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Fallout 4: Far Harbor Review – As Far as the Eye Can See

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The radioactive fog gives Far Harbor a different feel from the Commonwealth. The mood is too sinister to just call it gloomy. While the island is infested with new mutants, there is no need for one to hide in every dark shadow when the fog will slowly poison you to death. Those that call Far Harbor their home stay out of fierce loyalty to their heritage and are wary of mainlanders. No matter how hard you try to earn their trust, their stubbornness will get in the way of letting their guard down, but some are more easily persuaded than others. This is just a small portion of the environment and inhabitants you’ll encounter in Fallout 4: Far Harbor.

The story that unfolds weaves a delicate balance between three main factions on the island while introducing: a new cast of dynamic characters; more than enough monsters to keep you awake at night; and a few unique weapons along the way. There are no level requirements that I am aware of to start the DLC, but you must have completed the “Getting a Clue” quest with Nick in Diamond City. Once completed, your Pip-Boy will pick up a radio signal from his agency with a message from Ellie: Mr. Nakano has reported his daughter, Kasumi, missing and believes she was kidnapped. You’ll travel to the farthest corner of the Commonwealth to find where he and his wife live, then take their boat Far Harbor, where you still start your search.

Where to even begin with everything you’ll encounter in Far Harbor – there’s the locals, the Harbormen, who spend most of their time on the pier. They are chatty, a little long-winded at times, but there’s a sea captain in all of them with endless stories to tell. Here you’ll meet Longfellow, an older man with a salty tongue who can become your companion. There’s a religious cult, the Children of Atom, not liked at all by the locals and easily dismissed for their tendency to drink radioactive water. Many of them are losing their hair and their minds, but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Then there’s the synth refuge at Acadia, located in a dilapidated observatory. Here you will meet DiMA, who holds all the secrets to the island, yet touts himself as a peacekeeper and protector of synths. However, he is the real driving force to the story line; Kasumi’s disappearance is a means to get you on the island, but she’s not why you stay longer than intended.

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Each of the three factions offer what feels like endless side-quests. If you stick to the main campaign, you can finish in a few hours, but if you go through everything Fallout 4: Far Harbor has to offer, you could still be sitting at your computer by the time the real apocalypse happens. The side-quests are plentiful, yes, although they seem to have an unbalanced combination of difficultly levels at times, which can make completing some of the mandatory ones frustrating if you are lower than level thirty. Playing through Cassie’s missions on normal, for example, has you killing a bunch of ghouls and one creeper. The ghouls can easily be mowed down with minimal ammo, but the creeper is way tougher. However, in my play-through it spawned in the water on the opposite side of a dock and remained still as I fired round after round into it. I was also able to move closer and take a couple of whacks at it with a bladed tire iron. It still did not attack me. Other ones I ran into later had no problem destroying my character and my pride.

Teddy’s mission is simple: go drop some meat in the water and kill whatever pops out to eat it. Show Far Harbor that you are enough of a gladiator to take the mutants out, and you’ll earn their respect. This is where my experience with Automatron came back to haunt me. Not one but two waves of giant crab-looking things and homicidal mutated lobsters came for my blood. For the finale, a mammoth-size queen lobster took joy in killing me over and over again. Oh, and I can’t forget about the Gulpers and Anglers I had to fend off on my way over to the quest location. This side-quest was a whole bunch of “nope.”

I started the first Children of the Atom quest, so I wouldn’t have to fight my way into their lair (because, let’s face it – at this point, I was tired of dying). Drink the water, they said. Follow the vision, they said. So, I did. My Rads spiked to over seventeen points, my vision went out of focus, and a shadow-women appeared. High on radiation, I followed her into an area infested with super-ghouls. I didn’t enjoy my initiation into the Children of the Atom so much. Instead of working to gain their trust to (potentially) get into the Nucleus without fighting my way through, I mercilessly slaughtered everyone. I still died. A lot. But it was worth it. Longfellow enjoyed himself, too.

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Whether you prefer a quiet or a bloody entrance, you have to get to the Nucleus to gain access to some of DiMA’s “forgotten” memories. Here you’ll break away from the post-apocalyptic landscape to the inside of a computer system. Through a series of puzzles that mostly consist of moving blocks around to get little bugs to and from the memory banks, you’ll find conspiracy-level secrets DiMA has been keeping from everyone, including himself. Like the unbalanced side-quests, the puzzles here felt unbalanced as well; the first four were too easy, but the last one took me an ungodly amount of time to solve. This entire section could be removed completely and replaced with something as simple as collecting holotapes. The DLC would not suffer from the loss, and the pacing of the story would be improved.

The choices I made throughout Fallout 4: Far Harbor put me at an impasse once I reached the end of the story. Without giving too much away, I was forced to choose a destructive ending, one that didn’t affect me, but affected how others saw me. Their disdain for me didn’t last, however, and after a few exchanges, it was like my terrible act never happened. My ending to Fallout 4: Far Harbor felt unresolved and without consequence. For Kasumi and her family, you can make the ending a happy one, but for some of the inhabitants of the island, you cannot. It’s the post-apocalypse, after all. Sometimes, it is what it is.

Fallout 4: Far Harbor packs the same amount of creative storytelling and attention to detail that the base game does, making it a seamless and essential add-on. Characters in the Commonwealth become a part of the DLC, and in some cases become necessary to complete miscellaneous side-quests on the island. Those quests might also be frustrating to downright unplayable to those at lower levels, and some players, depending on their choices, might come to an ending that offers the illusion of choice. No matter the faults, Far Harbor is a solid expansion that adds hours of rich exploration to Fallout 4.

Fallout 4: Far Harbor was reviewed on PC with a copy provided by the developer.

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios| Publisher: Bethesda Softworks | Genre: RPG | Platform: PC, XBox One, PS4 | PEGI/ESRB: 18/M  | Release Date: May 18, 2016

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Joanna is drawn to sci-fi and post-apocalyptic worlds, and games with a generous amount of gore. When she's not gaming, she's convincing her friends it's a good idea to go into abandoned buildings.

Review

Stranger Things 3: The Game Review — Mindflayingly Average

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Stranger Things 3: The Game logo

The Stranger Things series has been a big success for Netflix. A love letter to ‘80s pop culture, with a focus on the science fiction and horror movies of the time, the show has been hugely popular, with the latest season screened on over 40 million accounts in its first four days. Accompanying the launch of the television season is Stranger Things 3: The Game. Developed by BonusXP Inc, which previously created Stranger Things: The Game for mobile devices, the game is an isometric brawler which competently retells the story of Stranger Things 3, but has little of its own to say. Mild spoilers for Stranger Things 3 ahead.  

The game opens one year after the events of Stranger Things season two. While trying to contact his camp girlfriend with a high-tech ham radio, Dustin overhears a strange recording spoken in Russian. Determined to figure out what it means, he teams up with Steve and his coworker Robin to try and decode the message. Meanwhile, strange occurrences have been happening around Hawkins, with rats devouring fertiliser and chemicals. Max’s brother Billy is looking decidedly unwell, thickly wrapped in jumpers while he works as a lifeguard. A tingle at the back of Will’s neck tells him the mindflayer’s presence still lingers around the town. As events progress, a group of average kids must save the world from an otherworldly monstrous threat once again.  

Stranger Things 3: The Game takes place in a semi-open world, with more locations unlocked as players progress. The player starts out in control of Mike and Lucas, who wield a bat and slingshot respectively. Two characters are always on screen, with the other person controlled by AI. Local co-op is available and seems to be the intended way to play—the AI for the second player is not very smart. When in single-player mode, the player can switch between the two characters on the fly, and any unlocked characters can be swapped to as well. The other characters unlock over the course of the story, with a total of 12 to choose from. Each character can attack and block and has a unique special move, such as Max’s healing hearts or Jonathan’s stunning camera flash. Special moves cost energy, which can be replenished by drinking New Coke or picked up from defeated enemies. With each character playing so differently, the game would benefit from restricting which characters can be used in each scenario, as finding a favourite combination and sticking to it is far too easy. This lack of restriction also caused some weird story occurrences, like Nancy wandering around the void or Hopper hanging out with Mike while he mopes about breaking up with Eleven.

Exploring Hawkins involves lots of switch puzzles, and using characters’ special abilities, like Dustin hacking into a locked door or Joyce cutting the lock off of a gate with her bolt cutters. The puzzles are generally straightforward, with the Russians inexplicably leaving clues in English for the player to find, but more complicated riddles can be found by wandering off the beaten track. The creepy deserted pizza place has some based on pi, and exploring optional rooms in the Russian base will reward the player with rare crafting items.

Crafting in Stranger Things 3: The Game is poorly implemented. Items can only be made at workbenches, which makes sense for complicated contraptions, but is annoying at other times (for example, having to retreat out of the pool area because Eleven needs to put duct tape on her swimming goggles). When looking in a store, no indication appears on what items are already in the player’s inventory. Apart from plot items, the player can also make trinkets, which improve the party’s statistics. A wide variety of trinkets are available, from improving a single character’s attack to increasing the health of the whole party. Finding the missing items to create a trinket is tricky due to the poor shopping interface, and the sparse placement of workbenches gives the player few chances to actually craft the items. Fortunately, fighting enemies is easy enough that crafting can mostly go ignored.

Combat is simple, for the most part, with the player smashing everything on screen to progress. Hawkins is absolutely infested with rats and Russians, with even the library packed to the brim with bad guys. Though the excessive numbers of similar enemies is normal in the brawling genre, more variety would have been appreciated. The late game Russians become more interesting, with knife throwers, chemical spills, and grenades, but the first three-quarters of the game consists of the same baddies over and over.

An exception to this repetition is the challenging boss battles, which are far tougher than the average gameplay. Bosses will need extra conditions to be met before they can be damaged, like switching lights on, dodging charge attacks, or keeping several baddies away from each other. Some work better than others—for example, one battle relied on keeping two boss creatures apart to prevent them from healing each other, which simply did not work in single player since the AI fighter closely follows the main character. Instead, defeating the boss required exploiting Nancy’s critical hit ability to do enough damage to kill the monsters before they could heal, a strategy that required some luck to succeed. Other boss encounters fared better, with the trial of constantly repairing Hopper’s cottage as slimy creatures crawl through the windows proving tough and intense.  A dodge button would be a useful addition to the movement options, since the bosses run so much faster than the player does. The game is also a bit stingy on providing a place to stock up before a boss battle, which should be included considering the spike in difficulty they represent. Still, these battles are where the game shines brightest, showing creativity and variety that is sorely lacking in other areas.

Stranger Things 3: The Game is faithful to a fault, feeling like a very detailed recap of the season. A few sidequests tell their own story, like doing chores for the creepy Granny Perkins or exploring the abandoned electronics store, but for the most part, the player will be re-enacting scenes from the television series, with a bit of extra rat murder and crafting thrown in. Clinging so closely means the story has nowhere exciting to go since the player has presumably already watched the season. If the player has not seen the show, that would be even worse, as it is a non-scary adaptation of a horror show that completely loses the tone. The occasional dialogue choice is thrown in, but the response makes no difference either way. Adding in some choices alongside possibilities of events going differently would make things far more engaging. 

A highlight of Stranger Things 3: The Game is the art direction, with some beautiful 16-bit recreations of the cast and environments. With the exception of Jonathan, who looks like his pointy-chinned cousin, the sprites are a good resemblance of the cast. The monsters are appropriately fleshy and gross, with the final boss, in particular, looking foreboding. Environments can get a bit repetitive, with one sprite for all the beds, one for all the cupboards, etcetera. Sprite laying issues do occur on occasion—the ashtrays all hover in front of the characters, for example. The chiptune recreation of the show’s music, however, is spot on, and converting the title theme into a Zelda-like solved puzzle jingle is impressive indeed.    

Stranger Things 3: The Game gameplay

Stranger Things 3: The Game is only for really big fans of the show. Even then, the title is hard to recommend since it is an inferior version of the television season. While the gameplay is not bad, it is too repetitive to be enjoyable on its own. The game would perhaps be best played just before season four comes out, as a novel way of recapping the previous season.   

OnlySP Review Score 2 Pass

Reviewed on PC. Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS and Android devices.

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