Product Type: Bethesda Xbox 360 games
Newest Review: ... life with your friend waking you up saying you dad has opened the vault door and left the vault now you have to leave as well because ever... more
Welcome to the Wasteland
Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)
Member Name: collingwood21
Fallout 3 (Xbox 360)
Advantages: Artwork, Gameplay, Storytelling, Sheer scale of the game, Excellent value for money
Disadvantages: Maps are tricky to read; Experienced a couple of minor bugs
===The Fallout 3 Universe ===
The Fallout universe is certainly distinctive. Set in the late 23rd century, you experience a "world of tomorrow" as it may have been envisioned by those on the cusp of the atomic revolution in 1950s America. This is a world that retained the cultural norms, naivety and unflinching optimism of that age right until the bombs eventually dropped in 2077. The period styling and influence is present throughout the game world, alongside the sort of science fiction that was popular then; atomic cars, robot servants, laser guns and computer terminals that run green text on a black background. Despite the attitudes of ordinary people, however, this is also a world where nuclear war between China and the US became a reality, destroying most of these technological comforts and leaving behind a wasteland of human survivors and a variety of monsters brought on by decades of exposure to a radioactive environment.
Capitalising on the worsening relations between 2077's superpowers, American company Vault-Tec built numerous underground vaults around major cities to shelter people from the dangers of the war that may come. Each was a subterranean village designed to house and protect the inhabitants until the war was over and it was safe for people to go up into the world again. However, Vault 101 didn't reopen when the war ended. As a resident of Vault 101, you are brought up to learn that nobody ever enters or leaves the vault - you are told you are safe where you are under the protection of the Overseer. You are born in the vault, you die in the vault; a happy little community safe from the effects of radiation but blissfully ignorant of what is happening to the world outside.
===Gameplay in Fallout 3 ===
Fallout 3 starts with your literal birth, and ends with...well, that is really up to you. As you pass through key points in the early life of your vault-dweller, you make choices that will define his or her character in later life. (Although the immersive quality of the storyline may experience a hairline fracture towards the end of this process, however, when a window pops up to ask you if you would like to make any adjustments to the character you have built - essentially enquiring if there was any aspect of your childhood that you were unsatisfied with and if you would like to alter it using your magic time-travelling abilities.) Anyway, with the disappearance of your father from the vault, it is up to you to brave the outside world, pursue him across the wastelands and find out what happened. As the vault door rolls back and you step out into the sunshine for the first time, you find yourself in the largely destroyed environs of Washington DC, a parched landscape where life is either absent or hanging by a thread. Most buildings are gone or remain only as ruins, with surviving items gradually scavenged by those people who somehow survived outside of the vaults. In the distance you can see what remains of the city centre, with the Washington monument dominating the skyline. As a free roaming game, you are able to head wherever you want in this vast and bleakly fascinating environment; already you get a sense of it being something rather extraordinary.
From your formative years in the vault, to your eventual escape into the irradiated Wild West outside and well beyond, the game offers a wonderful mix of guided narrative, free exploration and player choice. If you wish to just follow the main plot line to find out what happened to your father, you can. If you wish to ignore the plot and spend time exploring the intricately imagined world around you, fighting monsters and picking out real-world locations to visit, you can do. If you want to play some side quests, you can do. A lot of games these days make a big deal out of offering player choice, but few I have played offer so many detailed, different and imaginative approaches and solutions as Fallout 3 manages. How you choose to interact with the world effects not only your character, but the reactions (and sometimes fates) of other non-player characters too. Some of these choices are black-or-white - side with the wasteland's slavers to help turn your character into a villain and condemn the escaped slaves around the Capital, or earn good karma by running an underground railway and killing slavers - but many others are more subtle. This freedom also gives Fallout 3 great replay potential. The first time I played I became the biggest hero in the wasteland; I then replayed many aspects with an evil character and enjoyed an entirely different gaming experience.
Like any roleplaying game, character development is both a means and an end. In Bethesda's previous game, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the levelling system was based on a more traditional (or arcane, depending on your perspective) combination of your character's class, skill specialization and experience; in effect you could "artificially" develop your character by standing in a field and repeatedly casting magic spells to bump up your magic XP or swim across a lake to develop athletic ability, for example. In Fallout 3, a new system is used that won't let you cheat in this way. You allocate your attribute points (e.g. strength, intelligence, endurance) at the start of the game, then each time you acquire sufficient experience points (through actions such as killing an enemy, hacking a computer, picking a lock, finding a new location, etc) you level up and can allocate a certain number of points to boost your skills (e.g. science, repair, explosives, small guns). Your skill set is therefore based on what you consciously chose to have, rather than by building experience in things you have already done. Each level-up also allows you to pick a perk, which range from the sublime (such as "explorer", which marks all locations on your map for you to find more easily) to the ridiculous (the "mysterious stranger" perk, where sometimes a stranger appears with a magnum and kills an enemy for you). The original game has a cap at level 20 (which will take you tens of hours of gameplay to reach, and you won't even be close to maxing out your skills or getting every perk), but the downloadable add-ons boost this to level 30.
But there is more to Fallout 3 than just wandering around and killing and looting stuff; you also need to look after the health of your character. The nuclear war did more than just crumble governments, institutions and infrastructure. The effects are felt everywhere in the quest for food, water and basic survival, something you really don't know the meaning of until you have been forced to drink irradiated water from a toilet bowl to acquire a few health points. Food, water and sleep (if you can find somewhere safe enough to do so) will all restore your health, but for the most part you will be collecting and taking medicines ("chems") to patch yourself up and fend off the worst effects of radiation - and hoping you don't become addicted to them. You'll have to use medicine to manage the levels of radiation you take in from eating, drinking or wandering into highly radioactive zones, creating an unending give and take between health points, quest objectives and radiation sickness that underscores the struggle for survival that everyone you meet faces.
Inventory management in the game is carried out via your Pip-Boy, a wrist-mounted computer than you can access at any point. The Pip-Boy screen (green text on a black background, naturally) gives you access to your health status, in-game maps, data you have collected and the list of items (sorted by apparel, chems, weapons, and miscellaneous stuff) you are hauling around with you. The amount you can carry is limited by weight, so you constantly need to balance this out - really good armour will be heavy, so this will mean carrying less weaponry, for example. The interface on the Pip-Boy is very easy to navigate around and use (to take chems, change weapons and check quest objectives), especially when compared to the rather clumsy management systems other roleplaying games have employed.
I should mention that this is a game with an 18 certificate, and it has one for a reason. You might expect it to be violent given the themes of the game - and it is - but in a world where it is difficult to survive and there is no law to protect you, there are lots of people prepared to do bad things. Weaponry is varied, ranging from pistols and assault rifles to near future equivalents (such as laser guns) and can do a lot of damage (especially if you use the "bloody mess" perk to access more horror-porn animations upon shooting enemies). Let me be clear, this is not a game for the squeamish, for children, or for anyone with a developing moral compass. There are boundless opportunities for evil in the Fallout world, and it is very easy to find ways to do terrible things to perfectly nice non-player characters. Such is the realism of the game, however, that there were plenty of times when I hesitated before taking the moral low ground. Indeed, the controversial content of the game was sufficient for it to be banned from release in India, and modified versions had to be released in Japan and Australia.
===Graphics and Sound ===
The foundation of Fallout 3 is the game's huge, immensely well-realised and beautifully crafted world. Epic in scale, varied in design and incredibly detailed, this is a carefully crafted landscape that has a strong sense of place. Incorporating plenty of real locations - such as Arlington cemetery, the Mall and the Washington monument - alongside fictional ones, this is an all too believable landscape that is fascinating to explore, as you uncover secrets, lies, hopes, fears (and hidden loot). There are plenty of pleasing diversions, collectables, sub-plots and secondary quests to keep you occupied for an awfully long time, all brought to life with top-notch artwork. The colour palette is dominated by browns, greys and blacks, creating a grimly convincing world with a touch of desperation around the edges.
The people you meet on your wanderings are generally well-realised and interesting, with good lines of dialogue and impressive voice acting (Liam Neeson even does a cameo as your father). This is an improvement on Oblivion, although the characters still seem to holiday in the uncanny valley and have a habit of standing ramrod stiff and staring intently at you while conversing, like they are afraid that if they break eye contact with me I'll pickpocket them and nick all their stuff (which, admittedly, I sometimes did). The animations were sometimes a little stiff and clunky, which was especially noticeable if you shift to the third person perspective. This wasn't enough the hinder play, but it did make the visuals just a little less good. They were all very passive for people living in such an environment as well - if you happen to be a heavily armed wasteland survivor and needed a rare or powerful object kept in a known location just a couple of miles away, why not get it yourself rather than wait for the first teenage vault dweller who happens to stumble across you to go and fetch it instead? And then pay them? Well, a lot of people do just this, so maybe that is the effect of long term radiation exposure for you. The conversations you have vary from hilarious to downright disturbing, but are always worth listening too. Some attributes, skills and perks also give you access to unique dialogue options; a high strength rating might let you intimidate the person you are talking to, for instance, while the "Black Widow" perk gives female characters the chance to flirt their way out of potentially dangerous situations.
One of the stand-out pieces of design, however, is the combat system. Developed for Fallout 3 is the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS); at any point during combat, you can use VATS to pause the action and target specific parts your enemy, which will give you the percentage chance of hitting each part, based on your skills, your position relative to your enemy and the weapon you have equipped. If you want, you can even target the explosive in your enemy's hand to make it blow up before they throw it at you. VATS also allows you to queue up multiple attacks on enemies and let rip. This makes the game feel much more like a roleplaying adventure - although of course you can make it into a straight action game by just aiming manually. It is a very good looking and easy to use system, allowing even the most inexperienced player with the most undeveloped character to stand a chance in a fight - and permitting more experienced players to take on entire slaver compounds alone. Each attack in VATS switches to a slow-motion, cinematic angle to allow you to fully appreciate the carnage you are wreaking. Of course, if you have enemies remaining once you have used all your action points up, then real-time combat takes over until you have sufficient points to enter VATS again. One of the few small niggles of the game for me is how unpolished the real-time combat feels compared with other first-person shooters; aiming feels too clumsy, as if the developers didn't take it into account at all after they had come up with VATS. In some cases, I was getting no response at all to pulling the trigger when shooting manually, and that just isn't good enough when you have a whole group of mutant monsters trying to kill you.
Sound-wise, the game comes equipped with a distinctive musical score, good ambient music and effects and more interestingly, some in-game radio stations that you can listen to as you explore. In keeping with the styling of the game, the radio stations play 1940s swing music and tracks by the likes of Cole Porter and Billie Holliday, creating a cheerfully kitsch backdrop to the devastation all around you. The juxtaposition of this very innocent music conjuring up images of the golden age of Americana against the lawless nuclear wasteland is a sophisticated setting you won't see in many games.
===Downloadable Content ===
There are five expansion packs that you can download through the Xbox live marketplace for 800 points (roughly £7) each. Each of these packs adds further hours of gameplay to Fallout 3, giving you access to new quests, locations, weapons and achievements. The first release, and my personal favourite, is Operation Anchorage, which allows you to enter a simulator and play your way through one of the greatest battles on the Fallout universe - the liberation of Alaska from Chinese invaders in 2076. This is followed by The Pitt, where you travel to post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh to investigate a conflict between slaves and slavers, and Broken Steel, which ups your level cap to 30 and allows you to continue playing beyond the end of the main quest line with your highly-developed character.
The Point Lookout expansion was probably for me the most disappointing. In this expansion, you travel to a holiday island in Maryland to seek out a runaway, but the environment created is dull compared to the rest of the game, and I found the secondary quests, unique weapons and achievements available in it to be relatively unexciting. Finding all the locations on the island was an achievement for example, whereas the only interesting quest - tracing the footsteps of a Chinese spy - turned out to end abruptly and give you nothing for completing it. Finally, we have Mothership Zeta, easily the weirdest of the add-ons. Deep in the heart of the wasteland there is a crashed alien spacecraft; find it during the main game and you will get nothing more than a cool weapon, but go to it after downloading the expansion pack and you find yourself abducted by aliens! The expansion is spent on board the alien craft, and although I found the tasks a bit tedious and repetitive in places, this was more than made up for in the alien technology you can acquire on board.
===Concluding Thoughts ===
Fallout 3 is such an engaging experience that it would be easy to overlook the small flaws that inevitably creep in to a game of this scale and ambition. A few bugs did slip through the testing process; I found that the game crashed on a couple of occasions, and one quest line was only completed by luck after the events in the quest bizarrely triggered in the wrong order, leaving me utterly bemused about what to do next. This was nothing too frustrating or detrimental to my experience, but it is enough to make me recommend frequent saving to other players, so you won't have to replay much if you do have to reload the game to correct a fault. The other thing I had a problem with - and which I did find somewhat detrimental to the game in the early stages in particular - was that the in-game maps are really difficult to follow. The maps are presented in a very stylised way, and you get one floor-plan for each local area you enter. This is fine if you are in an open space, but creates huge difficulties once you go inside a building, as all the floors are mapped on top of each other. You can see that your target is a door in the north-east of the building, for example, but not which floor this door appears on. So, you could fight your way through the ground floor, appear to be standing right on top of your target in the map, and see nothing there in first person. You then have to go to the next floor and repeat the process, making finding your way in, out and around buildings far harder and more frustrating than it needs to be. I must have lost countless hours just running around structures yelling "where am I meant to go?" at the TV.
But small grumbles aside, Fallout 3 has to be one of my favourite Xbox 360 games. It delivers good action, well-written and focussed storytelling and the freedom to roam in a large and interesting landscape. Perhaps "large and interesting" isn't quite sufficient. Given that it is still possible to find architecturally unique areas, new monsters and new people to talk to after investing tens of hours of play time into the game, it is of a scope that puts most other blockbuster titles to shame. Play is compulsive and immersive - and just really good fun. Given the number of hours I have spent playing it, it is easily excellent value for money for the main game, and the add-on packs are not too bad a price either. Personally, I can't wait for the next Fallout game (New Vegas) to be released by Bethesda in October.
===Product Details ===
Format reviewed: Xbox 360
Other formats available: PC, PS3
Price: RRP £40, currently available on Amazon.co.uk for £17.99 (standard edition), £22.99 (Game of the Year edition) and £35+ (Collectors' Edition, marketplace only)
Certificate: Rated 18 for violence by BBFC and PEGI
Achievements: 50, worth 1,000 points; a further 4 to 6 achievements are added with each add-on pack
Official Site: http://fallout.bethsoft.com/index.html
Summary: Your chance to explore post-apocalyptic Washington DC
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