A.K.A. Decapitation: The Game
I'm finally reviewing a game where I can get my own screenshots. It feels kinda nice to have control over all the content in a review. On the other hand, getting
a nice variety of screenshots is time-consuming, and I'm feeling a little lazy today. So, two of the screens will be useful and the other two will just be excuses for me to show off the character I'm using for my second run through the game: Esk, the Deceptively Cute Homicidal Maniac. Sure, the title's a little unwieldy, but what it lacks in brevity it makes up for in accuracy. But I digress. Let's get this train-wreck started!
I'm starting this off with a stylish sword stance because I'm not above pandering to my audience.
, the third "true" game in the venerated RPG series, was made by Bethseda, the guys famous for the Elder Scrolls games (such as Morrowind
). It definitely shows. The game runs on what is basically an improved and modified version of Oblvion's engine, meaning that, among other things, you can switch between first-person and third-person at will, the dialogue trees are dense and varied, the world is massive and full of interesting nooks and crannies, and the faces still don't look very good. Yes, it still seems far too difficult to create attractive faces, particularly when I think back to how easy it was to use the creator in Mass Effect
. That said, both the attractiveness of the people and the graphics in general are a noticeable step up from Oblivion. The prologue, which combines the tutorial with the important backstory, is much more interesting than Oblivion's, too. A first-person birth scene provides the frame for the character creation process; the explanation and allocation of your stats is done via a cute, children's picture book; and skill-point allocation is presented as an aptitude test when your character is forced to take when he or she is sixteen. It's all very clever and is a great way to immediately engage the player in the world--though you'll probably find it tedious the third or fourth time you go through it.
When she's not using the direct approach (shotgun to the face), Esk likes to pose seductively to lure her victims into throat-stabbing range. It doesn't work so well if they're perceptive enough to notice her dead, Angelina Jolie-esque gaze.
One thing that almost never gets old, though, is the voice acting. Besides the fact that Liam Neeson (part-time Jedi) plays your father, the rest of the cast tends to range from "pretty good" to "stellar," with only a few instances I can think of that sounded phoned-in. Considering every character in the game is voiced (including the generic NPCs), that's much better average than gamers have grown accustomed to. It also helps that the actors and actresses are given decent scripts. Though only a few characters (such as Moira from the city of Megaton) have truly memorable dialogue, it generally sounds realistic and, at the very least, won't leave you chuckling for the wrong reasons. That said, the main story is surprisingly short, leading a number of reviewers to mention that they were caught of guard by how suddenly it ends. I agree with that sentiment.
Thankfully, there is an almost overwhelming amount of optional content to pad out what might otherwise be an eight-hour game. Much like in Oblivion
, the locations the main quest forces you to go to amount to just a tiny percentage of all the places in the world. Unlike Oblivion
, all those extra locations are actually quite interesting and worth the time it takes to search for them off the beaten path. Though not all have missions that will appear in quest log, virtually every area has a unique story to tell through its environment, notes stored in inexplicably-powered computers, audio logs, or NPCs. This greater attention to detail makes this world seem much more like a fully-developed character than the gigantic sandbox that was Oblivion
There are few things more satisfying than seeing 95% hit-rates on basically everything.
Which brings me to the battle system, an odd hybrid of a first-person shooter and...uh...a turn-based first-person shooter. This also happens to be where zealous Fallout fans cry blasphemy. I can understand their concern, but it actually works well. If you want to run-and-gun (or dash-and-bash, depending on whether you bother with the melee weapons) through the whole game, you can do that. You'll use up much more ammo than you need to, since your bullet spread is still affected by your stats, but ammo is abundant enough that you won't feel like you've turned the game into a post-apocalyptic Resident Evil
. To get the most out of all those points you've been pumping into your preferred weapon skill, though, you'll want to use VATS. When you activate VATS, time in the gameworld will freeze and your HUD will show you your chance of hitting each part of the targeted enemy with your equipped weapon. If there is more than one enemy in the area, you can use the arrows on the left and right sides of the screen to switch targets. In order to actually fire a shot (or swing a sledgehammer) in this mode, though, your character needs to have enough Action Points (AP). Just like in previous Fallout games, the amount of AP required depends on the kind of weapon you have equipped. Once you run out of AP, you can no longer use VATS until you regenerate enough to do at least one attack. Those with little confidence in their reflexes should note that AP regenerate quickly, so you'll only be forced to spend a few seconds in real-time before you can freeze time again to do two or three more attacks. In the end, it works out almost identically to a traditional turn-based system--you beat up on the enemies using VATS, and the enemies beat up on you while your AP recharges. The only significant difference is that you can now dodge and try to run behind cover while you're busy eating bullets.
When your character attacks using VATS, you'll witness the action through dramatic camera angles. In this scene, Esk seems to be wistfully daydreaming about the warm bubble-bath she'll have later today to wash off the chunks of Super Mutant she just sent flying all over the room.
Finally, there is the morality system, which Fallout 3
calls Karma. Though Karma doesn't have directly affect your combat abilities (like the systems in Knights of the Old Republic
), it does determine how some people react to you and which companions you can recruit. There are also significant sidequests that are exclusive to good or evil characters. Still, Fallout 3
suffers from the typical problem of not giving the player much reason to be evil other than for the fun of being evil. Ammo and money is so abundant that killing and looting is only substantially more profitable during the first five or so levels, and taking the evil path can sometimes make interesting sidequests permanently unavailable. On the other hand, there aren't many disadvantages to being evil, so it's not like you'll be crippling your experience just because you want to see what life's like on the dark side (save for one spoiler-rific instance).
Full disclosure: I'm not a Fallout fanboy. I played about an hour of Fallout 1
a month or two before this game came out, so Bethseda may have murdered some sacred cows that, in my ignorance, I was not aware of, thus ruining the experience for diehard fans. For everyone else, though, Fallout 3
ranks among the best RPGs of 2008 and should keep you entertained for a long while.
REGARDING THE THREE VERSIONS: Fallout 3
is available for the PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. The PC is, in my opinion, the best version. Although the very nature of the PC makes the game much more prone to crashing and other sorts of technical difficulties, it's the only version that supports unofficial mods. NEVER underestimate the value of the modding scene. The Xbox 360 is the second-best version, since it at least has access to the official add-ons (such as Operation Anchorage, the quest Esk got that sword from). If you buy the PS3 version, you'll only be getting the core game, and it doesn't seem like Bethseda is ever going to change that.
P.S. Since user-created mods are a big reason why the PC version is the preferred one, I'll be adding a post onto this review detailing how to go about using those mods and which ones I like to use. Look for it to go up sometime tomorrow.