Saturday, May 2, 2009

Thoughts on Tomb Raider: Legend and Fallout 3

Tomb Raider: Legend and Fallout 3 are very different games, but that share one thing in common: they both almost worked for me.

Tomb Raider: Legend is probably best compared to Prince of Persia. Both are long running series that have 3D platforming, combat, and puzzle solving elements. Unlike Prince, Legend emphasizes the puzzle solving elements rather than the platforming. Tomb's combat is far better than Prince's, using a more familiar lock-on-target-and-dodge mechanism instead of Prince's button mashing. The environments in Legend are varied and pretty, and the puzzles just confusing enough to slow me down without requiring me to go to GameFAQs for a walkthrough. Tomb runs around eight hours of play time, so it's a bit on the short side. It could have potential replayability due to hidden loot and unlockables, if that's your thing. Lara, the lead character, is given a fair amount of personality (and unlike the Prince, she doesn't sound anachronistic), but the story is weak nearly to the point of being nonsense. Of course, the story is just there as token window dressing anyway. The biggest problem with the game is the one that Prince nailed perfectly: the camera. Throughout Legend, there are camera angles that were perhaps designed to show off the environment rather than facilitate the user's travel through said environment. This leads to numerous occassions where you just have to guess when to jump and hope that everything turns out OK. Naturally, that leads to a fair number of reloads. Legend gave a great first impression that faded somewhat as the game went on. It's a good game, but not a great one. Which brings me to Fallout 3.

I come into Fallout 3 biased in just about every possible way. I love a good computer role playing game, and I love a good post-apocalypse setting. Unfortunately, Fallout 3 is only one of those. The setting of Fallout 3 is right up my alley, and the best aspect of the game is stumbling across something interesting while travelling around its environment. My favorite example was opening up a Vault (think self contained village-sized fallout shelter) to find out, through exploration and a series of hallucinations, that psychotropic gas had been released into its air systems. The Fallout games have a storied history. Fallout 3 does its level best to live up to and expand the world of those games, and I think it succeeds admirably. Unfortunately, the game you have to play to explore that setting is less than fun. The combat system tries to please everyone by blending the turn-based style of the older games in the series with a real-time system. What results from that blend doesn't find the best aspects of either. And the combat happens far too often. The so-called wasteland is filled to bursting with enemies that constantly interrupt the best part of the game, the exploration. The primary plot arc has its highs and lows, and certainly the storytelling makes Legend look embarrising in comparison. Unfortunately, the finale of the game was so poorly handled that it negates a fair amount of goodwill. So much so in fact that the ending is going to be changed in an upcoming batch of downloadable content. Sadly, the art direction comes entirely from the school of oversaturated monochrome. And because it is a console game, there are a fair number of repeating underground and indoor environments that hurt the otherwise reasonably diverse scenery. I put around 25 hours into the game (and I know of at least one person who is over 60 hours in), so it's got depth going for it. Unfortunately, while the setting is brilliant, the writing solid, generally well handled, and even inventive in places, the game you have to play to get at those things never manages to get above mediocre. Personally, I'm hoping that the upcoming Fallout: New Vegas will feature a new game engine, because otherwise, I'll have to stick to my really old school interpretation of post-nuclear Vegas.

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