canuckeh's Fallout 3 (Xbox 360) review

Baby's first radiation poisoning.

Fallout 3 : Oblivion-developer ’s open world post-nuclear apocalyptic RPG thingy, combining dread and depression with a smiling 50s cartoon character!

Story : The character creation system and tutorial are not-so-subtly tied into your character’s birth and upbringing, within a giant Vault that’s been shut of from the rest of the world. When you’re father (voiced by Liam Neeson and why not?) suddenly escapes, all hell breaks loose and you escape the Vault and into the desecrated remains of a post-nuclear-war Washington DC, where you can think about searching for your father, or just walking around town picking pockets and killing people. The main story doesn’t get interesting until near the end, but you may as well follow it anyways since it’ll open up more locations on the map.

Comparisons to The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion are indeed inevitable, so I’ll get them all out of the way now. Yes you’re more or less dealing with Oblivion in the future. No, isn’t quite as big as Oblivion’s world was, but it’s a lot more interesting. Instead of 15 towns that are practically clones of each other and a lot of empty jungles and identical caves, you’ve got about 4 interesting towns, a wasteland filled with interesting set-pieces, unique sights and people that want you dead, and radiation poisoning. Yes, you’re playing with guns instead of swords now. But the core ideas are the same; you can rob and kill anyone you please, with the predictable moral (you lose “karma” or ) and legal (people will want you dead for awhile!) consequences. You can pick up as much junk as your kleptomaniacal heart desire, which becomes somewhat important since you’re going to need to scavenge and sell whatever may be valuable in order to make some money.

And that’s when Fallout 3 started to develop an identity to me. One of the things I like is the sense that I was barely getting by in this desolate wasteland. Ammunition feels scarce, money can be hard to get by, and unless you’re some kind of expert thief then you’re going to be stingy on health packs. Any penny your frugal ass can make will be needed, and whether you choose to spend your hard-earned bottle caps on repairing weapons or health becomes some kind of important decision. When you level up, you get to choose which character attributes are upgraded, and you may have to think twice about putting everything into combat, as opposed to being able to independently fix weapons, pick locks or barter.

The downside to this scarcity of assorted commodities is that it becomes trickier to specialize in any combat style. You can’t quite get by being an explosives or energy weapons specialist, as whatever weapons you elect to use in any given situation will be based on whatever weapons you actually have ammo for. I had the same problem with Bioshock where the whole idea of letting me level up certain areas was rendered null and void by how I was being forced to use whatever attacks I could actually afford to use.

On top of that, I always felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle; some kind of crucial bit of knowledge that I would’ve had to have played the previous Fallout games to pick up on. Like a certain kind of strategy I would need to use to kill a Super Mutant without emptying out entire clips of bullets on one, let alone the next twenty. The in-game tutorial is great at explaining concepts that one would’ve known about from playing Oblivion, but certain other concepts, like whether or not there are parts of the body I should shoot at in VATS other than the head, or how to deal with enemies that can shoot me from a football field’s length away when I can’t shoot them unless football’s length off, or even something as silly as the need to use abandoned subway systems to get to certain areas, seem to have alluded me in my inexperience with this franchise. The key here is that I can’t be alone; the vast majority of people buying Fallout 3 have more than likely never played a Fallout game before.

And thus, combat is a mixed bag. You have to adapt to the idea that everything is stat based and thus you won’t be able to instantly headshot and kill everything like some kind of deathmatch uber 1337 creature. My biggest annoyance is that the farther you are from a target, the less likely you are to hit; a weakness your enemies don’t seem to have. And being that you won’t have a somewhat expendable supply of ammunition until late in the game, your strategy in combat will tend to be “rush up close to an enemy and pop them in the skull.” To assist in this point-blank gunplay, the VATS system lets you expend a certain number of action points to automatically target key parts of the enemy, if you’re not feeling confident in your reflexes and want to be stingy with ammo. If there’s one advantage to this system, though, it’s that successful kills will often result in some fantastically excessive death sequences with exploding heads and slow motion dismemberment.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that if Fallout 3 has a fault, it’s that it has an unorthodox learning curve and difficulty curve. One of the earlier missions will require you to plow through a legion of Super Mutants despite your limited munitions. Unlike Oblivion, where if you never leveled up your hero, you could realistically be fighting rabbits and mice on the end-game levels, enemies don’t seem to get progressively more difficult as you level up; an angry Super Mutant will always be an angry Super Mutant, and can only get easier to kill as your stats improve and you wise-up to the game’s mechanics.

But once you get into that groove, that’s when you can start to appreciate the nuances. The otherwise long walks to any given destination on the map feel like fun little adventures into the unknown rather than some needless way of artificially lengthening the game. Characters are mostly interesting and have their own personality and pockets to explore. The juxtaposition of the wholesomeness of the 50s’ perceived idea of and the horrific nuclear Armageddon makes for a distinct contrast that one can’t help but get immersed in. There’s a slight tinge of USA-bashing and that’ll always put a smile on my Canadian face. If you look hard enough, there’s a hearty assortment of fleshed out side-quests that you can wind up losing yourself in. The number of unlikely bonus stats or “perks” that you can give your character upon leveling up opens up a bit of experimentation and incentive to replay the game. And I guess once you’ve wrapped your mind around the stat-based combat, you’ll welcome the challenge of battling armed soldiers with your shotgun.

I can’t compare Fallout 3 to previous Fallout games but I’d wager that people who enjoyed those games will find radioactive bliss here. For fans of ’s games, what you’re getting here is a smaller, but more interesting and arguably more fun open-world RPG for you to pillage and fiddle with, or at least in the later end of the game when you can afford to waste bullets on something that wasn’t trying to kill you first. For people who’ve never tried one of these games before, I’d say that Oblivion makes a better gateway drug into this genre; a warm-up, if you will, for the real exercise of Fallout 3. You kind of have to adapt to the game to really appreciate it, but once you do, it’ll trigger a nice, warm, light-green glow in your heart.

Pros : Great 40s music to jive to while you maim ghouls and giant mutants.

Cons : Some glitches. I was of the impression that in earlier Fallout games that, with the right stats, you can play the entire game without ever getting into a fight. You SO can’t do that here.

4 stars

Now I see why so many people geek out over that Fallout cartoon mascot.

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