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Fallout 3

Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Action/ First Person Shooter


Graphics & Sound:

As with most high-profile PC games being released today, Bethesda Softworks' Fallout 3 looks outstanding. The game's visuals take on normal and specular mapping with greatness, and the overall feel of the visuals lends for a true belief that the apocalypse has occurred. The outside environments have a barren look to them and the texturing does an excellent job of relaying that feeling of desperation. If you scrutinize the visuals, you will see obvious problems, but overall, the look is grand.

These visuals do come at a cost, however. If you don't have a fairly high-end system, you'll likely have to play the game with some of the settings and/or resolution turned down a bit in order to prevent the choppiness of a low framerate. It should be known that I installed Fallout 3 on multiple machines in order to test these settings out, and on my main review machine (see Test System specs below), I did have to turn down the default settings a bit to make the playability a bit better, despite the game's install screen telling me that this computer could handle the High Detail settings. It should also be known that when I wired the computer to an HDTV screen (via VGA cable), it ran very well, even with the upper settings, which seemed odd.

As far as audio goes, Fallout 3 is equally great. In addition to the environmental and ambient sounds present throughout the entire game, whether you happen to be in the middle of a city or out in the barren lands of nothingness, you will also be treated to radio stations that come in over your PIP Boy (essentially the game's inventory system and mapping gadget). There are also great sound fx when it comes to combat and weapon noises, but what I was most impressed with was the outstanding voiceover work done for Fallout 3. You will run into a lot of characters and a lot of dialogue, and for the most part, it is engaging and worth listening to (but you can skip it if you so choose).


Gameplay:

Fallout 3 plays incredibly. I was uber-impressed from the initial moments of the game right through getting into the heart of core gameplay. As the game opens, you are being born and your story begins. Fallout 3 does an excellent job of integrating a backstory with interactions as you develop into a fine young man or woman. In fact, you will choose your name, sex, facial features, and skills as you grow up, and will eventually make your way out of the Underground Vault and onto the surface of a post-apocalyptic world caused by the Atom Bomb.

The gameplay of Fallout 3 is that of a cross between an action-combat First-Person Shooter and that of a semi-turn-based Role Playing Game, leaning a bit more heavily on the RPG aspects of the game. From the start, you will be out to gain experience points for leveling up, talk to every character that you can, taking on the missions that they give you, and exercise your right as a scavenger of the destroyed surface of the earth. As you explore and run errands for the Non-Player Characters (NPCs), you'll run across a variety of humanoid characters, as well as animals and other creatures, all ready to take your head off... literally.

Fallout 3 is not for the faint of heart. Some of the bloody battles become downright nasty, as arms, legs, and heads are all on the list of detachable body parts. The combat itself can basically happen in one of two ways: free play or turn-based (sort of). Fallout 3 does an outstanding job of allowing non-RPG gamers a chance to play the game from an action-based standpoint (in fact, you can even switch between first-person and third-person on the fly) by allowing for fully on-the-fly gameplay.

However, the more practical way to play Fallout 3 is within a typical RPG style, allowing the player to use the VATS system (Fallout 3's turn-based system) to effectively pause the game during combat and select which enemy you want to attack, as well as which body part to focus on. Each time you enter the VATS system, you'll see a percentage of effectiveness for your currently selected weapon. If you happen to be in a melee situation with a bat, knife, or your bare hands, you won't be able to focus your attack, but with any medium or long-range attacks, you'll have the opportunity to gamble with a more-effective head shot, or you can focus your attention on specific limbs or the torso, each with their own associated percentages. This method of combat is superb, giving the player a risk/reward feeling as you work to deplete the enemy's health bar. Unfortunately, however, the VATS GUI system can be extremely slow (especially with the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller), which distracts heavily from the gameplay. This can improve by lowering the operating settings a bit, but even then, don't expect a huge improvement.

Fallout 3 really has a great balance of attributes and skills associated with it. Along with your typical RPG attributes like Strength and Health, you'll also be able to master the art of pick-pocketing and lock-picking, should you choose the less-than-legit path for your character, among many others. While interacting with both characters and the environment, you'll always be faced with choices of doing the right thing or not, and your answers/actions will dictate your Karma level. With a high Karma, for example, you may not be able to team up with shady NPCs, but you may be able to talk others into giving you information because they like and trust you more.


Difficulty:

There are actually multiple difficulty settings to choose from at the start of Fallout 3, but the real difficulty comes with your choices in many respects to the game. First off, you'll have choices with your attribute distribution. As an example, if you choose to add more points to your Strength attribute, you will be able to carry more weight, but if you happen to distribute points toward your Charisma, you will likely be able to talk with people and gain extra information. Likewise, different attribute experience points will come from deeds that you do, whether good or bad, and you will level up and be able to perform in different areas.

The quests involved in Fallout 3 are typically pretty easy, and honestly, most of them won't take a whole lot of time to complete if you choose to use a "get in, get out" attitude. However, you will likely want to explore the many areas that you will traverse for better weapons, gadgets, ammo, health supplements, and more. Using these items wisely will allow you to continue to prosper in the world of Fallout 3. You'll definitely want to conserve your ammunition up front, because there will be enemies that are packing heat and getting close to them to melee-attack will certainly cost you some health, and possibly even your life.

You'll also need to play smart. Going into a situation like Rambo usually isn't the best solution when multiple enemies are present, and it is downright suicidal when those enemies have guns. The VATS system is the key to victory because of the sheer fact that it essentially pauses the game and allows you to select both which enemy you want to attack and the body part that you find most vulnerable. Unfortunately, Fallout 3 also allows you to save anywhere and as often as you want. While this is good because you won't lose your progress, it is also a very easy way to cheat death or undo a screw-up that you may have committed. I do have to admit that this method was used for me to test different paths, but Fallout 3 is likely a game that you will play over and over again to experience its full potential.


Game Mechanics:

Fallout 3 has an excellent aura about it in both gameplay and controls. The default keyboard controls are set up nicely, with the typical WASD movements and other close-by keys for interactions, combined with mouse movements and attacks typical of a First-Person Shooter. This Action/RPG offers up plenty of Experience, Items, Weapons, Apparel, Medicine, and others to keep your mouse moving a lot, but the interface is extremely workable and is very easy to navigate. However, being that Fallout 3 is a Games For Windows, Live-Enabled title, fans of a controller can plug in the Xbox 360 controller and enjoy the game without the complexity of the keyboard. One of the coolest features when using the controller option is that the game's GUI actually updates to include textures showing symbols like the LT/RT buttons directly on the interface, all but eliminating any confusion.

It should be mentioned that, personally, I preferred playing with the Xbox 360 Wireless Controller (and PC USB connector). However, playing this way actually caused even more slowdown when accessing the VATS combat system. I'm not sure why this happens, but it definitely was annoying. These slowdowns were not nearly as evident using a keyboard/mouse combo. Nevertheless, both the controller and keyboard/mouse system work great and are very intuitive in every aspect of the game. The only other problem that I had came when remapping the controller, that there were some interface elements still displaying the default buttons as hints.

Fallout 3 is an incredible game with a lot of replay value due to the number of possible story paths. While the end results may be similar, it is fun to see the different approaches one can take. For those out there that may not get deep into the typical RPG, this title can keep you feeling like you're playing an Action/First-Person Shooter, yet get your feet wet with all of the item-swapping, bartering, and awareness that it takes to build up experience. Fallout 3 is absolutely worth every penny spent on the game.


-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP/Vista; 2.4GHz Processor; 1 GB RAM; 6 GB Free Hard Drive Space; NVIDIA GeForce 6800 / ATI x850 minimum; ENHANCED FOR MULTI-CORE
 

Test System:



Dell Vostro 1700 Laptop: Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7100; Dual 1.8 GHz Processors; 2 GB RAM; NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT; Xbox 360 Wireless Controller with PC USB Wireless Receiver

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