Fallout 3
By Charlie Goodrich Tuesday, 18 Nov 2008

I have been anticipating this game for years. The first two Fallouts are amazing examples of creativity and freedom, and I have been waiting for a sequel since finishing Fallout 2 in 1999. Unfortunately, Black Isle Studios was shutdown by Interplay after going bankrupt in 2003, and the third installment was left incomplete. Then, in 2004, Bethesda Softworks announced it was going to develop Fallout 3. The impressive attention paid to details, humor, freedom, and overall quality of this franchise was going to be difficult for anyone to replicate. Thus, Bethesda was faced with a steep mountain to climb, and I am happy to report their ascent was pretty smooth.

The Fallout universe splinters from our own following World War II. Socially, Fallout’s America never evolved beyond the 1950’s, however, advancements in technology occurred at a much greater rate than our universe. In 2077, a nuclear war between The United States and China sends our world into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Luckily, the U.S. government created underground structures known as vaults in order to house people (a select few) in case of a nuclear strike. Our protagonist is the ancestor of vault dwellers, and that is where Fallout 3 begins: in vault 101 and 200 after the bombs dropped.

The game starts with your literal birth. You pop out of the womb and your father greets you. He then brings up a computer that projects what you will look like in the future. Here you begin customizing your character by constructing their adult face and hair (I recreated Charles Bronson). After completing this task, you are propelled a year into the future where you can distribute points into categories like strength, charisma, intelligence, and endurance. Following this, you attend your tenth birthday party and, when you’re sixteen, complete a test to determine your future job in the vault. Lastly, you are awaken in the night to discover your father is missing and the vault is in a state of chaos. You make your escape and set foot into the D.C. wasteland for the first time. This process was an interesting way to design a character and begin a game. I hope more developers take the time to think of creative ways to entwine storytelling with character creation.

From this point your character can do as he/she pleases. Your environment is a large portion of Washington D.C. and the area north and west of the city. The main storyline revolves around finding your father and understanding why he left the vault. The early portion of the story is strong. Exploring a destroyed Washington D.C. and stumbling across makeshift cities that have risen from the wastes emerges the gamer wonderfully. Finding museums in the city or a new town in the countryside to explore is exciting at first. The isolation and sense of destruction you feel is perfect. However, towards the end of the game the feeling of awe is dimmed. This happens because indoor environments are done in a cookie cutter fashion and there are not enough quests to partake in. Understandably some environments will look similar. Vaults and Metro stations should all look similar but buildings and homes in the wasteland should have been more unique. It becomes pretty dull exploring factory after factory.

My other gripe about the environments in Fallout 3 is that people you encounter offer far too little to do. In Fallout 1 and 2, there would be many quests to complete in the large cities and numerous personalities that would make those locations come alive. Fallout 3 suffers from a lack of quests and standout people. The sense of awe is also dimmed because of the story. The story changes pace and everything that was built up so perfectly climaxes suddenly. It seems unbalanced and incomplete somehow. Also, you are not allowed to continue your game after the credits roll. The previous Fallout games let you keep playing so you could explore everything and finish anything that was left undone. It made the game more fun because you were so powerful by that point that you could destroy anything that got in your way. Fallout 3 confines you more than I would have thought or wanted.

The sound and visuals are great but each has a major flaw. It’s important when creating a world that it sounds and looks like a new world, or the person will be taken out of the experience. When running through an eerie vault, exploring seemingly endless Metro subways, or stalking your way across the wasteland, the sound is perfect. Even the soundtrack is complete with artists from the 1950’s. The only downfall was the voice acting. Ron Perlman returns to narrate the story and he does a good job, as does Liam Neeson and Malcolm McDowell, but the lack of variety in voices is pathetic. Some characters that play a main role in the game are also the voices for lesser people. I was letdown because the first two games in this series had excellent voice acting.

As for the graphics, I was impressed. For a game of this scale, there is a lot of detail and subtleties that add to the depth of this game. The problem occurs when you switch to third person mode. Your character moves awkwardly and fighting is a mess. Easy solution though: stay in first person mode. There were also some graphical glitches (at least in the PS3 version). When I was exploring the outside world, I would sometimes come across an enemy in the distance that was stuck in the ground and would pop free after a few moments. There were also sometimes when I would fall between some rocks and couldn’t jump out. I was forced to reload from my last save and lose any progress I made. These minor dilemmas served more as annoyances rather than something that should deter people from enjoying Fallout 3.

The combat system in Fallout 3 is both fantastic, and incomplete. I’ll explain. After encountering an enemy, you are given a choice. You can attack them head on, guns blazing, or you can enter Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System (V.A.T.S). This freezes the action allows you to target specific areas of your foes body.

Fallout 3 VATS system

Fallout 3 VATS system

It comes in handy when some chump shows up with a missile launcher and starts shooting. Go into V.A.T.S. and shoot the gun from his hand, HAAZA! You only can use V.A.T.S. as long as you have AP points to spend (they regenerate when not using V.A.T.S.). This allows you to get off about three or four shots on average before having to use standard combat. The standard first person shooter mechanics seem dated. It is bare bone and much less exciting killing your enemies without using V.A.T.S. This is what comes across as incomplete. V.A.T.S. works very well and adds a lot of strategy to the fighting component of Fallout 3. I mostly used V.A.T.S. and did not spend much time in standard combat so I had fun killing things, and therefore, I think the combat system worked well. I was annoyed that you can’t kill children though. I tried killing this snot-nosed brat, but she wouldn’t die. I understand the lack of morals I display by wanting to kill a child and that a videogame probably won’t allow children to be killed (only original copies of Fallout 1, 2, and Postal come to mind that allow them to be killed), but it completely removed me from the experience. Probably not a legitimate reason for wanting to blow away little Suzy; guess I’m a jerk.

I loved this game, and I am glad it finally came out. I also hope it encourages people to go out and play the originals. I am disappointed in those few flaws but overall I had a great time exploring the wasteland and discovering what events happened since the bombs dropped. The first two Fallouts were original and constructed perfectly. Living up to those expectations would be difficult for anyone. For Bethesda’s first attempt at a Fallout game, they did a wonderful job but there is room for improvement. Tightening up the combat, improving the script, adding more voice actors, and more diverse environments would have made for a classic game.

2 Responses to “Fallout 3”

  1. Andrew Raub Says:

    I want this game so bad! Rather, I want my 360 to come home so I can catch up :[

  2. jer Says:

    Good Review. I’ve never played the first two Fallouts, so all I have to compare it to is Oblivion. From that perspective, this game is a masterpiece. They kept everything that made Oblivion great, and revamped just about everything that drug Oblivion down. V.A.T.S. added a comat system that is actually fun, the lockpicking/hacking mini-games are great, the treasure/enemy leveling works so much better than Oblivion’s, and the Stat/Skill/Perk system works beautifully. Also, there are a lot of games out there with morality systems these days, but I think this one is the best I’ve played. It pretty much encourages nuetral karma, which allows you to take moral dilemmas on a case by case basis and not so much as “What would my good/evil character do in this situation?”. There are definitely some areas that still could have used some improvement (most of which you pointed out), but overall I think this is a game that does just about everything right.

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