Bethesda has loosed Fallout 4 at last, but the internet’s instantaneous collective meltdown was followed by one near-universal “wait a sec.”
“Looks kinda shit, innit?”
The prospect of Fallout 4, another post-apocalyptic role-playing game in the same genre as other Bethesda games like Skyrim, was always something that seemed to drum up enthusiasm in even my most worn colleagues. It exists in a rare space of hope amidst some weathered games writers. Maybe because it’s a well from which you can drink deep of irradiated water. There is so much to write about endless adventures in a wide open wasteland.
Like this opening salvo in the trailer, the same one used in the Fallout 3 teaser trailer all those years ago. I’m only half making fun when I say kudos to Bethesda here.
I don’t want to set the world on fire / I just want to start a flame in your heart / In my heart I have but one desire / And that one is you no other will do
“Hey, it’s that dog!” ran through my mind while watching the new trailer. I say that a lot. It’s always a Resident Evil 4 reference and no one ever acknowledges it because it’s a completely innocuous, normal thing to say and shouldn’t raise eyebrows. It’s like when I say “fun with [blank],” riffing on an adhesive tape joke from the one Garfield comic strip burned into my mind forever.
So I saw that Fallout 4 dog and it doesn’t look much better than Resident Evil 4’s “that dog” from a decade and two console generations ago, let alone Call of Duty: Ghosts’ next-gen GoPro German Shepherd (snarling just above).
No, Fallout 4 doesn’t look like the recent hot Western RPG, The Witcher 3. It doesn’t “set the world on fire,” as the theme song croons. I appreciate that in the vague and confused, “it’s not about the graphics it’s about the story and/or gameplay” sense, but I also think graphics are important. Just less for the sake of technical wizardry, and more in what they’re used for.
I’ve lost all ambition for worldly acclaim / I just want to be the one you love / And with your admission that you’d feel the same / I’ll have reached the goal I’m dreaming of, believe me
Chasing supreme open world fidelity waterfalls isn’t a very productive use of a developer’s time. So it’s nice to see a hugely anticipated game dial it back for once and not get into a corrugated-texture-detailed, pubic-hair-physics-having dick measuring contest for “next generation” graphics with enough technical jargon that you think someone is trying to sell you a television.
Especially because it probably would’ve ended up looking as color-graded, unreadable, and bad as Fallout 3 did back in 2008. I was laid up in a bed post surgery for some time after Fallout 3 released, which seems like the perfect fit, what with the endless adventures. “How Fallout 3 Got Me Through the Existential Dread and Horrible Pain of my Body’s Physical Failure,” right?
Except after about 30 hours of play (hey, painkillers were involved) I realized I was not enjoying wandering through Fallout 3 at all. That it was drab and empty as the faces of the NPCs I had to stare at endlessly while rooting through dialogue choices.
It made the post apocalyptic Washington DC unreadable to me. I could never tell if I was running towards something cool in the distance or a very ugly rock. Everything flattened. Expanses of land looked like stacks of sun-bleached blue corn tortilla chips. This happens to me in many expensive, photo-realism-approaching releases, even ones less hideous than Fallout 3. Small details—colors, patterns, movement—that pop when my bad brain and eyes register them in real life don’t come across well in the digital ersatz.
This is why more stylized games with clean lines and bold colors age better. They are not technologically limited attempts at recreating our world in detail, but in caricature and symbol. A game doesn’t even have to be cartoonish, like Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, to do this. Dishonored was a gritty, serious, first-person murder/stealth game, but it (and games like BioShock) managed to have a more legible visual style over time.
I don’t want to set the world on fire / I just want to start a flame in your heart
This is all laughable and excusatory. I know. Bethesda could have radically decided on a new look for Fallout 4 with a style that scaled to its open world ambitions. Instead, I’m somehow half impressed that it didn’t do much with the visuals besides clean ‘em up and let some color shine through the lens now free of a Vaseline filter.
Fallout 4 will at least be easier to look at, without busy next-gen density or the previous incarnation’s mutedness on a grander scale. It pops with the color of idyllic Americana—muscle car reds and station wagon turquoises—helping worthwhile detail stand out to the viewer. Even if it uses the same emotionally stilted engine that asks you to stare at people's’ dead faces for hours and hours in between shedding ash trays and empty whiskey bottles to get under the carry weight limit.
This is where we are, I guess. I kind of appreciate when a blockbuster game’s revealing trailer hits a baseline of “does not make me scoff or irritated.” Not that I can’t revel in an exciting trailer. Still, here’s Fallout 4, being nothing more than more Fallout, and not pretending to be anything else.
“War never changes,” it offers. Neither does Fallout, apparently, not since the series switched to first-person with 3. No dubstep and Jason Bourne action editing. No Deus Ex: Mick Foley Divided giant mechanical angel wings and CG battles ripped from cutscenes that aren’t indicative of the final product. Maybe it is lazy or uninspired or boring, but I appreciate the anti-hype. It’s just a somewhat nicer-looking sequel. There is a quiet dignity in that. It doesn’t want to set the world on fire.