Review: Fallout 3
Oblivion meets Mad Max but better.
Fallout 3 is the continuation of a series that hasn’t been touched (spin-offs aside) since 1998. Has Bethesda managed to revamp one of the best RPG’s of all time without losing Fallouts combination of bleakness and obsidian humour? Short answer : Yes.
The universe of Fallout has a great deal of character full of American 1950’s style architecture and culture juxtaposed against the periods view of the future with hover cars, laser guns and robot maids. The story is that a nuclear attack has rendered 99% of the population dead a fear that was fairly real for a 1950’s American. Those left where either holed up in Vault-Tec vaults or heavily radiated. Jump two hundred years forward and you have humanity struggling to get back on its feet. This is the world you inhabit.
The game begins with your character being born with a brief pseudo tutorial in Vault 101. Its a subtle method of teaching the player the nuances of the game (combat, skills, dialogue etc). Once the tutorial is completed, the story kicks you out into the Washington DC wasteland. You can explore the overworld to find locations but all the main ones will are always marked so story progression never stalls.
However it is possible to skip at least one part of the story just by exploring. The fact that Fallout 3 not only allows you to do this, most games would have invisible walls or broken bridges (GTA3 style), but also compensates with dialogue shows that game designers have actually considered what happens if a player takes an experimental approach. It’s a sad state of affairs when that’s something to be pleased about I know but hopefully other developers will start to take note.
The secondary quests are very well realised and, best of all, substantial (tacked on quests are a pet hate of mine). There are sub-quests to take you to a lot of the locations on the map and one in particular will have you scouring the map for items giving incentive to â€œjustâ€ exploring. The flexibility of the main quest is evident in the side quests too there are multiple ways to complete most of them depending on your skills you might be able to talk, shoot, sneak, hack your way to completion by comparison other recent 360 RPGs look like child’s play.
Initially you’ve got to trudge across the radiated wastes fighting off mutated scorpions, killer robots and raiders as you go to find locations. Once you have found a point of interest you can fast travel back to it (ala Oblivion). The variety in the locations is impressive also, stalking the streets of Downtown DC, the rocky plains of the outlying area and the claustrophobic abandoned vaults. The spacing of these on the map means your only ever about five minutes from a new location.
All the environments have small strains of narrative strewn threw them. You’ll unlock a cupboard door and find a skeleton beside a makeshift bed and a gun you can tell you’ve found the last stand of some poor soul. Computer terminals can give you more narrative with emails and personal logs but for the most part a little detective work will give you a gist of what went on. The vaults are a great example of the variety, no more is it the nondescript caves and castles of Oblivion (admittedly caves don’t really lend themselves to decoration). The atmosphere of the giant door of a vault sliding open to reveal its rusted out interior gave me a strange rush of anticipation and fear of what I would find.
The characters in the world are all voice-acted and all manage to sound unique a lot of them will give you a bit of a back story if pressed this isn’t something unique to Fallout 3 but its something that is noticeable when its not included. The game also features a radio station with period music and a radio announcer that talks about some of your exploits in the game world saving lives or screwing them up. Being reminded that you are a paragon or a blight on the wastes is a nice touch.
The interactions of creatures and NPC’s in the wilderness are interesting with raiders, Brotherhood and creatures all willing to attack each other on sight. A great strategy early on is to follow Brotherhood soldiers around and help them kill attackers for experience and equipment.
Being a fan of the previous Fallout games I was really looking forward this game, thankfully it delivers as a very good action RPG. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite seem to deliver as a Fallout game. Whilst it has a lot of the things that the series is known for, it all seems a bit too grim and dark compared to the rather lighter tone of the previous games.
This is only really a niggle, because what you get at the end is a very polished if occasionally glitchy game, with many, many hours of things to do and loads of places to explore. It would be very contrite to label this as Oblivion with guns when the game is more than that.
For a start it uses the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) system for levelling, which is more of a traditional system compared to the broken system used in Oblivion. The way the V.A.T.S. is used to target enemies and their weak points for massive damage is great. It is extremely satisfying to see your enemy explode in a shower of blood and guts because you managed to get a critical hit on them.
If you are looking for an involving action RPG with a post-apocalyptic bent to keep you entranced for hours, then this is the game for you.
Secondary Score: 9/10
Combat in Fallout 3 is a hybrid of turn-based and real-time. The V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) system allows you to pause time and queue up targeted shots at an enemy’s limbs. After which you’ll go back to real time and either run away or take a few pot-shots while your Action Points regenerate. This works well but if you’re planning only one of these systems exclusively expect to die a bit more than most people. When your skill with guns improves it is totally possible to use only real-time combat for some of the easier enemies. This saves a bit of time, not that VATS is a hindrance as you’ll be thankful for its dual rewards of extra damage and the cinematic deaths of your foes. These are a regular occurrence and show death in slow motion with bone crunching audio.
The weapons in Fallout range from pistols to experimental portable nuke launchers. These slowly degrade over time you can repair them by combining say two 10mm pistols to give you one slightly less broken pistol. Ammo in the game weighs zero which is a sacrifice for fun over realism that I can live with.
Most people have described Fallout 3 as ‘Oblivion with guns’ and while there is some truth in that (just look at my review I’ve mentioned the big O a few times) but its not the whole truth. I’d say a much better comparison would be to a slightly less buggy Stalker: Shadow Over Chernobyl both thematically and to some extent gameplay-wise.
There are occasional glitches and nit-picks in the game with silly little problems like clipping and some dumb AI. I’m not blind to faults of this game but they certainly don’t detract from Fallout enough to warrant any in-depth analysis.
Being a long time Fallout fan I was happy to be given the opportunity to spend more time in the wastes that I had long since given up hope of ever seeing in a game again, I wholeheartedly look forward to doing so again in Fallout 4 (or Fallout 3 DLC please!).