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214 of 222 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2008
I'm now on my second playthrough of Bethesda's marvelous Fallout 3. The first go took around 40 hours to complete the storyline, and it was at this point that I looked at the huge map of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that my adventures had taken me through and realised that I'd barely scratched the surface of things to see and do. So I loaded in my most recent auto-save and went exploring again, and having just finished a mammoth 5 hour session exploring just one building (and getting seriously spooked in the process) I thought I'd take a break and share my love for the game by reviewing it.
I've never played the previous Fallout titles but was familiar with Bethesda's Elder Scrolls series, the phrase 'Oblvion with guns' in a few previews got me interested, and just by reading the comprehensive 40-page manual that ships with the 360 version that's pretty much the impression you'll get if you've played Oblivion.
Your character is born in Vault 101, located in the environs of ex-Washington DC. Ex- because the world has suffered a nuclear holocaust. Your first few interractions are basic - set your initial gender, looks, stats and get to know the controls during a brilliant tutorial featuring your father (voiced by Liam Neeson). You'll go from baby to toddler to ten-year old to 16 year old and eventually progress into the main storyline - your father has left the Vault and everyone's after him, so you'll have to escape to try and track him down to find out what's going on.
Fallout 3's scenario is quite unique, although the year is 2277 the setting is an America that never moved on from the cultural norms of the 50s, right up until the nukes hit 200 years ago, 2077. So expect to see lots of beehive hairdos, art deco and get used to the greatest hits of the 1940s.
Exiting the vault is a glorious experience (enhanced by the fact that you can press Back on the controller to enter 'wait' mode), if you wait until 9am in the morning and then step outside you'll get the best impact of entering the Wasteland for the first time. From this moment on, just as with Oblivion, you can do whatever you wish. Play goodie or baddie or inbetween, follow the main quest diligently or just wander off in a random direction to find what's out there.
To survive you'll mostly have to fight, although if you boost your charisma, science, lockpicking or sneak skills there are usually alternative paths through every situation. Note that Fallout 3 isn't a true FPS, you won't last long lining up targets in your crosshairs and pulling the trigger because every shot takes into account distance, weapon condition, your own stats and of course lady luck. It's much easier to take advantage of the Vault-Tec Assisted Targetting System (VATS) which, if you have the Ability Points available, allows you to freeze the action, select a bodypart on your target and calculate your chances of success.
When VATS is active everything is slowed down - you can watch your bullets, missiles, nukes, frags and so on slam into your target and critical headshots will remove a head completely replete with all associated gore (the main reason Fallout 3 has an 18 rating, the other would be the frequent swearing, keep an eye out for the potty mouthed Mayor MacCready).
Enemies are varied, ranging from easy (Radroaches) to medium (Raiders) to all-out terrifying (Deathclaws). Inbetween you'll be up against feral ghouls, Mirelurkers, vicious dogs, various robotic types, anyone you manage to upset enough and of course the two main factions in the game (The Enclave, led by Malcolm MacDowell, and The Brotherhood), both of whom have some nice Power Armor variants that you'll be itching to use. (You need specialist training to use it though).
Your methods for dealing with enemies are more varied, choose from melee (sledgehammers, combat knives, tyre irons, knuckles, barehanded and so on), small arms using ballistic, plasma, dart and laser pistols, rifles, snipers, right up to the heavy weapons including the wonderful FatBoy which fires tactical nukes, handy for those moments when you come up against the most deadly Super Mutants.
Basic gameplay for explorer types consists of leaving your house (once you've earned one, which you can decorate, kit out with specialist labs, healing stations, use for storage, make your own weapons using any schematics found, display your collection of bobblehead toys collected or just pfaff around with your robotic butler), picking a direction and heading out.
Your arm-mounted Pip Boy keeps track of your quests, your map and locations, your health, your radiation levels, inventory, even allows you to pick up any broadcasting radio stations, some of which lead to further quests.
Health is managed by the application of various drugs either directly to a crippled body part or to the entire body. Radiation is managed by either keeping clear of it and only using clean food sources or catching a dose and using Rad-aways, visiting a local medic or popping back to your house which can have its own infirmary installed.
Your weapons and armor will degrade over time, but as you build up your repair ability you can repair them yourself on the go by combining similar types of gear which brings their damage/damage reduction back up to scratch, or you can get someone else to repair them for you, but that'll cost Bottlecaps, the ingame currency.
For quest fiends if you want to just blast through the main storyline (which involves purification on a number of different levels) you can do so, but note that the ending is absoloute, there's no more exploring afterwards. Fortunately you can load up your last autosave and step back outside before the main quest finishes if you want to be more completist.
For achievement fiends you're probably looking at 200 hours or so to get 1000/1000, although if you're following a guide meticulously and know your way around you'd probably be able to do it in 50 hours and one playthrough, but this would take a lot of karma micromanagement (you can be good, neutral or evil and there are achievements for all 3, and you can adjust your state using specific dialogue options, NPC turn-ins and actions).
For RPG fans, if you like your open world games then Fallout 3 is setting new standards. Locations (and you can use an Oblivion-esque 'fast travel' system to nip between them as long as there are no enemies nearby and you're not overencumbered) range from finding a few picnic tables, a shack or two (if they have a bed you can rest and heal up) to the underground system, multi-storeyed buildings replete with their own basements which lead to tunnels and caves which can also hook up with other areas. You'll be exploring factories, military bases, abandoned malls, the infamous Super Duper Mart (you'll get an aggressive welcome in most of these areas), raider camps, slaver towns, the fantastically huge Rivet City, you'll be tip-toeing through minefields, avoiding trip-wires, sniper fire, dodging missiles and keeping a wary eye out at all times for feral ghouls who are just after your flesh and are relentless in their pursuit.
In all these areas you'll find handy items, you can loot desks, toolboxes, filing cabinets, bodies, find recorded transcripts which you can play back through your Pip Boy, keys (one of the best lockpicking mini-games ever means you'll usually prefer to pick locks), and you can use a 'process of elimination' code-cracking system to hack terminals which can turn off deadly turrets or let you reprogram them, open safes, open up new areas for exploring and so on.
Everything from dented tin cans to medical items, motorcycle parts to engineering equipment, weapons, ammo, quest items, search high and low for items to use or sell to traders and you'll never find it all, there's just so much stuff.
Possibly the best thing to find are skillbooks. Everytime you gain a level you can increase stats in a choice of your areas. You have 7 'primary attributes' and 13 'secondary attributes'. Skillbooks boost these secondaries further by either 1 or 2 points depending on your perks, up to a maximum value of 100, as do Bobblehead toys (20 to collect which increase primary attributes by 1 and secondaries by 10, gotta catch 'em all!). There's a real challenge here to try and max out all your stats by the time you hit the level 20 cap, I'm not sure if it's possible but I'm scrambling about for those skillbooks and balancing my points distribution like crazy to see if it can be done.
Everytime you gain 2 levels you get to choose a Perk. Perks allow you to do things like increase a particular stat, raise your combat effectiveness in certain areas, make more skillpoints available each time you level up, and at end-game you get many interesting abilities - a deadly Mysterious Stranger can turn up during VATS to help you out, or you can get the Explorer perk that reveals all primary locations on your map in one go. There are so many perks to choose from that you can never get all of them at once on one character, which leads to replayability and experimentation.
As with Oblivion, Bethesda just can't seem to nail third person, it's handy for looking at the new armor or weapon you just equipped, but for the most part you'll be playing in first person. This isn't really a bad thing, it tends to add a great deal of immersion when you're exploring the cramped tunnels and ruined cities, or opening doors when you're not entirely sure what's on the other side of them, or dropping down through a hole in the floor into what you think is a cleared area but in fact you got your map slightly wrong and fall into a pit of ghouls, first person few can be incredibly spooky for these kinds of activities.
Endgame is further enhanced by Fallout 3's 'party' system. If your karma is high or low or neutral enough there are certain NPCs that will join you on your travels and follow you everywhere (unless you fire them or tell them to stay put). They'll carry items for you to stop you becoming overloaded and you can tweak their combat styles. Currently I've got an 8ft. tall Super Mutant called Fawkes backing me up with a deadly gatling laser although I've heard that there's also a certain dog you can team up with that's particularly effective against humanoids.
On the 360 downsides there are occasional freezing issues reported, I've had maybe 6 in 70 hours but nothing gamebreaking as the autosaves are usually very recent and none of my freezes have impacted on quest progression. I think my freezes are due to overheating as they usually come towards the end of a 7-hour session. Others have reported that thier storage in their player housing has been mysteriously emptied, but this hasn't affected me personally.
Overall, yes, it's Oblivion with guns, but it's a totally different world to play through, much more traditional 'kill stuff to get xp and level up to manage your stats' system and a much, much bigger place to explore. If I could give it 6 or more stars I would, my favourite title this year with the added bonus that my favourite all-time voice actor is in it too (Paul Eiding, probably best known for the 'Colonel' in the Metal Gear Solid series).