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Friday, October 29, 2010

Gameplay: Fallout New Vegas

I'll start with a confession: I've been playing the hell out of New Vegas. And I could rattle off all the reasons why that is so - except none of them would surprise you if you have already played Fallout 3 in the last two years. Bethesda has managed to sneak in a few new details, most of which add at least a few new concepts - most of which are pretty sound but don't really do anything to change the core gameplay from when Fallout and Elder Scrolls first got mashed together.

And there have been many, many reviews which have mentioned all of that, and how wonderfully the mechanics hold up over the last couple years. So lets' talk about something else.

Let's talk about just how often this damn game crashes, and how completely wrong that is for a console game in the year 2010. The level of instability that this game has is so far off the charts compared to every single other title I have ever played on the PlayStation 3 that I challenge any other blogger or gamer to argue the case that this is not the buggiest release in the history of the console, with the only other contender being Fallout 3 or the even buggier DLC for Fallout 3.

Let's talk frequency: Nightly. At least once a night that I've powered this game on, it has crashed. Let's talk severity: It completely locks up the console, requiring a manual reboot. Let's talk about predictability: There is none. You'll just be walking down the street, turn and look at something and ... bam. Instant lockup. I've had it happen at least once in between locations, causing nothing but a black screen to stare at me while I wondered if I should wait or go reboot the thing again.

The only saving grace is the frequency of the saves in the game: it does an autosave when you change locations or when you sleep. Course, the location autosave may not work correctly if the game crashes at the right moment, so unless you remember to save after every important action - you might be completely hosed anyway. I've lost hours of gameplay by not being absolutely draconian about saving after key points, a habit I've now fallen deeply into for the sake of my own sanity.

And it's not like the game itself is spotless. I walked right past a quest item because it was buried mostly in the ground ... not in "oh look, buried treasure" kind of way - but rather a "model was graphically blended with landscape" kind of way. While talking to a major game character, the conversation was stopped for cinematic animation ... which was blocked because the character for said animation was stuck on a chair. There are times when VATS goes completely on vacation. I'll be swarmed by evil poisonous creatures and tapping the shoulder button like a madman, and absolutely nothing happens.

So it's hard for me to be excited about things like factions, weapon mods, reloading benches or the nifty new companion wheel (though, it is kinda nifty) when I know every time I load the game, I'll end up rebooting my console. I said this about the Fallout 3 DLC, and I'll say it again: this is why I left PC gaming for a console. That Bethesda has had two years to work the kinks out of the engine and it's just as buggy as it ever was tells me one simple thing:

Bethesda needs to ditch this engine. While playing New Vegas, I was also playing the new Borderlands DLC and realized: it looks better, plays faster and never crashes. Yeah, I know it doesn't have the same dynamically loaded overworld that Fallout does, but these are things engines like Unreal and Id's latest have been working on. The Gamebryo engine has always been a burden on Bethesda games, it's never been able to deliver the same graphical quality of contemporary engine and apparently porting it to the consoles saddles the consoles with PC level bugs. It's ridiculous that in a two development timespan that Bethesda has released a product with this few updates, that looks exactly the same as the game before it, and is buggy as all hell.

Is the game fun? Yes. Does it offer hours and hours and hours of play? Yes. Do I recommend it? Yes. Well, if you liked Fallout 3.

Does that justify the level of instability in this game? No.

There, quite honestly, is no justification for the level of instability in this game.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Brief Guide To Shaky Cam Horror

In the vast amount of time I have not been blogging, I have managed to catch up on many, many horror movies. While on they way, I rewatched Paranormal Activity in anticipation of of the sequel, and regretfully (because it was free and easy to click on) watched Paranormal Entity.

In my review of Activity, I hoped that shaky cam would become more of a genre in it's own right. And when you get a mockbuster made of your picture, I think maybe that's arrived. So in preparation for a Halloween weekend, let's go through the shortlist of the shaky cam spookers.

The Last Broadcast
One of the earlier, if not the earliest, movies of this type - The Last Broadcast is also one of the least formulaic of the bunch. While you'll see many of the same trappings - first person confessions, running through the woods, people wandering off into isolation, there's more of a whodunit storyline being followed at the core. Not the scariest, or best produced, by far - but worth watching for those who found Blair Witch at least interesting.

Back in 1992, the BBC released this little known gem. It actually caused some hysteria upon its release and was named in one suicide (no joke). I haven't seen it as of yet because it's nearly impossible to find, it has only aired twice and while it hit DVD in 2002, doesn't look like it's been made available for import anywhere.

Blair Witch Project
BWP remains the epicenter of the shaky cam films, having gathered a lot of attention, making lots of money and distilling the basics of the concept: low budget, handy cam directing, and possibly most importantly ... a plot which centers just as much about how relationships take a downward spiral in a crisis as it does about ghosts and creepy moments. It's a hallmark, actually, of what works and doesn't work for these kinds of films ... if the actors can't sell you on the fact that they're in crisis mode, you're probably not going to be in crisis mode either.

Not nearly as much of a copycat as it could have been guilty of, Quarantine uses the shaky cam concept on a twist of the zombie genre with somewhat mixed, but usually decent results. There's a level of predictability, partially because we've all seen the same kind of zombie film a dozen times before ... and also because this is one of those movies that oddly features one of the final scenes as its cover. Can't strongly recommend, but did find it somewhat entertaining.

The reason why Cloverfield is something of a landmark film in that it combines the general formula: a small group of people armed with a handycam in a desperate and bizarre situation, with Hollywood special effects and a big budget. Most interesting is that the former seems to work much better than the latter, though the level of destruction that the budget provides offers a great deal of value. Somewhere along the way, the movie starts to feel more like a standard monster flick - but it offers a lot of new moments along the path.

Paranormal Activity
The genre took something of a breather for a few years, but a great awakening with this 2007 title. The movie nails precisely what works - focusing on sounds more than visuals, keeping a tight lens on the two leads while document the strain on their relationship the spookhouse moments have on them night after night. I wasn't sure what would hold up during a late night rewatch, but really the only diminished effect is that lack of theater speakers to really catch the mostly invisible action during the film.

The Fourth Kind
A victim of overselling the premise by repeatedly trying explain why Milla Jovovich is on the screen, The Fourth Kind moves the concept over to alien abductions while also trying to provide a backdrop for better produced "re-enactments" than the normal handycam directing provides. There's some very good bits in the midst of it all, though the sum doesn't quite live up to the parts.

Paranormal Entity
A pretty hideous copycat of Paranormal Activity, courtesy of mockbuster producers The Asylum - Entity plays out like a poor student that couldn't pay attention during class. Lacking nearly all of the elements that made Activity work, Entity manages a couple of shock moments but in the long run will mostly scare you for the fact that you bothered to watched the thing in the first place.

Paranormal Activity 2
Have not seen it, but the reviews have been good and fully plan to either by or shortly after Halloween.

Paranormal Entity