Fallout 4 Review
Fallout 4 Box Art
System: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Dev: Bethesda Game Studios
Pub: Bethesda Softworks
Release: November 10, 2015
Players: Single-player
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080i Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
Blinking in the Bright Light
by Becky Cunningham

At the beginning of Fallout 4, our hero staggers out of her vault two hundred years after she entered it, squinting against the light of the sun. They call her the “woman out of time” as she wanders the atomic wasteland that was once Boston, looking for her lost family and trying to decide what to make of this brave new world she's encountering. In many ways, Fallout 4 itself feels like a game out of time, as though it went into isolation back in 2008 and has emerged from its underground bunker without the knowledge of the many advancements that have been introduced to the action-RPG and open world genres in the meantime.

Sure, there are attempts to catch up with modern gaming. Fallout 4 eschews the muddy brown filter that was draped over everything in Fallout 3, resulting in a far more colorful Wasteland that actually accentuates the feeling of destruction by contrasting the ruination of nature with the bright plastic wonder of the pre-war years. There are now some nice weather effects and the game's textures are fairly modern, but these improvements shine a bright light on some of Bethesda's traditional graphical failures, especially its stiff animations. Though a few have been improved, many, like the stealth animation, look just as they did way back in The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. Most glaringly, characters and monsters feel like they aren't connected to the environment, no matter how nicely rendered it is. They often don't make movement sounds and seem to glide across the terrain like ghosts, especially non-human foes like feral ghouls.

The core systems of the game, exploration and combat, are also a mixed bag, thanks in large part to a problematic interface and controls. The monochromatic Pip-Boy interface is about as fun to navigate as the old Apple IIe games it resembles. The map is the worst offender, and it's even harder to read than it was in Fallout 3. It's a bit better if you happen to have a large-screen tablet and open it up via the companion app, but even then, it doesn't account for buildings with multiple levels, and there are scads of those in the game. In fact, most of the largest, most dangerous quests take place in multi-level places like buildings and subway systems. It's a shame that it's such a pain to find your way around, because there are some great set-pieces here, like a destroyed Boston Common (complete with overturned swan boats) and Diamond City, formerly Fenway Park.

Fallout 4 Screenshot

Combat, and there's a ton of it, feels archaic, especially compared to many competing open-world games and action-RPGs. The much-vaunted V.A.T.S. System is extremely limited in its usage and there are simply too many enemies in many areas. It's not so much a challenge as it is a slog punctuated by the occasional unexpected death via a hidden machine gun turret. Fighting in real time, which is necessary when V.A.T.S. runs out of action points, simply doesn't feel good. Many of the guns are awkwardly slow and creaky, and you'll spend a lot of time flailing around and hoping the hit detection works whenever a bad guy gets in melee range. Enemies still collide awkwardly with your hit box, teleporting beside or behind you, a problem I've been having in Bethesda games since Morrowind, and one that simply isn't excusable anymore.

Fallout 4 Screenshot

There's no good cover system, either. Your foes can hide behind objects and lean out to shoot you, but you can't do the same to them, and their bullets have a habit of clipping through things you try to hide behind. It all feels just a bit unfair, although of course you'll eventually gather enough implements of destruction to nuke the obnoxious buggers from orbit, a strategy I heartily endorse.

Once you get past the outdated interface and clear out the hordes of foes, exploring the wasteland does lead to a lot of fun conversations and interesting things to see, but it feels a bit off when you step back and look at the setting as a whole. The slow build-up found in previous Fallout games is gone here. You can suit up in power armor and wield a fusion rifle a mere ten minutes after leaving the Vault. In general it seems like the core thematic elements of Fallout have been tossed into a blender and splatted across the map instead of carefully orchestrated to get across a feeling of discovery and increasing dread. Spending some time in the pre-Great War world at the beginning of the game also takes away some of the magic of the setting's retro-futuristic style, forcing you to wonder why the Fallout world was culturally stuck in the 1950s from the end of World War II all the way up to 2077. Why did we have no feminist movement, no rock music, rocket cars but no cell phones or color computer monitors? Sometimes less is more, and piling too much onto this setting causes its house of cards to crumble.

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