Review by Allyourbase

"It's like "Mad Max" in video game form"

“Fallout 3” marks my introduction to the venerable PC series. Thankfully, you don't have to play the previous games to understand what's going on in this game, but it doesn't hurt.

The premise is the same as its predecessors: Navigate a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland -- Washington, D.C., and survive by any means necessary. This time around, your character is in search of his or her lost father (voiced by actor Liam Neeson), who left the underground vault that you were living in to head off somewhere for no reason -- at least not one that is readily apparent.

Bethesda Softworks takes up the monumental task of bringing this series from Black Isle to the next-generation. It's also the series' introduction to console players. Given its pedigree with the stellar “Elder Scrolls” series, it's safe to say the franchise was left in good hands. People familiar with the either the “Fallout” or “Elder Scrolls” series should feel right at home with this game, as it borrows elements from both.

You'll run into all kinds of enemies as you explore the vast expanse of post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C. Wild animals such as wild dogs and Mirelurks -- ferocious man-crabs -- will try to eat you. Roaming bands of slave traders and hideous Super Mutants will gun you down without a second thought. But you'll have the tools to fight back. Depending on your inclination, you'll use heavy guns like flamethrowers and rocket launchers, energy weapons, conventional bullet-based weapons, melee weapons and even your fists.

Bethesda brings back the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) from the old games. With the press of a button, the action pauses and zooms in to the enemy, where you can queue shots with some degree of surgical precision. The enemy's body is divided into several target areas and your chance to hit is also displayed. Damaging a certain area enough hampers an enemy's ability to hurt you. Hitting them in the legs diminishes their ability to run, while damaging the arms decreases their accuracy. As always, head shots are prime targets. VATS provides a happy diversion, should the freefrom run-and-gun action gets tedious.

Interface is handled by the wrist-mounted device Pip-Boy 3000. It manages inventory, tracks status, provides maps and even comes with several radio station provided they're within range. Tunes from an era gone by also provide a bizarre soundtrack, should you opt to use the radio and it really captures the retro-futuristic feel Bethesda is going for. Too bad there's not enough radio content to keep it from being repetitive quickly.

Inventory management has been streamlined and thankfully, ammo stacks infinitely instead of contributing to your character's encumbrance. Unfortunately, the maps can get difficult to read, particularly in multi-story areas such as buildings.

I'm going to catch hell for it, but I'll say it anyway: This is the game “Oblivion” should have been. In “Oblivion” it was possible -- with a little planning -- to complete every single quest line with a single character. Undoubtedly a ridiculously overpowered character in all likelihood. There weren't really any consequences for your actions. In fact, there were even NPCs you couldn't kill until they had served their purpose in a quest line. Where's the role-playing in that?

In “Fallout 3” you could interact with nearly everyone in any fashion you felt. If that meant pulling out a shotgun and shooting them in the face, you could do that. And it had consequences. Get caught killing someone in a town and that town will be out for your blood. It might even preclude you from getting or completing certain quests, or having certain characters assist you in your travels. The only small point of contention would be the inability to harm children, but someone who'd desire to do so clearly has issues anyway.

Along the way, characters will run into a variety of NPCs. They'll act react to you differently, depending on if you've been good, bad or a little bit of both. Thankfully, Bethesda decided to hire more voice actors. After hearing the same five people recite lines in “Oblivion,” this is a welcome change.

“Bioshock's” dystopian underwater world of Rapture seems to pale in comparison to the post-nuclear environs of Washington, D.C. -- and the surrounding wastelands. Bethesda Softworks has once again created a nuanced and engrossing world, filled to the brim with myriad secrets. While you don't really need to go out and do everything, it does lend a little more depth to the world, not to mention you'll probably grab some needed loot as well. It's a gorgeously rendered world to say the last.

Along the way, you'll see ruined incarnations of familiar Washington landmarks, such as the Washington Monument, Capitol Hill and others. It's cool and disturbing at the same time. Ironically, the Lincoln Monument is an outpost for slave traders.

“Fallout 3” definitely deserves the M rating it has been given. Four-letter words and adult subject matter find their way into dialogue. And all of the XBox 360's graphical might makes the carnage come to life in vivid detail. Heads and limbs get shot off. There's gallons of blood that seems to erupt from a pressurized hose. And the dark, tongue-in-cheek humor from previous installments is back, although somewhat toned down from the past.

Holding it all together is a fleshed-out RPG system. The cosmetic details such as customizing a character's appearance and name are there, including the ability to determine what a character's ethnicity will be. On top of that -- and the real nuts and bolts of the game -- is the ability to customize a character's statistics and talents.

Finally, perks serve as bonuses. They can vary from boosting certain skills, opening up more dialogue options when speaking with members of the opposite sex or boosting radiation resistance. Two particular perks are worth at least a single playthrough. Bloody Mess beefs up damage to all attacks and critical hits cause enemies' bodies to explode in comically gory fashion. Words fail to express how satisfying it is to see an enemy's limbs fly apart from a single punch. The Mysterious Stranger summons a trench-coat clad “guardian angel” packing a .44 Magnum to blow away your hapless foe. It's completely random, but always seems to elicit a laugh from me when it does.

So whether it's putting together the ultimate ninja of the future, a futuristic sharpshooter or a burly brawler, it's all there. What kind of character you'll put together is limited only by your imagination.

Now if I had to bring up a gripe it'd have to be that the main storyline is rather short in comparison to other “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls” offerings. The fact the game ends with the completion of the main story is also somewhat of a bummer. Of course, the simple solution would be to put off the main quest and get lost on other adventures. Still, being able to explore the land after finding your dad/saving the world would have been nice.

For the sake of full disclosure, I have never played a “Fallout” game up until this point, but the immersive world of “Fallout 3” has piqued my curiosity to play the older games. I gather it will be just as addictive. And the fact no two playthroughs will be exactly the same will give this game a tremendously long shelf life.

Very rarely does a game come along that is objectively awesome. But when it does, gamers sit up and take notice. Although there are many frontrunners for 2008 Game of the Year, it would be remiss to include “Fallout 3” on that list. I strongly suggest you give it a long, hard look.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/10/08

Game Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)


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