Fallout 3 Xbox 360, PS3, PC
When Fallout 3’s Executive Producer Todd Howard summed up Bethesda’s take on the post-apocalyptic franchise as “Oblivion with guns” that statement may have been closer to the truth than he would have liked to admit. But whilst the foundations for Fallout 3 were clearly laid by the excellent latest Elder Scrolls installment, this title has built upon and improved those fundamentals immeasurably.
Set in the year 2277, two hundreds years after a devastating nuclear war, Fallout 3 opens with a vagina, as your character is born into the world. The player character grows up in Vault 101, a self-sustaining underground shelter designed to protect its inhabitants from the horrors of the outside world. The initial tutorial tasks you with playing through various snapshot moments of childhood and adolescence, and this does a fantastic job of quickly giving the player a sense of belonging.
The claustrophobic metal corridors of the Vault soon bring with them a desire for freedom which doesn’t take long to manifest itself into an opportunity for escape. Your father mysteriously disappears from the confines of your steel dwelling and you become a wanted man (or woman).
Unsurprisingly you soon find yourself stepping into daylight for the first time in your life, in a moment which parallels Oblivion’s introductory sewer escape, but is much more poignant. The bleak, foreboding, irradiated, ravaged landscape that is laid out before you immediately makes you wish to turn tail and flee back to the safety of the Vault.
But this is where the game-proper begins and the exploration that is at the heart of Fallout 3 can commence. The game is set around the ‘Capitol Wasteland’ of the former Washington D.C. and surrounding areas, and although a familiarity with the local landmarks and previous Fallout games will no doubt add an extra level of satisfaction, it’s certainly no necessity for enjoyment.
Reminiscent of Bioshock’s retro-futuristic 50s era links, the America of Fallout 3 is one that appears to have been foreseen from the 1940’s. It’s a world of robot butlers, fusion-powered cars, fear and awe of the power of atomic weaponry, and staunch patriotism and anti-communism that has been reduced to a husk of its former self. The destroyed freeways, shopping malls, subways, tower blocks and monuments, when viewed over a soundtrack of superb 40’s classics like Billie Holiday, are hauntingly beautiful.
Appropriately for the setting, much of the gameplay in Fallout 3 consists of scavenging for weapons, ammo, apparel, health packs and any other junk that can be sold for bottle caps, which have become the new currency of those people that make up the remnants of civilisation. As the weight of items that you can carry is limited, deciding what is worth salvaging can potentially be a huge diversion, but certainly something worth doing to ensure you are best equipped for survival.
The Wasteland is a hazardous place, and you’ll come across a huge variety of mutated bugs, mole rats, dogs and ghouls, as well as the dreaded Supermutants. Luckily, you can use the invaluable V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) which essentially allows you to freeze combat and select a specific enemy body-part to target with your chosen weapon. These have different percentage changes of success based on your distance from the enemy, the selected weapon, any obstacles and your current combat statistics.
When the selections have been made, a slow-motion and usually gory scene will follow. Unfortunately, you only have a limited number of Action Points that can be used each time (usually enough for three or four shots), before you must wait for these to regenerate. Although V.A.T.S. is optional, and you can simply point and shoot as in a regular First-Person Shooter, the guns look and feel so unimpressive outside of the V.A.T.S. system, that you may as well be blowing spitballs at enemies.
Battles tend to dissolve into a routine of using V.A.T.S. and then running, hiding or evading whilst your Action Points replenish, then popping out to use V.A.T.S. again. Despite this, the over-the-top violence, the uniqueness of V.A.T.S. and the variety of weapons and foes to use them on, somehow manage to keep combat enjoyable despite its potential repetitiveness.
That said, the enemy A.I. is somewhat lacking, as almost every adversary will blindly run towards the player whilst attacking, and will vary rarely attempt any advanced tactics like retreating or seeking cover. The animation also leaves something to be desired, as robotic movements aren’t ideal for any assailant, besides those that are actually robotic of course…
Thankfully, Bethesda have provided the player with the possibility of occasionally avoiding combat through the development of alternative skills such as lock picking, hacking and persuasion. Fallout 3 has much more traditional system of progression than Oblivion, with Experience Points being awarded for kills, quest completions and exploration. With each successive Experience Level gained, points can be assigned to various attributes ranging from Repair to Science to Strength.
Speaking of strengths, that of Fallout 3 has to be the script and wonderfully inventive quests. Dialogue, voice-acting and facial expressions and variety have been much improved over Oblivion, and the sheer freedom of choice to do Good or Evil deeds is almost overwhelming. In fact, Fallout 3 allows the player to express themselves morally in far more profound ways than other titles like Mass Effect and Fable 2, neither of which included the option at one point to sell an innocent child into slavery.
Although there’s nothing stopping the player from sticking resolutely to the main quest of finding their father, and completing the game in around 20 hours, they’d be doing themselves a disservice as some of the most interesting scenarios arise from the many optional side-quests. There are around 20 major side-quests, some of which will take over an hour to finish, and all of which are excellently designed and varied.
Also there are many, many more minor side-quests that you may not even come across. This is a huge world that Bethesda have created, and as with Oblivion it’s likely you won’t have seen everything even after 100 hours of gaming.
I was fortunate enough to not come across any bugs in my playthrough of the game, although many other players have reported glitches that range from the hilarious to the gamebreaking. Luckily, you can save the game at any time, so any errors whether made by the player or the programming can be swiftly reverted providing to remember to save often.
Fallout 3 is an admirable achievement for Bethesda. It’s a game that provides action, adventure, exploration, interaction and excitement in a beautifully realised Armageddon that provides so many unexpected moments, but somehow manages to remain consistent and believable. Regardless of the sometimes-weak combat, this is role-playing at its finest. It’s almost enough to make you wish that those damn Communists would hurry up and drop the bomb!