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Fallout 3

Score: 98%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Shooter/ RPG/ Free-Roaming


Graphics & Sound:

"Nothing" has never looked as good as it does in Fallout 3. The game world looks exactly how you would expect a desolate, post-nuclear world to appear. It's dark, dank and there isn't much to look at. Once you begin to explore, however, you'll begin to uncover thousands of uniquely visual stories that give you a great, if not implied, idea about what life was like before the bombs dropped. The landscape is full of little details - two skeletons lying side-by-side in bed in a burned out house - that do a great job of doling out lots of narrative details without saying a word.

The game looks just as great from a technical standpoint as well. There's a bit of pop-in when traveling across the capital wastes, though it isn't nearly as noticeable as in Oblivion. Draw distances are impressive, especially when in the D.C. area. It's an awe-inspiring moment when you step out of a metro tunnel and see the towering ruins of the Washington Monument and Capitol looming in front of you.

While there isn't much to look at, there's plenty of hear. Everyone has something to say and the voice acting is, for the most part, spot on. The people you interact with are a little more animated than in Oblivion, but there is still a bit of an emotional disconnect; if someone is yelling at me, I'd like to see them do more than scowl and stand there.

Music is handled a little differently than in most games. There are a handful of moody background songs, though most of the time you'll hear little more than ambient noises and sporadic gunfire. As you travel the wastes, you'll eventually pick up radio broadcasts that serve as your background music. The two big two are Galaxy News Radio (GNR), which is serves up a few old standards and periodic news updates and Enclave Radio, a recorded loop of propaganda and patriotic songs from the "American Government."

There's a decent amount of repetition with both stations, though they do a good job of informing the world the game is trying to create. I have a theory that when America does collapse, it will be accompanied by a lot of political rhetoric and Lee Greenwood music, which is the exact experience the Enclave's station delivers. In comparison, GNR is the "voice of the people" and most of the news updates are commentary on your actions during quests, making you feel like a part of the world.


Gameplay:

Fallout 3 isn't so much about the "game" as it is the experience. The game kicks off with your character's birth, at which point you decide his (or her) name and appearance. This progresses to various points in your character's life in Vault 101, a nuclear fallout shelter, which serve as different parts of the tutorial. Eventually, it all leads to one fateful night when your father unexpectedly leaves and leaves chaos in his wake, forcing you to go out and track him down.

If there is a main "goal" in Fallout 3, it is to survive. Finding your father is only one small part of the overall story. There are dozens of quests and locations to visit throughout the game, each spinning off its own little adventure that will take you all over the D.C. Wastelands and put you in contact with several people, each with their own personal agendas. While each story has a linear structure, how the story plays out and ends is really up to the player. The best way to get a feel for this is talking to other people playing the game. I couldn't begin to tell you the hours of class time I've lost in the past two weeks chatting with students about their experiences in the Wastes (then again, they are game-related classes...) and seeing just how different our games have played out.

How you develop your character has a direct influence on how you will handle situations. Each time you level, you are awarded with experience points that are distributed among several traits like Lockpicking, Speech and Explosives. How you plan your character is completely up to you and will change how your character approaches each situation. A high Speech skill will allow you to talk your way out of situations, while a high Lockpicking skill will let you open safes and doors. Every level (max 20) you also choose from a series of Perks, that grant additional skill points or grant bonuses. One gives new options when dealing with members of the opposite sex, another gives you a very Wolverine-like adamantium skeleton and another turns you into a cannibal.


Difficulty:

Fresh out of Vault 101, life is tough. You're armed with a hand-me-down handgun, the clothes on your back and whatever bits and pieces you managed to scrap up on your way out. As you make your way through the first part of the game, make use of the ability to save anywhere because you will die... a lot! Because of this, things can get frustrating; there was even a point early on where I had to force myself to keep playing. Then it struck me - if I was really setting out on this journey, that's exactly how things would go. Of course, in real life I wouldn't have the benefit of multiple saves, but being able to make a "real world" connection like this is one of those things that makes Fallout 3 great.

Although your adventure gets off to a rough start, Fallout 3 isn't horribly difficult if you manage your resources, like ammo and health items, effectively. Even after maxing out a level 20, I still hit numerous situations that were tough, though never impossible. If you do find things too easy or tough, you can adjust the difficulty settings whenever you want or invest in different Skills and Perks.


Game Mechanics:

Fallout 3 can be played either as an FPS or via V.A.T.S. (Vault-tech Assisted Targeting System). When playing as an FPS, the combat rolls out in a familiar fashion, but V.A.T.S. lends a completely different experience. V.A.T.S. pauses combat and lets you choose which part of an enemy you want to target. Each body part has a hit percentage, which directly relates to an amount of ability points you have; harder shots take fewer points, but have a lower hit percentage.

Neither system is "better" than the other. Each has its uses, but there are times when one system is better to use than another. Between the two combat styles, I found myself drawn more to V.A.T.S. for general combat, mostly for the ability to target specific body parts, though the FPS style came in handy when I was surrounded and needed to quickly dodge for cover. You can't go wrong with either.

It is rare that a game gets me genuinely excited and even rarer for one to tempt me into calling in a sick day just so I can keep playing. Fallout 3 was able to do both, and is a game that deserves every accolade and award that may come its way. If Fallout 3 isn't already in your collection, it should be.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Nintendo DS Spider-Man: Web of Shadows Microsoft Xbox 360 Midnight Club Los Angeles

 
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