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Pure Opinion: Dear Developers, Please Don’t Forget About Us Dial-Up Gamers

Hannah, one of our top writers here at Pure PlayStation, has a problem: She doesn’t have broadband internet and she relies on a mobile dongle to get online.

It has never been a good idea to be different, just ask Hannah Montana. She knows better than anyone that it’s better to fit in, blend in with the crowd, rather than stand out like a superstar sore thumb. The world’s not always ready for our specialness, or for some of us, it has careered too far ahead to still be able to see us in its rear view mirror. We’re relegated to the history books, unable to keep up. Mere Chinese whispers around a modern age. A weary dial-up connection in a world of Wi-Super-Fast-Fibre-Fi connections. Underpowered and overlooked.

The truth is that we live in a world where distance is no longer measured in miles but in bandwidth. Where unfathomable amounts of data can be transferred every second, eaten up like donuts in Springfield’s Police Department, and where size really doesn’t matter. But as we become more reliant on the technology at hand, and as it anchors itself more securely into our everyday lives, we become increasingly naive of the bigger picture, and begin to view the snippet as the whole. In reality many aspects of the world sit unbalanced, and this is no truer than when said about the World Wide Web.

It seems like it was only yesterday when we only had ‘G’, but now we’re preparing to celebrate its fifth incarnation. And thanks to the Internet lacking any awareness of speed limits, loading times are almost a thing of the past and file restrictions have practically been quashed. But it might surprise a few people to know that, whilst the average download speed is deemed to be 36mbps, there are people surviving on closer to 16 (a few on even less than 10). And yes, that includes us gamers.

#This is where you spit your tea out#

Now, your pity is most kind and welcome, though there really is no need. You see, we’ve learned to live with it. Or cadge off someone else’s connection, but we’re mainly living with it. With the glitchy games we can’t update. Without the downloadable goodies, and co-op backstabbing. No leaderboards or pre-order bonuses. We even forego most platinum trophies as they are out of reach for us offline hermits. But that’s fine. Why? Because we are the minority, and it’s the majority who are catered for. Besides, if a game is blooming good, it will get a Game of the Year edition and then we’ll be able to enjoy it as a whole and at its best. Or will we?

Mostly, yes. For starters, in my current and healthy backlog I have four such games: The Witcher 3, Bloodborne, Project Cars and Dark Souls III. There is also Sleeping Dogs that for all intents and purposes is a Special Edition but follows the same trend nonetheless. Due to their very nature, all of the aforementioned discs come preloaded with the base game, along with any DLCs and patches released up until the point of printing. You just pop in the disc and play. Simples. So from one disc I can enjoy taking a Lotus 25 for a spin around the Nurburgring, continue my adventures with Geralt in Blood and Wine, jump out of my skin in The Old Hunters, and venture into The Ringed City, all impossible was it not for their existence. And after all, why else would they exist if not for the convenience that an all-in-one disc affords?

On that note we get to the crux of the matter, namely Fallout 4’s Game of the Year Edition.

The original release of Fallout 4 was one of the first games I bought when I jumped into this latest generation of consoles. An apocalyptic wasteland littered with critters, creatures, and pocketable loot sounded right up my street so I parted with my pennies and fired it up via a generator, in true survivalist fashion. Brilliant, I thought. With this little blonde dude giving me a thumbs up, what could possibly go wrong? Those right there, my friends, are known as famous last words, and in this case they were A-lister.

After twiddling my thumbs for 40 mind-numbing minutes waiting for it to finish installing, I was finally set free into the Waste. A quick prune in the bathroom mirror and a ‘nice to meet ya’ with my robotic Manny were followed by a rat-a-tat at the door, which turned out to be one of those dodgy door-to-door salespersons. I assured him I didn’t have PPI but for once that wasn’t what he was flogging. Turns out I’m a lucky boy because I’ve only gone and got myself a place in Vault 111. I’ve never won anything in my life, but better late than never, right? Especially just before the end of the world. Talk about good timing.

To cut a long story short, and to avoid too many spoilers, I soon found myself at the Corvega Assembly Plant, but there were worse things going on here than mere emission scandals. Though on a lighter note, it was full of people who had obviously not been replaced by robots. They weren’t so happy to see me but no robots is worth celebrating, right?

This is where things started to go awry.

My dog, Dogmeat, managed to get himself trapped between the steps going in, and spent many a minute simply walking on thin air. Luckily, opening the door and loading its interior was enough to free him from his Michael Jackson-esque moonwalking but then things went further south. The game refused to maintain a strong and stable framerate, and things became so slow that I wasn’t even moving an inch on the screen. My enemies were having no such difficulty and took the opportunity to fill me with lead. Things were so slow that I couldn’t even turn to see where the blighters were, never mind run away, and this, coupled with Dogmeat getting his head trapped through a wall, manifested itself repeatedly. Through desperation I decided to change tact. With the analog sick pushed in one direction, I didn’t stop moving until I stumbled across cover, and I repeated this until I made the exit. It worked, just about, but it was a slog to finish and anytime somebody went Rambo on me the frame rate suffered further.

The same issues continued back out in the Wasteland, with the game turning into a stop-motion film whenever a gun was fired or a mosquito tried to bite my head off. It didn’t deter me from playing, though it did little to encourage me either; rumours of unending missions, only resolved through a patch, added to the points against. And this was a shame as it was/is a game that warrants marathon sessions camped on the couch. So naturally when it was announced that almost two years after release, Fallout 4 was getting a Game of the Year release, I traded in the original, deleted my save and started counting down the days. Finally I reached zero, but this was no fairytale ending.

£40 was set aside ready to be exchanged for the GOTY Edition until a fellow survivor made a discovery. Turns out there was something unexpected keeping the disc company. Drumroll please… A voucher! But what do we need a voucher for? Everything’s on the disc, isn’t it? Apparently not. You see, the DLC isn’t on the disc, it’s online instead, waiting to be downloaded. And while you’re at it, make sure you download the patches, too, because they’re not installed ready either. So what is it you’re actually buying? Nothing but the same old disc, in a box with different artwork, packed with a code for the season pass. Which is already available to buy online. If you have decent internet. If you can download it. Which I don’t. Which I can’t. Shudder…

At this point I thought I was a wally, having overlooked this fact, so I reverted to the official description on more than one site only to find nothing of the sort is mentioned. Instead it is marketed as the complete experience ‘with all the latest gameplay updates, graphical enhancements’ and ‘all official add-ons included’. Apparently ‘Fallout 4: Game of the Year Edition includes the fully updated original game along with all six add-ons’, but note the lack of any reference to the fact they are absent from the disc. In fact, under box contents, which would be a good place to put it, it merely states ‘Blu-ray disc’. Nice.

Now it does state that the DLC must be downloaded on the back of the box, in the lower third of the artwork. However the back of the box is not displayed on Amazon or on a number of other online sites so it plays no role in online retail. And I doubt I’d even turn the game over and check the back in store; games are so publicised these days that there are very few I haven’t heard of or what they’re about. So again it’s largely redundant.

This is probably a good time to point out that I, this whingy writer, was not the only one to be caught out by this, nor am I alone in my disappointment and annoyance. Numerous reviews have been left by buyers frustrated that this fact wasn’t made clear in its marketing, and questioning the logic behind the release. After all, the Season Pass is available online to anyone who wants to and can download it. There may be a few new players who won’t mind the hassle, but surely it would have just been easier to reduce the Pass online as the original game can be found for less than a tenner. Perhaps on reflection it was the Pip Boy Special that fuelled this re-release, owing to their popularity the first time around and the attention they’d garner the second. But what do I know?

I’ll tell you what I do know, it is that out of the tens of games I’ve owned on this generation of consoles, and the countless others through the years, Fallout 4 straight from the box was the worst game I’ve ever played in terms of reliability and performance. However the opposite can be said for its gameplay, which is what is so annoying.

Despite spending all of my gaming allowance for this year, I made an exception for Fallout 4 GOTY, which was going to be my final purchase of 2017. As much as I’d like Wolfenstein 2, Assassin’s Creed Origins or Shadow of War on my shelf, I can’t justify the expense especially as I have enough to keep me going until the end of the world. Please, no Fallout jokes… But as I had owned the original and traded it in especially, I considered it a like-for-like switch. It still took months of saving, mind you.

In the end that £40 didn’t go to Bethesda, not that I expect them to miss it in their yearly profits. But it was a missed sale nonetheless, and I’m not the only one.

As I didn’t intend for this to be a Bethesda bashing but more of a conveyance of the gaming experience from the point of view of someone with a pathetic internet service, I shall continue.

It appears that we are now playing in a time where there is an over reliance on post-release updates; almost a ‘ship now, patch later’ ethos. Now it would be foolish to believe any game could launch blemish and bug free, but surely there is an acceptable level? And surely that would be – as long as the game is playable? Anything beyond that would simply mean we have paid top dollar for a glorified paper weight. But in the past year alone we can still name too many botched releases. Take the following three as an example:

No Man’s Sky – this is a game that has split the opinion of the Pure PlayStation team, but I don’t think any of us would deny that its launch was a bit of a shambles. The game failed to meet the humongous expectations of gamers worldwide, and updates began rolling out soon after release. Opinions remained critical up until very recently, when a patch managed to sway opinions to the positive. To many, Atlas Rises has turned No Man’s Sky into the game it has always strived to be. It only took 13 months and 21 patches, eh?

Mass Effect Andromeda – BioWare’s latest instalment of the sci-fi RPG made many a headline on release, but for all the wrong reasons. Its animations, characters and script were blasted as nonsensical and dated, whilst broken quests and missing NPCs discouraged many from actually finishing the game.

F1 2017 – this year’s Formula One fix was plagued by numerous and blatant bugs. Blue Flags, waved to inform lapped cars that a leader/faster car is coming through, were deployed from the first lap. Players found their qualifying times pipped by numerous seconds come the end of the session, with the AI achieving insurmountable times around the infamous Monaco streets. And the whole field found themselves disqualified in online races. When it comes to games in genres such as sport, there are certain rules and mechanics that must be present to guarantee an authentic experience. So it begs the question of what purpose do beta tests serve if not to spot these mistakes before it’s too late? And how they creep into the game in the first place as they are obvious flaws recognised by anyone with an understanding of the specific rules and regulations.

All three were heavily reliant on patches from day one. Without question they helped, but without them they left a lot to be desired. Patches are great. They allow developers to fix the odd muck-up or add new features, though they are instead being used as a crutch to mend problems that shouldn’t be seen by the end user in the first place. And incidents like these leave people like me cautious about placing an order in advance for fear of it being unplayable straight from the box.

Gaming has also evolved from the share-the-sofa multiplayer experience to take on someone half the world away instead. Via the internet, that great connector. This is great if you like this sort of thing and fancy pitting yourself against a stranger, but all change comes with a cost and this has seen the death of local co-op modes. Very few games nowadays include the option to play against someone in the same room without a data connection, though it is beginning to make a resurgence. Our sisters and brothers, best friends and lovers may not be the bees knees when it comes to controlling the controller but sometimes we don’t want to go up against anyone else. Sometimes we just want to reach over and grab their game pad, or jab them in the ribs; no amount of Mbps can make that happen. And nothing stirs up sentimental emotion more than splitscreen. It just belongs.

Another trend that has emerged over the past year or so is the episodic release, whereby one game is instead made up of individual chapters. Each chapter is staggered over the course of around a year, and are available to purchase individually or complete in a Season Pass bundle. Hitman is such a game, which also happened to get a physical release. However things were once again far from straight forward when it emerged that an internet connection was still required to progress from one hit (mission) to another, even with the disc. Why not simply release them as a collection that is playable offline instead of limiting your audience further?

Then there are those platinum trophies or celebratory emails that we never get to relish in. Most games now feature goals that are unattainable offline meaning there are always trophies outstanding preventing a 100% completion. This won’t affect everyone as trophies are the last thing on some players’ minds. But for “completionists” it’s enough to keep them up at night. I’ve always wondered why we can’t have a mini trophy, of sorts, for the online elements, thus segregating the two and making the offline portion achievable for all, should you so wish. And even if you are able to access the online portions, should the game have been out for a while and the servers shut down prior to your play through then the platinum achievement is still impossible. A lose-lose situation.

Unfortunately pre-order bonuses will always require a connection as it would be daft to think that developers would make two different batches. That just ain’t gonna happen, my lovelies. It doesn’t stop it stinging a bit, though, when there is an extra hour of gameplay on offer, but I can live without a new gun or change of clothes.

I guess I’ll end by saying that I’m under no illusion that internet access automatically means a more enjoyable and complete experience. Online lobbies are filled with a wide range of players, the majority of whom are looking for fair competition. But there is a minority of gamers who are only there for one thing: to kill, crash or criticise their own side. Then there is the tedious wait for the blooming game or update to download, which can range from a few minutes to many hours; overnight downloads are usually favoured in order to guarantee the strongest speed possible. However discs can still take their time to install, so there is minimal gain in the grand scheme of things.

Finally, to developers, I’d like to say that I may not be your best customer, but I am a gamer too.

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