Old news

17 Sep

Some things that were either released, were at the height of their popularity, or ended long before I started enjoying them.

Firefly


Why it’s good: Sci-fi with less technowank and more barfights. An old western set in space, it works much better than it has any right to – I put that down to the personal nature of the storylines (at no point does the small crew of a cargo ship suddenly become tasked with saving the world), the funny, fleshed-out characters, and the little shocks thrown in here and there (there are no overblown plot twists, just punchy little occurrences that lesser shows might artificially stretch to wring some more drama out – to name one example, Mal’s brilliantly deadpan can’t-be-arsed-with-you-right-now shooting of a spy who’s just taken a hostage).

Also, Shepard Book – perhaps my single favourite vicar of all time.

But: I wish the Alliance, the shameless antagonistic rip-off of Star Wars’ Empire, was even a little bit as interesting as the heroes of the piece. No indication is given of them being anything other than a big evil group of uniformed tyrants, which is a shame considering the lack of generic archetypes elsewhere. They might as well all have moustaches to twirl.

Billy Talent III

Spot the upside-down beard

Spot the upside-down beard

Why it’s good: I liked both their earlier albums and was looking forward to this one, so I was more than a little surprised when I saw it on the shelves – the release date had been and went without so much as a peep. Regardless, once I confusedly stumped up for it I found it was still everything I loved about them: spiky staccato riffs, powerful percussion and harmonic, passionate, unsparing vocal performances. The chorus is something many rock bands can do well, but it’s something Billy Talent can do exceptionally.

But: The final song of the album lacks a certain punch – I always prefer things to either end with a huge bang or a mellow ride out, not a straightforward punk-rock song like the others. Also, Turn Your Back is dripping with the same kind of anti-Bush rhetoric that stopped being cool when the love for American Idiot died down. There’s a new guy, I hear he’s gonna change some stuff, and he hasn’t fucked anything up yet. Can we please just forget about 2004 politics and move on?

That means you as well, Muse.

Fallout 3: Broken Steel and Point Lookout

Why it’s good: The first new content pack, Operation Anchorage, failed as a Fallout 3 addon – it’s a stellar RPG but a mediocre shooter, and it tried turning the game into the latter. A squad-based shooter, no less. The second, The Pitt, was better in terms of quest variation but was still unnervingly linear.

Broken Steel and Point Lookout have neither of these problems. The nature of Broken Steel is a masterstroke – it retcons the game’s original, abrupt, fairly rubbish ending and both expands the main story quest and lets you carry on playing even after you’ve finished it. It also raises the level cap from a paltry 20 to 30 – no Exp. earned from the new missions is going to go to waste. It sticks with a militaristic, almost patriotic theme throughout, but the new quests, weapons, items and enemies – as well as the fact that you can, you know, finish the game without it being taken away from you – make it a superior chunk of DLC.

Point Lookout is even better. Unlike Broken Steel it introduces an all-new swampland area in Maryland, and once you get there you’re let off the leash and can do whatever the hell you want. I began by getting stuck into the main questline – a centuries-old battle between two equally irritated foes – but halfway through got distracted by the wealth of other things to do and sights to see.

There’s an underground safari (as the game calls it) where you fight off waves of mutated Swamp Ghouls, a crazy sect to investigate (admittedly there are already a number of crazy sects in Fallout 3, but this one has a knack for horticulture), a side-quest to finish a dead Chinese spy’s mission, scarily resilient inbred locals to fight, and a lighthouse that needs a fresh bulb. At one point you’ll even go on a dreamlike drug trip.It’s a forsaken hellhole, but a welcome change from the peculiarly uniform Capital Wasteland. In Point Lookout a misty swamp merges seamlessly with steep hills, cliffs, beaches, boardwalks and forests. It also seems to have developed a penchant for scripted events, such as when an insane tribeswoman crashes through a ceiling onto the table in front of you.

falloutscreenshot

The strongest benefit Point Lookout has over all other F3 DLCs is that it best preserves what made the original game so good in the first place – the exploration, the time spent combing over the map finding little pockets of story that others may well have missed. By chance I stumbled upon a sheer cliff face – climbing it, I passed a corpse with a missing head. Upon reaching the top I found part of the missing skull and a recorded holotape confessing the crimes of the man, and how his brother had been instructed to take him to the cliff and execute him. It had no effect on any quest, he wasn’t holding any decent loot – the whole ordeal was just put in there to remind you that the world of Fallout doesn’t always revolve around the player.

But: Whilst there’s considerably more mileage to be had in this double pack than there was in Anchorage/The Pitt, £15.00 (for the disk version) is still fairly steep for the number of hours you’ll be playing it. The tougher enemies and new weapons (I’m especially a fan of Broken Steel’s massive Tesla Cannon and Point Lookout’s vintage Backwater Rifle) are fun but ultimately aren’t worth coming back for alone. In fact, ever since I installed Broken Steel, I’ve only encountered the new model of hulking Super Mutant  – the Overlord – three times.

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  1. Steam has insane Christmas sale, somehow not bankrupt « The Talking Stove - December 20, 2010

    […] – especially in Fallout 3′s case, which contains all five DLC packs (including the excellent Broken Steel and Point Lookout […]

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