Review by Lothar_00820

Reviewed: 11/05/08

Fallout 3 - Succeeds where others (Oblivion) fails

Opening Comments:
I'm an avid computer gamer. I have been all of my life. And, as such, I have followed the development of Fallout 3 very closely. From the developer blogs to the Penny-Arcade comic, I watched the hype build up. In the past hype meant disappointment nine out of ten times. You, dear reader, have no idea how pleased I am that Fallout 3 is a must-have title for all gamers. The game combines crisp visuals (especially on the PC) with a brilliant story and turn based RPG gameplay with twitch based combat. If the future is going to be an apocalypse I would want it to be exactly like this one.

Spiritual Successor to Oblivion:
There has been a lot of mud slinging from cynics and die hard isometric fans that Fallout 3 is Oblivion with guns. And to be honest, this is what the game feels like at first. The first thing you see in both games is an old patriarchal character voiced by a top dollar actor (Liam Neeson in this case), and then after a quick cleverly designed tutorial you emerge into a bright beautiful world. The first differences I picked up immediately was that the voice acting has been raised to a quality of 11. And every single character in the world feels, sounds, and looks unique. I'll go into more detail and some examples later. Unfortunately the dialogue choices and overall interaction with NPCs is largely unchanged from Oblivion. The only game that seems to have really pulled this off is Mass Effect, and I hope to see more of that in the future.

Later on in the game, while exploring the Capital Wasteland, the biggest improvement over Oblivion is that not everything looks the same. Reviewer Yahtzee Crowshaw of Zero Punctuation fame noted that while playing Oblivion one might as well be sitting in the same meadow as monsters attacked you. This is not so in Oblivion. Somehow Bethesda managed to take rubble and garbage, and transform it into a masterful art piece that would make the most experienced modern artist (oximoronic, I know) blush. Oblivion had trees, hills, and grass with the occasional landmark that was so special they needed their own waypoints on the map. With Fallout 3 the whole landscape is filled with decaying streets and collapsed highways here, or random burned out villages and farms there. Every location is distinctly wasteland-esque, but at the same time unique from where you were a hundred meters back.

Sequel to Fallout 1 & 2:
Ehhh, not so much. The setting and style of the story are very Fallout, and those are important, but between the gameplay, the camera, and the graphics it doesn't really seem like a direct sequel. It's more like what Casino Royale did to the James Bond series. Fallout 3 resets a lot of what many consider Fallout and rebuilds the foundations of the game. This is not a bad thing. The first person and over the shoulder camera feel much more immersive than the isometric camera from the previous games. The combat gives the feeling of an adrenaline pumping fight, while the actual combat boils down to dice rolls (both in real-time and the turn-based VATS). I consider these improvements. Isometric cameras and 2D graphics were limitations of the time, not conscious implementations. What old fans will be happy to know is that Bethesda spared no expense when it game to writing the script for the game. The game has an aura of dark humor about it, most notably when taking the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test (G.O.A.T.). In this test you are given a set of ten multiple choice questions that determines which job your character is best suited for in Vault 101. I made my friends take this test and so far my friends each got (with no repeats) Vault Chaplain, Supervisory Management, and Pip-boy Programmer. I, myself, am apparently destined to be a Fry Cook!

Breaking it Down

==Gameplay (10/10)==
Combat (9/10)
Combat is all calculated by unseen dice rolls. Yes, even in real-time combat. Original Fallout fans will be happy to know this, since one does not need perfected twitch based skills. Instead, one must aim in the general direction of their intended target. Although it is important to learn where your enemies are firing from, and how to find and grab cover. Fallout 3 is a shooter with training wheels. The Vault-tech Assisted Targeting System (VATS) is beautiful, if a bit gimmicky. Action pauses, and the player is allowed to queue up specific attacks against multiple enemies. Time slows down when the actions are executed, and the camera shows some very cinematic shots during the procedure. There's enough variation in the camera work that it does not get redundant. It is very cool to fire a hunting rifle, and have the camera watch the actual bullet fly across the plains into the skull of a Super Mutant. Once the action points are used up the player must choose to fight or flight. This is where finding cover in real-time becomes an essential skill. Theoretically it is possible to only use VATS for attacks, it is impractical. You are encouraged to fire shots while waiting for action points to build up. Since these shots are not very skill based, gamers who are awful at aiming in first person shooters need not worry. This is a small disappointment for myself, only because the computer is known to have inherently easier aiming versus the consoles. The current style of combat removes this advantage of the PC, oh well.

Exploration (10/10)
It's a lot of fun. Like I mentioned before, the landscapes are interesting and beautiful in a depressing sort of way. When leaving the vault the player character is first blinded by the High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting, then slowly the eyes adjust to reveal a setting that sums up what the game will look like. It is not disappointing. Dust whips across the air, and dust devils are scattered on the plains. Further off there are silhouettes of ruined highways and buildings. The whole scene begs to be explored. Helping you is your compass. Your compass magically has the ability to detect locations of interest from very far away. This ensures that the character's wandering does not go to waste. It is also very important to note that the main quest does not bring you across much of the wasteland. To see what Fallout 3 has to offer, one must explore.

Role Playing & Character Development (10/10)
This is more or less a carbon copy of the first two Fallout games. SPECIAL for the base stats (ie. Strength, Luck, etc), and more specific stats (ie Medicine, Small Guns, etc) are all there. The perks are very nice and many are original. The perks lead to the toughest decisions in the game. Should one choose to add another SPECIAL point with Intensive Training, the Mysterious Stranger perk that occasionally has a man in a trench coat and a fancy hat appear during VATS to help you in combat, or the classic Bloody Mess perk. So this is more or less unchanged. The characters of the world are something Bethesda truly improved on when opposed to Oblivion. Every character has a unique personality and a unique style of speech. I could only spot a couple of repeat voices, whereas Oblivion seemed to only have three voices for everyone on the planet.

Quests (10/10)
Another area Bethesda improved upon. I couldn't find quite as many quests, but those that are there are enthralling. Most are veiled fetch or kill quests, but the reasons for the quests are convincing and well driven. One quest has you track down a rogue android a la Blade Runner. Another quest is about the compilation of a Wasteland Survival Guide. These quests have you trekking across the wastelands to various locales, returning to the quest origin only to have your goals evolve. Mass Effect could learn something from these quests. Sure the goals might be repetitive, but the way the quests are presented and executed makes for a unique and interesting quest. The main quest is very well done. Unfortunately it is short. Probably five hours worth of gaming. And once you are done with the main quest, you cannot free roam.

==Graphics (9/10)==
It's no Crysis, but there is definitely a bump up from Oblivion to Fallout 3 in terms of graphics. The graphics aren't really improved so much as there are more of them. The HDR lighting is well polished, the bump mapping is very detailed, and the number of objects is great. There is a significant difference to graphics on the PC and the consoles. Naturally it's a lot better on the PC. My computer can be built on a budget of $600 complete with monitor, shiny case, and 5.1 surround sound. The draw distance, resolution, and polygon count are superior on the PC. Hooray for PC gamers! The consoles are still quite good, though. If you have a PC that can run the game, get it for a PC. Otherwise buy it for the Xbox 360. Try to avoid the PS3 version if you can.

==Sound (9/10)==
I've already ranted and raved about the voice acting. Beyond that are the sound effects and music. The score for the game contains 50's styled music, stereotypical American marching music, and ambient exploration music. The game didn't quite license enough music for the first two categories, but the third set of music is nice when traveling the wasteland. Throughout the game, the Pip-Boy on the character's wrist can pick up two radio stations: Galaxy News Radio, and Enclave Radio. The former has a DJ named Three Dog that updates the wastelands on various news (namely what the player character has been up to), and some tips on wasteland survival, as well as several 50's music hits. Enclave Radio plays some vary patriotic marching music and spits out a lot of Rhetoric from the "President" voiced by Malcolm McDowell about the revification of the glorious United States. GNR has some pretty catchy music, but it gets annoying hearing "I Don't Want to Set the World on Fire" for the twentieth time.

==Lasting Appeal (8/10)==
DLC is planned for the Xbox 360 and the PC, and the Xbox 360 has achievements. The PS3 kind of loses out here. Too bad for them. I'm very disappointed that the PC did not come with developer tools for modding, but there is a chance that such tools will be released later. Players will be encouraged to play through the game at least twice to be a good person and a bad person. But I can't imagine picking up the game to play again five years later like I do with Diablo and Deus Ex. I could be wrong. The hunt for Vault-tech bauble heads is fun, but I was only able to find one. They are easy to miss.

Closing Comments
Fallout 3 does not disappoint. Fans of the series should leave their predisposed Bethesda bigotry behind, and the same goes for neigh-sayers of Oblivion. This game is a contender for game of the year, and certainly for RPG of the year. Bethesda deserves it.

Overall: 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Fallout 3 (US, 10/28/08)

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