Review by Tearfang
Even In Space, War Never Changes
Fallout 3, yes. What is there to say about this massive game that hasn't already been said? The post-apocalyptic title has been featured as a candidate and winner of at least one Game of the Year Award, has been received by modern day RPG fans as a masterpiece of fun and function, and has even earned the grudging respect of a handful of hardcore FPS fans in the vast network of video game geeks across the board.
Mothership Zeta, the fifth and, according to Bethesda Studios, final expansion for this mammoth entry into the long-standing franchise, comes to the player in a peculiar but not entirely unexpected way. Like Operation: Anchorage before it, once you have set foot aboard the Mothership, there is no turning back until you have seen your way through the hordes of hostile aliens. Also like Anchorage, the player is going to encounter some heavy-duty firefights that may push the limits of their endurance and courage, particularly when swarms of these bulb-headed spacemen show up with their energy weapons blazing. And there is one final way in which this last expansion is similar in nature to most of the other expansions; don't expect to find a lot of armor you can use to patch up what you've got on your back. Now, onto the formal review.
Graphics: 9/10- The interior of the mothership is wonderfully rendered and illuminated with the sort of cold, low lights one might remember seeing in classic representations of alien species from old sci-fi and monster flicks of the fifties, sixties or seventies. Strange apparatus glow, blink and beep seemingly randomly, the aliens who have taken you hostage are literally little green men, and the clear stylistic differences between the environment of the ship versus the Capital Wasteland are stark indeed. It almost bashes the point home that hey, the world below is a craphole.
Beautiful creatures, environment and lighting affects aside, along with awesome weapons fire animations in the VATS slow-mos, it should be noted that at times I found small sections of walls without any background on them, allowing me to look clear out into black space. That gave me the willies, until I realized it was a glitch and not a design choice. This especially struck home when Somah, the woman you wake up sharing a cell with aboard the Zeta, had a similar empty spot across her whole forehead the last time I bumped into her, on the ship's bridge. I could see the wall clearly behind her. Aside from those few glitches and a lot of interactive junk you can't actually use, this is a beautiful addition to the experience.
Sound: 9/10- From the garbled squelchings of the alien captors to the articulated voices of the other humans you meet aboard the Zeta, this expansion's voice work is top notch. Sure, the little girl, Sally, has a voice that might get old pretty quick, and I don't speak Japanese well enough to understand what one particular character says throughout his interactions with me, the sense of tension, paranoia and the overwhelming desire to escape in the other humans is done with great care to the finished product. The thrumming heard throughout the ship is also a nice touch, and interfacing with certain technology throughout the Zeta results in classic sci-fi sound effects one might recall from watching episodes of Star Trek.
Story: 8/10- While the tale told in this expansion is simple, it is effective in the way it has been laid out for the player. The whole thing begins when your Pip-Boy picks up a broadcast distress signal coming from a strange craft not of this world, north of the town of Minefield. When you go to investigate, the old-school beam of light does its trick and starts to suck you up into the ship. Without givin too much away, you come awake aboard the vessel Zeta in a holding cell with a woman by the name of Somah, a fellow Wastelander who, not too long before you did, decided to go check out the signal being broadcast by the small ship.
You'll eventually come across a number of other human characters on board the Zeta, all of whom have the same notion you and Somah, and the little girl Sally, have; we need to get the hell out of here. The dialogue is for the most part well done, but there are a couple of things that didn't hash out well for me, resulting in a couple of lost points. For starters, there's Sally, the little pre-war girl. Now granted, she's been on the ship longer than yourself and Somah, but for some reason, despite the fact that she is constantly getting loose aboard the ship and exploring, the aliens see fit to just return her to a holding cell without harm. Now, why didn't she ever get the cryogenic treatment the other NPCs got? The aliens are swift to try to bring the beatdown to you and every other adult on board, so why not the little girl? I'm not trying to be a monster here, but something is flawed in this logic. If the humans are just being collected for study and experimentation, why would they take pity on a child? They already took one malevolent step in abducting her, so wouldn't it logically follow to do the experiments? Feh, whatever.
Another thing that bothered me was the samurai. While I thought he looked and sounded awesome and relatively authentic, I found it irritating that I couldn't communicate with him or get him to come with me to watch my back in a couple of the generator areas. Later in the expansion, he shows up to lend a helping hand on his own, and boy, can that swordsman handle himself! But while it irked me, it provided a sense of realism in that the language/culture barrier made it impossible to negotiate or utilize him effectively.
And the other thing that got a point taken away, for me, is that aside from the experimentations being performed, the player is never really given much explanation for the aliens' presence around Earth. Wouldn't the Outcasts, scouring the Wastelands for tech, have at some point come across and scavenged the hell out of the small craft that crashed on their world? If the beam had already been active, wouldn't the player maybe expect to find a couple of the red-suited warriors on board the ship, trying to make good on their training and versatility? If only one ship crashed, how come I came across a Hellfire Enclave Soldier wielding an Alien Blaster in the Broken Steel expansion, before I even downloaded Zeta? How did he avoid capture?
Gameplay: 7/10- While this latest expansion controls much like the rest of the Fallout 3 package, there are a couple of things left to be desired, in the long run. The first thing that made me wince a little is more of a personal thing, and it's due to the fact that I play the positive karma route. While exploring the ship, the player will come across several alien workers dressed in red jumpsuits. These extraterrestrials are the labor force on the ship, and instead of attacking you, they run away in fear and panic, which often alerts the other kind of alien, the armed and hostile ones. Now, strategically speaking, it's probably wisest to take these guys out so they don't sound the alarms, right? But killing one of the workers results in a loss of karma, which is BS if you ask me. These guys were complicit in the abduction, cyrogenic freezing, and experimentation on human beings over the centuries. Strategically, it only makes sense to take them out before they can raise the alarms and bring hell down on you in the form of a wave of their armed brethren. Why punish the player for being a survivor and critical thinker?
Another wince-causing factor is the irregularity of the aliens themselves. There are parts of the Zeta which have very few combative aliens near to hand, and others that seemed to be swarming with the gooey bulb-headed critters. There didn't seem to be a good balance at any point, except perhaps in the robot assembly area, where drones make up a healthy chunk of the hostile forces. Also, even on the normal difficulty, if you've got a sneak rating of 90 or higher and you're wearing one of the lighter armor types, you can walk almost right up on top of these guys in a brightly lit area, and they won't see you. Perhaps there's some sci-fi logic attached to this, like maybe their species detects noise better than visual movement, but at times I almost had to pity these aliens for their lack of observation.
However, once they know you're there, they react logically. They'll attack and then back away, seeking reinforcements while they try to pin you down with suppressing fire. Tactically speaking, these aliens aren't idiots. I died a couple of times when they would cluster together and force me into cover while another group came from an adjoining room or corridor to add to the fracas. This part of the experience was well done, but leads to another wince factor.
Repairs. Don't expect to find much in the way of equipment to use in repairing your gear. You'll have to rely on Somah once you and the other abductees have gained a temporary footing in the engineering department of the ship, and she charges a pretty penny for her services. Two things you should definitely bring when you go to observe the signal coming from the beacon before your abduction; caps and spare armor. If you have the T51-b Winterized Power Armor from Anchorage, make that your armor of choice, because the aliens' weapons will bring down other armors fairly quick, especially the Guardian Drones' cannons. Don't worry too much about weapons, though. You'll soon be using the alien weapons, since most of the hostiles carry the unique ammo on their corpses, and you've got a lot of aliens to kill on the Zeta.
As for combat itself, the same Fallout 3 tactics tend to apply to the aliens. When they aren't sounding the alarm and overwhelming you with sheer numbers, they're not all that hard to deal with if you've reached at least level 20 (more if you have Broken Steel). Shoot them in the arm to disarm them, then go for the head shots. And unlike the Super Mutants and Swampfolk (now that expansion had some rough customers, let me tell you), the aliens aren't all that quick to pick up their weapons right away, allowing you a couple of real-time pot shots at them while they scramble to either get help or retrieve their piece.
Longevity: 7/10- And here we come to the final component of this lengthy review. How long will this experience last? Well, thankfully, the folks at Bethesda decided not to destroy the ship or have it launch a Death Ray at the planet, thus ending the overall playability of the game. A beacon remains after you've finished the expansion, allowing you back on board the vessel any time you wish to go. I haven't gone back yet myself, but plan to eventually just to see if more of the pesky spacemen have been stowing away, waiting for me to leave so they can retake the ship.
But even with the vastness of the ship's interior and the intense firefights, the whole thing only gave me about three and a half more hours of total gameplay (not counting time I spent re-playing parts where I'd been massacred by hordes of the little green men). I got some incredible alien tech in the weapons, a ship I can basically use as a home away from home, and a brief but intense gameplay experience. I personally feel Point Lookout had more potential in this category, but when the overall experience was as rewarding as this, I can't complain too much. It was just a little shorter than I'd have cared for from beginning to end.
Product Release: Fallout 3: Mothership Zeta (US, 08/03/09)
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