I’m always late to games anymore since my back catalog is so huge and my time so limited. The Playstation store had a super-sale on this game and since I’d heard great things about it I decided to take a break from Borderlands 3 (yeah) to play it.
The game starts out great and the “tutorial level” is the player guiding a child version of the protagonist through some ruins. It sets up the questions in the player’s mind: who were these people in the ruins and why did they come to such a horrible end? But, it also sets up a flaw in the game that dogs it throughout: an obsession with forcing current societal norms into every square inch of the game.
The issue is that the game takes place in the far, far future, but the “present” they build out either defies common sense or sets up tackling dummies to score morality points. For instance, part of the “lore” in the game decries the lack of funding for the British NHS even though this part of the game takes place in Neo-Colorado. The dominant tribe in the game appears to be some mono-ethnic Arab-like tribe, but the other tribes look like a random assortment of effeminate men and butchie black woman warriors (yeah) that were picked at random off of New York subway platform.
It continues from there with every punch telegraphed as if it were mailed a month in advance. Another lore character is a whiny white guy who complains about the apocalypse as if someone got his pizza order wrong. The main bad guy is some overly-militaristic white dude, the “noble savage” character who swoops in the help the main character is a black guy (voiced by Lance Reddick), the woman blacksmith worrying about her man, the gay guy who – well you get the point. Instead of escapism it’s just more PC gobbledegook; instead of creating their own future, the dev team just re-skinned the present as they see it from the windows of their open concept office space. It all culminates in a scene at the end of the DLC where an AI is rounding out some story elements and starts to say what started the downfall of mankind:
Me: “Here it comes, is it racism or globa-“
AI: “Global Warming!”
Me: “of course”
The game is gorgeous, though one critique here would be that the whole post-apocalyptic ruin thing is starting to wear thin: let’s face it, it’s easier to create great looking ruins of a building than a great looking building. This is a common shtick in all games though so it’s a minor quibble. For all the faults of the plot the main character never grates or gets preachy. The map design is second to none and is the only large open world map that comes to mind where I never got stuck* or fell through the map.
However, there was one other large fault with the game that I couldn’t put my finger on until the final boss in the DLC. Throughout the game it didn’t seem like dodging enemy attacks worked like it should: the enemy would “tell” their attack by winding up in an animation and then…it seemed like I’d get hit, or not, no matter what. This became very apparent with the long-winded DLC boss who had a huge wind up and it occurred to me that the developer was ‘hit tracing’ the melee attacks: the game had already determined whether or not I was going to be hit before the attack even happened. This led to the boss making odd movements to make sure the hit registered…or not. It got to the point that I just stood there and shot arrows at it since trying to dodge the attacks didn’t matter.
It was an enjoyable romp for what it was I suppose. There were a couple colorful characters and an enjoyable side mission in the DLC gave a taste of how great of a game it could have been if the storytellers could have put their axes down for a second. In the end, it doesn’t help that the main theme, man succumbing to an overly destructive technology and then living in a world that abhors technology, was done much, much better in the game Final Fantasy X. Yes it’s a little unfair to compare this game, and different type of game at that, to one of the greatest games ever made, but it shows ,for me, where the hype for this game landed: in meh-ville.
* The size of this effort must have been immense but I’ll admit there was one occasion where I got “trapped” in a niche in the map, but I was eventually able to dig myself out. Even polished games like Witcher 3 assume that the player gets what they deserve if they wander too far “off script”, but credit to the level designers for HZD in trying to completely mitigate such punishment.