Review by 9NineBreaker9
Good Morning Post-Apocalyptia!
There are few things scarier than the thought of complete and all-out nuclear warfare - the use of mankind's most devastating and gruesome weapon to completely and utterly wipe out an entire civilization from the face of the Earth, while, at the same time, rendering the land struck dead for hundreds of years to come is a thought that can keep you up at night. There was once a time where the question of where you would be when the bombs fell was a common inquiry by most of the people... just thank goodness that something like that never happened. But, if it did, there is one place where you would want to be, and that's in a Vault-Tec hideout - safe from the fallout, safe from the bombs, safe from the destruction, you will lie peacefully... but are things really all that simple, all that... safe?
You are born into the blazing light; a newborn child in a world where florescent lights are the only brightness you will ever know, and your cradle doubles as your coffin. You are given a name, your future being projected upon a screen for you to alter, and your childhood soon follows - you learn to walk, learn to talk, learn to frolic, and learn to kill. But as your less than idyllic childhood comes to a close as your father, the only parent you had and the only person you could ever trust, leaves you in a panic. You must now leave your only home and venture into a world known simply as the Wasteland, the barrens outside of the capital wasteland that was once a 1950's Washington D.C.
The introduction of Fallout 3 is hands-down the best starting point for a game, starting quite literally with your conception and blending together the key steps of your character creation directly into your brief childhood. It's this and other elements of the wonderfully wasted D.C. that make this game completely immersive, should you let yourself be drawn away by it. While some things can pull you directly out of the experience, the best thing in Fallout 3 is that you can let yourself become but a lone person in a land hardly befitting life.
And what a beautiful wasteland you have to be alone in. Your first glimpse of the desolate skyline is a truly memorable one, with the ravaged Washington Monument striking out it's place in the sky against destroyed buildings and lifeless country, but for those who have been to the city itself, it's strikingly realistic - at one point, I was traveling through the subway and to literally stop and just look around, as it felt as if I were actually back in the capital city, save for the crowds and the liveliness of it. The entire world is picturesque for its dystopian destruction, making the visual blemishes that do exist - poor draw distance, animation that ranges from bad to laugh-inducing, oftentimes horrific level design, and some notably bad textures - pale in comparison to both the striking realism of the city and the overall brilliant artistic design; seeing random posters for Sugar Bombs and the ever-present Vault Boy is sure to brighten your depressing ruins.
The music score follows suit, for the most part, in setting up a completely epic scenario for you to blow up some fools in. Most of the tracks are entirely subtle, simply blending in to the wind as you walk across the Wasteland, or combining with the echoes, drips, and hidden voices of various dungeons to create a great atmosphere that is akin to Bioshock. However, it's the radio stations that really take the cake in this world - from the constant preaching and patriotic music of the Enclave to the wonderful 40's and 50's music from Galaxy News Radio, the radio stations are really well done, even when the static cuts into your enjoyment as you move further away from the signal (which is actually very cool). Sound effects are, well, there - nothing too amazing worth noting. Voice acting is well done, too, but the only outstanding performances from these lie in those who can bring the gritty script to life, meaning very few people - your father is just about the best performance in the game, but you'll have to get used to recycled voices throughout the game.
Coming back once again to your birth, your character creation is certainly an involved process with a number of different scores coming together to form your character. You start with your SPECIAL scores, points that go into your main character attributes, such as Strength, Intelligence, or Charisma. One of the more interesting things with this system is that you can detract points from the average, allowing you to pull out points from, say, Luck, and pool them into Perception or Endurance, enabling you to create detailed character concepts, but thanks to some great balance on the developer's part, it's next to impossible to completely screw your character.
Beyond this you have a number of different skill values, ranging from Small Guns (ironically including assault rifles and shotguns), Lockpicking, Barter, and Repair - each one has its own use, and specializing in these can pull out some great benefits later on. While some skills may seem rather useless, when used in combination with others, they really do shine; and thanks again to great balance, you can specialize in most anything and still come out well, save for melee and unarmed skills, which pale in comparison to any and every firearm. Each level allows you to increase these skills as you see fit, and also gives you a point to place into a Perk, a unique buff added to your character, such as increased carrying capacity, the ability to make foes explode, or increased stats in certain situations. With these, you can make a wide variety of characters, but the depth is thankfully just shallow enough to allow anyone jumping in an understanding of what exactly everything does, making it, again, next to impossible to completely screw a character over.
All of these points and scores ultimately boil down to one thing - combat. The fights of Fallout 3 are definitely pretty fun, save for some major problems.
Rather straightforward, you kill people dead in combat, but the variety of ways to do this is very entertaining and tie back into your skills - putting points into Big Guns make Miniguns devastating, while Energy Guns are useful only if you put points into the Energy Weapons skill. Unfortunately, weapons outside of the Small Guns category are notably hard to come by, either through the actual weapon or the ammo needed to use it, so their use is somewhat limited to the endgame, where guns like the Flamer have enough users to keep one in good condition and supplied with enough ammo. While this can be overcome somewhat, it still remains a notable issue when you want to specialize in something other than Small Guns.
A player can choose to not only shoot up fools in real time, but also to slow things down with the VATS system, which allows you to spend some Action Points (in a nod to previous Fallout games) to slow down time, pause the game, target certain limbs, and let the destruction rain. However, these come down to simple rolls of the dice, so an otherwise accurate shot might be deemed impossible by VATS, but, at close range or with certain weapons, the system is a godsend, allowing you to maul people with ease... quite literally in fact, as killed enemies oftentimes explode into a flurry of limbs. While entertaining for a while, it does eventually get old to see heads flying in a torrent of blood and other appendages when you just want to get back into the flow. Because of the gratuitous violence, combat starts out as gritty and desperate, firing wildly to bring down irradiated freaks and raiders alike, but certain points can seem somewhat overdone, and not in a particularly good way. VATS ultimately becomes a bane for those used to a standard FPS experience, a nuance for typical players, and otherwise just another way to kill people, coming down to a combat system that feels awkwardly imprecise, trying to cater to too many people and not really succeeding either in real time, thanks to some shoddy camera work and unfriendly aiming mechanics, or in a mechanical, semi-real-time mode, either, as it is limited to your supply of Action Points and your ability to stomach the overly D&D dice-rolling experience and the exceedingly violent explosions.
One interesting note - it's particularly hard for the controls to ever be an issue, but Fallout 3 certainly manages to break that mold by creating some seriously messed up control schemes. Combat constantly feels clunky and fidgeting through menus, locations, stances and views is a royal pain. It all comes down to a very annoying experience, especially in the heat of battle when you're trying to heal, switch back to first person, stop crouching, pull out your gun and turn off your light (seriously, holding buttons for an action is God-awful) - all tasks that are not made entirely easy.
Outside of combat, there still remain a number of things to keep you busy. You can use Lockpicking to open up otherwise sealed doors, Science to control machinery to your advantage, Medicine to heal yourself up... or to get high, Repair to keep your weapons in tip-top shape (as they degrade with use, a wholly realistic situation, albeit somewhat annoying at times), and Barter and Speech to work people over to your advantage. Specializing in some of these abilities will open up new paths, both literally and indirectly, by offering up new conversation paths or giving you access to otherwise blocked off areas...
... Which leads to the element of exploration. Post-Apocalyptia is an amazing place to venture forth into, especially as all the locations in the world remain a mystery until you go there. As soon as the game really starts, you can head in the direction opposite of the main quest and just see where the game takes you - perhaps its into a desolate metro station, a torn-up city, a raider camp, or some place truly surprising. Just wondering around is one of the best things to do, even as the landscapes begin to blend together - while shockingly destroyed to start off with, it gets somewhat old to look at rock outcrop and collapsed building time and time again... which, while keeping in the realism, still means that the environments are recycled over time and space, but still do keep in surprisingly well with the actual geography of the area.
In exploring the Wasteland, you'll come by a number of quests for you to complete, doled out by townsfolk, fake governments, hopeless regimes and out-of-place groups. While the number of quests is sometimes minimal, the immense depth within each one and the number of paths that you can take (and the ways to complete them) is something to be admired - for each straightforward, plain solution, there are just as many devious, subtle, and fulfilling ways to save or ruin someone's life. Each mission also bears with it a distinct moral choice, oftentimes making you pause and consider the consequences should you sell someone out, save a person, or damn an entire town to a nuclear holocaust.
Ultimately, Fallout's greatest component is a certain element of immersion - from the beginning of the game to simply wandering about; it's easy to get lost in the sheer ambiance of it all. At times, I've been drawn in entirely to the world, simply loving walking around town, exploring a metro station, and fighting for my life. However, for each time the game brings you in, it decides to kick you out just as fast - leveling occurs the exact instant you are out of combat; glitches and game crashes detract from the experience when you're forced to restart the system; conversations with the NPCs generally feel static and oftentimes forced recycled voices, locations and enemies get old after the fifth time; random halts and otherwise poorly implemented events are a real pain - these issues range from frequent to rare encounters, but they are notable for completely ruining the experience quickly and entirely.
At the end of the day, Fallout 3 is certainly a step away from the previous Fallout games, but similarly a step in a new, mushroom-cloud-shaped direction - between the fantastic atmosphere, great immersion, gritty and adrenaline-filled combat and a fantastic blend of exploration and detail-oriented quests make for a well done game that is marred with constant problems, bugs, glitches and other issues, including controls, breaks in the immersion, a somewhat clunky combat experience and recycled... everything (but in a nuclear-scenario, perhaps it's all too realistic to have everything recycled). Perhaps you can still stomach all the rads from drinking this potion, you'll come to enjoy the sweetness of it all - just be prepared for the nasty side effects.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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