Fallout 3: Broken Steel
Has anyone else noticed how videogames these days place so much power onto a player’s shoulders? Or are we easily fooled, bewitched by the smoke and mirrors and other tools of trickery wielded by the gods of gaming creation which imply seemingly open-ended gameplay, freeform structure and a general leaning towards clichés such as ‘your destiny is in your hands’ but never really give us the freedom we so desperately crave? Are we finally being trusted with the power to manipulate as we see fit, or are we forever bound to the strict parameters that are set in each game space? With the meteoric rise of sandbox gaming in full swing, perhaps now is a better time than ever to think about the concept of cause and effect, and the ability of a player to contort and shape the game space the way they see fit, and whether this is a good thing or not.
Something else that we’ve noticed with regards to player power, and the consequences of their choices and actions, is how popular it’s becoming in modern videogames. As well as the evolving concept of the sandbox genre, it’s now become the ‘in’ thing to ask the player about a trait which is unique to our species: morality. The ‘do you or don’t you?’ scenarios which we’re tasked with (and their inevitable consequences) are becoming increasingly common with varying degrees of success, really making the player think twice before swinging the sword, or cocking the hammer. It helps when you have fantastically well realised narratives, landscapes and characters to interact with as well, but it could potentially work on a much more intimate scale too – imagine, upon hearing the immortal line “the princess is in another castle!” for the fifth time, an ever-so-slightly disgruntled Mario retorted with “Y’know what? Screw this, I’m going home. Oh, and I’m having that table lamp away as well,” before throwing a couple of fireballs around to burn the castle down.
By far the biggest success story with regards to ‘action and reaction’ this generation so far is undoubtedly Fallout 3, a true shining light which demonstrates the medium’s raw ability to place the adventure directly into the player’s near subconscious level, thus truly becoming the master of his (or her) destiny. One of the few games to score a full 5 stars, the D+PAD team are almost unanimously agreed that the title is a nigh-on classic. As you might expect, when word reached our ears of a pseudo-sequel in the works which raises the level cap and provides more outlets for further adventure, we were understandably thrilled. Unfortunately, when the last quest of the package is done, and the barrel of the Gatling Laser stops spinning, Broken Steel feels like a bit of a hollow victory.
The real beauty of Fallout 3 is what we described above – the chance to forge your own legacy, to carve your own mark onto the blank slate of Fallout 3’s rich tapestry. However, the only carving you’ll be doing in Broken Steel is riddling enemies with bullet holes, and in our eyes this is a serious shortcoming. Yes, one of Fallout’s key gameplay mechanics is its VATS system, and battling with the various miscreants of the Capital Wasteland naturally plays a significant part in proceedings, but the game as a whole is so much more than just mindless (if mildly strategic) blasting in super slow-mo. Try telling that to Broken Steel, though, and it will be undoubtedly drowned out by all of the frequent explosions.
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