Review by BloodGod65

"Nothing Can Prepare You for the Future"

The original two Fallout games are held in such high esteem among PC gamers that they could conceivably be called sacred cows. Even today, both games enjoy a massive following of players who enjoy the absolute freedom the games allow. Despite the lingering popularity of their games, Interplay ran into financial troubles and was unable to complete a third iteration of the Fallout series. For years the franchise lay dormant. Nearly a decade after the last game, a new Fallout game has arrived, this time developed by Bethesda.

Fallout 3 begins, quite literally, at birth. Through a hazy screen, players will witness the birth of their own character (from a first person perspective, no less) and then get the opportunity to pick their sex, name and adult appearance. From there the game spends the next hour or so teaching the player about the game's various mechanics; as a Vault-dweller, players will see through the infant eyes of their character while picking their character stats, the tenth birthday that brings the acquisition of the Pip-Boy and finally the night your father escapes from the Vault, which is where the story really begins. All in all, this is a somewhat lengthy but much better version of Oblivion's dungeon start-up sequence.

After making a hasty escape from the Vault, players will finally be confronted with the blasted expanse of the nuclear wasteland and the imposing task of finding a single man somewhere out in the irradiated wastes. While the main story starts off as little more than a series of fetch quests, it eventually opens up and becomes a very intriguing story.

However, the story of Fallout 3 is not limited to its main quest. Nor is it entirely comprised of the other side quests that players can pick up across the land. In fact, the story and history of the Fallout universe is woven and embedded into the very fabric of the game. It seems like you can find something relating to Fallout history, or something that helps flesh out the franchise's lore over every hill. The way this is accomplished isn't comparable to anything else on the market today, although Bioshock comes close. Not only will players be able to find documents that give information (for instance there are several places that provide chilling firsthand accounts of the period immediately after the war), but the environment itself is capable of telling a story. There are numerous areas that have no quests or in-game information tied to them, and yet simply walking through them is more than enough to tell their history. In effect, this makes exploring worthwhile just for its own sake and is as much of a payoff as finding loot.

As far as dealing with the wasteland firsthand goes, players will find the game is remarkably similar to Oblivion. In fact, Todd Howard's comment that Fallout was like "Oblivion with guns" wasn't too far off the mark, although that fails to capture the true essence of the game. Regardless, the formula is the same as players are allowed to roam the open world at their leisure, taking on quests or doing whatever comes to mind.

Eventually though, everyone will wind up performing quests even if it is simply for the sake of progression. The total number of quests is only a fraction of what it was in Oblivion, yet nearly all of them are more complicated, lengthy and interesting. While talking about any of them would ruin a few of the game's surprises, all of them are worth doing because of the rewards usually given at their completion.

The game does implement a karma meter that measures the relative morality level of player's choices, but things are rarely as simple as picking the good or bad option. In fact, it's often hard to even decide what the good or bad option is. In a world like the one depicted in the Fallout universe, things only come in shades of grey. What's more is that, unlike any other game I've ever played, I was actually worried about the consequences of my actions. At times I wandered around for hours before actually reaching a conclusion about what I wanted to do. There were also times when I made a choice, only to have something completely unexpected happen. Rarely do I feel any sense of remorse or guilt for my actions in a game, and yet Fallout has elicited those responses more times than I care to count. A lot of this stems from the countless number of ways a quest can play out, with ideal choices often producing unforeseen results down the line.

If there's one thing that remains predictable throughout the course of the game, it's that violence is a necessary and unavoidable action. Fallout 3 is unique in that it offers two different combat systems to play with. The first is basically the standard first person shooter system. Put enemies behind the targeting reticule and shoot until they're not moving any more. Of the two, this is definitely the weaker. The shooting physics are terrible. It's impossible to predict where a shot will go and your accuracy will vary wildly from encounter to encounter. Trying to hit anything in this mode is usually an exercise in futility, as I've come across instances in which a point blank shot miraculously misses the target. However, it is important to remember that this game was never intended to be played as a twitchy first person shooter (although it's still tough not to wish for tighter shooting mechanics when traipsing around in the first person viewpoint all the time).

Most combat scenarios will be played out using VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). In this mode, players have a set amount of Action Points to use, and each gun uses a different amount for each shot. It is also possible to target each section of the body for extra effect – a critically wounded leg means the enemy can't move as fast. Each target is also accompanied by a percentage chance of hitting, so there's rarely any guesswork involved with VATS. As commands are put in the action plays out in cinematic slow motion that gives a cool view of the fight. Although it's cool at first, there is no option to turn off the slow motion effect. After ten hours or so, it just gets painful to watch the exact same death sequences over and over, making combat a chore to slog through. And you can conceivably sink over a hundred hours into the game, making this unfortunate decision a significant problem in the long run.

The violence that results from combat is as prevalent, gratuitous and downright ridiculous as it has ever been in the series. A single pistol shot has the uncanny ability to blow the limbs off a person, shotgun blasts turns flesh into crimson mist and plasma weapons vaporize bodies into puddles of green goo. Bethesda has no qualms about showing the barbaric nature of a post-apocalyptic America, but given that the violence sometimes escalates to laughable levels, it's hard to worry too much about its graphic depiction. Hands down, my favorite moment of combat was misjudging a throw and having a grenade land behind an enemy, only to see his legs get blown off as he was catapulted across the room.

A final issue with combat is the limited array of enemy types. All told, the enemy roster consists of Raiders, Super Mutants, an occasional robot, and a variety of giant mutated wildlife. The list of enemies is relatively small and most of them are uninteresting (being attacked by giant roaches, ants, and flies is more comical than frightening). Raiders and Super Mutants form the bulk of the enemies you'll face, and there just isn't enough variation between them to keep things interesting. Regardless of their armor and weapons, they all use the same dumb tactics of running straight at you while firing at full auto. As with the VATS combat, there just isn't enough depth here to sustain the amount of gameplay Fallout 3 has to offer. The result is a game that grows stale long before it should.

Unlike Oblivion, experience comes through defeating enemies and completing quests rather than by skill use. Eventually characters level up, which comes with numerous rewards. Characters gain a certain number of skill points (based upon a character's intelligence level, determined in the opening Vault sequence), which can be applied to one of the many skill areas, and include things like weapon classes, sneaking, speaking, bartering, medical skills, hacking and lock-picking. As more points are put into these skills, their effectiveness increases. Players will also be able to pick a perk for their character. Again, these are numerous and varied with everything from boosts to certain skills to becoming a cannibal (which endows the ability to munch on corpses for extra health).

The oft maligned third person view of Oblivion has also received a significant revamping this time. While it still won't be the choice perspective to play from, it is notably better this time around as it feels a lot like the successful Resident Evil 4 over the shoulder viewpoint.

Despite its well-oiled gameplay and intricately interwoven story, Fallout 3 wouldn't reach nearly the same heights if its graphics weren't as good as they are. In short, the game looks excellent. Bethesda's depiction of post-apocalyptic America is simply unbelievable. Upon exiting the Vault, the sight that greets players is simultaneously breath-taking and bone-chilling. The blasted landscape stretches as far as the eye can see; a wasteland of dead earth and barren rock. Here and there, remnants of a once prosperous nation and its accomplishments still stand – the crumbled arches of raised highways, looming monoliths of high rise towers and the broken ruins of suburbs. The city of DC is just as impressive and even more unsettling. Being able to stand where the national mall once was and see the crumbling obelisk of the Washington Monument, a beheaded Lincoln and the war-torn capital building, all divided by an area of fortified WWI-esque trenches is a surreal and haunting moment.

I'm sure that the dismal color palette of the game (mainly browns and greys), and the utter desolation of the game world will bother some people. I admit, there were moments when I had to step away from the game because of how monotone and soul-numbingly bleak it is. Yet this is unarguably for the better of the game – the complete despair and hopelessness of living in a world such as this comes through loud and clear.

Fallout games have always been able to claim a unique sound design and the third iteration is no different. Ron Perlman makes a triumphant return and his chilling monologue on the nature of war (it never changes) sets the stage for the rest of the game like no one else could. Liam Neeson, recently of Batman Begins fame, takes the task of voicing your father and does a great job of it. Veteran gamers will also recognize a few other voices from some other games, namely returning NPC's from Oblivion, which can be quite odd.

Music is handled fairly well. The orchestral music seems completely out of place and at odds with the atmosphere, but thankfully it doesn't kick in often. The real world licensed music adds a unique atmospheric layer much like in Bioshock, but there isn't a very wide selection of songs. However, the silence is often the best accompaniment to the adventure, not to mention much more natural. In the never-ending expanse of the atomic wasteland, the silence is oppressive. In some areas, there is a bit of ambient noise that accents the environs perfectly. For instance, in the ruins of Washington the ominous tone of rusted metal and girders flexing in the wind is an ethereal, almost ghostly sound.

In the end, Fallout 3 is a truly epic game that has just a few too many snags to claim perfection. Even so, Bethesda's reimagining of a classic series is excellent and does its source material justice. While some may decry all the changes made to the formula, these changes only help Bethesda achieve their goal of immersing players into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. If you're a Fallout fan, or just want a futuristic take on Oblivion, Fallout 3 is a must-own game.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/03/09, Updated 01/22/13

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

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