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Posted by Brother None

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In one of the many alternate realities adrift on the multiverse, ZeniMax – for whatever reason – decided not to go for the Fallout license and instead entrusted the Bethesda guys to make a brand-new post-apocalyptic RPG franchise. The result, Capital Wasteland: Revelation, is similar to our Fallout 3 in most ways except for lacking the most blatant Fallout elements.
Sadly (or luckily depending on your angle) Brother None has gone insane and now mentally dwells within this universe. Keeping touch via mental telepathy, BN brings us this review of a game...from another wooooooorld.

Capital Wasteland: Revelation Review
By Brother None


Whoa. Deja vu. You know how there's some developers that can come in swinging and just knock you off your feet with the vast changes from one game to the next? Troika is an old favorite example, there's really barely any way of telling Arcanum, ToEE and Bloodlines come from the same studio (other than the telltale sign of massive bugs on all three releases). On the other end of the spectrum are guys like BioWare, a company that basically does the same thing with every single game they make: an action/adventure-RPG centered around an epic story.

And then there's Bethesda. Boy, these guys don't change, do they? They're basically been making free-roaming, first-person action/adventure-RPGs since they started back in 1994. Sure, sure, they've done lots of stuff on the side, like racing games and Terminator games, but their mainstay has been conservative and unchanged since day 1.

So it's no surprise that the next entry to Bethesda's game list is yet another free-roaming, first-person action/adventure-RPG, though FPS-RPG might be more appropriate here. Capital Wasteland essentially holds on to everything that worked for Oblivion, right down to the engine, and is undoubtedly a recognizable Bethesda title. That is not to sell short a healthy two years of effort; the setting is new and while not shockingly original it is certainly full of detail, and the quest design and implementation of a RTwP system to balance out FPS gameplay with RPG elements has no clear roots in anything Bethesda has done before.

Family reunions out of the way, let us get to the meat and bones of it.

Gameplay mechanics

CW:R is a first-person game, with a third-person option that is so half-arsed and marred by horrible PC animations and bad functionality of gunplay that I'm not sure why Bethesda even included it as an option.

Just like the game was obviously designed for first-person, this is very obviously a console game. Not following the good example set by BioShock to dedicate oneself clearly to making a proper port, the port of Revelation to PC is fairly lazy. Even such basic things as text size in dialogue are more or less ignored, and the inventory and barter systems can only be described as “not functional”. Just like I find myself wondering why they bothered to put in third person if they weren't going to do a good job of it, I have to ask: why make a PC version at all if you're not going to do it properly?

The combat is functional (except in third person) but not exactly brilliant. FPS combat is fairly hectic and fidgety as any enemy with ranged weaponry tends to leap around like a crazed ant, while any close combatant will just run at you in a straight line. You'll find yourself tending to use the pause functionality, which is a solid additional option and fairly well implemented: pause will take you to an attack menu where you can chose which enemy to attack and where to aim, and the game will play it out in a cinematic bit. It is good for a breather, and the fact that these pause attacks are fairly powerful and tied closely to your stats and your weapon's power and condition is clear RPG mark into FPS gameplay. The biggest problem with this option is that the cinematics try too hard to be impressive, with limbs flying around like crazy, but the net effect of having to watch that stuff every time is that it just gets boring. Also, the fact that you can not move while the cinematic plays out even though people are shooting at you makes run-and-gunning the better alternative quite often.

The biggest problem with combat is probably the combat AI, which is very weak compared to that of the better FPSs. This is no surprise since AI has never been a strength of Bethesda, and they did make the right call in deciding to put a heavy lid on the functionality of Radiant AI in this game. You'll see far less crazy stuff in CW:R as most NPCs are tied more to their scripts, but it still has its moments, such as the inhabitants of Megaton showing a predilection to jumping off buildings.

Graphics, world design and setting

Considering how beautiful the environments in Oblivion were, it's no surprise Bethesda made a return to this habit in Capital Wasteland: Revelation. In particular, putting the draw distance at “insanely far” was obviously the right call to make, and adds to the empty feeling of the world. But I should note that beyond fixing the horrible face modeling, CW:R does not progress far beyond the standard of Oblivion, which means it's not exactly top of the line amongst current games. It's still nice, but if you're a graphic buff, prepare to be a bit disappointed.

What does not add to the empty feeling is the world design. The world of CW:R is simply too crowded to be taken seriously as a post-apocalyptic world, unless the apocalypse was actually a gigantic baby boom that filled every square mile with thousands of people. Add to this the heavy density of Points of Interest, which are almost all marked on your compass from pretty far off, and the feel of both desolation and exploration is pretty much dead. Is this common sense of design (as in: you should have plenty of enemies to shoot at in an FPS) winning out over the importance of hitting the right feel in the setting? I don't know, but the result certainly isn't convincing, especially not if you factor in the myriad of dungeon crawls in the game – another heritage from Oblivion.

As if the density weren't bad enough, it is surprisingly easy to survive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Loot and ammo are abundant unless you simply fail to look around, and at normal difficulty the game is about as challenging as breathing.

Equally unconvincing is the setting. It reminds me primarily of Fallout 2 in feel. That is to say: it has its great moments, but what you will mostly remember it for is being very, very inconsistent. Hell, the setting itself doesn't even begin to make sense: it is set 200 years after a devastating nuclear war, but people are still living completely on the scraps of the old society. That is conceptually impossible; for Frith's sake, a tent camp set up by Homeland Security 200 years ago is still up, with a fully functioning computer (!) to read 200-year old logs on. And it gets even weirder when you go through easily-accessible ruins and still find goods in their original places. It makes sense that there needs to be loot, but it doesn't make sense how Bethesda implemented it.

The basic feel of the setting is Mad Max post-apocalypse style with some heavy steampunk influence and it works fairly well, similar in most parts to BioShock but more desolate. It breaks up when it actually starts looking closer to BioShock, like Tenpenny Towers. The feel of brandnewness to much of that place doesn't work. Spots like that or the lush green forest you can run into can only be assumed to have supposed to function as juxtapositions to the wasteland, but they function rather half-heartedly. There's quite a few spots like this, and it doesn't help that some computers and machines in rusty old complexes look brand new and are functional even though they're 200 years old. The net result is that you can't get a clear sense of what stage in the rebuilding process this world is supposed to be at.

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