Bethesda Softworks Fallout 3 review
Fallout 3 is set in a post-apocalyptic future, 200 years after humanity was all but destroyed by nuclear war.
It mixes first-person combat with role-playing game stats, and so plays similarly to the brilliant Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This is unsurprising, as it has the same developer and graphics engine. Faces and landscapes are detailed and believable, with muted colours. A subtle soundtrack adds plenty of tension, and a dark vein of humour runs through the game, constantly playing off the cheery utopian ideals of 1950s America.
The setting and stats system come from the classic Fallout role-playing games of the late 1990s. Your stats affect how much you can carry, your effectiveness in combat and how you interact with the people you encounter. There are also skills, which let you specialise in various weapons classes, social abilities and technical crafts, such as lock picking and weapons repair. You can assign extra skill points as you gain experience, but your basic stats can only be upgraded by certain quests, items and special talents called Perks.
You create your character in a playable introduction that fast-forwards through your childhood in Vault 101, a nuclear bunker that never officially reopened its doors to the outside world. You're forced out of the safety of the Vault when your father disappears into the outside world. As you search for him, you'll encounter the remnants of human civilisation, mutated animals, radiation-scarred ghouls and superhuman mutants set on your destruction.
The game's depth lies in its sub-plots. A compelling early diversion starts with a young survivor whose town has been overrun by giant fire breathing ants. You're led through a maze of tunnels to deal with the ant's creator.
There are good, evil and neutral options in almost all quests. You can slaughter innocent civilians and destroy entire towns, but these choices will influence the game.
Weapons include landmines, a portable nuke launcher and the Ripper, a mini chainsaw with limitless fuel. A vital part of combat is the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS), which freezes the action and lets you target specific areas of your enemy's body. To use it, you need Action Points, which take a few seconds to recharge. This forces you into a tactical hit-and-run style that requires more thought than your average shooter.
There are disappointments, though, such asa lack of drivable vehicles. The scenery is often repetitive, with lots of ruined cities filled with piles of rubble. Some NPCs are also one-dimensional, with little depth or back-story.
If you follow the main quest without diverting along any sub-plots, the game can be completed very quickly, and you can't explore other areas once you reach the end. Nonetheless, we were absorbed. If you take the time to explore, you'll find plenty of quests and some insanely fun and powerful weapons.