I've always seen Fallout as a bleak and cynical video game series. Yes, it has humor, but that humor is, itself, very dark and cynical. As such, the goofy, slapstick humor of the early episodes of Amazon Prime's Fallout TV show were a bit off-putting for me.

Around episode 3 or 4, however, the tone begins to shift. From then on, this show is Fallout through and through. It is violent. It is graphic. It is cynical.

Amazon did a fantastic job with the cast. Ella Purnell is fantastic as the innocent and naïve vault-dweller (named Lucy) who serves as the audience surrogate for exploring this world, as well as an adaptation of the player avatar for all of us who tried to play the first game's Vault-Dweller in a "good karma" playthrough. Aaron Clifton Moten has a weird, detached quality to his performance as Maximus, as if Maximus is half sleep-walking through the events. As weird as the performance is, it does give a genuine sense that Maximus is just completely callous and desensitized to the violence and cruelty of the Wasteland, and he only ever seems to perk up when that cruelty gives way to some kind of comfort or happiness.

The side characters are also well cast and entertaining. From Kyle MacLachlan's vault-daddy, to Matt Berry as the voice of the Mr. Handy robots, and all the Wasteland inhabitants and vault-dwellers in between, everybody is great.

But the real show-stealer is Walton Goggins as the movie cowboy-turned-ghoul bounty hunter Cooper Howard. He steals every scene he's in, and gives off just the right combination of confidence, charm, and antagonism befitting such a gun-slinging cowboy anti-hero. We also see empathy and vulnerability in his character, especially in the flashbacks to the pre-war times.

Fallout (Amazon) - Walton Goggins as Cooper Howard © Amazon.
Walton Goggins steals the show, even if his make-up leaves a little to be desired.

The lower budget of a TV show does make itself apparent with some of the makeup effects and one character's digital de-aging effect looking pretty bad. Walton Goggin's ghoul makeup looks more like he's cosplaying the Red Skull than being one of the rotting zombies wandering the wastes. I'm wondering if this was the result of a contractual requirement that the actor's makeup not be too uncomfortable or hide too much of his face, because other ghoul characters and extras that we see in the later episodes look pretty ghoulish.

But other than that, the show looks good. The Wasteland has that eerie beauty that we come to expect from a post-apocalyptic landscape. Whatever money was saved on Walton Goggins' makeup must have been spent on the Power Armor costumes. The Power Armor costumes look fantastic and move surprisingly well for being such a large and bulky practical effect. Being an actual costume (or maybe a puppet?), the Power Armor has an appropriate dirty and weathered look to it, and doesn't clash with the scenery in the way I usually expect a CG character to look.

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Big, fat disclaimer, right up front: I have not played Helldivers 2. I haven't played it on PS5. I haven't played it on PC. So I don't really have a horse in this race either way. But since I do have an interest in corporations trying to pull sleazy bullshit, I've been casually trying to keep up with what's been going on with Helldivers 2, and want to weigh in with my own thoughts (for whatever they're worth).

Honestly, I think that both Sony and also the PC Hellidvers 2 players come out of this looking like assholes, and I have very mixed feelings over the whole thing.

On the one hand, Sony requiring a PSN account for online play of a PC game post-launch gives off strong bait-and-switch vibes. It's especially bad considering that the game was sold in regions that do not have access to PSN. So what the heck were those players supposed to do? Sony selling the game in those regions, knowing full well that it won't be playable a few months after launch, absolutely deserves anger and a middle finger. And those players should absolutely be outraged and demand refunds. Those players are the only actors in this particular instance who are completely in the right, and deserve everyone else's un-conditional sympathy and support.

And yes, Sony knew full well that they would be changing the game post-launch to require a PSN account. It was clearly posted for months prior to the game's release. Everybody knew this was happening long before the game launched. It should not have been a surprise to anybody. And yet Steam still sold it in those regions, and all these players bought it anyway. Caveat emptor.

Helldivers 2 on Steam required a PSN account to play.

I feel that PC players should have every right to be annoyed that Sony would require a PSN account in order to play the game. If you don't own a PlayStation, then you shouldn't need a PSN account to play a PC game, especially a PC game that was fully playable without a PSN account for months after launch. This is a matter of principle.

Like, if I were to have a stroke and suddenly start thinking that Elder Scrolls VI might actually be good at launch, and I decide to buy it on the PS5 (or PS6 or PS7 or whatever the hell generation of console it may eventually release on), then I would be annoyed if Microsoft asked me to create a new XBox account in order to play a game on my PlayStation. I wouldn't want to do it, and if I can get away without having to do it, without significantly damaging the gameplay experience, then I won't do it. But if it's required, then I'll bite the bullet and create the bloody XBox account. After all, it's Microsoft's game, and they have every right to require an account as a condition for releasing the game on a PlayStation console to begin with. And it's not like they're asking me to pay for the account, or to install some stupid launcher or DRM that is going to run in the background and spy on me or grind my system's performance to a halt.

So yeah, I sympathize with the PC players of Helldivers 2. But jeez, does this minor inconvenience really warrant the scorched Earth approach that PC players took? They boycotted the game, asked for refunds, and review-bombed it on Steam. If all this protest were being done in solidarity with the aforementioned people who bought the game in places where Sony does not provide PSN access, that would be one thing. But so much of what I see looks like angry PC players who just don't want to have to sign up for a PSN account. This, despite the fact that many other PC games on Steam require 3rd-party accounts in order to play, whether it's a Microsoft account, an EA Origin account, Ubisoft account, 2K account, and so forth. Almost every publisher has their own account that they want gamers to use when playing their games. Granted, very few games require such an account in order to play, but they almost all have them. I'm pretty sure I needed to create an Ubisoft account to play the awful Skull and Bones demo.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

The Chicago Bears did exactly what everyone expected them to do in the 2024 NFL Draft. They traded Justin Fields to the Steelers prior to the draft, and then used their first overall pick to select quarterback Caleb Williams from USC. They had 2 top-10 picks, and went on to also select receiver Rome Odunze (from Washington) with the 9th overall pick. With their remaining 2 picks in the 3rd and 4th rounds, they selected offensive lineman Kiran Amegadjie from Yale and punter Tory Taylor from Iowa. Lastly, they traded back into the 5th round (by giving away next year's 4th round pick) in order to select edge rusher Austin Booker from Kansas.

Aside from selecting a punter in the 4th round (which may have been a bit of a reach), I don't think anybody was surprised by any of these selections. I also don't think anybody can be disappointed by these selections. Williams and Odunze were exactly who I expected and hoped the Bears to take (I was more excited about Odunze than about Williams).

Caleb Williams
Photo credit: Associated Press, Nam Y. Huh.
The Bears drafted exactly who I expected them to draft with their 2 top-10 picks.

Even the punter is a hard pick to be disappointed with, since he's one of the most elite punter prospects to come out of the draft in a long time, and has the potential to be an All-Pro or Hall of Fame directional kicker. We could argue about whether the Bears reached for this pick. Perhaps they could have traded back, picked Taylor in the 5th round or so, and then also gotten an additional 6th or 7th round pick that could have been used to select a defensive back. I doubt that there were too many teams chomping at the bit to pick a punter in the 4th round. Usually kickers don't start getting drafted until the 6th round.

It is, however, humorously ironic that the Bears invested so heavily in offense (in both free agency and the draft), only to use a 4th round draft pick to select an elite punter.

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Pacific Drive - title

I really enjoyed Pacific Drive, but I admit that I struggled a bit in the early hours. The tutorial is decent, but it's a bit of an information overload, and the player doesn't really get much opportunity to practice certain mechanics so that they sink in.

So I wanted to share some of my tips based on the confusions and growing pains that I experienced, so that other new players can hopefully shorten the learning curve and get to enjoying the game more quickly.

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Alone In The Dark - title

After playing the ridiculously short Prologue demo last year, I was kind of on the fence about playing Alone In The Dark -- let alone paying full retail price for it. Then I started seeing the mixed critical reviews, with some outlets giving it a 6/10, and other giving it an 85/100. I started to think that maybe I could just pass on it, and check it out later when it hits the bargain bin. Ironically, it was actually a negative review of the game that actually convinced me to buy a new copy. That review (I don't remember the review's source) said that Alone In The Dark feels old-fashioned, and that it emphasizes puzzles in favor of combat or action.

The Prologue demo (all 5 minutes of it!) did not make a good impression.

That actually made me want to play the game! Further, it encouraged me to buy a new copy, at retail, in order to support the niche genre of old-fashioned, slow-paced, puzzle-oriented survival horror, and to show that there is definitely still a market for such games. Horror games do not all have to be either over-the-shoulder shooters a la Resident Evil 2 REmake, nor P.T.-clone walking simulators that take place in residential hallways. I want to see more Eldritch survival horror games that are carried by intrigue, mystery, and genuine terror, rather than action spectacle or cliche "psychological" horror tropes. It's the same reason I bought and played Song Of Horror (which is a much better and more clever game).

The first hour or so of gameplay definitely vindicated those negative reviews. From the start, there were technical and performance problems. The framerate seemed to occasionally stutter, textures and assets would pop in, and the controls seemed a bit floaty (though better than in the Prologue demo, at least). Also, interaction prompts would disappear if I was too close to them, which made it unclear if an empty cabinet was really just an empty cabinet, or if the game was bugging out and not letting me pick up whatever happened to be inside. Other times, a button prompt would appear, but the interaction didn't actually work. And character dialogue and animation came off as unnatural and fell firmly within the uncanny valley. This is all despite the fact that I didn't get around to starting the game until a couple days after its release, and after I had already downloaded and installed a day-1 patch that was almost as big as the actual game on the disc! Good thing I had cleared out extra hard disk space on my PS5 the night before.

The Day-1 patch is almost as big as the whole game?!

I chose Emily as the character for my first playthrough, since her story of trying to find her uncle seemed like the actual story of the game, in stark contrast to the private investigator who is only even here incidentally at Emily's request. But I wasn't sure if I was getting myself into some kind of un-labeled "Hard Mode" similar to picking Chris in the original Resident Evil. I mean, I didn't even know if she would be starting the game with a gun, or if she would even be allowed to engage in combat at all. She does, and she can.

The early combat encounters sure as hell felt like I was in some kind of hard mode. Alone In The Dark loves to ambush the player with cheap shots. Heck, the very first enemy encounter in the game (playing as Emily) is a monster that jumps out at the player from behind a blind corner. It promptly pinned me into a corner and almost killed me. I guess that's one way to establish the threat that the monsters pose. It's also a great way to make the player think that the monster encounters are going to be cheap and unfair.

I was concerned by the fact that I felt like the game was overloading me with bullets and healing items right from the start. Why would I need all of this ammunition and health right from the start? Unless it is because the monsters are going to be bullet sponges that will be dealing cheap, unavoidable damage? I was getting unpleasant Callisto Protocol flashbacks.

The game would go on to ambush me a few more times during Emily's opening chapter, as well as get plenty more cheap hits and damage in. I would also go on to pick up a couple of melee weapons, only to have them break after killing a single enemy with it. When I switched to Emily's pathetic little pistol, each enemy seemed to take exactly 1 more bullet to kill than the gun could hold, meaning I had to reload during every single gun fight -- against the first enemies in the game, on the normal difficulty level.

Frequent ambushes sap health and lead to cheap deaths.

I was already starting to fear that this game would turn into much more of a painful combat slog than the reviews made it out to be.

That fear was partially justified. The game's combat just doesn't feel good, and there's far too much of it for my tastes. I've said it many times before, but I miss the good ol' days of survival horror, when deciding whether or not to even engage with a particular enemy was a strategic choice, exploration felt more open-ended, and long-term resource-management was the biggest challenge.

This game frequently forces the player to engage in combat in close quarters. At this range, aiming a firearm isn't reliable, and I repeatedly missed point-blank shots that I felt should have been gimmies. The melee weapons aren't much better. In addition to having the durability of a wet paper straw, I had trouble judging distances, and often swung the weapon wildly, missing my attacks and leaving myself exposed.

Combat gauntlets are few and far between, however. A large chunk of the game is simply exploring the Derceto manor, which is completely devoid of danger -- aside from a few scripted sequences here and there. There are long stretches of the game in which the player gets to wander around in near total safety, unlocking doors, solving puzzles, and collecting more resources for your regular trips outside the manor and into danger.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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