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Fallout 3 Operation: Anchorage

Half-baked Alaska.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

We all learn lessons in life. Three years ago, the lesson was that when you release highly anticipated downloadable content for your blockbuster RPG, it should never, never ever, be an Oblivion horse wrapped in foil. Bethesda has learned this lesson, and that's why Operation Anchorage is a holographic encounter detailing the Chinese occupation of Alaska. So good, so far. Now let's saunter off to Anchorage to blow the heads off oriental futuro-gentlemen in slow-motion and glorious technicolour.

Following your download (and if you're playing on PC bear in mind that you'll be dealing with Microsoft's ever slack-jawed Games for Windows Live system), while you're wandering through the wasteland you'll pick up a distress call from a group of Brotherhood of Steel outcasts - those chaps with the rusty armour. They're calling for reinforcements in an area found in the South West of DC, just near the Red Racer factory, and are a bit grumpy at you when you turn up unannounced ready to chip in with a running battle against a cohort of Super Mutants.

In the aftermath of said battle, you're advised to take a lift down into the vaults below you, since your wrist-mounted PipBoy companion means you may be able to help them out with a spot of technology pilfering/securing. You alone, through the magic of Pip, can enter a military training program (with safety parameters decidedly switched off), complete a variety of missions in the snowy virtual tundra and rout the Chinese invaders - thereby unlocking the wasteland installation's loot container.

As soon as you enter virtua-Alaska it's evident that this is an action-heavy piece of content - and due to the nature of the simulation it's very much role-play lite. Holographic corpses flicker and disappear before they can be looted, health and ammo is administered through abundant terminals placed along your firmly linear path, and the multi-layered decision-making so brilliantly executed in the full game is put out on its ear. This is a content pack of the snipe, the grenade toss and of multiple Chinese Assault Rifle unloads direct to the head. Subtle it is not.

The Crimson Dragoon are thought to be a distant relation of the Panzer Dragoon. Not a blood relation though, clearly.

The game's first section is essentially where Guns of Navarone meets the opening of GoldenEye (you know, the bit before Sean Bean goes bad). You and a friendly commando plough your way along icy cliff paths and through occupied military installations; your objective being to knock out the three giant cannons that are causing a nuisance to the US troops.

It's in this section that you're introduced to Operation Anchorage's best addition, enemies wearing a slinky Chinese brand of stealth armour - whether they're the crack Chinese commandos called the Crimson Dragoon that run at you with swords, or the snipers that hide in the least convenient corners possible and try to make your life a misery. They're presented and introduced a lot like the lady assassins in the original Half-Life, and undoubtedly add an extra slice of tension and surprise to the accustomed Fallout gunplay template.

The problem, however, is that for the seasoned wasteland warrior everything is just far too easy. True, my character is maxed out at level twenty and is a dab hand at small guns - but surely most people paying for this download will be an established part of the '30 hour+' Fallout 3 faithful? It's possible to spray your way through Operation Anchorage without ever truly breaking a sweat. Overall the number of enemies on-screen at any time is probably higher than the norm, but you nearly always have an ally or two, and health recharge points pepper the level to a degree that goes beyond Bethesda hand-holding and moves into full-blown spooning.