Friday 30 September 2016

Fallout 4 review: Oh what a lovely apocalypse

Fallout 4 (PS4/XOne/PC); rating: 9/10; Age: 18+

Published 17/11/2015 | 12:38

Fallout 4: Deep RPG systems and amazing assortment of weapons
Fallout 4: Deep RPG systems and amazing assortment of weapons

WHEN the apocalypse rains down nuclear hell, your best bet is to get into the recycling business, apparently.

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Fallout 4 riffs on a retro-futuristic scenario familiar to fans of the series – how to survive the wastelands after the bombs drop, this time in Boston circa 2077. Developer Bethesda tinkers satisfyingly with the well-worn formula of wide-eyed exploration of dusty, irradiated badlands punctuated by bursts of combat. But, mostly, you’ve now been pressganged into the recycling industry.

Previous Fallouts encouraged the collection of stacks of useless junk – a typewriter, a plastic bottle, a prosthetic limb, etc – purely to flog to traders for currency. But F4 prods you to construct buildings and useful items from purloined collectibles – all the better to foster a community for long-term survival.

It frames a broader narrative beyond the main story thread of the search for your kidnapped son.

Fallout 4: These suits of armour are scattered throughout the game but require constant scouting for fuel cells
Fallout 4: These suits of armour are scattered throughout the game but require constant scouting for fuel cells

Boston 2077 remains an inhospitable place, bristling with mutant wildlife and aggressive raiders all intent on your death. However, Bethesda has worked with studio stablemate iD Software to retune Fallout’s gunplay into something approaching a first-person shooter.

Instead of the woolly aiming and weightless weaponry of old, F4 now gives confidence that your shots go where you point your gun. It’s not quite Doom, of course, but it improves the experience immeasurably. You can still use the optional VATS shooting mode, though where it used to pause time while you lined up shots at vulnerable enemy parts, now everything moves in slo-mo.

Boston’s brighter colour palette (much wider than the sickly greens and browns seen in earlier instalments such as Fallout New Vegas) and rich detail almost make the wastelands seem attractive in a certain light. In fact, F4’s enduring appeal rests on serendipitous wandering through the city and scrublands. You might discover a bandit camp with a cache of goodies off the beaten track or uncover the human stories behind an abandoned house.

Bethesda’s vast open world, coupled with its complex interplay of systems and characters, means barely an hour passes in Boston without often-hilarious glitches. Enemies get stuck in scenery, dialogue can overlap or friendlies will block your path.

Fallout 4: The dog is one of several optional companions but they're often as much of a hindrance as help
Fallout 4: The dog is one of several optional companions but they're often as much of a hindrance as help

Assassin’s Creed Unity was crucified last year by many (myself included) for a similar lack of polish but somehow Fallout 4 transcends its failings.

The bugs seem to be rarely game-breaking and it’s testament to Bethesda’s atmospheric world-building that we’re prepared to overlook myriad faults for an opportunity to sink hundreds of hours into an absorbing city in ruins.

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