Fallout 3 Reader Review
Have you ever wanted to drop a thermonuclear weapon on Washington D.C.? Bethesda Game Studios have, and they actually went ahead with the idea - and they�ve done a damn fine job.
From the first moment you emerge from Vault 101 - your dark, claustrophobic home since birth - and you are presented with the twisted, macabre landscape of post-fallout Washington, it quickly becomes clear that you�re going to be spending a good chunk of your spare time here. Everything you see can be visited, explored, ransacked and stained with the blood of your enemies, and there�s a heck of a lot to see.
And none of it disappoints. The main storyline is interesting enough, with various twists, turns and revelations amid the hectic action and adventure to keep you occupied and entertained, but should you feel a bit more intrepid you�ll find a great deal to do instead. Everywhere you visit has its own story to tell, some more interesting or obvious than others, and you never know who you�ll stumble upon in the wastelands.
The level of detail Bethesda has placed into Fallout 3 is unparalleled in the video gaming world. It should be understood that this doesn�t necessarily mean the sort of detail that Rockstar put into GTA 4 with its various graphical touches, as Fallout 3 differs in this respect by recycling textures and objects all over the place, including some of the less important buildings. Instead of going for technical gloss, they�ve gone for narrative perfection, which is far more involving to the player than simply making sure that roads in different areas look �right�. During the course of your expeditions into the wilderness you can stumble upon wholly unexpected scenarios, find seemingly mundane items which lead to quests, and often just the way in which objects have been placed in a room can have you imagining stories as to why and how they have been left that way.
It is this world which can captivate you for dozens of hours, driving you to take a gander into every crevice, talk to everybody you find, and wander far from the beaten path to find something interesting.
Some of the characters you meet on your travels range from the mundane to the seriously unhinged, and in many cases offer a profound look into the potential consequences nuclear warfare might have on the human mind. Many of them have the sort of genuine concerns you might expect, such as worrying about missing family members, or struggling to end conflict with some of the more nefarious residents of the wastes. But in such a dangerous world, populated by terrifying Super Mutants, enlarged animals and vicious raiders and slavers, you would never expect to be asked to help a sugar-high woman complete her collection of cola bottles, for example.
Perhaps the most tragic thing about Fallout 3 then is that you can�t empathise with many of these characters. While the quests are all excellent, often leading to unexpected conclusions and rarely being predictable, the guys giving them out are hollow. Some of the voice acting is top-notch, particularly those portraying the characters in the main storyline, but a great number of them are quite uninspiring and even verging on poor. This isn�t helped by the writing some of them have to work with - for example, telling a boy that his father has been killed results in what amounts to a thoroughly apathetic "oh well, better go home and sulk now" from the orphan.
Due in part to its Oblivion heritage, Fallout 3 also inherits one of that game�s less impressive features - character detail. While a great deal has been done to improve the models, textures and animations used by the people in the world, they still pale in comparison to games like Mass Effect, GTA 4 or even Half-Life 2 to some extent. For a game that involves interacting with people so often, it is a crying shame that their voices, writing and details leave so much to be desired, especially when one considers the detail that has been put into the world itself.
Some of the people you meet are less eager to talk and more inclined to shoot you in the face. Or the groin, if you�re particularly unlucky. To deal with these naughty types, Vault-Tec has generously provided you with the �V.A.T.S.�, or �Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System�, which is Bethesda�s attempt to marry first-person, real-time combat with the turn-based heritage typical of most RPGs, prior Fallouts included.
This is especially fortunate, as Fallout 3�s real-time combat isn�t up to par with most dedicated shooting games. It�s playable by all means, and personally I find it more entertaining if you switch to third-person, but when the combat is so fast paced it really doesn�t help that the mechanism behind it is so imprecise and difficult to control. V.A.T.S. allows you to temporarily pause the game, giving you the chance to catch your breath and target specific body parts on any visible enemy using a limited pool of �action points�. While you�re deciding which part of the unfortunate soul�s body you want to blow off, it tells you how healthy each of their bits are, and the pecentage chance you have of actually hitting them from your present range and angle. As soon as you accept your choices, the camera will shift to a slow-motion, cinematic view as your character carries out his or her instructions, often with gruesome effect.
Not only does V.A.T.S. help you deal with enemies more effectively than the conventional combat system would otherwise allow, but it can also be handy for particularly dark areas where spotting enemies at a distance is difficult. At first it can seem to be a bit naff and extremely disappointing, as your character will frequently miss the shots even at close range and you have a very limited pool of action points to use, but once you�ve levelled up your skills a bit you become an unstoppable killing machine.
Fallout 3 uses a three-tiered system of statistics to help you reach this goal. It�s a significant improvement over Oblivion�s method of beefing you your characters, and it allows for greater customisation and specialisation than games like Mass Effect. To begin with you must choose your core attributes, known as �S.P.E.C.I.A.L.� - strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck, to be precise. From then on, each time you gain enough experience points to earn a level, you get the chance to up your skills, which range from small arms to bartering in nature.
All of this is superfluous to the main point however - it�s the perks which are the most interesting aspect of Fallout 3�s new system. At each new level, you are allowed to choose a single perk, and these offer a multitude of different benefits to your character and provide an extra layer of customisation. Some perks allow you to carry more weight and others can drastically improve your skills in various fields such as computer hacking, while the more eccentric perks include the option to up the gore to even greater levels of morbid depravity. It�s an interesting idea with a few nice touches, and once you have a few of them beneath your belt you can really start to appreciate their value.
Once you�ve got your head around some of these new twists on old formulae, you won�t be able to escape from the D.C. Wasteland. Simply put, Fallout 3 is one of the most beautiful and engrossing places ever portrayed in this medium, and it�ll keep you coming back for more long after you�ve finished the main story.
9 / 10