First off, let me say that I’m a serious Fallout player. I’ve completed all three previous games more times than I can count and they are three of a small number of games with permanent residency on my hard drive.
Second, let me say that I am also a huge fan of isometric turn-based combat games – along with Fallout, the Jagged Alliance series is one of my favourites and another permanent resident on my PC.
So having said all that, I’m amazed at the amount of ridiculous pouting that goes on about this game on some of the forums because it’s *not* an isometric turn-based game. Comparing Fallout 3 to Fallout 2 or even Tactics is like comparing World of Warcraft to Warcraft 2. Get real folks, it’s a different approach and a different era.
Personally I’ve gone through a number of phases while waiting for Fallout 3 to come out. When I originally heard that the company had gone under and F3 had been canned, I was pretty gutted, to say the least. When I heard that Bethsoft had picked the licence up, I was pretty excited, since I’ve enjoyed pretty much all of their games that I’ve tried. Then, when I heard it was going to be 1st person and not isometric and turn-based, I was fairly disappointed, but determined to give it a chance. When I saw the first actual gameplay footage I damn near wet my pants. Fallout had come to life.
So, that preamble aside, I’m going to review this game on the following basis:
1. Does it feel like a Fallout game?
2. Is it a good game in its own right?
This game looks great. Thats the bottom line. The palette is fairly bland, since everything is either covered in radioactive dust or rusted to hell, but it evokes exactly the right kind of atmosphere for the setting. One of the things that I think they’ve really captured in this game is the overwhelming chaos of the wasteland. When you look around you everything is so twisted and mangled that it’s almost difficult to focus, which is exactly how I think you would feel coming out of your cosy Vault into post-apocalyptic chaos.
The sheer randomness of the devastation means that buildings which are even remotely intact (and hence where the action generally is) stand out quite well and it’s easy to find landmarks and seek out interesting stuff when you’re just wandering about.
The models are well done, the only gripe being the faces – although they’re certainly a lot better than Oblivion’s – there aren’t many of these gals that are going to have you wishing for a ‘hot coffee’ mod, put it that way. There are some nice examples though and the customisation options for your own character are plentiful without being quite as clunky and overwhelming as Oblivion’s.
The character models for the raiders look best, mainly because they look good being fairly outlandish and butt ugly. Monster models are also nice, particularly the Super Mutants and Centaurs which are instantly recognisable. Many of your old favourites are there with a new lease of life like roaches, molerats, radscorpions and giant ants. I really enjoyed seeing all these beasts brought into 3D and find interacting with them more interesting than in the previous games.
One comment about the graphics has to relate to VATS and the slo-mo death scenes. I initially thought that these would get old real quick and feel intrusive. They don’t (for me). Every time I blow someone’s arm, leg or head off, I enjoy a moment of smug satisfaction. I feel like an action-hero movie star and it’s great. Some of my favourite moments so far have been watching these death scenes – especially one of my first ones where I blew the leg off a raider standing on a grocery aisle shelf and he plummeted into one aisle and his leg into another. Fun. Bullet-chase cams are also fun when using long-range rifles, and you actually start to learn when an animation is going to result in a kill because of the angle it takes, which means you can sit back and enjoy it all the more.
The one proviso I would give to my general appreciation of the game’s look is 3rd person mode. Just don’t go there, it really kind of spoils it. The 3rd person animations on your character are not good enough to hold up to scrutiny, so just play it in 1st person as it was intended. I don’t really know why they bothered to include 3rd person mode to be honest. You get plenty of glimpses of your character during the VATS death scenes so to me 3rd person mode is fairly superfluous. I would rather have had the mouse wheel bound to weapon switch, but that’s just my personal preference.
The sound effects are generally good and fit the game well. The radio stations, while they mostly loop the same news and music regularly, fit so well with the atmosphere of the game that I leave them on anyway. That in itself is unusual for me, since turning off music is usually one of the first things I do in any game – but here, I feel like I would actually be desaturating the atmospherics by doing so.
The voice acting is generally fine, though I do find it slows things down a little and often end up skipping through it once I’ve heard a character speak a few times. One of the few exceptions to this is Moira at the Megaton trading post, whose voice is so deliberately annoying that I find myself listening to it almost compulsively. I guess the important thing for any audio is that none of it stands out, which for me is a good thing since it means it fits the visuals and the gameplay so well that I stop thinking of it as something in its own right. A game audio engineer I know once told me that if you don’t notice in-game audio until it’s not there, it’s doing its job perfectly, and that’s exactly where I would place this.
Different creatures also have their own audio cues which start to give you a hint as to roughly where and how close they are and that’s also something I like in a game.
This is way too big a subject to cover in a Quick Review, so let me just pull out a few highlights.
Initially I thought this would play like a 1st person shooter and VATS would be something I’d only use on occasion. No. VATS is what this game is all about, and though you can try to play it like a regular shooter, you’re missing out on a huge element of gameplay if you do. VATS for me is what makes this play like a Fallout game. I don’t know who on the design team dreamed up VATS as a 1st person replacement for Fallout’s old turn-based system, but I’d like to buy him a beer. It’s well conceived, nicely executed, and gives this its real Fallout feel. It also shows up the dozen or so ‘bullet-time’ clone games out there as the uninspired fakers that they are. Have an original idea once in a while – you might just come up with a winner!
The question on a lot of peoples lips is – is this just Oblivion with Fallout graphics? Let me put it this way; if you’re an Oblivion fan, you’ll find Fallout 3’s interface reassuringly familiar. You can tell it’s got the same basis, but for me it improves on it quite a bit. If you’ve never played Oblivion, I don’t think you’ll find it difficult to pick this game up. It’s a pretty intuitive system, especially if you remap the keys to something you find comfortable. If you hated Oblivion – well, I figure you probably already decided you’d hate this game before you tried it, so I don’t think my opinion is likely to sway you.
For the most part, the game plays like a 1st person version of the original Fallout series for me. Same diverse choice of dialog options in quests, many based on your skills and stats. Same plethora of ways to play through the game depending on your skill choice. The addition of the lockpicking and hacking minigames is definitely an Oblivion throwback, but I find them quite fun. The lockpicking interface is much quicker and less cumbersome than Oblivion’s, and the hacking interface actually does allow you to throw some brainpower behind your attempt and overcome your character’s limitations if you haven’t put a lot of points into your science skill – although not to the point of rendering it useless, since you need to have a minimum amount of skill to even attempt locks or hacks of greater complexity.
Most of the buildings and areas I’ve encountered so far have been hugely entertaining and lots of fun to clear out, with judicious use of mines and grenades really allowing you to work strategically around difficult fights. Different weapons definitely have their situational uses, and I find myself regularly switching between at least 5 different weapons depending on the environment and the enemies I’m facing.
One of my favourite new features is the ability to create your own equipment from the parts you find scattered liberally around the wasteland. Once you’ve seen a couple of the different schematics for equipment building, you realise that just about every piece of junk you come across might well have some use at some point in building something or other and you (well, I) immediately become a pack-rat, taking at least one of every new thing you find and stashing it in a locker or crate someplace in case you need it later.
A lot of the NPCs have plenty of character (pardon the pun) and although I’ve only really played a fraction of the game, I’ve already had at least 3 moments of intense satisfaction killing NPCs that I very quickly learned to hate. That kind of freedom is one of the places where Oblivion and Fallout cross over so well.
That’s only a fraction of what I would cover if I had the time. Let me sum up by saying this: Fallout 3 plays like a 1st person Fallout RPG. Not Oblivion with Fallout graphics, except in a superficial interface sense. Not a Fallout-skinned FPS. If you can throw off the mental shackles of thinking of Fallout in terms of sprites and isometric viewpoints and think about it in terms of freedom of gameplay, atmosphere and outlook on life, you’ll find yourself playing a ridiculously immersive Fallout game in no time at all.
Replay Value: 9/10
I’ve only reached level 6 so far with my first character, but already I have a list of mental notes of Quests I want to play out differently, buildings I want to assault differently and Characters I want to create for my subsequent play-throughs. I have no reason to believe that I’ll end up completing Fallout 3 any less number of times than its predecessors. Even once I know the game inside out, I think the quality gameplay, high production values and especially VATS will allow me to enjoy it as much the 20th time I complete it as I do the first.
So there you go. I’ve spoken to friends who haven’t enjoyed the experience as much as me for whatever reason, but personally I think a lot depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re not a massive Fallout fan, you may find reasons to love or hate Fallout 3. If you are a Fallout fan but an Oblivion hater, you’ll only enjoy it if you can put away your prejudice. If you’re looking for an immersive experience in the Fallout world and the chance to bring frontier justice to the wasteland, grab your hunting rifle and follow me…