Game Review: Fallout 3

Fallout 3
8.9 of 10
Platform: Windows PC (also available on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3)
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Developer: Bethesda Softworks

Fallout 2 has profoundly affected my life. Not only did it set my standards for what a good computer role-playing game should be but it also piqued my curiosity about radioactivity, prompting me to study Nuclear Medicine. So, for years, I prayed and waited for a sequel. But, four years ago, I prayed even harder when I learned that Bethesda Softworks took over the franchise. While I like most of Bethsoft's games, namely the Elder Scrolls series, I just didn't think they were apt to continue the legacy of the Fallout series. Nonetheless, even though I didn't had much faith with its current developer, I just couldn't let Fallout 3 pass by me. After all, it's a post-apocalyptic game and one that I've been waiting for almost 10 years.

Fallout 3 takes place in a post-nuclear war United States and players will, once again, don the jumpsuit of the Vault Dweller. The tale begins at your birth. From then onwards, important stages of your life inside Vault 101 -which are the tutorial and character creation stages- will be shown in snippets. Starting from the moment you learn to walk, to your 10th birthday celebration (a props to Fallout's 10th anniversary) and up until your father decides to leave the bunker utopia, resulting in panic amongst its residents as Radroaches invades the opened vault and as the overzealous Overseer kills everyone associated with your dad, leading to your exodus into the Capital Wasteland.

A pretty mushroom cloud...that carries highly radioactive dust particles.

The plot starts and builds up nicely in Fallout 3, and it differs from previous Fallout games as well. Instead of searching for a relic that will save your community, the story is much more personal since it revolves around locating your dad and finding answers as to why he had left the Vault. For once, I thought I was wrong to doubt Bethsoft's writing capabilities. But, sadly, as soon as you find your father, and get your answers from him, the plot goes bland. This was rather disappointing since the main storyline in the previous games were monumental, the reason why this game had appealed to many.

Graphics and Sound
My initial reaction when I stepped out from Vault 101, and saw the Capital Wasteland, was awe. The amalgam of chaos and retro-futurism -a prevalent theme in the franchise- that was presented in front of me was sterling, sublime. I admit, I'm not much into graphics. But it's hard not to appreciate the artistic design of this game. The Cold War era car models, derelict and upturned, on the roads, the rust-covered shanty town of Megaton, and the Raygun Gothic style of the weaponry are splendors to behold. The feel and atmosphere of the original Fallout games maybe gone, due to the new game perspective and graphics engine, but this change is more than acceptable.

The rusty shanty town of Megaton, home to many Wastelanders.

The sound and music are also the finer points of the game. The radio, especially, which you can access in your Pip-Boy, is a welcomed feature. Listening to it is such a delight since it broadcasts news, and news about your endeavors. Of course, it plays music too, and there's nothing more satisfying, and downright disturbing, than listening to a marching band or oldies tunes while you mutilate your foes. The radio hosts are masterfully voiced as well. President Eden (played by Malcolm McDowell), especially, sounds convincingly sanctimonious. Ron Perlman returns, for the third time, and did a sterling job as the narrator of the game. Sadly, not much can be said about the rest of the voice overs. Even Liam Neeson, who plays your father, sounds flat as if he is talking to a tape recorder.

I knew it in my gut that combat in Fallout 3 was going to be different. Any Fallout fan saw it coming. The turn-based combat that I enjoyed is now gone. What's left in its stead is a real-time shooter that is awkward to utilize. It's hard to aim, shoot and hit with it. Fortunately, the Vault-Tec Targeting System (or VATS), a new feature in the game, made combat a lot more interesting. The VATS, with the use of action points, is a pseudo turn-based combat mode that allows you to pause the game and target specific body parts of your opponents. When you're done choosing which body part to shoot or hit, all you need to do is accept and combat will enter into "bullet time" so you can enjoy the carnage that ensues.

The V.A.T.S. in action. Hmmm...so many body parts to choose from.

As for your arsenal, well, you have a wide array of weapons that you can choose from. Weapons from the previous Fallout games are mostly present in here, from flamers, miniguns to power fists. New weapons are also available such as the Fat Man, a devastating weapon that can wipe out a whole block of enemies and put behemoths down on their knees. In addition, you can also create your own weapons from junk, which also uses junk as ammo. The Railgun, for example, is a player crafted weapon that launches railroad spikes. It's a personal favorite of mine, and its design adds a little bit of steampunk to the game. What irks me though is that the .223 pistol, which is my favorite weapon in Fallout 1 & 2, is not available in the game.

Thankfully, not everything in Fallout 3 is solved through wanton violence alone. Quests and problems can be approached in multiple ways. Aside from "shotgun diplomacy", you can also lie, cheat or steal your way out of a problem. For example, a bartender offered to tell me the whereabouts of my father but only if I pay or do some dirty work for him. Since I was low on cash and I was planning to become a saint, I refused to do both. My character wasn't a people person either so persuading him wasn't an option. Instead, I resorted into thievery as I sneaked into his house, hacked his computer and found what I was looking for. Unfortunately, you'll still be forced to whip out your pistol in Fallout 3 more often compared to its predecessors.

Green Ugly Mutant vs. Rusty Shotgun Blues

Exploration is probably the only thing in the game that I consider as a huge improvement. While players are also free to explore the map in Fallout 1 & 2, it was just uneventful to see a trail of dots moving on the surface of the map as your character travels from place to place. In Fallout 3 you'll be able to explore every inch of the map by foot, like a virtual tourist, allowing you to visit every nook and cranny of the Capital Wasteland. The map isn't as overwhelming like in Oblivion or Morrowind, however, but it is substantial enough to quench your wanderlust. The locations vary from hubs, such as Megaton, each with their own history and quests to offer, and some are raider hideouts for you pillage. But if you're tired of exploring the map on foot, fast travel is also available to all the locations you have discovered.

Fallout 3 never did turn out to a game that I wanted it to be. All of the elements that made Fallout my favorite game were eschewed by Bethesda. The turn-based combat, the epic storyline and the isometric view are all gone. Admittedly, I didn't expect Bethesda to deliver such a game either. I thought the franchise was going to be massacred, turning Fallout into a game like Oblivion but only with guns. For the most part, it did felt like an Elder Scrolls game. But that's because Bethesda's expertise lies in such games, and I'm glad that they stuck with what they know instead of capitulating to what the gamers wanted. If they did cave in, and gave us an isometric turn-based game, which they've never done before, it would've been a catastrophe. So, to all gamers, Fallout fan boys or not, I urge you to try this game. Just don't expect it to be much of a Fallout game though.

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