Fallout 3 Xbox 360 review

Aaron can kiss his social life goodbye, thanks, once again, to Bethesda

The stunning Fallout 3

Wow, where do you start to review a game like Fallout 3? Well, to begin with, I’m not going to beat around the bush. Fallout 3 is good, really, really good. In fact, ‘good’ would be a woefully large understatement, as this is, in my opinion, the leading candidate for Game of the Year, GTA 4 be damned! Yes, it’s that good.

Fallout 3 is, unsurprisingly, a continuation of the Fallout series, originally developed by RPG veterans, Black Isle. Hoping to resurrect the ageing franchise, Bethesda, purveyor of such epics as Morrowind and the mighty Oblivion, took the reigns and decided to take the series from old school 2D into full, first and third person 3D, along with the now traditionally humongous world and seemingly never-ending quests that have become synonymous with the talented developer. Of course, as with any reboot or sequel of a franchise, hardcore Fallout fans were instantly cynical, which is understandable, as any changes to a much loved formula will always be met with distain at first (don’t get me started on Deus Ex Invisible War!). But I’m confident the overwhelming majority of players will love what’s on offer here.

Set in the year 2277, two hundred years after a nuclear war devastated the planet, Fallout casts you as a new born baby within the safe haven that is Vault 101. Run by the Vault-Tec corporation, this is just one of many similar fallout shelter-type vaults, and one that the generations of inhabitants have been sealed in for 200 years, with no one getting in, or, more crucially, no one getting out. The comfortable, if restricted, lifestyle has kept the inhabitants safe, and for the first tutorial section of the game, you’ll spend some time in Vault 101.

The game literally starts with your birth, and here Bethesda has woven a genius method of integrating character creation into the game. Your father first asks if it’s a boy or girl, and so you choose, then he thinks of a name, which you enter, and finally he uses a DNA projection device to predict what you’ll look like when you grow up, and you can customise your character’s appearance.

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We then skip forward a year, and you’re a baby, crawling around a playpen. Here you learn to move, and use a baby reading book to pick your basis stats (strength, endurance, intelligence etc). Skip forward more, and you’re at your tenth birthday party, and are given a Pip-boy 3000, your wrist-mounted computer, which has many uses, from inventory management and status, to mapping and holding data, as well as being a handy Geiger counter. You’re also shown basic combat, and character interaction.

You then skip forward to your sixteen year-old self, and have to take a test, which asks various multiple choice questions that will determine the type of character you’ll initially be (but this is a Bethesda game, so this is far from set in stone).

Eventually you’re nineteen, and something has gone horribly wrong n the vault. Your dad has left, somehow, for reasons unknown, and guards are looking for you. Your only option is to escape into the great, wide world of the Capital Wasteland, Washington DC.

This entry to the game is excellent, and when you emerge into the light of the open world, you’re greeted with a mammoth, ruined landscape that, in a frightening post-apocalyptic way, actually looks quite beautiful. From this point, the game really does let you do what you want, and it’s up to you whether you’ll be good, bad or indifferent, whether you’ll follow the main story and find your dad, or whether you’ll simply wander off into the wasteland and find your own path.

Comparisons to Oblivion are inevitable and unavoidable. Bethesda’s previous classic was so good though, that this certainly is no hindrance. In fact, one of the best compliments to be levelled at Fallout 3 is that it’s every bit as good, if not better, than the Elder Scrolls title. Contrary to popular belief, this is not simply ‘Oblivion with guns’ though, and although many elements are the same, there’s a whole lot of new content here, and a raft of new play mechanics.

One of the biggest changes is combat, and the inclusion of the V.A.T.S system. When used, it stops the action and superimposes a digital targeting system onscreen. You can then select various body parts on your foes, and depending on your AP (Action Points), you can fire off multiple shots at a number of body parts, and can target multiple foes at once. Then, depending on your skills with your weapons and overall stats, you’ll deal out varying damage to your foes. This is all depicted in bullet time-esque, slo-mo fashion, and the overall effect is fantastic, especially when you follow a single bullet right into a foe’s head – nice!

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You don’t have to use the V.A.T.S system though, and Fallout 3 also features a more traditional real-time combat system, so the choice is yours. However, so powerful and just downright cool is the V.A.T.S system, that you’ll find yourself making use of this almost exclusively, and fighting in real-time only until your APs regenerate.

The use of guns, lasers and other explosive weapons obviously makes for a very different combat experience than Oblivion, even without V.A.T.S, but there’s also a range of melee weapons to fight with, many of which are surpassingly effective, especially when used in tandem with the game’s stealth system. This functions much like Oblivion’s stealth system, and enables critical hits on unsuspecting foes, as well as letting you sneak past foes to avoid combat, and to steal from others.

Other notable additions include a great lockpicking system and the hacking mini-game, which can actually be quite tricky (and even possesses hidden hacks, if you know where to look). You can also interact with computers throughout the world to read all sorts of information, from private logs and reports, to history of the world and other interesting material. Computers can also be used to subvert security by deactivating turrets, and even reprogramming a security robot to fight alongside you.

One of the most tweaked elements lies with character advancement. Unlike Oblivion, in which you increased abilities in real time the more you performed a specific action or used a certain type of weapon, Fallout 3 simply rewards experience as you achieve goals and kill foes. This all goes into one pot, and when you level up, you then choose to distribute your points into your basic abilities (including weapon types, stealth, conversation and so on). You then also get to choose a new or higher level ‘perk’. These bonuses grant extra stat boosts and abilities, such as extra dialog choices with female characters or children, or additional boosts to your various abilities with each level up.

This, admittedly streamlined system may not please some, especially Elder Scrolls fans, but even as a hardened TES fan, I found the change to be welcome, and it fits in well with the rest of the game’s design.

The inventory management and loot finding we’ve come to expect is present and correct, and throughout your journey you’ll find and acquire a huge range of weapons, armour and items. Weapons and armour have a condition value, and if this gets too low, the weapons will break and armour will be useless, so you need to repair your own gear, or get someone else to do so, in order to stay effective in battle. Each weapon also has its own ammo types, so scavenging for ammunition, or buying it in towns, will be a major concern if you’re going to survive the harsh environment. You’ll also be able to find schematics, which allow the creation of new weapons, as long as you’ve salvaged and scavenged the right item required. This gives meaning to the reams of seemingly mundane items found throughout the world. In Oblivion, you could pick up almost everything, including plates, knives, forks, vases and so on, but nothing was of any real use. Here, a vault-tec lunch box may seem useless, but slap on some explosives and a sensor and you’ve got yourself a powerful home-made proximity bomb.

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One of the major high points of Oblivion was the quest structure. There were a staggering amount of quests and side quests to take part in. In fact, the main story of Oblivion was a tiny fraction of the whole game, with the majority of the content being optional. This is also true here, and while Fallout 3 has a great story, and one that’s more focused than Oblivion, the real meat is found by wandering the wasteland, and exploring the various towns, buildings and undergrounds. You’ll meet all manner of people, some human, and others not so human, and you’ll often find yourself stumbling into new mission opportunities. This is undoubtedly one of the game’s greatest strengths, and few other titles could hope to manage this amount of free roaming and consistently absorbing adventuring.

Bethesda has also, as always, catered to both good and evil characters, but this time, your reputation will limit your options. For example, in Megaton, one of the first towns you’ll discover, there’s an ex-raider (one of the game’s many factions) who you can attempt to befriend. To do so, you need to have a bad reputation, or he considers you a goody two shoes, and won’t have anything to do with you. Such situations occur all over the place, which, as if the game needed any extra help, adds to the replay value.

You’ll make moral choices too. While still in Megaton you’ll find a dapper gentleman who wants you to rig a large atomic bomb (which sits in the middle of Megaton, hence the town’s name) to blow, while the town Sheriff wishes you to defuse it. The choice is yours, but you’ll need to deal with the repercussions either way…

Visually, Fallout 3 is superb, and the 50’s style ‘World of Tomorrow” design just hits every note, and makes for one of the most memorable settings this side of BioShock. Environments are detailed, and the various little effects, such as dust blowing in the wind, birds circling high above, and the grim remains of the capital city and its famous landmarks, all add up to a fantastically immersive and absorbing world, and a game that just won’t let go.

Unless I strain my neurons, I can’t really pick any clear faults with the game, and any issues are mere minor blemishes. But at a push I’d have to admit that the real-time FPS combat isn’t as tight as it could have been, and doesn’t feel as smooth or approachable as a dedicated FPS title. And while V.A.T.S does a great job most of the time, occasionally the camera can stumble, and will get stuck within objects or characters, obscuring the view of the carnage.

I have to admit, while I have both Fallout 1 and 2 lying around, I’ve yet to play them, and as such, this is my first foray into the Fallout universe, so I had no preconceptions heading in. I have no doubt that long time fans of the series will find plenty to find fault with, and that’s fine, and each to their own, but, when you take this as a game on its own merits, there’s little to complain about. What you get is a huge, epic sprawling world, masses of quests and some great combat and character interaction rolled up into a perfectly-formed package. This can all only get better too, when Bethesda, barring any ridiculous ‘Horse Armour’ shenanigans, release the promised DLC to further enhance the game.

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If you’re an RPG/adventure fan who likes their games deep and rewarding, then Fallout 3 is a must-have purchase, pure and simple – so go get it, now! If I had the casting vote, this really would be Game of the Year – ’nuff said.

5 stars

Rating:

5 out of 5