Summer: When girls unashamedly don their bikinis, guys unashamedly don their cameras and gamers shamefully load up Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. It’s not fun and frolics for everyone, however because around summer’s mid-point, members of the mainstream press brace themselves for what they call the "silly season"-–a period of weeks when the news simply dries up because everyone is doing entirely nothing. Ridiculous articles are cooked up to try to retain a readership that just doesn’t care about who’s doing who (or what) in the Big Brother house. Whether it’s which actor’s face has been found in a constellation or which politician is wearing a wig, the summer stories are always full of frivolity. For tabloid writers and those who have to suffer their work, the silly season is a time of pain and regret.
Conversely, the videogame industry’s silly season is the absolute opposite. When Winter knocked on Autumn’s door this year, it had brought along a rowdy horde of beautifully nubile big-name titles all looking to tempt us into spending the night with them. October alone offered such alluring vixens as LittleBigPlanet, Fallout 3, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Rock Band II, Fable II, Dead Space, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, Far Cry 2, Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, Quantum of Solace and, er, Wii Music. Six of those games came out in the space of five days. It doesn’t exactly get quieter in the next two months, either, with a colossal number of big-hitters just waiting to come out and play. If 2008’s Q4 is an Endless Ocean (sorry) then don’t bother calling the lifeguard, I’m long gone with the fishes.
It’s pertinent here to point out that I am British. So, as a British man with honed skills of moaning, I have no trouble finding the downside to the yuletide onslaught of pixelated joy. You see, even the most dedicated and life-lacking of gamers (myself included) are going to have trouble fitting in all the games they want to play this winter. Sure, maybe he or she is not interested in every triple-A title, but that’s not taking into account the bottomless well of other smaller coming out. Looking at the releases for October and the release schedule for November and December, I count no less than 17 beauties that I simply cannot resist. That’s 17 must-have, must-play games across three months. If I conservatively estimate the amount of time played per game at 20 hours, it works out to 340 hours, which equals just over 14 days. 14 full days of gaming just dedicated to titles I have to play in the next three months. Silly season? More like the scary season.
The thing is that for one of those games, 20 hours is an extremely conservative approximation. No, I’m not talking about Wii Music, I’m of course referring to Fallout 3, Bethesda’s huuuge post-apocalyptic RPG, which reportedly has over 100 hours of gameplay. Even just the one play-through with your blinders on, ignoring all side missions and only sticking to the main quest, will take up those 20 hours according to the developer. If you add in all the available side quests for that single run then double that. Just like its spiritual predecessor The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3 is potentially one heckuva time drain.
For Oblivion’s legion of fans, a super mutant gun-toting version of that game is probably just what they wanted, and they’re more than willing to forgo a Dead Space here or a Midnight Club: Los Angeles there to get as much out of Fallout 3 as they possibly can. Personally, I’m not exactly keen on spending 100 hours with just one game when I’m already sacrificing other highly rated titles. So, surely the solution if I really want to play Fallout 3 this winter, or indeed ever, is to just ignore the scenery and stick to the main road. I can’t disagree with the logic but that just doesn’t sit right with me.
Firstly, like quite a lot of videogame devotees, I’m something of a completionist. I wouldn’t say I have to get every last drop out of a game but I wouldn’t feel right about ignoring so much of Fallout 3. Secondly, sticking to the main road in a game like Fallout 3 is like getting Guitar Hero: World Tour just to play guitar on your own. Sure, I could do that and it would probably be fun, but if it’s anything like Oblivion then doing that would be missing the point of the game entirely. Fallout 3 is almost defined by its size. In many ways that’s what sells it, what makes it stand apart from other shorter, linear RPGs.
Then again, my own criticism doesn’t sit right with me either. Am I really criticising Fallout 3 because it’s too big? Would I play Fallout 3 if it was a 20-hour experience with no ifs or buts? Yeah, I guess, but then it wouldn’t be Fallout 3, or at least it wouldn’t be Bethesda’s Fallout 3. Still, it seems wrong to not play a game just because it offers more than its contemporaries, especially when we’re in the midst of an economic crisis and value-for-money is becoming increasingly relevant. Maybe I should hold on to those pennies and just play Fallout 3 all winter long?
Maybe the reality is that this isn’t a puzzle with a solution. Heck, even if I try to restrict myself this silly season I’m only going to end up adding to my backlog, which is fast becoming less of a backlog and more of a backforest. If I try to fit everything in then I’m only going to not enjoy all those games to their fullest. If I get Gears of War 2, LittleBigPlanet or Guitar Hero: World Tour, I’m going to want to play them for hours upon hours with my mates. There’s no way I’ll just spend a mere 20 hours with each of those, even if I try my hardest to.
This is where Fallout 3 comes unstuck – you can’t play it with friends. This is a single-player experience, all 100+ hours of it, and whilst everyone talks about how much they enjoyed sharing their differing experiences whilst playing through Oblivion, there are just too many great multiplayer experiences on offer this winter. Personally, if I’m going to waste all these days in front of a TV, I’d prefer if I was at least doing it in the company of friends, in person or otherwise. I can still have my single-player experience with Resistance 2 for example, but I’m investing in a multiplayer game that may keep me satiated months after release.
In my opinion there’s nothing wrong with a gigantic single-player game like Fallout 3, but there perhaps is some issue with it trying to find a place within the silly season. Compare it to Dead Space, a tremendously shorter single-player game, and one that appeals to me because I know I’ll be able to squeeze it in. I’ll spend a few days with that game, be done with it and move on. I probably won’t even have to buy it since it’s so short that I can rent it, safe in the knowledge that I’ll have enough time to get all I want out of it. I could never get that closure with Fallout 3 without sacrificing time with other games. Now compare it to multiplayer games and it lacks the pick-up-and-play factor. I can dabble in online games of Red Alert 3, Gears of War 2 and Motorstorm: Pacific Rift for just a couple of hours each session and feel satisfied. When it comes to an RPG, I want the experience to be a cohesive experience, otherwise it detracts from the story which is such a core element of RPGs. I just don’t think that’s achievable with Fallout 3 without heavily restricting yourself from exploring a world that begs to be explored.
Of course, this is only the opinion of a gaming enthusiast, an admitted completionist, and, significantly, a gaming journalist. For many regular consumers, Fallout 3 may well be the only game they play this winter and they won’t even care about the rest. Others will fit it in somehow, even if they have to rip apart the space-time continuum to do so. Yet I still think there are plenty out there who are intimidated by the size of Fallout 3 when there is so much to play in this, the silliest of silly seasons. If Fallout 3 had come out in the mid-year lull then I suspect I would have resigned a week of my life to it without a hint of strife. What that says about single-player games, the silly season, and the saturation of the market, I’m unsure. What it does mean for sure is that Fallout 3 could end up being a videogame I never play, even though I want to. That seems really silly to me.