Fallout 3 (Xbox 360) review
"War. War never changes. "
War. War never changes.
Neither does the opening of a Fallout game, and may a hellstorm of nuclear warheads rain down on anyone who isn't familiar with this ridiculously epic post-apocalyptic RPG series. Just minutes after your virtual first-person birth, you'll be waddling around your playpen deep in the bowels of Vault 101, and once you break free from your playpen you see something that looks brand new, yet as comforting as a lover's (non-irradiated) caress. It's the ever beaming face of our perennial buddy, the PipBoy, in the very first book you will ever read, entitled You're Special! Assign your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skill points to basic traits like Strength, Agility, and Luck, then close that silly book and turn your attention to the Good Book. As your dad, Liam Neeson, sonorously recites the crusty Biblical verse of Revelations 21:6 to an incomprehending toddler, the moment feels very wrong, but nonetheless perfectly establishes the condescending approach of Bethesda's Fallout
For Dummies 3.
As Neeson whisks you through a 9-year burp in the time-space continuum, more regurgitated "tutorial" type scenarios help you deal with the challenges of relationships. For you agoraphobics out there who haven't sunk 50+ hours into Oblivion or any other RPG with dialogue trees and alignment, this might be necessary. For the other 99% of us, the stiff, creaky mechanations of the early game will make repeated playthroughs a cringe-inducing ordeal. Sit back and let the Vault Overseer's daughter lavish every ounce of her attention on you, and let Butch, the Designated Vault Asshole, express his sexual confusion through unprovoked aggression. Let the scripted events unfold in all their stilted Oblivionesque artificiality. Let the smarmy teacher administer your unskippable and ultimately unneccessary G.O.A.T. exam. The 10-question personality test is a discreet and entertaining way to mold a character without having to toggle numbers on boring menus. This is a custom harkening back to the mid-90s golden age of PC strategy/RPG games, an era that gave birth to immortal masterpieces like Jagged Alliance 2 and the first two Fallouts.
Unlike those insanely difficult, save-intensive offerings, Fallout 3 allows you to undo any and all changes made to these "tag skills" by introducing you to the boring green menu where you will spend many an hour toggling numbers. Just when you were beginning to despair, the proceedings lighten up considerably after the last time burp. Vault 101's on emergency backup power, Liam Neeson's assistant is dead, Liam's whereabouts are now outside the Vault, and to top it off, The Overseer's sudden institution of Extreme Martial Law can do little to curb the infestation of dog-sized Radroaches. But that's no problem for you, thanks to the power of V.A.T.S. and other cutsey acronyms. With the help of the ever-beaming PipBoy, the Vault-Tec Automated Targeting System will be your closest ally, and the reason you will be mashing the Right Shoulder button every time you see any life form. Time snaps to a frozen stasis, where you can leisurely take your time deciding which body parts to cripple when, and queuing as many attacks as your available Action Points will allow, dictated by your Agility level.
You will find, throughout the increasingly lengthy lulls between combat sessions, that the game plays exactly like Oblivion, but here's where Bethesda goes the extra mile: the combat is a hair (viz: visible bodily organ) away from an AO rating. Do you want to tear the poor security weenie's arms off with your bare hands, or just go for an extremely chunky headshot and be done with the whole bloody affair? The choice is yours! Well, unless you'd like to go for a nonviolent resolution to the problem, in which case you can sit back and let the security guards perforate your ass. Violence is intrinsic to Fallout, and if you have a weak stomach or aversion to simulated death, don't even start playing, because you will be forced time and time again into horrible situations. On the plus side, you can force Butch, the Vault Douchenozzle, into turning his own mother into a Radroach hors d'oeuvre, or better yet, let him overcome his crippling fear of the Roaches only to be consumed by them while you watch, laughing, through the observation window.
After shooting or bludgeoning your way out of the Vault, you can either follow Liam to the neighboring hamlet of Megaton, or just blow him off altogether. Word of warning: the game is pretty fucking pointless if you don't. It is here, in this shantytown, that a crude civilization is starting to congeal out of this collection of weirdos. The town's namesake is an unexploded nuke in the town square. Some loonies have built an entire religion around this idol, and every day from sunrise 'til sunset, a Brotherhood of Atom whacko preaches gibberish while standing in a pool of radiation. A sherriff, looking strikingly like Fred Williamson in the Western blaxploitation classic Boss N*gger, is Judge, Jury, and Executioner with his huge pump-action shotgun. A slimy Welsh barkeep tries to sell you Liam's whereabouts for the cool sum of 150 Nuka-Cola bottlecaps (old treasury notes being nothing but a novelty item), unless you can track down one of his escaped prostitutes. Moira, proprietor of Craterside Supply, speaks in a singsong voice like Frances McDormand in Fargo, sending you on super-cute missions like liberating irradiated pasta from a band of psychopathic Raiders holed up in a grocery store. As if it would occur to no one else to look for food there.
Wander around the blasted landscape of Washington D.C., uncovering some intact remnants of the Pre-War civilization. Imagine a universe built around '60s sci-fi kitsch. That's about as deep as it gets. Bioshock moments will come back in a weird sort of deja-vu, as you are graphically slaying slightly different crazies while listening to slightly different music from the '40s and '50s on busted transistors and jukeboxes. That Irrational's 2007 hit was merely System Shock with a transfusion of Fallout DNA will be lost on no one reading this, surely, but the first-person perspective is a new one for this series. Black Isle's PC prequels, while not using their patented Infinity Engine, still played and looked similarly to Torment and Baldur's Gate. The detached, third-person camera allowed a certain amount of distance from the terrible universe. Bethesda goes the opposite route and rubs your nose in all kinds of filth.
Since we've established it already, let's go into that adorable Moira mission in the city's only surviving Super-Duper Mart. Some unforeseen consequence of nuclear weaponry has made it so 75% of the population is either insane, homicidal, or homicidal and insane. We aren't anywhere near The Mall, crawling with ugly yellow Super Mutants (basically Raiders with less salvageable equipment), so be thankful that the human enemies are so easy to kill. Don't worry, they have a penchant for hanging mutilated torsos on hooks attached to hi-tension chains, swearing, and other unsavory activities. Boosting your Sneak skill makes the enemies even dumber than those in Manhunt, boosting Light Weapons lets you snipe them from 50 paces, boosting Explosives... you get the picture. No matter your strengths or weaknesses, the scenarios in Fallout For Dummies are engineered so there is a possible solution for any fix you're in. A far cry from the first two, which were laden with impossible situations, not to mention a countdown timer. In those, you were assigned to find important items to protect your tribe from extinction. Here, you have all the time in the world since Liam is all too obliging to sit with his thumb up his ass while you roam the wasteland killing everything you see.
Like any other modern RPG, the enemies level up with your character, keeping you in the proverbial "sweet spot" as far as challenge goes. This is fundamentally wrong, one of the evils bestowed upon us by Max Payne. What self-respecting dungeon crawler doesn't have a ridiculous gauntlet or an Eagle's Nest full of overpowered nasties? You have the Deathclaw Sanctuary, but once you figure out their Achilles' Heel, slaying them is a breeze. Whether you do it with a minigun, a shotgun, or your bare hands, all combat will play out similarly. And what sought-after relics await the bold explorer? Slightly stronger armor, slightly stronger weapons, some ammo. This repeats over and over, whether you're fighting Talon Company Mercs, the ubiquitous Super Mutants, or just a whole lot of cuddly Mole Rats.
This game has a horizontal learning curve. This would compare negatively to the slightly steep 10-degree incline of Oblivion. As you could avoid the Oblivion Gates in that one, you could merrily bounce around the landscape as long as you pleased. Sure, you'd run into a Gate about every ten yards, but it was still well within your abilities to blow off the apocalypse and focus on gathering shit to fill your house. Speaking of which, there is only one way to obtain a house in the Fallout universe, which *SPOILER* would involve sparing the loathsome denizens of Megaton. The only other alternative is to take advantage of the countless unoccupied beds in the countless unoccupied houses throughout the land if you ever want to heal without using irradiated food or Stimpacks. If you're not a waste of Carbon and you play on the Very Hard difficulty, you'll find you have to heal every time you get hit. To hammer home the critical nature of your injuries, there's an irritating heartbeat noise that you can't turn off!
If Fallout 3 sounds unfun and repetitive, well, it is. But it also has one of the most impressive draw distances seen on any console, a sporadically brilliant musical score calling to mind motifs of a ruined America, and voice acting that's second to none. Of course, there are only three towns of any considerable size, and one of them is populated entirely by snot-nosed children. While that may provide an entertaining mission for the loathsome Slavers of Paradise Falls, the difficulty of navigating the environments is compounded by maps that might as well read "FUCK YOU" instead of displaying any visual data. Even your alignment is a gimmick. You can take advantage of every opportunity to destroy human life and cause misery, but there's a man dying of thirst conveniently located outside of every town. He might as well say "FREE GOOD KARMA" above him on a flashing pink neon sign. All it takes is a bottle of fresh water to get you on the path to Christhood.
Between the repetitive dungeons, nonexistent sidequests, and some areas that are outright incomplete, there is no choice but to follow Liam Neeson into the final stretch of the narrative. This involves a giant robot and a nuclear explosion, so it could be worse. But there are side areas that haven't been finished; girders and steel beams hovering in the air like the end of Akira. The incomplete portions of the game may not bother those with the disposable income for Xbox Live, but for paupers like me, this is inexcusable. The game was in development for the better part of a decade. What's another couple months to finish the fucking map? Of course, there's downloadable content available in the future where you can play out some huge epic-scale battles. Of course, I wouldn't put it past Bethesda to leave those incomplete.
But War. War never changes.
For the sake of future Fallout games, I pray that this old axiom is a lie.
Community review by johnny_cairo (December 30, 2008)
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