How about more exploration of alien environments, and not just as a means of getting to the next battle? How about more problems solved with brains rather than guns? How about a game in which survival depends not on combat, but on understanding a new technology, or solving a mystery during an alien archaeology dig? There are so many possibilities.

In the end, the question is (as Psychochild puts it):

Can we capture some of the literary merits of the genre in our games? Can games give us a useful glimpse of the future? Or, is Space Invaders the standard for what our games will achieve?

What’s been in the ol’ game console lately?

Here are some of the games of a sci-fi nature I’ve played lately, along with my thoughts.

Bioshock is, overall, THE best game I’ve played since I first bought my Xbox 360 back in December. It has received very positive reviews, and deservedly so; its strengths are apparent in every aspect of the game. This is a shooter with a philosophical storyline, set in an amazing environment, with a very user-friendly interface and an intriguing combat system with some interesting weapons and abilities.

You begin aboard an airliner that crashes in the ocean in 1960. The only survivor, you find an entrance to an incredible underground city called Rapture, built by a rich and eccentric industrialist who wanted to start his own society based more or less on Ayn Rand’s Objectivist philosophy. Well, that didn’t work out too well; by the time you arrive the city is in chaos and falling apart, leaving you with the task of trying to stay alive long enough to make it out. But along the way you get to enjoy the soothing and mesmerizing underwater scenery and the beautiful art-deco architecture of the city itself. The engineering problems of an underwater city are swept under the rug; it is assumed that it’s just a matter of applying enough money. The real sci-fi element comes in the realm of biology. Some kind of deep-water organism is discovered which has very special genetic properties that can be applied to humans, resulting in what you might call “superpowers” — the ability to emit electric shocks, for example, or throw fire. As you progress in the game you gain these abilities, and they sure do come in handy (as well as being pretty fun!).

But it isn’t all shooting and killing. As you go on, you slowly uncover the story of what happened to this city. And you are presented with different moral paths in the way you wish to pursue your goals. It’s not going to change your worldview or make you a wiser person, but it’s nice to see a game every now and then that makes you think at least a little bit.

Mass Effect is a role-playing team-combat game in a similar vein to the Knights of the Old Republic games, and no wonder since it comes from the same creators. I liked this one, but I’m also critical of it in some ways. It’s a strange mixture of admirable strengths and annoying flaws.

Let me cover the flaws first. The biggest one is probably the repetitiveness. While the scale of the game is epic and you can visit dozens of star systems and explore numerous planets, you quickly realize the each planet is nearly a carbon copy of the others — the same terrain with a different color or texture. So that gets a bit boring. Also, the combat system is somewhat on the annoying side, not nearly as intuitive or easy to use as it could have been. Furthermore, as in Bioshock, you have certain superpower-like abilities, (although the basis for these is some sort of implants embedded in the brain which allow you to control electromagnetism); the problem is, the abilities are of limited variety and not really very interesting.

The real strength of this game is the sci-fi storyline, a very decent space opera that draws inspiration from numerous SF movies and tv shows. Also in the plus column, the characters are strong and interesting to interact with. Overall, it was a good experience.

Not so with Time Shift; it was just sort of “there.” This was a game that took a fascinating and well-known SF concept — time travel — and completely wasted it.

Plot summary: the government has a time travel program; lead scientist goes back to a previous century and recreates modern technology to create his own empire (a Nazi-like totalitarian state); someone is sent back to take him out, fighting through his armies along the way.

The basic idea had potential, but no use was made of it. In the end it was just a generic shooter, with the addition of some minor time-manipulation powers (which were also rather generic, the same powers you can find in the Prince of Persia games). The combat was average, the story was poor, and the whole experience left a lot to be desired (I played on the Elite difficulty level, and it still wasn’t very challenging). Not recommended.