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Fallout 3: The Pitt

It's a steel.

How better to follow a disappointing bit of downloadable content than with one nobody can even play? Has the black cat population mysteriously increased in Rockville lately? If Operation: Anchorage's boring linearity, curtailed length and disappointing absence of challenge could be brushed off as an experimental misstep, it was harder to defend this week's issues with The Pitt. As an advert for DLC, this was about as bad and frustrating as it gets.

Like many of you, having excitedly grabbed the 492MB file from Xbox Live early on Tuesday, my first challenge was finding out where on earth to activate the mission in the first place. After wandering the wasteland for a good half an hour, nothing happened. Forums spoke of a radio distress broadcast. But where? And when? I wandered hopelessly around the northern portion of the map. Bile rose.

Assuming it was some sort of technical hitch, I reloaded, and lo and behold, a broadcast came up within a minute. Good. A man by the name of Wernher spoke of a "settlement to the north". I ended up at the place I was supposed to head once I'd met Wernher, and set free a trio of slaves in a small pen outside an underground railway line. Realising that I really ought to go and find Wernher, I agreed to help him out by dressing up as a skanky slave and infiltrating a giant prison camp-cum-steel foundry called The Pitt. Except, of course, I'd broken the game by freeing the slaves, and by the time I'd returned the gaming fairy had inexplicably removed the rotting corpse of the one I was supposed to ransack. Argh. And all this was before reaching the main part of the mission that made the whole thing completely unplayable.

Can you name the car parts?

Having fixed that particular issue with the usual dose of save-game vigilance (hey, this is a Bethesda game), I was finally ready to enter the underground railroad, jump onto the handcart with Wernher and head down to the shattered remains of what once was Pittsburgh. A couple of minutes in, however, and the whole sorry affair took yet another turn for the worse. The sight of a landscape scattered with floating red exclamation marks wasn't a good sign, but I soldiered on over a bridge littered with burnt-out cars and live mines until I reached the main gateway to The Pitt itself. And like everyone else, as soon as I tried to go in the game simply locked up the console, prompting much hair-tearing forum-lurking for official news.

Even then, updates on what was going on and roughly how long it might take to fix took an age. Thirty-odd hours later, finally, the fixed build appeared - typically without warning - and only an obsessive dedication to refreshing Bethesda's forum and Major Nelson alerted anyone to its reappearance. After such a tedious, frustrating experience in the run-up to sampling this latest chunk of Fallout 3, it felt surreal to be playing the damned thing. And this is progress, obviously. The last time I felt this hacked off about getting a game to work was in the dark days of my PC obsession. Ironically, had I been playing on PC, I would have been fine!

Anyway, The Pitt. It's good.

What lies beneath?

The joyful revelation once you get inside this mini-dystopia is how much more it falls into line with Fallout 3's better moments. Regardless of how you approach things, you lose all your gear shortly after the start, but it's a blessing in disguise. Rather than romp around armed to the teeth in your energy armour, blasting everything in sight with your plasma rifle, you're reduced to scavenging in your skimpy slave garb, without even a knife to your name. It's a refreshing change, and ensures that you're tackling the task at hand on a level pegging.