We’re here to rescue a private detective, in the hope that he’ll be able to help us find Shaun. To do that, we have to fight a bunch of thematically dissonant prohibition-era styled gangstersHats. Pinstripe suits. Italian names. Tommyguns. that don’t mesh with either the cold-war or the post-apocalypse aesthetic the game is allegedly based on. This is on top of the fact that “organized crime” makes no sense in a society this primitive. What sort of criminal activity would these guys engage in? Whose laws are they breaking? What government would oppose them? Who are they extorting? Who are their customers / victims?
I’m not saying Fallout 4 needs to spend hours burying us in exposition and codex entries to build up some Tolkien-sized mythos. I understand that this is a game about shooting and looting. But the game tries to adopt this super-serious tone and then presents the story of a cartoon world of goofy childish nonsense. These guys aren’t “The Mob”. They’re an all-male tribe with no visible means of making a living. This isn’t even a “What do they eat?” level question. This is far more basic: What do these guys DO? What do they WANT? These guys have the same needs (none) and motivations (endless murder) as the psychos in Borderlands. But the psychos in Borderlands are a comical element of a deliberately absurdist world, and the Triggermen here are attached to what is ostensibly a serious story. (SHAAAAUN!)
“Maybe this world isn’t supposed to be serious?”
Okay. But then where are the jokes? Where’s the sense of madcap fun? The only comedy here is watching VATS fight with the physics engine to create emergent chaos. That’s cute, but Garry’s Mod does it better and it doesn’t make you sit through infantile dialog in the process.
When we confront Skinny Malone, what is the player supposed to be feeling? Dread? Amusement? Anger? What’s the mood of this scene? I honestly can’t tell.
The writer went to all the trouble to write, design, and cast these two unique characters. Yet we bump into them with nothing in the way of dramatic buildup and then they vanish from the story. We can kill Darla or spare her, but that choice has about as much meaning as deciding if you want to kill a supermutant with a shotgun or a sledgehammer. We know nothing about her and have nothing invested in her story. We don’t even know what her relationship is with Skinny Malone until we meet them, at which point the game immediately offers you the chance to attempt to spare her.
Would you like to spare this total stranger Y/N?
You can tell a Saints Row style story. You can tell a Last of Us style story. But do not put The Last of Us story inside of a Saints Row world and expect it to work. The virtue of Saints Row is that it knows it’s dumb and it invites you to laugh along with it. The virtue of Last of Us is that it’s a drama between carefully written characters. This is the worst of both worlds. We don’t get the pathos of a proper drama, but we also don’t get to revel in the absurd fun of a playfully ridiculous world. It’s just lazy drama that’s hopelessly neutered by the incoherent worldbuilding and complete lack of self-awareness.
Spoiler: The game isn’t going to improve anytime soon. Buckle up.
 Hats. Pinstripe suits. Italian names. Tommyguns.
In Defense of Crunch
Crunch-mode game development isn't good, but sometimes it happens for good reasons.
Best. Plot Twist. Ever.
Few people remember BioWare's Jade Empire, but it had a unique setting and a really well-executed plot twist.
Batman: Arkham Origins
A breakdown of how this game faltered when the franchise was given to a different studio.
The Best of 2013
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2013.
Batman: Arkham City
A look back at one of my favorite games. The gameplay was stellar, but the underlying story was clumsy and oddly constructed.