I love that feeling you get when you replay an older game — one you haven’t touched in a while — and rediscover all of the ways in which it was (and still is) totally awesome.
For example, I recently got The Operative: No One Lives Forever running again. Yes, the graphics are dated. Yes, it’s occasionally wonky. And yes, it’s still worth revisiting, because it’s still one of the funniest and freshest-feeling games I’ve ever played. NOLF is a classic, and it’s unfortunately stuck in IP limbo — apparently, nobody’s sure who owns it, and none of those who might own it are really interested in figuring it out.
NOLF also feels a bit timely. Despite the fact that it was released in 2000 and was styled as a very retro 1960s spy movie, there’s a lot here to relate to. Cate Archer, a former thief, is the first female operative in the agency’s history, and the intro scenes deal very directly with her frustration over being held back because she’s a woman. She has yet to get what she considers a real assignment. When her phone rings, she makes a snide comment about how someone must need a babysitter. She’s snarky, bold, confident, and skilled. She’s ready for anything, from battling her way through a hotel full of baddies to slapping down guys who dismiss her as a professional and just want to know if she’s available. No One Lives Forever 2 isn’t quite as good, but it’s still well worth playing.
The scene where a guy tries to sell a monkey to a H.A.R.M. henchman is probably the most famous (and most popular), though there are quite a few other bits of eavesdropping gold to discover.
Then there are those other times. Those times when you replay a game and end up thinking, “What the actual fuck?”
(Side note: I almost titled this post “No one lives forever in the wasteland.” Then I came to my senses.)
Fallout 4 is only a few years old, but I hadn’t touched it in ages. I played the heck out of it when it was released, and then went on to other games. Back in November, I decided to replay it, and all I seem to notice now is how completely messed up it can be.
Don’t get me wrong — it’s a good game. There’s a ton of stuff to do, and it’s easy to spend a ridiculous amount of time building up your communities and forgetting about all those pesky quest things. The first time through, I had a mission, and I was hell-bent on completing it. I didn’t really take things in the way I should have. I wasn’t stopping to smell the roses. Or in this case, the corpses. Things I raced right by the first time (or never even noticed) are now stopping me dead in my tracks.
In Fallout 4, it’s been a little over two centuries since the bombs dropped. Radiation is still a thing. Giant radroaches, molerats, and radscorpions are still a thing. Gangs, factions, raiders, lone wanderers — they’re all still a thing. (The radiation storms are downright scary.) Crumbling buildings, traps, the constant threat of violence… all still a thing. So are nice people who are just trying to survive and maybe build something better — efforts that are threatened on a daily basis by all of the aforementioned dangers. Life in the post-apocalyptic wasteland is often pretty bleak.
During this playthrough, though, it’s finally hitting me just how fucked up it really is.
*Mild spoilers for Fallout 4 ahead.
Take reflections, for example. Instead of reflecting what’s actually in the world around you, reflections were reportedly mapped to static pics. Which explains why Codsworth can be floating around in the pre-bomb living room of my lovely home in suburbia, while reflecting images of what appear to be the post-apocalyptic remains of a city. I didn’t notice the off-kilter reflections the first couple of times I played through the opening, but this time I did, and it completely freaked me out. I don’t care that there’s a reasonable, non-freaking-me-out explanation. It’s just damned eerie. Like Codsworth is a secret doom-crier, foreshadowing the future.
But the seriously messed-up stuff isn’t usually that subtle. Like the creepy mannequins. They’re everywhere, and I can’t tell you how many times those things have freaked me out. I turn a corner and AIIIEEEE BAD GUY! Then I realize that it isn’t a bad guy about to turn my guts into goo. Whew! It’s just a mannequin. Then I freak out again, because AIIIEEEE CREEPY MANNEQUIN!
The Concorde speakeasy has some pretty insane mannequin tableaux, and who the hell is doing this? I mean, I get that there isn’t a whole lot of entertainment on offer in the wasteland, but really?!
In the bathroom, things just get worse. There’s a headless skeleton in the tub, and three mannequins standing around it. Two are holding machetes, and one has a plunger. Oh, yeah, and the skull? The skull’s in the toilet. Because the wasteland is full of crazy people.
Then there’s the Museum of Witchcraft, because of course there’s a museum of witchcraft. It’s creepy and odd and tense, but the scenery is the least of the creepy here, because there’s something really nasty waiting for you.
I mean really nasty.
If museums and speakeasies aren’t your thing, how about a parking garage? Nothing is more innocuous than a parking garage, right? I mean, sure, in the movies people are always getting jumped/kidnapped/murdered/attacked by spies in parking garages, but they’re not inherently evil structures…
…unless someone spent a lot of time turning one into a death maze full of traps. And ghouls. And death. Nothing screams “cure for boredom” like, “Hey, let’s build a maze of death!”
Of course, not everything is out to kill you. Or creep you out. Sometimes, you run across something that’s amusing — like the Mr. Handy who was “freed” by a bunch of commune-dwellers, given a new “Just Be” protocol (far out, man) and renamed “Professor Goodfeels”. Occasionally, there’s even something darned cute. Then again, ymmv. I thought finding a teddy bear “taking a moment” was cute, but if you’re terrified of teddy bears, maybe not.
But the hands-down winner of the Fallout 4 Creepy Shit Award goes to the Pickman Gallery. Gallery, as in art gallery. No flash photography, please. You might want to bring a barf bag, because Pickman? He’s not exactly what you’d call family-friendly. Or sane. Or an artist. I mean, ok, art is subjective, but this? This is a Hannibal Lecter who decided to pursue art rather than psychiatry and cannibalism. Though, to be fair, I’m not actually certain about the cannibalism.
If you’re vigilant, you might spot some dead raiders in the vicinity of the gallery. Raiders that I don’t have to fight? Bonus! Upon examining a body, however, you might find a calling card.
Because Pickman isn’t just an artist, he’s a serial killer. His hobbies include making found object art, setting traps, humming creepily, and, uh, murder.
Those objects weren’t really found so much as created. Desiccated corpses are all well and good, but they don’t always set the right tone. I guess. Or yield the same materials. Ugh.
I wasn’t kidding about the humming, either. It’s contented and happy and ridiculously creepifying. And he says creepy things like, “Admiring my collection? I’m afraid it’s not complete yet. Soon, though.” Or, “Yes. Just like that. Hold that expression on your face…”
It’s amazing how quickly you just accept that the new world is totally messed up. Nothing and no one is to be trusted. Sure, you make friends pretty early in the game… but you always wonder about some of them. Maybe all of them. The first time around, I was shocked… completely, utterly shocked… when a certain city official refused to take a bribe. What? An honest politician in the wasteland?! Surely not. That’s insane. There must be something else going on here…
So take heed, wanderers. The wasteland is not for the faint of heart. Or the weak of stomach. Or germaphobes. Or anyone with even a mild aversion to insects, because yikes.