Fallout 3 review
The vault door groans to life and rolls open. You have just enough time to say a heartfelt goodbye before security is on your ass. A small tunnel lies ahead of you and at the end you can see light peering in through the doors cracks. You open it and step out into the world for the first time in your life. The sun is blinding. Your eyes aren’t use to the intensity of the natural light but they soon adjust, and you begin to make sense of your surroundings. You think you can make out an old radio broadcast tower against the horizon but it’s impossible to tell from this distance. You know you should be on the hunt for your dear old dad but that tower is tantalizing, teasing you with the secrets that it may or may not contain. Luckily deciding what to do is entirely up to you. Welcome to the Capital Wasteland.
Its scenarios like the one described above that has allowed Fallout 3 to captivate a generation of gamers. The house that The Elder Scrolls built is no stranger to creating sprawling worlds that just beg to be explored but Fallout 3 was the first time that Bethesda really managed to fill one of these worlds with set-pieces that stay with you after you’ve finished playing. Wreaking havoc as the pint-sized slasher in Tranquility Lane, besting your first Super Mutant Behemoth with the trusty Fat Man, taking a stroll with Liberty Prime and more are all some of the past console generations most memorable moments.
The atmosphere is the other reason Fallout 3 stands out from the rest of the RPG pack, a genre which is still usually associated with swords and sorcery. Compared to those games the world of Fallout feels not only plausible but downright possible. In the shadow of a nuclear apocalypse the average person is just struggling to survive. Towns are often little more than a handful of people who’ve banded together in settlements that have been created from whatever junk happened to be laying around. The monsters of Fallout aren’t the work of magic rather they are poor men, women, and creatures who’ve been twisted by the effects of radiation and others who’ve had their molecular structures altered by sick experiments carried out by scientists who were seeking to create the perfect soldiers. But the most common enemy is just your fellow man, driven insane by desperation.
The retro-futuristic aesthetic of the few remnants of pre-war life clash wonderfully with the harsh backwards way of living most of the wasteland settlers are subject to. While personal mileage out of the soundtrack will vary, I got a kick out of the old timey music that plays on the games main radio station. Unfortunately there aren’t actually that many songs so prepare to hear ‘Anything Goes’ more often than you’d like, unless you prefer the soothing sounds of ‘Yankee Doodle’. While we’re speaking of sound design I’d like to point out that this is a step up from the usual Bethesda efforts. While nameless npcs still sound like clones of one another the voice actors behind them no longer sound as if they are in pure check-cashing mode.
In fact some of the main characters truly sound fantastic. Liam Neeson utterly nails the role of the protagonist’s father and I’d like to see his name pop up in a few more games. Likewise for whoever did the voices for Three Dogg and John Henry Eden as they manage to give the characters some real personality. The rest of the audio is generally excellent, everything from a sniper rifle shot to a nuke going off sounds as you would expect.
Graphically the game doesn’t fare too well up when you’re up close and personal but the sheer scale of it all helps to offset this. While not exactly hard on the eyes it does inherit many of the flaws that plagued Oblivion. Characters have a slightly plastic looking quality to them and they all sort of slide about as if they’ve got a stick lodged up their rear end. However when you’re gazing down upon the capital city from the top of the Washington monument or watching as a raider is decapitated in slow motion it’s likely that you just won’t care about these minor faults. Fallout 3 might not exactly impress graphically from a technical standpoint but it sports an artistic design that few other titles can match.
On the gameplay front is where Fallout 3 comes back to earth just a bit but even then it’s hard to complain too much. I wrote in another review that the way a game controls has to compliment said game and I even used Fallout as my example. The aiming system in Fallout isn’t the most responsive and because behind the scenes dice rolls determine player success, it’s entirely possible to line up a perfect headshot that just completely misses the mark.
This upsets some people but it has to be understood that Fallout isn’t really a shooter. If anything I'd say it's more of a first person adventure game. The VATS system is the preferred method and the game really only encourages real time combat when the player is low on Action Points and trying to stave off enemies until enough time has passed to enter VATS again. Luckily VATs is very satisfying; both from a gaming standpoint and a purely visual one. Deciding whether it’s worth eating a barrage of bullets as you get closer in order to improve your chances of landing a shot is exhilarating and feels like the next logical progression of the original games combat system.
The RPG elements have seen a bit of a facelift since Oblivion. Instead of individual skills leveling up as you use them, you dictate how your skills will progress every time you gain a level. Not only does this stop players from exploiting the system it also ensures that you are able to shape your character however you see fit every step of the way. The different perks that are available every couple of levels allow you to give your character special skills that help to give you an advantage over the rest of the capital wastelands inhabitants, such as receiving less radiation from drinking irradiated water or gaining the ability to feast upon corpses to gain health. You wont be able to gain every single perk during the course of the game though so make sure that you choose carefully each time.
Really it’s that freedom of choice that makes Fallout 3 so special. From the moment your character is born you get to decide exactly what kind of person they will be. A dumb powerhouse who means well? If that’s not your cup of tea, then you might prefer a smart silver-tongued dick who uses manipulation to get what he wants. The ability to tackle every single situation in numerous ways, and create vastly different characters will have you replaying the title time and time again. While many games promise each player a truly unique experience unlike anyone else’s few deliver on that claim like Fallout. The amount of variables at play in this game are truly mind-boggling.
Unless you just mindlessly follow an online guide its next to impossible for your play-through to turn out exactly the same as another person. It’s been said that freedom in video games is merely an illusion. If that’s the case then the developers over at Bethesda are some pretty talented magicians.
Sounds pretty much perfect right? Well it is… pretty much. As previously mentioned the graphics are a little rough around the edges, and as inevitable with a game of this size there are a few bugs and glitches that can crop up but the main disappointment is the games main narrative. While it starts off strong enough it eventually degrades into a twist on the standard save the world plot at the center of most role playing games (although with this being Fallout you do also have the option to wipe out most lifeforms so there’s that) . When there is so much more being offered though it is hard to get too riled up when one of the dozens of stories that the game has to tell you falls a little flat.
Offering hundreds of hours of content and available for dirt cheap nowadays there is not a single good reason not to pick Fallout 3 up if you haven’t already. It’s a unique one of a kind experience that should be on the shelves of all who consider themselves fans of the role-playing genre.
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