SPOILER WARNING: IF YOU HAVE ANY INTEREST IN PLAYING FABLE 3, DO NOT READ THIS COLUMN UNTIL YOU SEE THE ENDING. JUST SKIP TO THE LATEST INSTALLMENT OF “BROND ON THE RUN”.
FABLE 3 is a game built on promises of a kind of platonic ideal of Role-Playing Games with a new innovation. Where all other games end when your hero or heroine defeats the evil king and saves the kingdom, FABLE 3 has a final chapter where your character has to deal with being the king and cope with the difficulties of keeping promises while preparing for an unavoidable war.
What makes the FABLE games unique is that they’re sold partly on being a celebration of Britishness: the sarky humour, the earthy cynicism, the unique English outlook on life when things are grim, the quirks and the eccentricities, the earthy chattiness of people from different parts of the UK. Brits will notice the verbal quirks that distinguish people who are posh, common, silly, nasty, Northern, Midlands, Brummie, Irish, even the Home Counties. In fact, if you look at the voice cast list, you’d think everyone in the UK with an Actor’s Equity card got hired to do voice work for the game. This is a game that’s so obviously about the joys of Britishness that it couldn’t get more obvious when its fictional world is called Albion, except if they decided to call it “Heen-ger-land” instead.
Alas, the overall plot of FABLE 3 is like the makers are trying to make their version of DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS, only based entirely on hearsay, and without the depth or intelligence. Like DRAGON AGE: ORIGINS, the plot of the game has the main character traveling the land gathering allies for a final fight, except the moral choices in DRAGON AGE were deliberately grey and filled with ambivalence, whereas FABLE 3 keeps everything on a simplistic binary Good or Bad level.
The last act of the game has the player finding that being king or queen sucks: S/he has to decide whether to keep promises made to allies in order to get their help to overthrow the crazed dictator king (who looks like Richard E. Grant but acts much more restrained) and take over, only to find that the his/her brother lost his rag because of an impending war that’s going to need the maximum amount of money and resources in order to prevent the country from getting completely wiped out. So martial law, child labour, the despoiling of forests and natural resources, the disenfranchisement of ethnic peoples, not keeping a promise to help the country where the invasion began and warned Albion it was coming.
So the player is now faced with moral choices that are ridiculously binary again, even more ridiculous than those in MASS EFFECT or DRAGON AGE: Angelically Good or Pschopathically, Puppy-Kickingly Evil, the latter voiced with plummy, malicious glee by Stephen Fry. The choices include initiating welfare programs that would improve the lives of children and the poor or insisting industrialisation and child labour continue, raising taxes, betraying the devastated country that held firm against the invasion or agreeing to help protect them, building a welfare shelter or turning the place into a legalised high-paying brothel. Through it all, you’re told that any choice that takes money out of the treasury will increase the number of civilians who will die in the invasion, which is in the millions. In making the choices so simplistic, perhaps the game wanted to satirise moral choice, with the evil choices so comically over-the-top, but it doesn’t work when it’s not funny but instead leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
If you choose the middle path in your choices with a mix of Good Choices and Evil Choices, you basically save most of the citizenry and are considered Good, even when you’re told a large chunk of the population is dead. You have the moral satisfaction of staying true to your principles at the expense of lots of lives.
Basically the game says in order to save the maximum number of people in the war – people who are basically nonexistent except as numbers in a computer game, by the way – you need to embrace being a hated fascist dictator. You’ll save the maximum number of people, except you’ll end up with a country that’s crime-ridden, with a wrecked economy, full of social inequality and misery – basically what Britain and America are threatening to become in real life.
There’s actually a way to scam the endgame choices – the obsessive-compulsively-inclined can just grind away, amass at least 7 million gold by doing the jobs minigames and then spending the money buying up and renting out all the real estate they find before becoming king. Then going ahead and making all the Angelic choices and still manage to be considered Good because there’s more than money left over in the treasury.
That’s assuming you actually give a damn about the “millions” of citizens who are nothing but numbers. None of them is a character you actually met and care about. You can even be totally corrupt and transfer all the treasury money into your personal account, but who gives a toss about totally fictitious money in a damn game? Either way, the end battle is the same – and the same as in DRAGON AGE, only much, much shorter, dumbed down and very simplistic – you run through the embattled city with your army killing everything in your way in about 20 minutes until you get to the boss fight, which is itself so easy you can beat it in five minutes flat, unlike in Dragon Age where the scale gets more and more epic as you get closer and closer to the end boss in at least two hours.
This preoccupation with money and real estate in the game might be a particularly British obsession. It’s certainly unique to FABLE, no other game has you buying property and having to play landlord for hours on end throughout the game, and it’s every bit as tedious as that sounds.
It’s as if the ending of this game was written by the current UK coalition government. Or it’s Dick Cheney’s wet dream. A mocking repudiation of honourable, let alone liberal, ideals too bitter to work as satire or commentary. At least the choices in DRAGON AGE are informed by a more adult and ambivalent sense of realpolitik. In FABLE 3, it’s delivered like a sledgehammer to the head. To go along for three-quarters of the game with whimsical satirical comedy, including a hilarious sidequest that’s an all-too-true spoof of D&D and game design, to end the game on a genocidal war where unseen millions die is jarring and unearned shift in tone.
I don’t think FABLE 3 set out to capture the zeitgeist, it’s one of those frequent accidents of pop culture. You could actually say the game, with its contradictions and inconsistencies, really does capture Britain as it is right now after all.
And now, the fourth installment in Bleeding Cool’s first fiction serial by Adi Tantimedh and premier PUNISHER writer Steven Grant.
London media wag and debauched shithead Alan Brond has been stitched up by his archnemesis Horace Pemfrey – Pemfrey had challenged Brond to a very public gunfight at the exclusive media watering hole The Harpo Club, only for someone to beat Brond to the pleasure of blowing Pemfrey’s brains out and making it look like it was Brond who fired the shot.
The next twist came in the form of Pemfrey’s will: Brond has been left Pemfrey’s considerable fortune as bait for the rest of Pemfrey’s grasping family to come finish the job their father couldn’t, for they would only get the money if they kill Brond.
Sensing an opportunity, Brond’s mercenary producer girlfriend Yvonne immediately strikes a deal with the BBC to broadcast Brond’s struggles against the Pemfrey brood as the latest reality show sensation. The ink had barely dried and the camera crew just about in place when the first Pemfreys arrive on his doorstep, heavily armed and ready to collect.
Now Brond is truly on the run on the mean streets of Central London.
BROND ON THE RUN
By Adisakdi Tantimedh and Steven Grant
I had, frankly, expected more of Pemfrey’s sodden brood to be waiting in ambush at Harpo’s, or at least busying themselves licking up what remained of his dried blood on the floor and furniture in one last desperate attempt to gain the sexual powers none of them had inherited. In fact, until Edith, the main hallmark of Pemfrey offspring had been impotence, as if their father had sucked out all their available resources of pleasure before birth. I found it hard to believe, but it did explain why they were generally such a miserable bunch. That I would return to Harpo’s was no secret to anyone, especially not me. Despite my continual defense of the new in culture — the truly new, mind you, not the pedestrian rehashes so often trotted out by would-be “artists” with the souls of marketing directors who had, ironically, never even heard of Warhol — in my personal life I found it alluringly comfortable to be a creature of habit. Besides, it would save me the trouble of having to track them down as they were doubtless tracking me.
Seven Pemfreys were visible as Yvonne and I entered the pub, a spectacle that gave us no reason to go for our weapons. Somewhere between death and rigor mortis, the corpses had been realigned into erotic incestuous statuary graphically illustrating widely understood truths none of them had had the balls to explore while alive.
The cause of this baffled me — I was quite jealous of the style and wit of the piece, which would surely be on display in the National Gallery once the obscene figures had been coated in lime to mask the stench of ultramodern murder with a veneer of decadent antiquity, and I found myself fervidly resenting the “sculptor,” who by all rights should have been me — until I spotted the last man I expected to find at Harpo’s celebrated long bar. But there he was, dressed in black leather flares still caked with Jim Morrison’s drippings and a Beau Brummel velvet blazer of royal purple with corduroy lapels, hideous yet lusciously stylish, the self-proclaimed most evil man in the world, intended architect of the downfall of western civilization, womanizer, cheat, arms dealer, power broker, and football maven Robespierre Corby. My publisher.
He saw me in the mirror and turned toward me, raising a tall iced glass filled with a sickly brown ale. I couldn’t make out the new hieroglyphs carved via razor into his forehead — he changed the message weekly, and the scaring now obliterated the possibility of deciphering even the shape of the pictographs — but his flytrap smile held meaning enough.
“The man of the hour,” he said. “Stake you to a Guinness?” He signaled for Yvonne to drop to her knees before him, which raised a scowl from her and sent her packing to the ladies’ loo in a huff. “There,” he said with smug satisfaction. “Now that we’ve gotten rid of the twist, let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“I’d thank you for the heads up on Pemfrey last night,” I said. “If I didn’t know you’d laid a bet on me coming out on top.”
“Better than betting on the horses,” said Corby. “Best five hundred quid I put down this month.”
“Five hundred? You cheap bastard! I’m worth more than that! Aren’t I your bestselling nonfiction author?”
“Ahh, the rampant ego of the artiste….” He saw the crew behind us filming every detail and grimaced. “How did those oiks get in here?”
“I signed them in as my guests, of course. BBC crew. I’m now the subject of a reality show. Yvonne set it up.”
“Why, that’s marvelous, old son! Your profile couldn’t get higher! She’s a whiz, that Yvonne. Why didn’t I marry her when I had the chance?”
“Because you were cheating on her with Lola, which gave me ample time to go from sensitive friend to the Next Big Thing in her life. Besides, you refused to go down on her. Any fool could tell that was the end for you.”
“Oh yes, of course.” he mock-slapped his head. “I see a marvelous opportunity here. Tie-in book. We can reissue a collection of your writings, especially that poison-pen correspondence you had with Pemfrey last year in the Telegraph. Sales will be squiffy.”
“Actually, Corby, I’ve been thinking about a change in my work methods… perhaps give up writing a bit.”
“Honestly, Adam, is this another of your daydreams or just an attempt to needlessly torture me early in the day?”
“More of the latter, but with some bite. Did you know Pemfrey named me the sole beneficiary to his estate?”
It had been a long time since I’d seen Corby shoot Guinness out his nostrils, and I have to say, the sight never failed to make me happy.
“Had the syphilis gone to his brain?” He cried. “He hated you.”
“That’s right. Oh well, I might as well examine the crime scene.”
I slipped on my latex gloves and wandered over to the bloodied spot. A critic had to know many things these days, and forensics were especially useful when one took part in as many homicides and firefights as I have.
“By the way,” I asked. “Who should I thank for saving me the trouble of wiping out the rest of the Pemfreys?”
“Why, Lola, of course.” said Corby. “When they came in last night to lay an ambush for you, Lola was already waiting for them. Such a creative little minx, that girl.”
Too right. The Pemfrey tableau wore all manner of make-up, doubtless applied postmortem. Lola must’ve been protecting her investment.
“Well, you’d better not even think about thanking her with a shag.” said Yvonne, who’d emerged from the loo and crept up beside me to examine the bodies. She picked up my thoughts easily.
“That little cow’s obsessed with you. I mean, look at this! It’s a dreadful pastiche of Aubrey Beardsley’s porno drawings and Men’s Mag smut! She got laughed out of art school for that! She did this especially for you, you know that don’t you?”
Yvonne picked up on my flush of ego and gave me a smack upside the head.
“Christ’s sake, Yvonne! Men think about cheating all the time! I didn’t actually do it, so do me a favour! It’s just thoughts!”
“Not for me, it isn’t!”
The camera caught it all. This would be the crucial moment of emotional crisis in the programme. Yvonne would be sure to include it in the final edit. I didn’t have to be a mindreader to see it in her eyes.
“By the way,” I whispered to keep from the sound crew’s mikes, changing the subject and reasserting my masculine sense of control. “You’ve set up the new identities and travel arrangements, right? In case this thing gets hot and we need to scarper in a hurry?”
“Yes. They’re at the safehouses in Ealing and Islington. Easily accessible. Destinations: you have a choice of the Bahamas, the Canary Islands, San Francisco, Bali and Buenos Aires. As many non-extradition countries as possible, like you said.”
“By the way, given how obsessed Lola is with you, it wouldn’t surprise me if she left you with another little present. One designed to keep you on your toes.”
“Yeah? Like what?”
“Like that landmine you just tripped when you lifted Philip Pemfrey’s arm.”
End of Part 4
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Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh
Brond on the Run © Adisakdi Tantimedh and Steven grant