It's the evening of April 7, at London's Tobacco Dock, and the gaming industry's great and just-sorta-OK-I-suppose are gathered for the annual BAFTA Games Awards. This is a big deal event—a glitzy celebration of everything amazing about the medium of video games. I'm a fan. The assembled have seen several awards given out already, to worthy winners—game design goes to the fantastically nightmarish Bloodborne; the winner of original property is Until Dawn, a terrific new IP; and jet-powered-cars-playing-football extravaganza Rocket League takes home three awards, for family game, sport game, and multiplayer. Rocket League is amazing, and you need it in your life. The room hushes. It's time. The big one's here. Best Game. Arses shift on seats. Armpits get a little stinky. Someone stifles a sneeze for fear of being ejected.
The winner is Fallout 4.
Now hold up, oh super keen sorts, eager to rush to the comments (or more likely Twitter and/or Facebook, which you'll find us on here and here respectively). I am not saying that Fallout 4 is a bad game. Or that it's an average game. It's a very good video game carefully crafted into its final, many-fans-satisfying form by a team that has quite clearly devoted a shitload of time and care to the process. Yes, it's by Bethesda, so it's a bit broken, but I'm told that's part of the charm. (I mean, it shouldn't be, but whatever, I'll get to that.) But its world is invitingly hostile, its scope—uh, there's a cliché, but you know what I mean—is admirably epic, and people are really into the lore of the whole thing. I totally get why people like it and learn to love it.
But it's not the best game of the year, of the past 12 months, since the last Gaming BAFTAs wrapped and everyone got wobbly on champagne and the rush of sharing air with other real-life human beings who aren't the three hirsute gentlemen locked in a small room with them for 18 hours a day crunching code until this thing is finished. Here are ten reasons why.
It's not the best game in BAFTA's best game category, IMO
I don't vote in the BAFTAs. Cripes, imagine if I did, and now I'm writing this, what a pickle we'd be in. But if I did, and I saw the shortlist of games up for being the best game of all the games, of the games that came out in the past 12 months (or whatever the eligibility period is), I'd have Fallout 4 way down my personal ordering.
Rocket League, as I've already made quite clear, is amazing. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is just the most gloriously rich interactive world I've seen on my TV screen in years. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is like a sandbox of chocolates, where you can pick a different flavor for any mission, at any given time. Life is Strange took the Telltale Games model for storytelling and improved it, and the result was one of the most moving narratives in the medium, of recent times. And Everybody's Gone to the Rapture was a stunning-looking meditation on religion and the afterlife created by a small team who really do deserve props for their efforts. Where does Fallout 4 fit amongst these great games? Right at the bottom, for me. Sorry. But naturally, this is just my opinion, man. Don't get angry because one person doesn't think the same way you do.
Only, seriously, look, the numbers don't lie
I hate doing this, but Metacritic's overall "metascores" would imply that a great many reviewers out there mirror my feelings on Fallout 4 "versus" the other titles in the best game category.
The metascore for Fallout 4, on the presumably best-performing PC version, is 84. Not bad, not bad at all. The Witcher 3, on PC, scores 93. Rocket League on the same platform, 86. Life is Strange, which is episodic so the number's a little less locked in, scores 85 on Xbox One and PS4. Rapture, a PS4 exclusive, is the only contender to dip beneath Fallout 4's PC score, coming in at 78.
But the critics, eh? A bunch of paid-off leeches, am I right? That score for The Witcher 3? Ha! Its makers took a herd of journalists to a Scottish castle and wined and dined them all in "support" of the game's release. How is that not influencing their review marks? (I mean, that happened, I went, and it didn't, because we're professionals you absolute morons; but nevertheless, some people will think that way.) So let's check the user scores for Fallout 4. Oh dear. That's a 5.4 out of 10 for the PC version, against 9.1 for The Witcher 3, 8.1 for Rocket League, and 8.6 for Life is Strange.
But numbers, what do they even mean? You can't measure the happiness a video game gives you using easily understandable scoring systems. What a load of baloney. That'll never catch on.
Love 'em or hate 'em, but the critics are baffled by the decision
Apologies for using Metacritic like that. I know, it's a barbed thorn in the side of the games industry, a site that can make or break studios, depending on that overall out-of-100 figure. It's a cancer eating into a phenomenal art form. But, also, it's a handy barometer for seeing who likes what, and why, so whatcha gonna do?
More pertinent than weighing up metascores is the response of the games press when Fallout 4 was announced as BAFTA's big winner. So, let's see some of those:
I mean I don't really know what the deal is with BAFTA, but I would have happily lent them my copy of Bloodborne.
— Matt Lees (@Jam_sponge)April 7, 2016
There were some legitimately bizarre decisions made at tonight's BAFTA Game Awards. The press room was abuzz with confusion throughout
— Josh West (@origamikid)April 7, 2016
Fallout 4 winning Best Game is like giving the Best Picture Oscar to Avengers: Age of Ultron. Entertaining, sure, but come on.
— Chris Schilling (@schillingc)April 7, 2016
Tweets don't lie, friends. Tweets don't lie.
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It didn't win in any other BATFA category
So you're the best game, out of all the games. Stands to reason that you absolutely excel in several areas. Your art design, maybe. Innovation within the medium, or the genre at least. Your music is incredible, and voice acting absolutely exemplary. Yeah, about that.
Fallout 4 didn't win in any other category at the BAFTAs. Audio and music awards went to Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (it does have a most amazing score). The game innovation gong was handed to Her Story. Story, to Life is Strange. Artistic achievement was won by Ori and the Blind Forest. Design, as previously mentioned, went to Bloodborne. So Fallout 4 doesn't play the best of the available nominees; it doesn't have the greatest story, or sound, and it's nothing much to look at against a bunch of other games. What did it win for, exactly?
Can we address the fact that game is glitchy as fuck, and that is a problem?
Let me quote from Rich Stanton's review of the game, for The Guardian:
"Bethesda is a studio with a reputation for delivering buggy games, and with Fallout 4 it delivers once again. In the PS4 version we tested, minor issues include NPC allies getting stuck in walls, conversations ending but leaving you stuck in conversation mode, enormous load times when leaving interiors, and inescapable-deathtrap autosaves that ruin several hours of progress. Occasional manual saves are a must."
So you need to constantly save your progress, just in case the game breaks on you? See, to me, that doesn't sound like the kind of quality you'd expect from any sort of "best game." The game locks you into inescapable situations that essentially loop your demise for an eternity, unless you go back to a previous save? Characters get stuck in walls? Now, real talk, let's have it. I know that there's something briefly appealing about a massive-money video game having the same amusing visual quirks you find in productions running on an eighth of such a budget, and less, but after a while, this shit becomes tiresome. I know it played a part in me halting my own playthrough. Look at this tweet. See that shit one time, and it's OK. Anymore than that? Your game is broken, guys.
Related, on Motherboard: Just How Realistic is 'Fallout 4's's Apocalypse, Anyway?
All those dead-eyed, doughy-fleshed NPCs are pure nightmare fuel
But even then, they're nothing compared to the very worst of the player-crafted creations running around the wastelands. What the actual fuck is going on here? You evil, evil people. (Screens via this terrifying Kotaku article.)
The shooting is piss poor—and there's a lot of it
It is. If you've played it, you know. I don't feel any need to elaborate. But fine, sure, here are some words from Forbes:
"…gunplay is better than it was in Fallout 3, but the entire system—this time a slowed-down V.A.T.S. mode rather than pause-and-play—leaves a great deal to be desired… V.A.T.S. feels more like a crutch than smart game design. This isn't a game that needs to be all about combat all the time, but when it is about combat, the shooting mechanics should be a lot more fun and a lot more polished."
They sure should, but they're as janky as the NPCs who can't walk through doors properly.
Why am I building a house for someone I don't know when my kid's out there, somewhere, waiting for me?
The big addition to this Fallout, in comparison to the ones before it, is the option (but it's not always optional) to build up settlements for other folk trapped on the wrong side of a nuclear apocalypse. It's a badly explained system, but if you get into it, you can soon construct some quite wonderfully shabby shacks and close-to-collapse condos, to keep all of these drone-like, conversation-lite NPCs happy. Because…
Wait. What the hell am I doing? I'm decorating interiors, like this is Happy Home Designer: The Wasteland Years, when they've got my kid? Whoever "they" are. I appreciate that lots of other games have this disconnect between main-plot urgency and a bunch of other shit you can get on with, but bloody hell: They have my son. I need my son. I am only doing this to get my son back. Fuck this shanty bollocks.
That much-lusted-after special edition actually wearable Pip-Boy turned out to be a load of plastic tat
I know I'm clutching at straws somewhat here, because it turns out that ten points was a bit of an stretch. But seriously, it was terrible.
Can we all just accept that it's basically the eight-years-old Fallout 3 in disguise, please?
"I can't shake the feeling I'm really playing Fallout 3 season two." –Time
"If you hated Fallout 3, then there's not much more to get you onside here. If you loved it, then you'll love this all the more." –VideoGamer.com
"It feels there's not much truly new here… So here we go again. It's not war, but Bethesda that never changes." –The Guardian
"Fallout 3 was an excellent game, but it was released almost a decade ago. Every time I turn off Fallout 4, I'll sit there thinking to myself: Shouldn't there be more to this, somehow? This is it? Really?" Kotaku
I'll see myself out, so you can crack on with calling me a dickhead. See ya.
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