Usually, when I write reviews I like to keep the first few paragraphs fairly cryptic. I like to keep people guessing at first as to what the outcome of the review will be like.
I am not going to do that this time around. Why? It’s very simple.
You need to sit up and pay attention, because if you don’t, you may very well miss out on what is quite possibly one of the most incredible titles to ever grace the modern gaming world.
Yes, you read that last part right. Fallout 3 is an experience that cannot and should not be missed and possibly the greatest creation ever to come out of Bethesda Softworks.
Bethesda Softworks are known for their large scale role playing games. Anyone who follows RPG’s will know that they were responsible for the incredible Elder Scrolls series, such as Oblivion, Morrowind and the classic, Daggerfall.
Now what we have is the merging of two huge powers, the mastery of the Elder Scrolls team and the setting taken from the Fallout series.
For those of you who don’t know what Fallout is all about, have no fear. No knowledge of the previous games are required. If you do want to check out, Gametrailers released a wonderful little video that put you up to speed, you can find it here.
Welcome to Vault 101
Fallout 3 takes place in and around Washington D.C (referred to only as D.C in the game) in a post apocalyptic future that none of us will ever want to live to see in reality. You play a character who is born inside one of the nuclear bunkers that were designed to keep families safe and provide safe living for generations to come.
The game actually starts at the very beginning of your life, the day that you are born in Vault 101. Those who are born in Vault 101, die in Vault 101. So after a bit of hopping and skipping through some major moments in your childhood, you are finally all grown up. Things start getting interesting, when your father finds a way to get out of the bunker, leaving you in all sort of trouble with the local head honcho, so you make an escape to the outside world to find out where he has gone.
This is about the time that your socks get blown right off of your feet.
The world has become a wasteland and to make matters even worse, the radiation has caused some serious changes to the local wildlife as well as those who weren’t wealthy enough to afford a place in one of the vaults.
Oblivious to Oblivion
Now let me clear things up with some of you straight off the bat.
If you weren’t a fan of Oblivion then don’t run away and at the same time, Oblivion fans are going to be very impressed. Yes this game is huge and yes it involves more than just shooting anything that moves, but what Bethesda have done here is create something so incredibly massive, yet simultaneously made it so deep and intriguing that you will be hard pressed to find a moment of your daily life that isn’t spent wishing you were on the couch playing the game some more.
Some refer to Fallout 3 as “Oblivion with guns”, but trust me, it isn’t. The experience has been looked over, polished, reworked and polished again. While I thoroughly enjoyed Oblivion, even I found too many points were I found myself bored and lost. Bethesda have taken everything about the Oblivion game mechanic and made it better, smoother and more interesting.
Characters have personality, the environments and locations are generously smothered in a thick atmosphere that will leave you breathless and missions will keep you guessing about their story elements and outcomes. Some missions will leave you feeling like you are in a survival horror, while others will feel like a corridor shooter. The variation is refreshing and the outcomes are completely up to you.
We Want You!
In a sense, it caters to so many different gamers. While it does involve guns, it’s not quite what you would call an action shooter but at the same time, with all of the action, you will not be able to sit back and call it a standard run-of-the-mill western RPG either.
The Vault Dweller’s Survival Guide
While the entire game is handled from a first person perspective, a lot of the action will be handled with your V.A.T.S (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). Basically, you can use your own abilities to try and shoot at your enemies (although skill levels of your character still influence accuracy), but enemies are quite tough and ammo can be scarce, so you want to make every shot count.
With the V.A.T.S, you can hit a button that pauses the action and scans the target (see image above). From there you have an available amount of AP (action points) that can be used. Different weapons will use different amounts of AP, so if for instance, you have a pistol you will be able to fire off 4 – 5 shots, whereas a sawed off shotgun will only allow one or two. The V.A.T.S system is really simple and allows you to select which part of the enemy to shoot at as well as telling you what kind of percentage you have of making the shot and how much damage it will do.
You can choose to spread your shots over multiple body parts as well as multiple enemies. So when faced with two enemies, you can choose to try and shoot the gun out of one of your foes hands and then take a couple of headshots at the other. Each body part has a different effect, from slowing enemies down, taking away their ability to aim or even making it difficult for them to differentiate between friend and foe.
The greatest part of this game mechanic is that once you have accepted your actions, the camera switches to a dynamic external view, allowing you to watch the action unfold as your characters let’s loose with his hand cannon of choice.
Once your AP is used, there is a short recharge time which leave you to rely on your own capabilities. Overall the system works beautifully and really allows you to get a great balance between real time action and strategic thinking with a cinematic result.
When it comes to character leveling, I don’t want to go into too much detail, but you can be assured that the leveling and perks system has been polished as well, so that even those new to RPG’s will not have any trouble figuring it out in minutes. The inventory and trading systems are also a lot better.
The entire games interface is run through a wrist-mounted personal computer called the PIP-BOY 3000 and will have you managing inventory as well as checking stats and maps, all in a very similar style to that seen in Oblivion.
Do You See What I See?
The visuals are really something else. The game uses the same engine that was used for Oblivion, but when you see it in action you will wonder which one of the programmers had sold his soul to satan, just to get it to do the things that it’s doing now. Not only is everything sharper and more detailed than it was in Oblivion, it runs smoother and even has a much, much further view distance.
Technical wizardry aside, the entire game is beautiful from an artistic and conceptual side as well. The entire game carries with it the old style of the pre-1950′s. Think Bioshock with a lot less water.
Areas and towns bring with them a truly beautiful essence of what is and what was and it is all completely reinforced with menus and interfaces that feel like old pre-World War 2 technology. The music and sound further the immersion factor and for those lucky enough to have a decent surround sound system, your ears will be tickled with subtle sounds as well as powerful blasts from guns and explosives.
The voice acting is marvelous and a rather spectacular shift from the very dreary and boring conversations that were seen in Oblivion. Those who played Oblivion will also be happy to know that this time, Bethesda hired more than four voice actors, so you won’t be running into tons of characters with the exact same voice. The dialogue is witty and intelligent and will often have you laughing out loud at some of the ludicrous things said by the very pessimistic and grumpy citizens of the nuclear wastelands.
The Dent In My Couch
I would love to tell you how the entire game plays out, but I can’t.
In only a few days, I have managed to wrack up a massive 26 hours of game time and the truth is that I am only starting to get into the meat of the game now. I would usually see this as a bad thing, because I don’t like it if a game feels too open and directionless. In Fallout 3 however, the story is so engaging and missions so interesting that instead of feeling like I am wondering around in one game, it feels like I have completed many little ones. Think of it almost like a book of short stories, all compiled to form one larger greater story.
I would honestly need to triple the amount of words in this review to really explain all the different facets of Fallout 3 but alas, I would die if I tried. The truth is that I haven’t been this drawn in to a game for years and to give you my reasoning, when I put the game in my console for the first time, I only managed to stop playing 14 hours later and it was only because a mean thunderstorm forced me to unplug all of my devices.
Fallout 3 has undoubtedly impressed me on every front, although the game isn’t perfect, it comes damn close. With so much obvious effort and so many different elements coming together to form this amazing title, I cannot deny that I have completely and utterly fallen in love with everything that it has to offer.
Besides those of you who have any issues with swearing and violence, I can fully recommend this as a must-have title that will add a considerable amount of value to your console purchase and could very well be my choice for game of the year.
Gameplay: 9/10 [Polished and solid, a western RPG couldn't have been handled better]
Presentation: 10/10 [It just doesn't get better than this]
Sound: 9.5/10 [Great sound and completely believable voice acting]
Value: 10/10 [Over 100 hours of gameplay that vary in style and keep you interested]
Overall: 9.8/10 [An absolute masterpiece of modern gaming]