Review by viewtiful_jay
There's definitely something S.P.E.C.I.A.L. about this game.
There's nothing more disheartening to a gamer than seeing the developer of one of their favorite games go out of business or get bought out. You never know what's going to happen to the series you love. Will it simply fade away into obscurity? Or will the "intellectual property" get handed off to another studio that just isn't quite able to live up to the precedents set before them?
That's why I'm going to review Fallout 3 from three different perspectives - as a sequel to the previous Fallout games, as a follow up to Oblivion, and as a game on it's own. After all, I think it's only fair, given the broad audience a release this hyped is going to appeal to.
I will say right out of the gate, that though Bethesda has done an admirable job of giving this game the basic feel of a Fallout game, it's still not quite the same. For one, the huge shift in gameplay styles - going from an isometric game to a first person perspective makes for a completely different experience - but the writing just doesn't have the charm that the first two (and Tactics, to a lesser extent) did. Sure, there are some moments where the dark, twisted, ironic humor seeps through, but overall just not the same. And I don't mean that as a knock on this game, or Bethesda themselves - it could just as easily have turned out this way had Black Isle developed this one as well. But while Fallout 3 doesn't feel exactly the same, it finds ways to endear itself to you if you're a fan of the old games. There's just enough to connect it to the old games, and if you can get past the bias against anyone other than Black Isle handling this series, then you'll find that this is a game that respects the lore and universe that precedes it, and find a very solid, fun, enjoyable game.You might even like it better.
Next we'll look at is as the successor to Bethesda's previous masterpiece, Oblivion. A lot of fans of the old Fallout games were afraid that this would turn out to be Oblivion with guns, while that's not an entirely off-base statement, it's not necessarily a bad game. There are a lot of similarities to Oblivion - it is the same engine after all. But Bethesda also addressed a lot of what was wrong with Oblivion. The main this is the level scaling system. Yes, as you progress, you'll start to see more difficult enemies in the wild, but it's nowhere near as pronounced as it was in Oblivion. I'm at level 10 now, and I'm still seeing quite a few low level raiders and molerats in the wastelands. Sure I come across super mutants too, but they're nothing that can't be handled, if you've got the right equipment, and you get used to the VATS system - but more on that later.
But I"ll go ahead and say - and this is coming from someone who regards Oblivion, Morrowind, and Daggerfall as 3 of my top 10 games of all time - Fallout 3 definitely has that same epic feel of an Elder Scrolls title. I love RPGs that give me a sense of freedom, both in how I develop and play my character, and how I approach the story - if I chose to. Fallout 3 achieves this, and does it a way that even the previous Elder Scrolls games never quite got right. Fallout 3 has set a new standard for Bethesda, and that's saying something.
So, with the comparisons out of the way, let's look at Fallout 3, and how it stands on it's own. Before I say anything that might be construed as negative, let me again tip my hat to Bethesda. When I got Morrowind, I had to do a LOT of tweaking to get it to run well on my (at the time) top of the line system. Oblivion was much the same, even after a few hardware upgrades, I still didn't really get good performance until many tweaks and mods, and yet another video card. But Fallout 3 has ran very well for me, on two different systems. The first is a year old computer running Windows Vista with 4GB of memory and a Geforce 8600GT at 1280 x 1024. I can run at high settings with no problem. My second is a Dell XPS 1530 laptop with 4GB and a Geforce 8600M running Windows XP. I was very shocked that the auto loader detected the system as being capable of running on high at 1440 x 900 with HDR and 4x anti aliasing turned on.I get silky smooth performance on both machines out of the box, without having to hack ini files, or jump through hoops, and I think that's great. Now, if I can get this kind of performance on two systems that are both running what are essentially last gen (or even 2 gens ago) video cards, I can only imagine how great it looks and plays on a newer setup.
That said, though the game looks really great for the most part, there are still some blemishes on the visuals. I'll say it right now - never press the F key to go into 3rd person view. The animation of your character is absolutely horrible. Sure, I know Bethesda wants us to play from a 3rd person view, and admittedly, it makes it a lot more managable to do so, but still... there's no excuse for how ridiculous simple animaltions like walking and running look for your character. Most of the NPCs and enemies suffer from this drawback as well. It's not lag in game, or either of my systems - there are just some characters/creatures that look like they're skating, or missing complete frames of animation. It's nothing that really takes away from the game, but it's just kinda funny at times.
But other than that, the game looks absolutely amazing. I cna't say enough how blown away I am by these visuals. They really suck you in and are disturbing in a way - this is a very plausible example of what a post apocalyptic world might look like. It's chilling to creep through the streets of DC, and see the burned out landmarks, buildings and metro stations. It's a world that used to be alive, but now it's very, very dead. And it's absolutely awesome. If not for the jerks in animation here and there'd, I'd say the graphics are perfect. But, be that as it may, I'm going with a solid 9 out of 10.
The audio is pretty polished too. The 50s music is catchy and funny, and is one of the things that really helps to reinforce that yes, this is a Fallout game. There are a few different radio feeds you'll find in the game, including the Orwellian propaganda Enclave radio station, and the underground Galaxy News station. Each have their own set of programming, that if you take the time to listen to, you'll find yourself chuckling, and even laughing out loud every once in a while. And the sounds of the various weapons are pretty accurate too - at least that's what I'm ASSUMING a handheld nuclear cannon would sound like. The only real gripe I have is the voice acting. A lot of the same recycled actors from Oblivion come up here, and deliver a lot of same uninspired performances. I've got no problem with using unknowns to voice video games - in fact, I prefer it in most cases - but it seems like a release this big could warrant a step up in the VAs. On that note, I'll say this - it was great to hear Ron Perlman open another fallout game with the classic "War never changes". So again, I'm going with a 9 for the audio.
Then there's the gameplay. Again, if you've played Oblivion, you'll be at least someone familiar with the basics here. You've got your melee weapons, your unarmed attacks, and your ranged weapons. Then ranged weapons break down to small guns (your pistols, shot guns, and whatnot), big guns (mini-nukes, mini guns, and other large BOOM type things) and energy weapons (laser pistols, plasma rifles, etc). The targetting is much like Oblvion, and it CAN be frustrating in that even though it's a first person perspective and you have a reticule, what looks like a direct hit might miss the target. But this is made up for by the VATS system.
Yes, VATS can be a love or hate it thing - I was totally against it at first myself - but I really think when you give it a chance, and learn to use it properly, you'll start to appreciate it, if not outright love it. VATS makes up for that "margin of error" a roll based RPG system uses by letting you target specific areas on your enemies. Go for a headshot, try to take out an arm, blow their weapon out of their hand - it's up to you. The great thing is VATS tells you what your chances are of hitting the targetted area, AND you can queue up attacks with it against multiple enemies. Now, this sounds like it's a bit over-powering, but it's checked by the fact that you need Action Points to pull it off. Each attack takes a certain amount, and it takes time for them to regen. Still, VATS is a good tactical system, and the fact that it increases your chance of getting a critical strike (and adds a lot of cool, funny, over the top gore).
In addition, the character creation system from the previous Fallout games is left largely in tact. SPECIAL returns, and along with the perks and skills, really helps capture the feel of the original two Fallout games. Of course you've got your basic RPG type skills - speech, bartering, stealth, etc - but the perks are really what help mold your character. Some of the perks range from directly beneficial such as gun nut - which adds +5 to your small guns and repair skills - to WTFLOL like mysterious stranger, which makes an odd man in trechcoat appear seemingly at random to pick a few enemies off for you. There's definitely a good chance that most people who play this game will want to play it again with a completely different build just to experience how different the game can be. And that, my friends, is the mark of a great RPG. 10/10
Fallout 3 is an amazing game, and I urge everyone who loves RPGs to give it a shot on the platform of your choice. As a sequel to Fallout 1 and 2 it's good, as a follow up to Oblivion, it's great, and as a game in and of itself, it's an amazing accomplishment. It's definitely SPECIAL.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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