Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Read Play Blog: Surprised by a Game

Read Play Blog is a meme about video games and books, posted every 16th of the month. Bloggers are encouraged to answer a discussion question, and recommend a video game that is similar to a book they liked. Hosted by Happy Indulgence & Read Me Away.

Is there a video game that surprised you when you played it, whether in a good or bad way?

This one is going to take some thought. I'm selective, and the most patient of patient gamers, so I usually hear a lot about this or that game before I try it. Not even huge awful spoiler-y things, but just the general stuff: gameplay, annoying bugs, favorite characters, etc. I'm not usually surprised by much.

I think the last time a game surprised me was the first time I tried Katamari Damacy. I had heard people talking about the game for a couple of years before I actually played, so all I knew about it was that you roll things into a ball to make stars.

Image courtesy Wikimedia and Namco

"That doesn't make any sense," I complained to someone. "That's just so...bizarre. What is that?"

And then I finally gave it a shot on my friend's PS2 at some point during sophomore year of college and I had a lot of fun!

What I'm playing/recommending: Fallout 3 – Operation: Anchorage

Gray winter skies, gray army industrial architecture, gray mountains: welcome to the dull, gray world of Operation: Anchorage.

Okay, so this month I'm going to use this space to rant a little! Remember when I said that I'm a selective, patient gamer? (You should, I just said it like three paragraphs ago.) That is why I haven't played Fallout 3 until last year. And this is why I'm still "not done" with the game (by my own arbitrary definition; I've finished the entire story). But yesterday I fucking finally finished the Operation: Anchorage DLC so I can finally jump on board the Internet hate train. There will be spoilers but hey if you care about Fallout 3 spoilers at this point, congratulations on being pickier and more patient than me, I guess! So I guess this month's recommendation is: "skip Operation Anchorage unless you're a 'chieve whore," hahaha.

It's not even like Operation: Anchorage is that bad. It's just not that good. I haven't played all of the DLCs yet, but I'm almost there. (The Pitt is maybe the only one I haven't played yet, but it already wins for best name because "pitt" is Swedish for penis and I'm 12 years old at heart.)

The "simulation inside the game" idea is rarely a fun one, unless it's that cracked out part of the story where you murder a bunch of people trapped in the subtle hell of a simulated 1950s American neighborhood just to save them from their misery (and then find your Liam Neeson dad). Operation: Anchorage doesn't do anything that interesting or bleak, though. It's just more of what you've already been doing, but with weapons and armor that aren't as good as what you (probably) have by now.

Okay, so maybe the environment is something interesting and different? You get stripped of your weapons in Mothership Zeta, too, but then you at least get to play in an off-the-wall new environment, so then the whole "lose all your stuff" bit becomes forgivable. (For me.) But no, Operation: Anchorage is either a snowy repetitive mess of mountain chains (with loads of invisible walls to boot) or dull industrial interiors.

Coupled to the dull environment is a dull story, if  it can even be called a story: you're in a simulation of the war that made America the radioactive wasteland it is today. Everyone you interact with is an just AI (okay, so is every video game character by definition, but you know what I mean), which immediately sucks the interest out of everything. There's no incentive to get to know them or to protect them; even if they weren't AIs, they're still bland and forgettable.

And yes, the story: you just go and complete a few random missions and then America takes back Alaska from the Chinese. The missions don't really flow into each other: you're basically given a bunch of miniquests that don't really build off of each other, and the larger missions have that same non-relationship with each other. You're not getting from point A to point B as much as you're doing a bunch of random crap in an arbitrary order.

 There's not really a cool payoff anywhere, either. In the storyline DLC, you get a giant mech (at least for a while); in Mothership Zeta you get to hang out in space and fight alongside random historical figures and get to keep awesome alien tech; there's literally no payoff within the confines of Operation Anchorage itself. (You get some awesome power armor as a reward, but not until you're already out of the simulation.)

(Also, there was something about fighting the Chinese that made me seriously uncomfortable and it creeps a little too close to Yellow Peril weirdness for my liking, especially when the rest of the game is a little more....color blind, I guess? But that's a box to unpack for another day.)

Finally, in terms of gameplay: so much slowdown. I mean that's the nature of the Bethesda open-world beast, but I had the worst slowdown during Operation: Anchorage. Worse than anywhere else in the game. It never froze (that I remember) or became unplayable, but it definitely took me out of the game.

All of this culminated in me not playing Fallout 3 for months. Again, it's not like Operation: Anchorage was downright bad, or terrible, or unplayable. But it didn't have any interest or sense of urgency, and so it was easy to let it fall by the wayside when there were other games to play and other things I had to do in my life.

So there's my stale, 6-years-too-late opinion on the Operation: Anchorage DLC for Fallout 3!


  1. Hahah I love Katamari Damacy! So nonsensical. I really wanted to do Read Play Blog this month but I couldn't think of a game that surprised me! I'm so boring ;_;

    1. My favorite thing about Katamari is that even though it's so cute and surreal and adorable, it's also inspired by critique of capitalism and consumerism, like what?????

  2. I haven't heard of Katamari Damacy but I too feel like "what is this?!"

    I still haven't completed Fallout 3 either, never mind any DLC ;_; I just get too busy exploring and forgetting to actually progress. Shame to hear it wasn't all that worth it (unless you're an achievement whore, which I am lately) and invisible walls are the worst.

    1. I don't mind invisible walls *in principle*, but they were right where I thought I had to go to complete the mission. So then I guess my gripe isn't with the invisible walls per se, but with the poor level design and poor in-game direction.

      Like, at some point during the last mission you have to go north (as the crow flies). So you leave the base camp and go north and....suddenly you can't go any further! Even though you can see *something* through the locked chain-link fence and invisible wall! Instead, you have to take a long circuitous route through the trenches. Usually the Pip-Boy map is really good about "okay, you need to get to Point C by way of points A and B, you can't go there directly" but this time it gave me nothing. JV had to pause his own gaming session and do some digging on FAQs/the Wiki to figure out what to do (he's played a whole bunch of Fallout 3 but he skips Operation: Anchorage every time so it's been quite a few years since he went through it himself).

  3. To this day, all it takes is reading the name of Katamari Damacy to get the song stuck in my head!

    1. I kind of have to pronounce it in time with the song, ngl. Katamari Damaaacyyy.

  4. I haven't played Katamari. I was basically like you and just didn't get it, so I never bought it. I wish I had, because it really does look like fun.
    I want to buy Fallout 3 so badly...I only played like 5 hours of it before I quit because I was bored. I love Elder Scrolls, but I hated the enemy system and bland landscapes of Fallout so I didn't keep at it. I didn't realize I'd want to play Fallout 4 this badly, so now I regret not keeping it. I'm sorry Anchorage was sort of 'meh'.

    1. Rolling up random crap to the mellow jazz soundtrack did a lot to alleviate the stress of college for me, I'll admit. The music might be what makes the game so great---if you weren't listening to anything at all, or to anything else not nearly as interesting but also relaxing, it would not be nearly as enjoyable an experience. If you can't get the game, the Katamari Damacy soundtrack is the next best thing!

      The problem with post-apocalyptic landscapes is that by default they're going to look a little monotonous and and run down. ("Oh, wow, brown grass and another dead tree, hurray.") The Fallout 3 landscape gets a little more interesting once you've secured yourself in Megaton, gone up a few levels, and can go out and explore on your own. Yeah, the nature is all the same kind of dismal, but the run-down houses and broken cars and the way that it looks like people just suddenly dropped everything and left in the middle of something is really neat.