Review by Agent_Price

"Bananas can't really talk, but Fallout 3 sings."

Nuclear waste-soaked landscapes and gun-toting mutants are familiar territory for most gamers, and the Fallout series is synonymous with quality in this regard. For years the series lay dormant, under the control of Interplay, and the prospects of a third game loomed. Fallout 3, now under development by Elder Scrolls veterans Bethesda, looks to be the most ambitious post-apocalyptic RPG to date. A demanding task for the seasoned developer, as they run the risk of snubbing long time fans, or overwhelming newcomers. Some feared that the series would be warped from its original form, and that we would be given merely Oblivion with guns. Can Fallout 3 negate these accusations, or will the franchise turn toxic?

Fallout 3 begins with an abridged stroll through childhood and adolescence, with the player choosing stats and skills in an enjoyable and thoughtful tutorial. Through this you are coached by your father, James, voiced by the illustrious Liam Neeson. When Dad leaves the Vault in the name of science, the loyal son (or daughter) chases after him into the wastelands of Washington D.C. From here the player can follow Dad's trail, or relish the sudden freedom and stake their claim in the, albeit a bit destitute, capital wastelands. The main-quest paints a pretty solid narrative, though with some predictable plot twists. Hidden away in the wasteland are juicy bits of lore and side-quests that help expand the Fallout mythos and give structure to a world gone to Hell.

The player's first glance into a post-war landscape is a sight of terrible beauty. The landscape is dotted with alluring architecture and colorful set pieces. A rare delay in load-time may cause some objects in the distance to suddenly “pop” into view, but the overall breadth of the landscape renders this weirdness obsolete. Fallout 3's underground is a different story, however, as the player will roam hundreds of miles of near identical subway tunnels, reminiscent of Oblivion's xeroxed dungeons. Lighting changes and more unique decoration would have gone a long way to diversify these locales. Overall, the quality and sprawl of Fallout 3‘s underground remains impressive, and diligent players will uncover plenty of cash, weapons, and lore well worth the exploratory effort.

While the landscape and art are gorgeous, animation and expressions can be stiff. In general, the characters will path about naturally, stopping to chat and holding believable posture. On occasion, however, you will get a cluster of town-folk who seem to forget how to act like civilized human beings, and instead bump endlessly into one another, among other bizarre and unnatural behavior. These glitches are more often hilarious than game-breaking, but can take away from the otherwise menacing atmosphere. The ambient sound effects of Fallout 3 are eerie and unsettling, while the score is forgettable epic stock. The forties stylings of The Ink Spots and Bob Crosby, however, set the perfect mood for Fallout's post-apocalyptic roguery.

The Pip-boy 3000, a combination computer, GPS, and torch, acts as the player's inventory, quest log, and map. The Pip-boy streamlines these tools together with a sleek mono-tone interface. Although, the local map leaves much to be desired, as the colors and layout make it tricky to determine your current position. The quest log keeps a tight record of gathered information and audio recordings which can be accessed while exploring, much like the recorded diaries of Bioshock. The quick travel option makes getting around a cinch and, coupled with the waypoint system, eases player wanderlust. Inventory management is painless, although it can be hard to determine what bits of scrap and garbage may actually be useful. Generally players will choose either sell all their scrap, or become wasteland pack-rats.

The skills and perks system allows for simple and clean leveling, while leaving plenty of room for customization. The perks are clever, tying nicely into the Vault Dwellers back story, and bring a lot of personality to the character. The skills lock-picking and science will turn into staples for most player character concepts, as some doors and lock-boxes require maximum skill level in one or the other. Combat can be handled completely in real time, but most players will want to use the Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S. An adaptation of the combat system from previous Fallout's, V.A.T.S. allows you to pause combat, queue up multiple attacks, and target more specific points on enemies. This system allows many of the player's stats to better factor into the attacks, as certain perks affect accuracy with the various weapons types or how accurately you can pop someone in the face. Attacks play out automatically when using V.A.T.S., and the satisfaction of watching enemies explode into a fine crimson mist never loses its appeal, as the camera angle changes up to ensure the novelty. Once attacks are in motion, however, there is no way to cancel them. Automatic weapons will eat a lot more ammo than you may use otherwise, so it's best to alternate between the two combat options.

Fallout 3 hits a few snags with only the visual glitches affecting the overall grandeur of the game. The story and characters are well-crafted, and the combat is fun and engaging. It is a massive undertaking, with enough options and content to keep gamers entertained for hours on end. All fears can be squelched, as Fallout 3 is a worthy entry in this long standing series, as Bethesda shows us that while war never changes, a few changes to the way war is waged can make for a gratifying experience.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 08/20/09, Updated 11/02/09

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

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