Fallout 3 is one of the most hyped games this year so it is with much anticipation that we finally have a review sample in our grubby little mitts. This sequel has been created by developers Bethesda who were responsible for the awesome Oblivion series. Fallout 3 is a standalone title so you won’t need a knowledge of the franchise to play. Is the game creative or just an Oblivion clone set in a different time zone?
The Fallout world paints a bleak picture of life in the future. The world is in a nuclear aftermath and it is a desolate place filled with people trying to survive. Most of our technology comforts have been destroyed and getting food (or a decent weapon) is a challenge all in itself.
You take control of the Vault Dweller, a person you can create and develop as the game progresses. Your first visions are at birth with your father standing over you talking quietly, you then get the choice to choose your gender, racial background as well as other persona giving options. The game briefly focuses on your childhood and key moments as you get your Pip Boy 3000. This basically works as a nicely crafted tutorial sequence and gets the player accustomed to the environment and control methodology. As a child you learn that you live in Vault 101, a bunker specially designed to keep the occupants alive through the nuclear war that raged on the surface. Weirdly enough the bunker didn’t open when the wars ended and the radiation dropped – you are born here and you will die here, because no living person leaves Vault 101.
Obviously you do get to leave the vault and this is when your adventure really starts, your father opens the vault entrance and escapes, and you quickly follow his dramatic exit as the other people in the vault fear you were involved and want revenge (not really a nice bunch of people in here!).
Leaving the vault has to be one of the most defining game related moments in modern history, as your eyes focus on the wasteland outside … the impact this had on me was quite startling. The graphics are simply incredible, especially as it is a stark contrast to the grey and drab internal vault settings. This was a cleverly worked piece of script from Bethesda who realised that the impact of getting outside could be almost monumental, and it is.
You look at Washington D.C, or what is left of it. Everything is destroyed and in rubble apart from Washington Monument which takes focal point in the skyline beyond. The quest for survival ensues…..
Everything in Fallout 3 bears the association with the nuclear aftermath. The water is poisoned from radiation and even taking a drink from a sink means you will suffer the consequences. It is true that water and food will heal you, but you have to use medicine to counter the effects of radiation from everything you consume as well as wandering into the hot zones. It is this underlying nuance that is so appealing about Fallout 3, you actually feel as if you are inside the game, fighting for your life. Not just your survival, but everyone you meet shares the same demeanour. It is a horrible world for sure … but as a game it is invigorating and exciting.
This need for survival can make people change, even nice people can become mean as they know if they don’t stand up for themselves they will get trampled on and end up dead in a ditch somewhere. Those who are already borderline bad will undoubtedly turn to evil for their desires. Taking advantage of the weak is commonplace and one of the many decisions you will have to make, is the path YOU will choose. Destroying lives or helping people, the outcome is fully in your hands.
This game is clearly designed as an adult only title, there is swearing and slaughter galore as well as some true to life questionable choices. Your moral compass will be fully tested over the course of this game, that is for sure.
Every choice you make in Fallout 3 will have far reaching consequences. If you roam the world killing everyone you meet then you will be renowned as a ruthless killer and some home brewed enforcement agencies may take exception to your existence and start hunting you down. Equally so, if you start rescuing as many people as you can, then the evil gangs and groups (of which there are many) may very well decide that without you around they would be more productive. Hit men can be hired to take out opposing groups, and you could very well be the target of a transaction.
The dialogue in Fallout 3 deserves special mention, the conversations you will have are so varied it would take me a review in itself just to detail the diversity. The scripting and writing is the highest I have seen and is so addictive that I was talking to as many people as I could, just to see their reactions. If you desire an open ended world with a myriad of choices then Fallout 3 will certainly appeal.
Playing as a man means you can enhance your strength and bully your way through some situations, whereas taking the role of an attractive women means that some people you meet could be charmed by your appearance and personality, making for an easier route. Speech skill is an immensely important aspect of the world.
The main storyline is superb and clearly masses of time was pushed into the development and creation. Without ruining the final impact, the end scenes are so damn impressive I went to replay the entire game before writing this review, just so I could take a different path and see the world and the people within from a different angle. You can lie, kill, cheat, charm, hack and fight your way through a plethora of situations, so the alternative routes are varied.
Side quests are not the focus of Fallout 3 and fans of Oblivion might be disappointed to hear that there are only a dozen or so primary ones up for offer. To be fair, they are so varied and developed that they make Oblivions side quests look rather weak in comparison, especially when you consider that even the shortest take several hours to complete. It is very easy to forget you are playing a side quest and have strayed from the main storyline and even these side quests have various routes to reach the goal.
Earlier I mentioned the obligatory references to Oblivion and as the same developer created both similarities are always going to come into play. That said, the core game mechanic is vastly different, everything is controlled by S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (an acronym for the 7 base statistics). Each of these are tied into individual skills which can be enhanced by levelling up. You can obviously find objects in the game world which also enhance your character, such as armour or weapons.
Oblivion also rewarded gamers with bonuses for constantly repeating the same action such as jumping, but Fallout 3 doesn’t. XP is gained through quest completion or combat, hacking terminals or picking locks. All these experience points go into a central pool and when you level up you select how you want them to be distributed. I feel this is a much more organic system and it works incredibly well throughout the game.
Additionally, when you level up you can choose a perk. These are bonuses which act like a buff which can be anything from a stat boost to revealing locations on the map you haven’t yet visited. The Mysterious stranger perk for example causes a dude to appear from time to time and blast your foes into pieces. You can even get a cannibalism perk so you can eat downed enemies for bonuses. Nothing I like more than a radioactive tramp with some salad for lunch.
Reaching the maximum level of 20, took me around 35 hours, however even at this level you will not have maxed out all your skills so replaying is certainly a viable option. There will be downloadable content in the same manner as Oblivion so perhaps this level cap will be lifted in future. Interestingly this downloadable content is only going to be available for PC and Xbox 360 owners, so Playstation 3 gamers will have another reason to complain. Equally bad is the fact that the PS3 version doesn’t have support for Trophy awards either. Rather disappointing.
So how is the combat system? I think it works really well as it is all via the Vault Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS). The entire game can be played either in first person or third person mode as an arcade style title (first person mode is much better). During combat you can use VATS which pauses the game and lets you target specific parts of the enemies. Aiming for the legs for example is a great technique in slowing down a fast moving creature whereas an accurate head shot will do considerable damage. VATS also presents the gamer with statistics on accuracy which take into account distance, your own stats and obstacles. From inside VATS you can queue attacks based on your available action points and let it take over.
As an added bonus, all attacks in VATS happen in slow motion while the camera changes to a more cinematic viewpoint, you are treated to slow moving blood squirts as well as limbs being ripped from torsos in bullet time. Deliciously gross.
The various skill sets play a huge part in the world of Fallout 3, you can sneak attack to get critical hits as well as pick locks to get ammunition or health packs. If you are a man of science you can hack terminals to open doors and avoid some unpleasant combat situations.
When you beat the main quests and all the side quests you will probably have invested over 50 hours into Fallout 3 and even then you will probably have seen only a percentage of the game map. The world is really that big. I am sure with even over 100 hours that there would still be sections to visit and explore, so if you are one of those time based gamers who loves to explore everything then Fallout 3 would be a wise investment, especially if you find the majority of modern day games too short or shallow. I have put around 80 hours into the game and I am still finding locations and things to do, it is extremely impressive.
Graphically the game is impressive and with such a huge free roaming environment there will always be a little glitch or two which make it past the final testing. Unfortunately the Playstation 3 version is the one which has the most bugs, from hard locks to glitches which actually effect progression. Reloading the game is the cure, but sometimes you can lose quite a bit of in game time and it’s frustrating. The graphics also are not quite as nice as the Xbox 360 version so the Playstation 3 version will lose points for these rather unpleasant issues.
Both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions suffer from occasional frame rate problems as well, these can be small hitches to full on stutters. That said, the PC version looks considerably better than either console version, so if you have a high end PC this is certainly a welcome option.
Overall, the colour scheme is perfectly chosen, there are a myriad of stylised browns which create a great impression of a decaying post apocalyptic world and Bethesda should be commended for some great visual touches such as skeletons and bones in various locations.
On an audio level the game is entirely minimalistic in approach. Not to say it is bad, what it does it does with great style and your Pip boy can pick up a variety of radio stations as you move around. The ambient sounds of leaves moving in the wind and dust blowing across the environment is well handled.
Fallout 3 is a fantastic game and Bethesda has succeeded in creating a world so barren and horrific, yet full of life and story driven content that it is surely one of the best games released this year. The only issues are technical and mainly tied to the Playstation 3 platform.
We have rich pickings lately with an array of top notch games released, just make sure you don’t miss out on Fallout 3, it is one of the most absorbing game experiences I can remember.
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