Fallout 3 • Page 2

A falling out.

Enemies won't be moving at all much of the time you're fighting them, though, and that is quite deliberate, a result of the game's Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS. Much like the Pause Play in BioWare's Dragon Age: Origins, this marks a sort of return by stealth of turn-based tactics into real-time RPG combat, and in both cases, we approve.

VATS allows you to stop time and spend action points on stringing together attacks. If you have a gun, you can target enemies' limbs and heads specifically - perhaps shooting a gun arm, or going for a headshot - as well as switching between targets. Once your points are spent, you cue a satisfying semi cut-scene that plays out your choices in dynamic camera cuts. Melee weapons only allow you to select whole enemies, but they're still more likely to trigger big finishing moves if you use VATS.

It's a clever system with well-implemented controls, even if its adolescent focus on creative brutality doesn't quite sit right with the game's overall tone. The problem with VATS, however, is the fact you will be compelled to use it all the time, because the real-time combat is so terrible. As Kieron noted, what worked okay in Oblivion's melee combat is not necessarily going to wash when you have a gun in your hand, and the lack of precision, sense of connection or tactile feedback is startling. (It's worth noting here that we tested the Xbox 360 version of the game, and some of these criticisms might not apply if you play on PC with a mouse.)

3
You'd think using nukes in this world would be a little, you know, insensitive. A bit of a faux pas.

Fallout 3 is not an action game, though, however much it may want to be (or, perhaps more accurately, however much it's being sold as one). We're reminded of this when we level up a little way into the demo. Although our basic SPECIAL attributes are already set - Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck - levelling up gives us a chance to award skill points across a large range of more specific talents.

These are: Barter, Big Guns, Energy Weapons, Explosives, Lockpick, Medicine, Melee Weapons, Repair, Science, Small Guns, Sneak, Speech and Unarmed. In some ways this list is the most telling glimpse we can get into the depth and breadth of Fallout 3 within such a short demo. Conversation and bartering are two aspects of the game that we regretfully don't get anywhere near experiencing at E3, but given Bethesda's record and Fallout's history, we'd expect them to have some serious depth and reward, and we're looking forward to examining them more closely.

As well as skill points, you also get to pick a Perk when you level up. This is a themed set of extra skill points or character-specialisation modifiers with a jokey title, such as Little Leaguer (extra damage with the baseball bat) or Daddy's Boy (extra skill points in Repair and Science). It's the only strong flash of character and style we get from the game in our brief hands-on, although it does sound one bum note: Lady Killer gives you extra damage against female enemies, and "unique dialogue options" when talking to female NPCs. Sorry, Bethesda, that's not satirical, it's just crass and misogynistic.

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Jazz hands!

The game's showing in the Microsoft press conference was something of a bum note as well, with its gleeful ultra-violence and portable nukes failing to evoke the more down-to-earth flavour of grit Fallout is known for. We accept that was probably a hard sell for a broad audience, though. We accept that the game's setting, however dreary within the context of gaming in general, is refreshing within the world of RPGs. Above all, we accept that it's impossible to properly judge a game as vast as this in such a short time span, and that it undoubtedly has many hidden riches.

But beyond that, there are simple questions of quality that it's impossible to avoid: characterless art, cold visuals, wonky animation, weak real-time combat, off-kilter writing. As it stands, Fallout 3 just doesn't feel right, and it will leave many players shivering for warmth in its nuclear winter.

Fallout 3 is due out on PC, PS3 and 360 this October.

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Oli Welsh

Oli Welsh

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Oli is the editor of Eurogamer.net and likes to take things one word at a time. His friends call him The European, but that's just a coincidence. He's still playing Diablo 3.

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