Review by ArkfellerKonan

Reviewed: 07/01/09

It's a big world out there...

Fallout 3 hasn’t always been the game it is now. Originally named Van Buren and developed by the now-defunct Black Isle Studios, financial woes meant that the game was transferred to Bethesda Softworks, the developers of the popular Elder Scrolls series.

The game, built on the same engine The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, is a huge sandbox roleplaying game-first person shooter hybrid. For a while, people feared that Fallout 3 would simply be Oblivion with guns and a new name. In its essentials, Fallout 3 IS really Oblivion with guns. Some players of Oblivion will no doubt recognise the returning gameplay elements like Wait. Character creation, however, is put into an actual narrative – somehow, as a baby, you can decide what you look like when you’re all grown up! That in stark contrast to rudely landing you in a jail cell, as Oblivion did – or Morrowind, which even more rudely landed you in short-lived confinement.

Resurrected from the Fallout games of some Christmases past is the S.P.E.C.I.A.L system – short strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck. How you distribute points to each of these attributes is mainly based on your personal playing style, allowing for some control over combat. For example, if the player character desires to be a scientist (when they’re still barely of age to be thinking about it), the chosen attributes would be intelligence, luck and possibly charisma. But it really all comes down to you – some characters will be disadvantaged in certain areas but excel in others.

In your quest to find glory and bottle caps (yes, caps is the currency), it will take you across the Capital Wasteland, a heavily irradiated version of future Washington DC (please note the writer of this review has never set foot in America before). The Wasteland is basically a game representation of how bleak our future would be if a nuclear war were to take place – so much so that if you had to describe the game with one colour, it would be brown. Numerous buildings, most destroyed, are scattered across the landscape. The landmass itself is huge, so it will keep you occupied for quite a while should you go down the path of ‘must find every single location on the map!’

Choice drives everything you do, and everything you affect, in Fallout 3. This is governed by a karma system that gives the player karma if they complete a good deed (like helping someone by giving them water) or taking from their karma if they do a bad deed (murder for no particular purpose). The karma system on the whole is well-designed: too many games these days force you into two categories – Angelic or Demonic (my own words). So if you steal something, the hit on your karma would not be as extreme as murdering someone. Karma will govern whether people like you, how easily you can access certain locations, and the services you get. The ending cutscene, which is cleverly stitched together by taking into account the actions the player has made over the course of the entire game and their actions right before the big ending, remains enjoyably informative. Well, it makes sense, in any case.

Combat follows the regular first person shooter staple (but you can switch to third person at any time) – just pull the trigger to shoot. However, we all know that’s boring, so Bethesda threw in a fun little extra: V.A.T.S (or Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System), which allows you to effectively halt time while you, through the nifty little targeting system, select parts of the enemy to shoot at in bullet time-style slow motion. The body parts are accompanied by approximate hit percentiles, which give a real tactical edge over the whole thing. However, for V.A.T.S to be used there must be a cost. Agility Points are used up with each shot in V.A.T.S, regardless of whether the hit was successful. Critical hits will blow the enemy apart, making for some extremely satisfying visuals. However (I have no idea if this was a design choice), if opponents’ body parts are scattered around, it remains to be seen how exactly one can loot items off a sliver of some poor Raider when it is a full four hundred metres away from the rest of the body.

There are around eighteen quite lengthy sidequests on offer, as well as a heap of unmarked (that is to say, unrecorded) quests for you to take in your leisure. As everything tends to have an effect on how everything else is played out in the game, more often than not the sidequests are directly connected to each other, which means one action taken by the player in one quest can mean they inadvertently render another quest impossible to complete, or to a point where the player cannot get their desired ending, instead having to resort to other paths that could reverse their karma.

And it’s not the whole less-than-one-degree-of-separation thing – a heap of bugs are present too, reportedly more prevalent in the PS3 version that the 360 or PC. Prolonged gameplay could send mutated insect textures flying fifty metres into the air, making a bizarre brown-black pyramid. Or your character could sink through the floor, resulting in rather in entertaining V.A.T.S sequences. For such a large game, it’s to be expected, but some quest-breaking bugs could at least be avoided by, well, more testing. For those people who despise using walkthroughs, you’re pretty much doomed unless you know what you’re doing.

The main quest takes you through the Wasteland, from the safety and relative peace of Vault 101 (“the place where you were born, the place where you will die”) into the barren Wasteland, through several notable DC landmarks and into a hell lot of danger. However, for the determined, the questline can be beaten easily in one (or perhaps two) sittings. Rushing through the questline isn’t really what you’re supposed to be doing in a game, so exploring and sidequesting makes up for the relatively short main story.

Sound… ah, the sound. The game allows you to tune into PA systems, radio frequencies or even emergency signals. However, disappointingly, there is only one radio station worth listening to – Galaxy News Radio, which continuously ‘broadcasts’ some sweet music from the ‘40s. On top of that, a charismatic host keeps tabs on what your character does.

If you decide to tune out for a while, Inon Zur’s spectacular score ought to satisfy. Dungeon (you know, underground things, vaults, etc.) crawling music is guaranteed to set the hairs on the back of your neck stick up, and the epic music that plays when you’re out exploring the Wasteland really gives an atmosphere to it all.

Voice acting is, at least, far better than Oblivion’s. It is a pleasant break from hearing female beggars suddenly burst out ‘oh thank you kind sir!’ in a rough bass voice; now, the actors actually seem to ‘understand’ the situation they are in – but still, and this being entirely unrelated to the voice actors, only NPC eyes move when they’re supposed to be shouting ‘OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO GET KILLED BY THAT ****ER!’

I could go on and on and on about Fallout 3, so here’s the whole thing in a nutshell: a huge game that emphasises freedom of choice and a homage to the original Fallout series. A brilliant piece of work to play - riddled with some flaws, but well worth your time. Go buy it. Now.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: Fallout 3 (AU, 10/31/08)

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