Samuel Roberts: Fallout 4: king of games on the computer
Last Friday I took the day off at the last second with the intention of knocking my way through Fallout 4. Instead, I spent 16 hours slowly working my way through many of MGSV’s Side Ops (while drinking a litre of port). It was way more rad than that sounds. Anyway, this week I finally cracked into Fallout 4 properly, and I think it’s absurdly good. Better than I deserve, in fact. I’ve always been a bigger fan of 3D Fallouts over Elder Scrolls—generally I engage with storytelling that’s about real humans rather than wizards and stuff. Not that Skyrim doesn’t have great characters and interesting stories, too, but there’s something about picking through the remains of civilisation after a nuclear attack that’s uniquely tense and thrilling.
The sense of wonder I get from finding a new town in Skyrim is an entirely different feeling in Fallout—something more powerful, that these places have been lived in, and that nothing will be the same as it was. It’s also the reason my favourite episode of The Walking Dead is still the Darabont-directed pilot, Days Gone Bye, where Rick Grimes escapes the hospital and heads back into the walker-filled world after being in a coma for months. He’s silent for so much of that 90 minutes: he’s just navigating through empty landscapes with no signs of human life, and all of the storytelling comes from set design, cinematography and art direction. 3D Fallout achieves the same thing, but it’s you playing that role, and the order that you uncover each fragment of the world is in your hands. And in Fallout 4, that world has never looked better. Truly, it’s the king of games, and I’m delighted to be playing a new Bethesda RPG again. It would be lovely if they got Obsidian working on a follow-up so I won’t have to wait seven or eight years for the next one.
Phil Savage: Taking time for an adventure
I've been playing 80 Days over my last few lunch breaks, in response to Andy's recommendation. After my first playthrough, I felt somewhat unsatisfied. It's a quality production, but my journey seemed uneventfully efficient. I circumnavigated the world in 67 days—only experiencing one near-death experience. In my accidental competence, I was collecting the first half of each story, but not seeing the full breadth of any one experience.
My second journey couldn't be more different. I'm on day 79, and have only just reached San Francisco. I've been kidnapped, teleported, and embroiled in a mystery or two. Games tend to reward you for being good at their central challenge, but in 80 Days, that efficiency detracts from the actual joy of playing. Go into it understanding that, and being prepared to stall Fogg's mission in search of a good story, and you'll be well rewarded.
Chris Livingston: Assassin’s cutscene
I've been playing Assassin's Creed: Syndicate (the review will be up next week). It covers a lot of familiar ground, as you'd expect, along with some new toys and activities, such as a grappling hook/zipline and the ability to hijack stagecoaches and speed through the streets knocking over lampposts and pedestrians, for a little old-timey GTA flavor.
I've also been pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoy being both of the protagonists. You play as a brother and sister, Evie and Jacob Frye, and can switch between them whenever you're exploring the city. My favorite parts, though, are when they're together—and this feels strange to say—in a cutscene. Both parts are well written and performed. It's not difficult to write a wiseass character, but in the case of Jacob he's also genuinely funny and likeable. Evie is a bit more serious, and more interested in serious business, but still has her moments of levity. They're fun, they play well off each other, and I find myself wishing their conversations were longer. It's always a little disappointing when a scene ends and I have to pick just one to use on the next mission.
Andy Kelly: Special effects
I reviewed Star Wars Battlefront this week. It’s not a great shooter, but as a recreation of the original trilogy, it’s pretty much perfect. I particularly love how the artists resisted the urge to mess with or modernise Industrial Light & Magic’s iconic designs. The animation of the Imperial walkers has that clunky stop-motion look they had in Empire; Admiral Ackbar’s flappy mouth looks just like the rubber puppet from Jedi; computer interfaces have the retro look of A New Hope.
The people who did the effects for those films were geniuses, and it would have been half the series it was without them. Here’s a great 1980 documentary, hosted by a youthful Mark Hamill, about the making of Empire’s FX. There’s some great behind the scenes footage in there. It’s amazing how much of the Battle of Hoth was created in what looks like a tiny, dark shed. Battlefront is, flaws and all, a wonderful tribute to those guys.
The only thing that doesn’t quite fit for me are the Halo-esque bubble shields, but I’ll let them away with that in light of how authentic everything else is. I don’t really feel the urge to return to Battlefront now that my review is done, which is a shame, but I have massive respect for the artists at DICE for their work on it.
Tom Marks: Re-exploring Hearthstone
I was quite skeptical about whether or not Hearthstone’s League of Explorers adventure was what the game actually needed right now, but having played the first two wings I think Blizzard has done an amazing job. The art, audio design, and overall tone of the set is the best work the Hearthstone team has done. And the bosses, while comparably much easier than previous adventures, are unique and fun to play against.
But it isn’t just the production quality of the adventure I am impressed with, I think the new cards (and particularly the Discover mechanic) really help the health of the game. For the first time in a few months, my interest in playing is back. I even want to play on the ranked ladder again. We’ll see if that holds up in three weeks when all of the cards are out, or a few weeks after the meta settles down, but right now I am loving all the new decks that are emerging. These cards seem genuinely fun to play with and against—check out some of the best here.
Tyler Wilde: Finding the back of the net
I played a bit of Rocket League this morning (always good way to start the day) and I was proud of some good performances. A few of my goals were a little ugly, though, which can be a bit embarrassing when the replay goes off and it's clear that you bumbled the ball into the net. I’m looking dominant at the start of this one, but it turns into a total farce by the end. As long as it goes in, right?