Monday, April 9, 2012

Fallout 3 Mod Review - The Mantis Imperative / A Touch of Class


Fallout 3 Mod Review - The Mantis Imperative (v1.08)
Summary: Two adventures, plus various optional game changes.
Why Get This: Solving puzzles, and if you want to inject some humour into Fallout 3.

The Mantis Imperative has six files, only one of which is The Mantis Imperative adventure proper. In this review, I will cover only Mantis.esp and Jello.esp.

Mantis.esp - The Mantis Imperative

Once you install this .esp, you will see the changes almost immediately, as it adds new monsters to the game world. Some ants will become either Mud Ants or Zebra Ants, some bloatflies will become Lightning Bugs or Fireflies, some Mirelurks become VenomLurks. There isn't anything particularly wrong here unless you are a stickler for "lore friendly" or Fallout 3 traditions.

The story itself has a poor hook and a very slow and meaningless start. Once you reach Mantis Labs, you are sent to get a trinket with which to gain access. Just getting in is a small puzzle. Once you are in there, the theme of the game really starts to show: Explore every nook and cranny looking for hidden objects, and solving puzzles with generally only one solution. Two problems here: The puzzles, and the story.

If you are the type who likes to figure things out, then this adventure mod *may* be for you. There are some people who genuinely like this sort of setup, and they will probably find the initial portion of The Mantis Labs quite satisfying.
However, if you are used to having more choices and not being so railroaded, then this will be an irritating mod, as it was for me. Puzzle mods can often get into trouble when you are meant to discover the one solution available, and especially if the scripting is iffy. This is not to say that the fault always lies in bad scripting. Rather, that scripting is hard, so sometimes it doesn't work out cleanly even if you think you've tested it enough -- probably the main reason that quests from the developers are often nothing very clever scripting-wise, and instead focus on giving you more solution paths and endings.

As for the "one solution available", it relies on the player's sense of reasonableness aligning with your own. If it is off, then you can get very frustrated players who are stuck because they have already done what they feel are reasonable things, but are not getting results. Example:
In one puzzle, you are put in an area with a DeathClaw. You need to defeat it to get key off it. The solution is:
  • Activate Stealthboy.
  • Sneak past DeathClaw into the room beside it.
  • Turn on the "power switch".
  • Use the terminal to enable the gas.
  • Turn on the gas.
  • Run into the shelter.
  • Wait for the gas to clear.
  • Collect the key from the DeathClaw.
Once you have solved the puzzle, the pieces fall into place. But during it, there are many steps which seem either reasonable or unreasonable. For example, none of the several terminals work initially until you turn on the "power switch", which just turns on the lights. Even when you do, only one terminal works, so if you happen to try a different terminal, you might think that none of them still work. There is a gas switch, but there is no feedback when you try to activate it, so you might well think it is a dud. You can isolate yourself in the room by closing the door, but that will not protect you from the gas. Therefore, why would the shelter necessarily protect you from the gas?

Other puzzles just waste your time. Example: You are put in tunnels with some strange locations: A ribcage amid glowing mushrooms; a basketball basket; a picture with a chair in front of it; a safe with a picture of a teddybear. The solution involves hunting around in the dark for a basketball, a camera, and a teddybear. Three small items in the dark. Duh. And yet, some people will actually like this "puzzle".

As for the story, we start with various puzzles, and there is only one way forward: More puzzles. By the second puzzle, I was getting impatient: Where's the story? Why am I jumping through these hoops? Why is this electronic voice on the radio, supposedly from Mantis Labs, bothering me with these little games? What does it want and why am I even here?
There is no story hook, no motivation, no reward. Only a profound sense of wasting my time.
The Mantis Imperative draws on your trust of the author's previous adventures to have faith that you will have a rewarding experience. As someone who's never tried any of the authors other works, I don't know their reputation, this story layout is giving them a very poor reputation, and in any case the story has already lost me. If The Mantis Imperative were a book, I'd have put it down long ago. At the Piggy-the-pigrat quest, I uninstalled the mod. There was still so much to do in regular Fallout 3 that was way more interesting.

Jello.esp
This mod adds a small adventure, plus various foodstuffs in the form of drinks and jello, and new random treasure in the form of gems and precious metals. The descriptions for the foodstuffs are somewhat humourous, and the effects of the drinks and jello somewhat interesting and creative. But also a radical departure from just giving you Health and Rads, so if you are a Fallout 3 purist, then you might find this irksome.

The adventure, "A Touch of Class" involves a very basic Fedex quest where you follow clues to fetch items, and then bring them to the quest-giver. Basic, and made interesting by the notes you will find, giving you some backstory / insight into what happened, along with a touch of humour. Nothing too special here, but nothing bad either. It's too bad it's bundled up with the new ingestibles since that is a bit overdone for my taste.