Reviewed by Mr. Dark
Available for Xbox 360 (reviewed here), Playstation 3 & PC
Developed & Published by Bethesda Softworks
Oblivion with rocket launchers.
That’s been the substance of many of the reviews I’ve read for Fallout 3, Bethesda’s follow-up to the much-hailed RPG epic Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion. It’s not incorrect, but there’s a dismissive tone to it that does a great disservice to this game.
Yes, it’s similar to Oblivion, and likely sports a tuned-up version of the same engine.
Yes, it’s an RPG, but has rocket launchers and grenades instead of swords and sorcery.
Beyond that, however, the differences grow quickly, and Fallout 3 is an achievement far beyond the glory to be found in Oblivion.
To kick this off, let’s get one thing clear: this is a sequel, but isn’t really the third game in a series. You don’t need to know a thing about the first two titles to completely enjoy this game. While the first two games were set on the west coast and Chicago, respectively, the setting this time is Bethesda’s own Washington, DC area. 200 years after a nuclear apocalypse, it’s become the Capitol Wasteland, a devastated area of radioactive mutants, cannibalistic raiders, and paramilitary groups fighting for control and survival while simple folk try to stay alive and make some kind of life for themselves out of the ashes of America’s capitol.
You see, this is not our future. This is a history where development following WWII didn’t slow down, and by the early 21st century we had nuclear powered cars, robot servants…and a rampant touch-and-go war with the Red Chinese. All of it has distinctly late 40’s / early 50’s flair, even though the game is set in 2277, 200 years after the war and well into the future. This affects every aspect of the game, down to the design of the UI. Bethesda also licensed many fantastic songs from the era featuring people like Ella Fitzgerald and Cole Porter to set the mood.
You play the son of a great scientist who has left the vault you’ve both lived in since birth, sealed for 200 years since the bombs dropped. In the wake of his exit, you’re thrust out to follow him and find out the truth of why he left and, in the end, who you really are.
The gameplay is tight, fun, and incredibly customizable. Even more than in Oblivion, you can completely customize how you like to play the game. You can carry quite a bit more than you could in Oblivion, which means you can easily have four primary ranged weapons, a couple of melee weapons, and grenades all set to different points on the d-pad. With a wide variety of weapons and associated skills, there have to be thousands of different combat strategies that are all viable as long as you play your cards right.
Combat utilizes V.A.T.S., a unique combat system that allows you to stop time and target your attack, even stacking multiple attacks on different targets before starting time and watching them play out. The best description I can give is shoving a Final Fantasy-style combat “timer” into a first-person shooter. It sounds awkward, but it’s as elegant as surgery. This hearkens back to the series’ turn-based roots very well without derailing the first-person combat. Also, it is entirely possible to never activate V.A.T.S. and just fight your way through as you did in Oblivion. You’d be a fool to do so, but you’re given the option.
The combat is fantastic, sure, but the glory of this game is in how it chooses to tell its story.
In a discussion on our forums, we hit on a very key point to recognizing the genius displayed by Fallout 3. Most games with moral decisions give you a pretty clear nudge on which way to go. You have to choose to be evil. The goal is to save the world, restore the empire, rescue the princess, etc.
Here, due to the nature of the world, nothing is easy. There is no black and white. Everyone is a shade of gray when they want to survive, profit, or dominate. Taking the high moral road is tough. Very tough. For most of the game, you’re pretty much the only one taking that road. Nothing comes for free, and going hungry is a literal threat when you have to pay to get healed if you can’t find food or water that isn’t contaminated with radiation. Walking away from a traveling trader without enough meds and ammo to get by when all it would take is a bullet to the back of his head to walk away with everything you need is harder than you would think.
This all matters because of a karma system: Do bad things, get bad karma; Do good things, get good karma. That, by itself, doesn’t mean much. The ability to have neutral karma makes a real difference. Unlike most games, there are separate rewards, companions, achievements, and endings for neutral characters. In short: there are rewards for being the good guy, but you don’t have to be a perfect angel, and it’s very easy to play a rather sociopathic character and still get similar perks to the heroes out there looking for the cape and tights.
Having these options freed the developers from many of the usual conventions. Not only is the “right thing” an obvious choice, you are absolutely allowed to make mistakes. Those mistakes often don’t just have karmic retribution, but consequences to the story and your emotions.
I hit that at one point when I had the option of siding with one faction or the other in a dispute. I wanted to mediate and bring peace, as I was playing the “good guy” for my first run through. I had achieved this with one side, then went to tell the other. Problem is, the path I chose to take to reach them was the path they had asked me to open so they could assault and take their foes by force. I messed up, pure and simple. I forgot that part of the plan, and thought I just had a shortcut.
The massacre was horrible. The original stated plan to drive out the opposing side turned into a bloodbath. I tried to fight them off, and failed. I left, losing a few side quests, a couple of vendors I needed, and carrying an actual sense of guilt. I made a mistake and about a dozen people were slaughtered. The “right” answer wasn’t handed to me, and I just blew it.
This game is rife with responsibility; you have a lot on your shoulders. Any game with the option to enter a dangerous abandoned vault to find a violin for an old woman who can’t repay you that also offers the option to infiltrate an underground city entirely populated with children and turn them over to slavers is clearly above and beyond the average moral choices offered in interactive entertainment. The kicker? You can do both in the same play through. It’s your choice whether you feel good or bad about it. The game doesn’t go out of its way to send you on a guilt trip or on a glory road, the decisions are yours and so are the consequences.
One more thing: Is this a horror game? Sure. There’s a lot of horror here, from well-timed scares in dark vaults and subway tunnels to an amazing amount of grue. Choose the “Bloody Mess” perk and focus on heavy weapons and you’re in for more blood than an Eli Roth film. Giant monsters, cannibal rednecks, zombie-like ghouls, there’s a ton of fun here for any horror fan.
I wish I could end this by saying it’s a slam-dunk five knife masterpiece. Not quite.
There are, at the time of this writing, some major bugs. I’m one of those nit picky guys who expects his console games to be free of game-breaking bugs. I ran into a nasty one involving one of the main side quests that broke the quest entirely. That’s not quite a showstopper, but a brief perusal of the Net found that several sections of the main quest have similar bugs where actions done outside of a specific order can leave you stuck with a permanently dead main storyline. Add reports of corrupted save games and other technical quirks and you start to see a picture of a very ambitious title that could have used another quarter of QA time.
This isn’t enough to avoid a recommendation, but it’s enough to cost them half a knife. If Oblivion is any indication, look for them to fix the majority of the defects for the PC version, while console players may have to rely on Internet searches if they run into one of the nastier quest-breaking issues like I did. Save often, kids, save often and in different slots.
There’s a lot to love in Fallout 3 for any gamer. It raises the bar for anyone attempting to make a role-playing game, a first-person shooter, or a survival horror title. Yes, it’s that impressive. Besides, what’s not to love about a game that has Malcolm McDowell as the president of the United States?
If you play any of the above genres, buy this game. If you don’t, buy it anyway. Just prepare to lose a lot of time out in the Capitol Wastes, listening to Ella singing on the radio about how much rain is falling in her life between Three-Dog’s news updates detailing your latest exploits. Get used to contaminated water, robotic butlers, and Nuka-Cola. Fallout 3 is the kind of game that you get lost in, and that’s the best kind of game there is.
4 1/2 out of 5
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PANTHER RIDGE Review – When Your New Job Takes You To Interesting Locations
Written by Ryan Swantek
Directed by Ryan Swantek
Director Ryan Swantek’s graphic-take on a young woman unhappy with her looks in White Willow was in my useless opinion, one of the strongest short films to hit the horror genre in quite some time. It was brutal, unflinchingly ruthless to eyeball, and best of all for a first-time directorial effort, there was no apology for what was put before us – let’s venture over to Panther Ridge.
So what comes around in the second-time in the big guy’s chair? Well, when I’d heard that it was a sadistic look into the BDSM scene, I’ll admit I was a bit intrigued (no, I’m not into that stuff, ya kooks) – I’d just honestly hoped for a bit more than what was tossed to me. This particular short film is titled Panther Ridge, and it tells the story of a young lady who is getting a fresh start in a new career – that of a dominatrix, of sorts. As this presentation begins, she’s smack dab in the middle of a dungeon with a very unlucky prisoner and the woman who will be guiding her in her “training.” I’ll tell ya, first days on the job can be stressful, but with the correct forms of relief, you can make it through the day all the while exorcising some pent up demons as well.
Commence brutality upon this poor tied-up fool and the lass roped up across from him, for they know not what lies in store for them next, but rest assured they’ll be making a blood donation whether they want to or not. Unfortunately my self-imposed hype proved to be insurmountable as Swantek’s second time up to the plate resulted (for me, anyway) in a big swing and a miss. What worked in his maiden voyage with Willow was the notion that you were going to witness the repercussions of a tortured soul as she looked in the mirror, whereas this time we’re watching some poor sap get the snot beaten out of him, and I could honestly see the same thing in a number of other productions for a longer stretch of time (if you dig that sort of thing). I’ll await Mr. Swantek’s third production when it’s time, and hopefully it’ll pack more of a sustained punch than this quickie.
Swantek’s sophomore directorial endeavor unfortunately isn’t much more than shock and torture-porn crammed into an abbreviated timeframe – been down this road more than a few times.
EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS Blu-ray Review – Savagery & Sexuality From The Master Of Sleaze
Starring Laura Gemser, Gabriele Tinti, Monica Zanchi, Donald O’Brien
Directed by Joe D’Amato (Arisitide Massaccesi)
Distributed by Severin Films
After taking famed sex icon Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) to Bangkok (1976), America (1976), and Around the World (1977) legendary sleaze director Joe D’Amato decided to mash up two of Italy’s most notorious genres by sending his beautiful muse down to the Amazon rainforest, cinematic home to countless hordes of cannibal tribes. The Italian cannibal craze of the late’70s was just beginning to take hold, offering D’Amato a ripe opportunity to satisfy both the bloodlust and, well, regular lust of exploitation devotees worldwide. For the most part the film plays out expectedly, with a reasonably large group of people meeting in the Amazon and trekking off on a quest. By the end, that group has dwindled down to only a few members, all of whom probably have a lot of regret about traipsing through the jungle. Aficionados will get a bit of a “been there, eaten that” vibe from the film, which hits every trademark of the genre sans animal cruelty, but Emanuelle herself spices up this cannibal comfort food with an alluring performance capped off by one helluva genius ending. The film also holds the dubious distinction of showing a penis being eaten less than 15 minutes after the opening credits. You set a high bar, Joe.
When an unlucky nurse has half of her tit eaten off by a newly-arrived mental patient, a girl found in the Amazon jungles, journalist Emanuelle (Laura Gemser) infiltrates the sanitarium to score a hot scoop. Armed with a camera concealed within a baby doll head, Emanuelle surreptitiously snaps a few shots before making the new girl talk via… digital means – and I’m not talking technology. Emanuelle takes her information to Professor Mark Lester (Gabriele Tinti), a museum curator whom she hopes will fund her expedition. He agrees. Then, she goes and screws some random guy in broad daylight down by the river. Later, she comes back and has more sex, this time with Mark. The next day they leave for the Amazon.
Upon arrival, the two are met by Isabel (Monica Zanchi) and Sister Angela (Annamaria Clementi), both of whom have altruistic plans of their own in the rainforest. Their trek soon brings them across Donald (Donald O’Brien), a hunter who is on safari with his wife and a guide. Now that the film has brought together a large group of people, some of whom are more reprehensible than others, it’s time to pick them off and watch in delight as cannibals of the Amazon gut them, skewer them, and devour their flesh while the soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco play in the background.
So many of these Italian cannibal pictures feel interchangeable because the formula is incredibly simple – send a group of naïve outsiders into the Amazon and let an indigenous tribe kill and eat them, usually in the most horrific manner possible. What sets this film apart from so many others is in the title: Emanuelle. Gemser is not only easy on the eyes but she has this magnetic presence on screen, not because she is a great actress but her looks, abilities, and personality combine to create one of exploitation cinema’s most capable and sultry sirens. It is entirely due to her ingenuity here that anyone survives at all. She isn’t a rag doll, tossed around and used for sex and companionship; Emanuelle is a woman in charge of her own sexuality and she calls the shots. This film was made during a time when women were often used as set dressing or spent most of a film being subservient, so it’s a nice change of pace to have one in the lead who takes control and it feels natural, not forced.
Don’t go thinking this is some kind of strong female-led picture that celebrates womanhood or anything. D’Amato never likes to peer too high from his gutter view, and “Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals” is a sleaze sensation; a cornucopia of cannibalism and carnal acts that culminates in the titular heroine literally becoming a god… temporarily. D’Amato takes two of humanity’s greatest loves – eating and screwing – and builds a story around them. Besides all of the aforementioned fornication, nipples are eaten as an amuse-bouche, penis tartare is part of the starter course, a vagina makes unexpected friends with the business end of a machete, a woman is gutted like a deer, and one guy learns a thin rope can still be strong enough to tear the human body in half. Nobody gets out of this thing unscathed… except, maybe, for Emanuelle who seems unfazed by every atrocity the world throws her way.
Ugly films need beautiful music and the lush, soothing sounds of Nico Fidenco make for the ultimate dichotomy of relaxation and revulsion. Fidenco’s score is less the serene soundscape Riz Ortolani composed for Cannibal Holocaust (1980) and more of a funky, porno-lite trip down ‘70s Lane. Oftentimes the composers on these rough Italian pictures delivered scores that felt like they belong to something more refined and accessible, not a movie destined for banning in multiple countries and cut to ribbons in others. Fidenco provided the score for many entries in the Black Emanuelle series and while those films might be past their prime the music is completely timeless.
Severin has provided a new 2K scan from unknown elements, delivering a 1.85:1 1080p image that falls right in line with most of their catalog. The picture has been cleaned up enough to allow for high-def improvements in clarity and coloration to (mostly) shine through, while still retaining a gritty look to remind viewers this is still a grindhouse picture. Film grain is heavy and active, swarming the picture but never becoming noisy. Contrast is variable, as is sharpness, with some scenes looking closer to HD than others. Colors are accurate but a bit anemic, too, with only a few instances of truly popping against the ever-present jungle greens. Detail is swallowed up in darkness, so don’t expect to see much of it when night falls, which thankfully isn’t often. I’ll say one thing Italy sure does make for a fine Amazon stand-in.
Audio is available in both English and Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono, both of which offer a similar audible experience. The standout here is unsurprisingly hearing Fidenco’s score in lossless glory. The ADR work is typically poor and obvious, but everything is understandable and there are no noticeable issues with hissing or audio damage. Subtitles are available in English.
The World of Nico Fidenco – The legendary composer sits down for a new interview, covering his career and the Emanuelle series. In Italian with English subtitles.
A Nun Among the Cannibals – Actress Annamaria Clementi provides a new interview about her role in the film and what it was like working with D’Amato. In Italian with English subtitles.
Dr. O’Brien M.D. – This is an archival interview with Donald O’Brien, who played the wild and wily hunter, Donald, in the film.
From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – Actress Monica Zanchi gives a new interview that covers her career.
I Am Your Black Queen is an audio-only archival interview with Gemser.
A theatrical trailer (in SD) is also included.
- BRAND NEW 2K REMASTER OF THE FILM prepared for this release
- English and Italian audio tracks, with optional English subtitles
- The World of Nico Fidenco – an interview with the composer (27 min)
- A Run Among the Cannibals – an interview with actress Annamaria Clementi (23 min)
- Dr. O’Brien MD – an interview with actor Donald O’Brien (19 min)
- From Switzerland to Mato Grosso – an interview with actress Monica Zanchi (19 min)
- I Am Your Black Queen – an audio commentary by actress Laura Gemser (11 min)
- Original trailer
There is no point to making complaints about plotting when watching a film with this title. D’Amato promises viewers nothing more than a sleazy time intended to induce equal parts creep and kink into a span of time. Severin’s release offers a cleaned-up picture and a solid selection of extras that catch up with a few of the principal cast and crew.
KAET MUST DIE Review – A Game Worthy Of Its Title
Available on PC through Steam
Rated T for Teen
If you are looking for a new survival horror game that is both challenging and irritating, then Kaet Must Die could be your new obsession/torture. The indie game is set in an underground sewer where you are Kaet, a psionicist cyber punk trapped by a “blood witch” named Annalinnia. The objective is to figure out how to escape the ‘dank’ sewer before time runs out and Annalinnia takes your life. Along the way you’ll have to tiptoe over comatosed zombies and frighten off Jawa like creatures with light you absorb from glowing mushrooms. And that’s about it. The game was created and developed by Strength in Numbers Studios Inc., a fairly new gaming company in the world of survival horror.
Now, I normally don’t play these types of survival games. As a novice in the indie survival genre, the experience of trying to complete the first level of Kaet Must Die was quite tedious. Now this is to be expected, as their advertising makes it quite clear that the good folks at Strength In Numbers studios are shooting for the “difficult games are fun” crowd. They give the player plenty of warning that they will need more than luck to survive. Yet here I am to tell you that the first level is possible to get through regardless of what difficulty you select. It just might take a few hunderd tries.
The game starts you off in the underground sewer with Kaet’s sanity at ten (read “sanity” as “health bar). Kaet’s sanity will drop when not in lit areas, another reason why you need to collect the glowing mushrooms. Having six minutes to follow the clues and find the skulls before time runs out gets tricky, especially when Anna comes for you by randomly generating around the map until luck is no longer your friend. Levels will become progressively more difficult, and your time limit changes depending on the size of the map. It’s not terribly complicated, but also not terribly exciting.
There are a few upsides to Kaet Must Die. Like every good survival game, Kaet Must Die has decently immersive visuals and sound. The look and feel of the game is much more appealing than some, from the detailing of the zombies to the sewers you land yourself in. Not that sewers are a pretty place to be in, but they have a solid fantasy/horror vibe. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of cohesion to the various sub-par lights and average shapes. It can be downright impossible to tell where things are around you. You’ll want to keep your ears open, as frustration will become all too familiar when you are too late to hear the gentle snoring of a zombie or the disturbing giggle of the Jawa-like creatures.
I would say that it’s nice that they at least let me change the controls, but for some reason they don’t save when you quit the game. The only settings that stay exactly where you set them are the basics for resolution, sensitivity, and graphics. Now, what is not so frustrating is that after you get killed three or four hundred times, the skulls that you need to escape Anna won’t randomly be somewhere else when you restart the level. Another upside is that as you slowly start to regain Kaet’s powers, you will finally be able to slow down the creatures and make your way to exactly where you need to go. One of Kaet’s powers is the classic stun. Using this power to stun any monster in place for at least five seconds was a relief, and gave me time to focus at the task at hand. Like the mushrooms, Kaet’s stun powers need to be recharged by absorbing puddles of glowing red blood. Simple, right? Well, sort of. Clues left behind hint that the blood makes you more powerful, but also slowly kills you.
For anyone who is not typically good at horror survival games, this isn’t for you unless you have the patience of a saint. The difficulty comes in three flavors: Challenging (Easy), Difficulty (Normal), and Nightmare (Hard). If you’re one of those people that absolutely must have a zombie apocalypse survival plan for any possible situation, you’ll probably find some enjoyment from Kaet Must Die. For everyone else, I would wait for a Steam sale. There are 10 levels to get through to beat this game, but have fun and good luck getting past level 1.
This indie survival game is too irritating to play. Kaet Must Die is near impossible to finish and it’s not a lot of fun no matter how many times you die..
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