Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Action RPG
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publishers: Bethesda Softworks, ZeniMax Media
Age rating: 18+
Release date: October 31, 2008
The subject of doomsday’s wake has been dealt with many times before, but rarely as vividly realised as in Bethesda’s latest action/role-playing hybrid. Fallout 3 offers a vast post-apocalyptic Washington DC to explore, in which the player is given boundless freedom. Whether it’s the choice between vanilla hero or nefarious villain or between joining a tribe or flying solo in this brave new world, the decision is yours alone, and it’s this level of interactivity that makes the game a winner.
The story begins with the protagonist’s birth in the year 2277. Nuclear war now occupies its own section in the history books, but humanity has endured deep beneath the ground in such constructs as Vault 101, your character’s home. Growing up in this subterranean sanctuary, you have lived a sheltered life (literally), experiencing nothing of the irradiated land outside, a wasteland once known as Washington DC. The former U.S. capital - now Capital Wasteland - is now a radioactive hell crawling with giant insects and other hideously mutated lifeforms. You awaken one morning to discover your father (voiced by Liam Neeson) has left the safety of Vault 101 and crossed the post-nuclear landscape without so much as a goodbye. Henceforth, your journey into hell in search of an explanation begins.
After tracking your father to a settlement known as Rivet City, you meet a scientist named Doctor Li, who soon has you entangled in a science vs. government conflict with implications for the whole of humanity (or what’s left of it).
Capital Wasteland is a harsh, unforgiving world but thoroughly deep, absorbing and involving. A ruined Washington Monument looms over a devastated landscape blighted by pools of radioactive sludge, desolate shells of buildings and burnt-out cars litter the scene, and a scarred Capitol building lies heavily guarded by arcane figures. Exploring this expansive world can be daunting - not least because it is a chilling interpretation on the future of humanity - but also very rewarding. There is a great emphasis on non-linear exploration, with hidden caves, settlements, disused warehouses and abandoned factories to tour, as well as some fascinating locals to acquaint yourself with. You will encounter disgruntled mutants, a Lord Of The Flies-esque tribe, as well as organisations seen in earlier Fallout games, such as the Brotherhood of Steel, a group of technology-coveting freedom fighters, and the Enclave, the elitist and murderous government remnants. Whether these characters are allies or mortal enemies is entirely up to the player.
Previous Fallout titles are well known for their comedic dialogue and black humour, but here we have a more sombre entry to the series. Bethesda has gone for a deeper concept, a strong script and meaningful inter-character relationships. The humour, however, is still there beneath the game’s dark, unsettling tone.
Although the game’s world is thoroughly non-linear, progression is dependent on the completion of a series of missions. There aren’t as many of these as you might think, but the emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. The story’s direction depends on which quests you decide to play, and the choices you make during them. A karma metre measures the morality of your character, moving up or down based on your actions. For instance, helping a hapless orphan find a home or weaning an addict off drugs will see your karma rise, while engaging in cannibalism will see it fall dramatically. Other characters' perception of you is dependent on your karma level. Good-natured characters will avoid you like a bout of radiation sickness if your level is low, while undesirables will seek to join your party.
The consequences of your actions are far-reaching, many of them only coming back to haunt you later in the game. Character interaction is extremely complex, not least because you are moulding your character's own development as you go along. There is a wealth of dialogue choices to select when conversing with other characters and the attributes system - which will be familiar to anyone who has played previous Fallout titles - is an effective and involving way of advancing your character’s growth and skill levels.
Gameplay mechanics are much improved this time around. Playing from the third-person perspective feels somewhat awkward, but the first-person view is apt for combat situations despite a few annoying camera quirks. The Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS) allows the player to freeze time and target foes' body parts to precision. Watching mutants' limbs explode in slow-motion is extremely gratifying, and a headshot result in some of the best in-game fatalities outside of the Mortal Kombat franchise, but be warned, you can only carry out a limited number of VATS commands at any given time, so some real-time combat is unavoidable.
As the game progresses, you build up an impressive arsenal. The sawn-off shotgun delivers some brutal damage and the dissolving effect of the plasma rifle will have you hollering with delight after the first few frags. Ruining a mutant’s head with the supersledge is nothing short of horrific, but in the best possible way. While unabashed slaughter is not without its charm, this is far from a mere run-and-gun romp. Every shot you reel off has its repercussions.
Unfortunately for Playstation 3 owners, it would seem the game is technically inferior to its Xbox 360 and PC counterparts. All three versions suffer from a lack of fluidity where animation is concerned, but only the PS3 edition is addled by pixelated edges and underexposed lighting. A number of bugs seem to have slipped through the quality control net too. Characters' features and limbs occasionally disappear and day becoming night often leaves streaks on the screen. The Xbox and PC versions also offer trophy support, a feature not yet included in the PS3 version (but Bethesda assure us it's on the way).
Fallout 3 is one of the most ambitious titles to hit shelves this year, and one impossible not to recommend. Favourable comparisons can be made to Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series where gameplay mechanics are concerned, and BioShock for tonality. The sheer depth of each mission and the almost limitless paths your character can take in post-apocalyptic Washington hiding a thousand dark secrets gives the game plenty of replay value. It may have taken a long time coming but it was worth the wait. This is one of the deepest and absorbing RPGs in recent memory.
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