Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Problem With Fallout: New Vegas

Although I haven't done a formal review of Fallout: New Vegas, I touched on the game during "The First Annual Wherein I Rant Awards", and called it a fantastic game, with superb writing, gameplay, and one of the best example of storytelling in games I've ever seen, and make no mistake, I would easily hold Fallout: New Vegas storytelling up there with Half-Life 2's, or dare I even say it, Portal's.

But, I did mention one enormous flaw with the game. Something which, even though it's a fantastic game, made me bump it down from my Game of the Year, down to runner up.

So what was the flaw so blatantly obvious that it would knock down such a fantastic game to a mere second place? Simple. It wasn't finished yet.

You see, Fallout: New Vegas is buggy. Really, really buggy. The game, while fantastic, simply should not have been released so soon. In fact, I bought the game over a month after it's release, and still found it plagued with game breaking glitches. Random crashes, companions would stop following, character clipping through the floor, and one (rather amusing) bug where characters (hostile or not) would stand in the nearest corner as though they were put in a time out.

You might think I'm exaggerating here, but I'm not. On multiple occasions, I found fights incredibly easy because the enemy was completely stuck, knees down, clipped into the ground, unanble to move. That's pretty game breaking.

Now, I by no means expect a game to be perfectly coded when I buy it. One thing you simply have to live with when you're buying a product like a game, ESPECIALLY a game like Fallout: New Vegas, which is absolutely massive, is that the game will have bugs. The code is just too massive, and it just wouldn't be feasible, economically or rationally, to expect a perfectly bug free code. HOWEVER, what you can expect is for GAME BREAKING bugs to be fixed.

You see, I spent about 50 hours on my first playthrough of Fallout: New Vegas. I noticed dozens, if not hundreds, of major bugs. Now, how long did they play test the game for bugs to not notice these? I have to imagine they couldn't have gotten all that far without noticing these bugs.

So either: A. They didn't properly playtest their own product, playing it for a grand total of less that 50 hours before releasing it to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people, or B. They DID know this game was unfinished and buggy, and chose to release it anyway.

Either of these options are simply not ok. You see, either way it says to me they didn't care about their own product enough to polish it before finishing it.

But is this an isolated case? Is this simply one game company, Obsidian (who aren't exactly well known for releasing flawless products...) releasing a game sooner than they should? Or is this a shocking trend, one which absolutely should not continue?

Unfortunately, I'm inclined to say it's becoming quite the trend. Not, perhaps, as obvious as Fallout: New Vegas, but still quite bad. Take, for example, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed.

Now, let me begin by explaining that, although most movie games are shovelware, Star Wars is the exception to that rule. While there certainly ARE Star Wars shovelware games, Knights of the Old Republic, Battlefront and Battlefront 2, Lego Star Wars... These are all good games. In fact, KOTOR has writing which I would hold up to any of the movies. I mean, KOTOR gave us HK-47, and if you don't find HK-47 funny, you're clearly not a meatbag- Sorry, I mean a Human.

In any case, TFU is not shovelware. It's a good game, perhaps not a great game, but a good game nonetheless. It put you in the shoes of the secret apprentice of Darth Vader, trained to kill the emperor, and gave you ABSURD force powers. You could force lightning, you could pick guys up and throw them out into space, you could disintegrate stormtroopers, you could pick enemies up and throw them at each other... It was awesome.

When it was released though, it wasn't exactly... Well it was pretty darn buggy. For example, during the final boss fight? I force pushed the final boss, and he fell behind some rubble, completely unable to move for the rest of the fight. He would stand up, and play a walking animation... But no movement.

That's, again, a pretty game breaking bug. Now, while it's certainly not as obvious as some bugs in Fallout: New Vegas, it still makes me wonder how much bug testing they must have done. I'm inclined to believe it wasn't much.

But why would companies release unfinished products? Certainly long term sales would be exceptionally low for a fundamentally broken product? Well, the answer is quite simple: Patch it later.

You see, patches were not available in the days of the NES, SNES, N64/PS, and even the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox. Patches are bug fixes or additions to a game (or other software product, but for this context we're using the term for games) which is sent out by the company later, and downloaded by the computer or console. Back before all the consoles had an easy internet connection, if you wanted to make a change, you'd have to change the code on the next edition of cartridges. Nothing could be done about the copies already out there.

For example, let's take for example, one of the greatest games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, for the N64. True geeks like me will already likely know the story I'm about to bring up, but for the sake of the masses, let me tell you the story of the gold cartridge.

You see, when OoT was originally released, it was released on a golden cartridge. No real reason why, just an aesthetic thing. However, only the first batch, if you will, the first editions, would be released on a golden cartridge.

You see, after the game was released, although it had been rated E, the players of the game noticed a few things. Namely that the final cutscene featured the final boss being stabbed in the head, and (red) blood, spewing across the screen. However, that alone was not the only thing that got the gray cartridges changed. You see the Fire Temple (one of the dungeons you adventure through late in the game) featured, in one room, islamic chanting in the background music. Something which met with the attention of extremist groups.

Keep in mind this was in the 90s, pre-9/11, and had it been post 9/11 it likely never would have made the cut, however, it was pushed through, and met certain Nintendo employees with death threats.

As such, in the next release, the gray cartridge, the chanting was removed, and the blood was changed to a yellowish green color. However, nothing could be done about the first batch of cartridges, and to this day golden OoT cartridges remain a collectors item.

Now, this may not be the best example, as those things weren't exactly "bug fixes" but I imagine you get the idea. You see, today those things would simply be patched.

Now, patches are by no mean a bad thing. They're a great thing in fact! However, they're only great when used properly. You see, many companies have used the existence of patches as an excuse for releasing unfinished products.

For example? Well, Fallout: New Vegas. Which has already gotten several patches that have fixed major problems. Thus, those who bought it on release were essentially paying $50 to $60, to test an unfinished product, something which Obsidian should have done in the first place.

These paid betas... Are simply unacceptable. Thus, Fallout: New Vegas biggest flaw. It could have been a real candidate for Game of the Year 2011, unfortunately, it was released in 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment