Review: Fallout 3

A worthy continuation of the franchise and a fantastic game in its own right. And you can shoot people’s limbs off, too.

Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Bethesda Softworks
Release date: October 28, 2008
Reviewed on: PC

The Day the World Exploded

Your ancestors have been hiding in a huge underground vault for generations. Surface-side, the world lies in ashes (and has been otherwise royally screwed). Decade after decade, the people in the vault have been sucking on the proverbial tit of technology, until, one day, your dad decides that he’s had about enough and unseals the steel vault door. There is a slight breeze, followed by much panic, and sooner than you can say “Iguana on a Stick,” you’re out of the vault yourself, blinded by a bright yellow disc that you soon learn to call the sun. Unless your character escapes the vault at night, in which case you’re straight out of luck for the atmospheric vault-exiting experience. A post-apocalyptic world is ahead of you, yours to explore as you see fit.

Oblivion with Guns, or How the Story Started

Considering that the game is called Fallout 3, it would be logical to assume that there have been sometime, somewhere (in a galaxy not so far away) Fallout 1 and Fallout 2.

The original Fallout, an isometric RPG, was developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay in 1997. Its sequel, the story of which took place 80 years after the events of the first game, soon followed in 1998. The Fallout games stood out (and above) most other RPGs of the time due to their compelling and non-linear stories, darkly atmospheric settings, realistic characters, and visually brutal graphics.

It was a Mad Max world, set in how we’d imagined our future to be in the 60’s. Personal assistant robots, giant computers, and turbolasers after the bombs fell, leveling up mutating regular house rats into ferocious (and somewhat suicidal) monsters.

In 2007, Interplay sold the rights to the development of a single-player game set in the Fallout universe to Bethesda Softworks, the developers behind The Elder Scrolls fantasy RPG series, their latest game in the series at the time being the popular TES IV: Oblivion. Bethesda decided to set Fallout 3 in a different part of the USA than the first two games and story-wise to have almost no relation to the main plots of the originals, making playing them an option, but not a necessity to enjoying the game.

The vault door to Fallout 3’s Vault 101 opened October 2008.

Born to be Wild

Fallout 3 is a First Person RPG, akin to Oblivion or, say, Vampire: Bloodlines. Like the two Fallouts before it, the game starts with Ron Perlman narrating the franchises’ trademark line, “War … war never changes.”

Soon after, your character is literally born into the world. You are prompted to select your sex and physical appearance, and then the game lets you play through various stages of your childhood as you to select statistics and attributes. One day, when your character’s a young adult, you are woken up by your girlfriend (strictly platonic) to find out that the crap had hit the ventilator.

Your father had left the vault and the Overlord, Vault 101’s man-in-charge, had decided that if he can’t stop your dad, then he can at least have his security detail beat some sense into you.

With some help from the before mentioned girlfriend, you manage to flee from the vault into the Wasteland to begin your search for your missing father.

The main story is quite well written, if not a little on the short side. The number of sidequests you can pick up more than makes up for it, easily making for up to 80 hours of gameplay. Most quests have a number of approaches to them, be it via speech, stealth, or blowing things up. Some solutions are more subtle and unexpected (for example, I’ve successfully completed one quest just because my character had a Perk that made him a robotics wiz), and some are more straightforward.

The game locations are diverse and the characters inhabiting them – believable. Or, at least, as believable as zombie barmen can be on the believability scales.

Protective Eyewear Recommended

The game runs on a heavily modded TES IV: Oblivion engine, but surpasses the graphics of its technical predecessor by a long shot. The game generally looks fantastic, with great character models and detailed landscapes coming together to create a wonderfully immersive experience.

It’s a sandbox-type game, where you can go anywhere you damn well please. The only problem here is that traversing the wasteland can be a little bit monotonous since, after all, between the settlements and outposts and trade caravans, it is just a wasteland. And then more wasteland. And then some.

The landscape itself is well-crafted, however, and never does it look like it was spat out by a Random Terrain Generator.

Another minor graphics flaw lies with character animations. Whilst not necessarily terrible, it does look outdated compared to the rest of the game’s superior quality. This was also the problem in Oblivion and its predecessor, TES III: Morrowind. Why Bethesda is so much against motion capture technology is beyond me.

The audio in the game is great. Weapons sound appropriately menacing, the world’s ambiance’s believable, and most of the time Fallout 3’s voice acting’s pretty good as well. Your character can even tune in to a post-apocalyptic radio station, where you can listen to a cynical DJ comment on your progress.

And if you don’t like what he says, you can go to the station and shoot his face off.

Vault Boy Says Jump

When you start the game you get to define your character’s attributes, such as how strong, agile, or charismatic he or she is. A bit later you get to select three primary skills which you can develop further by leveling up.

In Fallout 3, you can invest your experience points into skills such as Small Guns (semi-automatics and various rifles), Big Guns (everything from a mini-gun to a portable nuke launcher), Science (computer hacking), Speech (persuation checks and additional dialog options), and many more.

Then, there are the Perks.

These are additional bonuses that your character gets as he (or she) gains levels that range from simple stats increase to a Mysterious Stranger Perk where a guy in a trench coat randomly intervenes in your firefights, capping the baddies with his .357.

Some of the Perks give you additional dialog tree options in conversations that may lead to interesting results.

You view all your stats and in-game info through an in-built game menu called the Pip-Boy 3000, a portable computer attached to your character’s forearm. Here you will manage your inventory, select travel destinations on the world map (also integrated into the Pip-Boy 3000), repair items, and tune to radio stations.

It’s also good for hammering nails.

All in all it’s an intuitive system that does not break the fourth wall. My only complaint with it was that the text is too large, making you have to scroll a lot when you accumulate a sizable inventory.

The game conveniently pauses when you’re browsing through your Pip-Boy, so you don’t have to worry about any unpleasant gentlemen of the wastes catching you with your pants down (and setting them on fire).

You experience the world through your character’s eyes. Mostly. The game employs a system called V.A.T.S. which lets you pause combat and target specific body parts on your enemies. It also lets you stack up shots (the number of shots you can stack and the hit percentages depend on your character’s stats). After you’re done strategizing hit “play,” the camera would show your character taking the shots from different angles, as well as your target catching them in the teeth.

These sequences are very cinematic, and the game’s gory engine makes watching limbs and heads explode off your enemies torsos rarely get old.

Children of the Atom

Fallout 3 does not disappoint.

True, some fans may disagree. But you can tell when a game’s a product of love, and this is definitely the case here. The detail in which the post-apocalyptic world is reproduced, the non-linear quests, the desolate atmosphere – all deserve the highest praise. It’s definitely not Oblivion with guns, as a number of Fallout fans have been calling it with foam at the mouth prior to the game’s release.

If your favorite games include titles like the original Fallout, System Shock 2, or Deus Ex, then you’re in for a treat. So put your Mad Max jacket on, strap on your goggles, and oil your automatics.

In a post-apocalyptic world, there is a ton of things to do.

My Rating: 4/5 Penguins


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