Fallout 3 Is Nuclear Hot

Remains Faithful to Fallout Series While Pushing Envelope

I saw the church steeple in the hazy distance, a possible beacon of hope for damned adventurers like me. It seemed an island of tranquility in the midst of this harsh, grey landscape covered with the ashes of our former civilization. The bombs had not destroyed everything, but instead left tantalizing reminders — train cars, burnt out houses, dead water towers and decaying overpasses – to remind us of the past; silent witnesses showing us how far we had fallen. Where fire and radiation had not finished the job, entropy had taken over to chip away what had come before. Where once the center of democracy thrived, the Capital Wasteland now stood. The world is harsh, but those like me with the courage and skill to survive can eek out a hardscrabble existence, though it’s not easy.

I had agreed to a seemingly simple request, to deliver a letter from a pretty young girl, her blonde hair standing out in the muted tones of the irradiated Megaton settlement. She was worried about her brother and needed the neatly folded note delivered to him at his home, several miles away. Though she seemed pleasant, the barkeep in town, an insidious man whom I trusted only so long as I kept a hand on my trusty 10mm slugthrower, told me she was hounded by a haunting fear that betrayed her calm demeanor. For once, I should have listened to him.

I got mixed up in a plot that involved murder, gang warfare and – if you can believe this – vampires. But I had delivered the damn letter, and had several new scars for my trouble. Now I was just trying to get back to Megaton, that horrible hole that had become my home. That’s when I saw the church. Like the cute blonde, it caught my eye. And like her, it was probably best avoided. But I kept thinking that perhaps things would be different there, that I could find some unreachable solace. Even the whitewashed walls of the steeple were still intact, surely a good sign.

As I trekked across the dry, dusty land, I began to make out a small cemetery neatly placed around the structure, pretty as a prewar postcard. I was so focused on my find, that I didn’t notice the shots at first, just the little puff of dirt as a sniper’s bullet hit the ground near my feet. Instinctively, I broke into a run, trying to find cover as more bullets struck the rocks around me. I rushed headfirst into the church through a hole blown out in the back wall – and straight into one of the biggest supermutans you have ever seen. I think I surprised him as much as he did me, because he was slow to get his minigun up to firing speed. Entering my V.A.T.S. combat system, I targeted his head and fired four bursts from my assault rifle, which in hindsight was probably a bit of overkill. The bullets ripped into him, pulping and splattering his brain, and sending hot crimson splashes onto the four walls. An eyeball actually bounced several times and rolled into a corner.

The church was hardly a sanctuary, unless one for some twisted demon or devil. Bodies hung on hooks like butcher’s meat with limbs or heads hacked off. Living prey were tied up or shoved into cages made of rusty old shopping carts. Their eyes pleaded with me for help, but I had not even yet saved myself. Three more supermutants were rushing the front door. My assault rifle would not be enough to take them all out before they gutted me, so I jumped on the minigun the headless mutant had dropped. It was an aging, beat up prewar model only slightly better than scrap. But it only had to work one more time for all I cared. And it did. I laid on the trigger and didn’t let up until the mutants were a bloody mess and the little 5mm rounds had all been shot, peppering the back wall in a pattern of chipped plaster and blood that looked like a Jackson Pollock painting from his darkest days.

Still more were outside. They knew better than to come in the front door, but were tossing grenades and taking potshots. I found a few old .32 caliber hunting rifles in a stash and got ready to play Alamo, rushing from window to window and raining death like a man with literally nothing to lose. Thankfully, the mutants outside couldn’t shoot too straight, and after a few minutes it was all quiet again, with just the whimper of the captives heard over the constant howl of the arid wind.

I freed the pathetic prisoners. They offered me some food as a reward, but I told them to keep it, shooing them back into the wasteland before more mutants arrived. If they actually made it back to their hovels, they would probably spread tales of the mysterious stranger that saved them, and my reputation in the wastes would grow. Not that I cared. I was still looking for some slice of peace, and it was obvious that I wouldn’t find it here. I scavenged what I could carry and headed back out into the world of Fallout 3, a little bruised and a lot wiser.

That’s a true story from my adventures in the world of Fallout 3, probably the most anticipated computer game of the past two years. Created by Bethesda Softworks, it had an almost impossible task because it was both the follow-up to mega-hit Oblivion and also the third game of the much-loved Fallout series that the company acquired from dying (or dead as the case may be) Interplay. There were lots of people who probably hated the game before actually playing it, though I don’t think there is much room for anyone to complain now. Bethesda has likely cemented itself as one of, if not the, top developer in the industry. Fallout 3 is actually a better game than Oblivion, and I didn’t think I would ever be able to make a claim like that. But Fallout has all the role-playing quality of Oblivion or perhaps even more, but also a lot more action and a great combat interface that combines real-time and turn-based modes.

Some people, including a friend whom I watched play Fallout 3, were initially upset at moving the series from the top-down tactical view of Fallout and Fallout 2 (and really even Wasteland which its all based on) to a first person shooter view, with the option to also play in third person. This seeming sacrilege was actually pulled off well, in part because the game’s graphics are so gorgeous and in part because there is an option to fight in turn-based mode, which was also a staple of the previous games in the series.

I don’t think that it’s possible to create a living world that players can get lost in without making the interface first person. Only then do you perceive the game world like you do the real one. So I don’t have a problem with the interface. And like I said earlier, the game is so beautiful that it’s very, very easy to slip into it and lose all track of time and reality. Some of that beauty is in the details. The restrooms of an abandoned subway station might not make the cover of Better Homes and Gardens, but you can bet as you wander around the filthy environment, that you can almost smell the rotting, well, stuff.

In combat, you can play in normal shooter mode where you and your opponents’ fire ranged or swing melee weapons at the same time. It’s mostly based on the player’s skills at doing such things and not really your character as much. Or you can enter V.A.T.S. combat mode, where you see the percentage to hit each body part of your opponent and can stack your next couple actions based on your agility score. So you might have a 75 percent chance to hit their head (or heads) for a damaging blow, or a 98 percent chance to hit their torso for less damage. Do you take the chance and go for a headshot? Or do you play it safe and hit the body? You have all the time in the world to make your choice, so those with less precise shooter skills won’t be forced to take a dirt nap just because they are a little slow on the trigger.

The quality of the sound matches the graphics, with some of the best voice work I’ve ever heard. People who are supposed to be a little crazy actually sound that way and even though every actor has full voice support, I’ve not run into any where the voice does not fit the character. Just about every other game being made today could take lessons from Fallout 3 on how to properly employ voice actors in a game. That couples with a robust radio music system which is accessible on your Pip-Boy that really adds flavor to the game. Listening to the local radio stations provides a soundtrack that actually enhances the gameplay experience.

Continuing the list of good deeds for the game is the fact that it has one of the best character creation processes ever made. You actually see what its like to be born! This lets you choose your name and general look. Then you also get to grow up in your vault, which is a series of small adventures where you play a baby, a ten year old and a teen. All of these experiences help shape your character, though you can change the results at the very end before you get booted out into the harsh wasteland. Never have I seen such a good character creation engine. This is something that Bethesda is really known for in their games, but Fallout 3 tops anything they have done before. You can really customize your character how you like, from a dumb bruiser to a deadeye gunslinger to a charismatic swindler. In this, they kept most of the character building system from the old games intact, and perhaps only tweaked how perks are handed out a slight bit to be less stingy with them.

But the best feature of the game is the role-playing and the open world. In the old games I would put points into small arms and then eventually buy skill in energy weapons when you would finally find one. But the open nature of the game here means depending on what you do, you might find a laser pistol within the first hour or so of play. So you really can branch out and make the character you like. Like Oblivion, you can follow the main quest the game offers, or go your own way. I would recommend the latter. The story I opened the review with happened because I thought something looked cool and went to investigate. But the entire wasteland, which covers the old city of Washington DC and surrounding states, is packed full of adventure possibilities. Nobody gave me a quest to head into the old church. I just stumbled across it and had an amazing gameplay experience, one of many (and I do mean many) the game has offered so far. There are also plenty of quests, side quests and optional quests to keep even a hardcore RPG player satisfied. Your Pip-Boy is an amazingly easy-to-use tool that keeps track of it all for you, so you won’t ever feel lost.

The game world is also very adult and pulls no punches. It earns its M rating and then some. You will find prostitutes, drug dealers, slavers, murders, psychos, cannibals and all manor of villain out there, and can even become any of the above yourself. In this, I have to say that Fallout 3 is even more gritty and dark than say, the much maligned Grand Theft Auto series. Even taking out the gratuitous and hyper-bloody violent death scenes, this is still a very adult world. Kids should not play it, though adults will be happy to find a title that treats us as such, and kudos to the developers for not playing to the kiddies. Let the kids play carnival games on their Wiis while we enjoy Fallout 3 on the PC, 360 and PS3 platforms.

The only minor complaint that I have with the game is the performance of the AI in some situations seems a bit off. Like sometimes when I would blow the head off of a raider with a sniper rifle, his buddy would just keep walking around like he didn’t notice, despite the fact that he was practically covered in his friend’s blood. Thankfully this happens only rarely. It’s obvious that the game is well polished and well tested. I doubt if there will even be the need for any patches anytime soon, a true feat given how huge the world is to explore.

Taken as a whole, Fallout 3 is a masterpiece. Whereas Oblivion raised the bar and showed people what a game really could be, Fallout 3 does the same thing only a few years later. Oblivion sat so high above everything else that it was hard to even compare it to anything. Now Fallout 3 sits just as high above Oblivion. It’s that good. And with a seemingly unlimited wasteland to explore, there should be many irradiated gamers playing this one for years to come. It earns a very rare perfect GiN Gem score of 5 out of 5, because really, nothing else on the market even comes close. Do yourself a huge favor and grab a copy today.

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