Hobo Nikkan James Shinbun October 25, 2009: Love and Heartbreak in the time of Cliched Dystopia (a "review" of Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3)

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The tagline to Fallout 3 is this:

“War Never Changes.”

A line that was no doubt thought to be really profound by the writing team; a group of man-children who think that getting a small child to utter the word “fuck” about five times per sentence is “edgy.” A line that a clearly bored Ron Pearlman repeats over and over and over and over again in the game’s introduction. War Never Changes. Nuclear weapons demolish the entirety of the United States and more than likely the rest of the world. War Never Changes. People somehow manage to survive out in the wasteland, hunting and trading and trying to make it out there. War Never Changes. The resulting fallout causes various mutations in both the humans and various other wildlife, culminating in a ridiculous, completely fucking disgusting race of crab people. War Never Changes. The exception to this are a series of underground vaults spread throughout the country, in which people can live in relative safety. War Never Changes. Some things happen involving an opened vault door, an uptight Communist leader and Liam Neeson and now you, or at the very least, a virtual extension of you, are forced out into this nuclear wasteland looking for your father, Liam Neeson. War Never Changes.

War Never Changes.
War Never Changes.
War Never Changes.

No shit. No shit. Only a paint-huffing retard who thinks that The Punisher is a deep, complex character would be wowed by this prose. It’s utter trash and this “award winning writing” only serves as an insult to every person who has ever picked up a pen or pecked away at a keyboard.

And yet I can’t just drop this game. It is a game full of bad ideas, badly implemented ideas, constant crashes and so many bugs that I imagine the list of names in the Quality Control roll call are all made up. It is a game that, if you wish to be able to access all of the content, would have to spend close to one hundred dollars American. It is a game that represents everything bad about video games, yet will no doubt be thrust into every ridiculous, “games as art” argument that pops up on the internet every few days. And yet I can’t just drop this game. I can’t completely hate it. I would begrudgingly give Fallout 3 my highest possible recommendation if only for you to just see it in action.

I should explain myself. There is a reason for my indecisiveness. You see, here’s the deal: War might Never Change, but life sure does. Not always for the better, but life does change and the world keeps turning and people move on. Life Always Changes, I guess. Over the course of this past year, I’ve gone from being the comic relief with occasional bursts of insanity and inanity to being a moody, angry, sarcastic, depressed and depressing bastard to be around. Or listen to. Or look at. Or have known at any one point in time. I’ve tried changing my otherwise bleak outlook on life and be the good guy again. Lord knows I’ve tried. But man, shit is hard to do when it feels like everything around you comes crashing down.

Things began innocently enough, as these things tend to do; I was madly in love with a girl. Longtime readers may remember me discussing her in entries long since gone by. My schedule was this: I would go to work. I would either see her or call her or text her or something. I would go home, where I would then proceed to get stoned out of my mind and play Street Fighter IV over the internet (I used to be one of those assholes who picked Ken all the time). It was simple and fun and no different from any other twenty somethings’ normal work night.

The first time I picked up Fallout 3 was after a long night shift at my old job. Thanks to a combination of giftcards and an employee discount, I didn’t have to pay a dime for it. When I took it home and threw it into my Playstation, I played it until five A.M the next day. I was full of the caffeinated addiction that comes from tall canned energy drinks that would later wreak havoc on my heart. I was hooked. I relished the ability to just explore and find things tucked away in a far corner of the map. I ignored the big, glaring issues presented to me in favor of the small things: A sidequest lifted from the movie Seven Samurai, in which you defend a small village against constantly invading Super Mutants and Slave Traders. A bedroom in an abandoned house that had two skeletons laying side by side in a lovers embrace, telling a story without using a single word. Infiltrating a Raiders hideout and coming away fully loaded to the teeth with dangerous weaponry. Things that actually make this game fun.

My normal nights would continue, with Fallout in place of Street Fighter. Coming home, especially when I had to work nights, was always exciting. It meant I got to speed down every side road like a maniac, singing along (poorly) to various David Bowie songs that I would play at full volume. I must have been quite a sight, driving like a maniac with one hand on the wheel and the other on a can of Amp Energy, belting out “this is Ground Control to Major Tom” while bathing in the reflective light of my speedometer. Then I would settle down a little bit, text my girlfriend and continue my progress in the wastelands.

That was then. As I write this, it’s currently 2 A.M. I’m hunched over a keyboard writing about a video game I don’t even like, with only my radioactive monitor as a light source. Life has changed. I would eventually lose that girl, that game and that job. She cheated on me with a guy she had previously introduced to me as her brother, fucked up as that sounds. I later sold my copy of Fallout 3 when I realized that I didn’t like it after all. I got fired from my job much later for having the audacity to take time off for my birthday. I was told once upon a time that I was a horrible judge of character. This person was right. I fell for a woman who used me. I let myself become complacent and robotic in a horrible, corrupt corporation rather than leave with my head held high, the way I wanted to. I spent hours and days of my life playing a video game that insulted my intelligence in every conceivable way.

Funny how things work out.

I know this sounds kind of whiny and angsty. It is. But maybe it has to be. A broken game full of half-finished ideas and no sense of direction should probably only be written about by a broken man full of half-finished ideas and no sense of direction. A game about a loner cramped up in a dark room thrust into Hell itself as played by a loner cramped in a dark room who’s mind continually runs through Hell itself. Metaphorically, at least. Having to watch someone you care about continually put herself in danger by staying in a shithole country in the middle of political unrest, not knowing if she’s going to step on a landmine or get her head cut off by some revolutionaries does little to help my state of mind. Dealing with the unrequited love of a married man (for those not already well aware of my ambiguous sexuality: SURPRISE!) kind of fucks with you after a while. Watching as, one by one, you fall out of touch with people you thought you’d be friends with until you were old and gray, making me an unwilling hermit desperately reaching out to someone. Anyone. I have been unsuccessful in doing so.

I never finished Fallout 3 before I sold it. In the world of Professional Gaming Journalism, this is a big no-no. You can only give a nonsensical numerical to a game after you’ve played it at least six times and seen all there is to see, lest you incur the wrath of the fanboys. But this is not a video game website, let alone a professional one. I don’t need to finish a game to know that it’s terrible. I don’t need to finish a game to know that it’s great, either. Fallout 3 is not great. And Fallout 3 is not terrible. It’s the worst fucking thing I’ve ever played that also seems to completely define me as a human being. Like the title of this entry says, It’s Love and Heartbreak in the time of Cliched Dystopia. Funny how photo-realistic ants and mutant crab people can make one run a gamut of emotions, but there you go.

It hit me while I was writing that last paragraph. Maybe I need to finally finish Fallout. I spoke earlier about wanting to improve my attitude; to no longer be a miserable bastard. As asinine and dumb and juvenile as it sounds, maybe reaching the end of this game is what I need. Something to put a metaphorical period at the end of this chapter of my life. I can’t express my feelings to a dumb girl, greedy, corrupt management or anything like that, but at least I can beat a video game. Get to the end, sit back and watch the credits. I have a legally ambiguous copy of the PC version sitting right here on my hard drive, ready to be played at the click of a mouse. Perhaps, in my own twisted little way that probably only makes sense to me at three in the morning, the healing can begin. Let’s hope.

[Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3 gets 3.8 stars and 74% out of 10]

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