There's something cruelly satisfying about the way Todd Howard targets his enemies' legs. In the specially-directed Fallout 4 Gamescom playthrough I've just seen, he repeatedly makes a point of crippling his prey before he finishes them off. He violently cauterizes them off with lasers, riddles them with recently scavenged bullets, fires high-caliber sniper rifles into weak patellas, begging to be used as a target. In the surest sign yet that Fallout 4's steward is some kind of Komodo Dragon in human form, the game even builds leg smashes into its new melee executions.
We see his hero draw a club, target a shin bone in VATS and watch as a pointed smash brings a Raider to his now half-shattered knees, before the game takes over and a finishing move is applied to his spine. And that's not even the half of it. Or the sixteenth of it, even. If there's one thing I learned from this trailer (other than the fact that Dogmeat is gaming's most adorable weaponised animal), it's that there are many, many ways to shear off whole fractions of the Boston wasteland's population.
The direct means are familiarly varied. Aside from the scavenged ordnance of the real world, there are chainsaw-adapted daggers, a hand-cranked laser shotgun and the welcome sight of the Fat Man mini-nuke launcher, which accompanies every shot with the kind of piercing screech that would terrify anyone who's watched a Cold War PSA. We know Fallout 4 is a far more accomplished FPS than its predecessors, but that doesn't mean it's abandoned its more esoteric RPG feel. Enemies can still survive nukes to the face if they're a high enough level - and you can still prod a low-level goon and their limbs will blow off.
But it's in how the game builds in less obvious means of murder that really intrigued me. Appropriately for a new-gen game, post-apocalyptic Boston seems a far busier place than the DC or Vegas - shown best by how often you'll end up in the middle of a multi-faction firefight. In one section of the playthrough, a fight with some entrenched Raider Psychos attracts the attention of the building's oldest residents, Feral Ghouls.
Attracted by a woof from Dogmeat, Howard turns to see the radiation-blasted mutants crawling from air conditioning vents, backs off and lets horribly altered nature take its course. The ghouls tear through the raiders, and the industrious hero mops up afterward. Not literally, of course - there are body parts everywhere, and only the most jaded, dead-eyed janitor could hope to deal with that.
Leveraging angry NPCs is a major part of the demo - we see Howard hacking a terminal to activate a Protectron guard just in time to join the fray. Air support's called in when a Fat Man-toting guard on a balcony proves too much to handle - after which a couple of Brotherhood of Steel stalwarts take some missiles on the (power-armoured) chin. And, of course, Dogmeat's there to pounce on a Raider, letting the hero either concentrate on a separate threat or, you know, blow his legs off.
The environments, clearly not a fan of being left out, offer their own challenges. You'll still find booby-trapped camps, volatile gas canisters are scattered around like enormous, red, burning candies (hugely irresponsible considering the resource shortage, might I add) - we even the Brotherhood of Steel vertibird shot down and crash down onto the karma-cursed bastard who shot at it in the first place.
There’s a huge amount to look forward to about Fallout, but it’s comforting to know that its core interaction, that sweet feeling of pushing a trigger and watching shit go down, just doesn’t look as though it’ll get boring. If the guy making the game is this obsessed with destroying a single body part, I’m relatively confident that we’ll find far, far more to play with in our travels.