Fallout 3 is a profoundly engrossing role-playing game just waiting to reveal its deep, dark mysteries.
By Kevin VanOrd on October 28, 2008 at 8:36AM PDT
A lot of games make a big deal out of player choice, but few in recent memory offer so many intricate, meaningful ways of approaching any given situation. You fulfill or dash the spiritual hopes of an idyllic society, side with slavers or their slaves, and decide the fate of more than one city over the course of your postapocalyptic journey through the Washington, DC wasteland. Your actions have far-reaching consequences that affect not just the world around you but also the way you play, and it”s this freedom that makes Fallout 3 worth playing–and replaying. It”s deep and mesmerizing, and though not as staggeringly broad as the developer”s previous games, it”s more focused and vividly realized.
The VATS system makes for some awesome-looking battles.
Although you can play from an odd-looking third-person perspective (your avatar looks like he or she is skating over the terrain), Fallout 3 is best played from a first-person view. Where combat is concerned, you will play much of the game as if it is a first-person shooter, though awkwardly slow movement and camera speeds mean that you”ll never confuse it for a true FPS. Armed with any number of ranged and melee weapons, you can bash and shoot attacking dogs and random raiders in a traditional manner. Yet even with its slight clunkiness, combat is satisfying. Shotguns (including the awesome sawed-off variant) have a lot of oomph, plasma rifles leave behind a nice pile of goo, and hammering a mutant”s head with the giant and cumbersome supersledge feels momentously brutal. Just be prepared to maintain these implements of death: Weapons and armor will gradually lose effectiveness and need repairing. You can take them to a specialist for fixing, but you can also repair them yourself, as long as you have another of the same item. It”s heartbreaking to break a favored weapon while fending off supermutants, but it reinforces the notion that everything you do in Fallout 3, even shooting your laser pistol, has consequences.
These aspects keep Fallout 3 from being a run-and-gun affair, and you shouldn”t expect to play it as one. This is because the most satisfying and gory moments of battle are products of the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS. This system is a throwback to the action-point system of previous Fallout games, in that it lets you pause the action, spend action points by targeting a specific limb on your enemy, and watch the bloody results unfold in slow motion. You aren”t guaranteed a hit, though you can see how likely you are to strike any given limb and how much damage your attack might do. But landing a hit in VATS is immensely gratifying: The camera swoops in for a dramatic view, your bullet will zoom toward its target, and your foe”s head might burst in a shocking explosion of blood and brains. Or perhaps you will blow his limb completely off, sending an arm flying into the distance–or launch his entire body into oblivion.
This anatomically based damage is implemented well. Shooting an Enclave soldier”s arm may cause him to drop his weapon, shooting his leg will cause him to limp, and a headshot will disorient him.
But you aren”t immune to these effects, either. If your head takes enough damage, you”ll need to deal with disorienting aftereffects; crippled arms mean reduced aiming ability. Fortunately, you can apply healing stimpacks locally to heal the injury; likewise, a little sleep will help ease your troubles. You can also temporarily adjust your stats using any number of aids and healing items. Yet these, too, come with consequences. A little scotch or wine sounds delicious and offers temporary stat boosts, but you can become addicted if you drink them enough, which results in its own disorienting visual effects. And, of course, you will need to deal with the occasional effects of radiation, which is a problem when you drink from dirty water sources or eat irradiated food. Radiation poisoning can be cured, but you”ll still need to weigh the healing benefits of certain items versus the resultant increase in radiation levels.
While there is plenty of somber exploration, you”ll still find lots of action.
Aside from a few PS3-specific sound quirks, the audio in every version is marvelous. Most of the voice acting is great, some sleepy-sounding performances notwithstanding. Any game”s atmosphere can live or die by its ambient audio, and Fallout 3 rises to the challenge. The whistling of the wind and the far-off sound of a gunshot are likely to give you a chill, and the slow-motion groans and crunch of a baseball bat meeting a ghoul”s face sound wonderfully painful. If you get lonely and want some company, you can listen to a couple of radio stations, though the frequent repetition of the songs and announcements grates after a while. The soundtrack is fine, though it”s a bit overwrought considering the desolate setting. Luckily, its default volume is very low, so it doesn”t get in the way.
No matter what platform you own, you should play Fallout 3, which overcomes its issues by offering a deep and involving journey through a world that”s hard to forget. It has more in common with Bethesda”s Elder Scrolls series than with previous Fallout games, but that is by no means a bad thing. In fact, Fallout 3 is leaner and meaner than Bethesda”s previous efforts, less expansive but more intense, while still offering immense replay value and quite a few thrills along the way. Whether you”re a newcomer to the universe or a Fallout devotee, untold hours of mutated secrets are lurking in the darkest corners of Washington.