Experiencing Fallout 4 as a Bostonian

We’ve seen tons of games set in real-world locations, but every once in a while a title comes along that has the one location that you hold near and dear to your heart: your home. Gamers who live in Seattle got the chance to experience their hometown in Infamous Second Son, residents of Barcelona got to shred up their sidewalks in Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 and players living in San Francisco witnessed their most notable landmark get destroyed in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. If you live in or around the Boston area, you don’t have the widest selection of titles to choose from to get your homely fix. Sure, there’s The Last of Us, the aforementioned Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 and Assassin’s Creed III, but no game has truly captured the feeling of exploring this wonderful city and its suburbs, until now.

I currently live around twenty minutes outside of Boston, with a trek into the city using involving a short bus ride and then a couple stops along the T’s Red Line. When a significant portion of your life is spent in or around a city like Boston, and all of its oddities and charm (namely cigarette-eating homeless men, angry pedestrians and random stray dogs growling outside of sandwich shops), you’re going to know right away whether or not the spirit of your city is captured in a piece of media. Yes, Fallout 4 contains a whole host of things that are not in the current version of Boston, but make no mistake, this definitely feels like an alternate version of the Greater Boston area. Some of the more minute details that Bethesda has put into the Commonwealth are downright staggering, from the way that MIT’s dome is shaped to the fact that walking along the Freedom Trail actually feels like walking along the Freedom Trail, vibe and all. Never was this more evident than in an early mission that took me through a T station that I’ve passed through hundreds of times.

Without spoiling any of the story content in this particular mission, the goal was simple: break into Vault 114, which happens to be located in Park Street Station, which is located around the Boston Common in both real life and in Fallout 4. What you’re tasked with doing from a gameplay perspective isn’t necessarily important in this discussion, as the real star of the show here is the way that the Commonwealth’s architecture models its real-world equivalent so closely. Everything from the small structure containing Park Street’s escalators to the fact that the center platform of this medium-sized T stop is modeled perfectly made for a chilling experience. After all, this is an area that is particularly near and dear to my heart (in fact, it’s right next to where I saw that insane ADR1FT demonstration on a movie screen at PAX East 2015), so seeing this awesome area in such a decayed state is harrowing. The next day, when I rode through Park Street Station on my way to Downtown Crossing, I actually had a bit of trouble ignoring the idea that gangsters with submachine guns might just poke their heads around the corner. This is the true benefit of living in or around Boston and playing Fallout 4: your lines between reality and fiction are blurred slightly enough to where the game itself is far more immersive.

I attended Wayland High School, which is located around forty minutes outside of Boston and is surrounded by more trees and boredom than you can ever imagine. While Wayland doesn’t appear to be in Fallout 4 (and why would it, considering one of its claims to fame is being the hometown of Aerosmith bass player Tom Hamilton), the general vibe of suburban Massachusetts is absolutely captured in the northwestern area of the Commonwealth’s map. Suburban Massachusetts is quiet, loaded with trees and scattered with the combination of minor commercialism and historical buildings, and those dull moments in Fallout 4 absolutely capture the spirit of this area. Sure, console players probably wish there weren’t as many trees around due to framerate concerns, but this would not be an accurate representation of this area without a strong dichotomy between wildlife and human activity. The stark contrast between the awkward calm of the suburbs and the bustling urban areas in the center of the map make for an experience that is absolutely Massachusetts in every sense of the word. Don’t believe me? Every time I’m in the suburbs, I feel a strong pull to go and grab a drink in the Diamond City area, which is exactly what I feel whenever I’m trapped in the Concord/Wayland/Natick area. That’s right, somehow Bethesda managed to capture the draw to get out of the more remote suburbs in Eastern Massachusetts and get into the weird hub that is the city of Boston.

diamond city
The one true shame about Fallout 4 is that the vast majority of players won’t get to experience this incredible open world like residents of Greater Boston will. Bay Staters far and wide are going to stumble upon locations that either force them to remember memories of years past or fear for what could happen to this city in the future. Whether you received stitches at the real-world hospital in Milton or were at Fenway Park a couple of months ago (guilty as charged for the latter point), this is the game that is going to feel like your actual life the most if you live in this city. The thing is, because the world is so dilapidated in Fallout 4, there’s a really harrowing dichotomy between the good feelings so many people have for this city and the shock of seeing your home in the fallout of a disaster.

Oh, there is one disappointment here that needs to be addressed immediately: why is it so hard to find a good cup of chowder in the Commonwealth?

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