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PLATFORM: Xbox 360, PS3, PC

ESRB RATING: M
DEVELOPER: Bethesda Studios

PUBLISHER: Bethesda Studios, ZeniMax

In the month and a half since its release, I’ve spent three days playing Fallout 3. I don’t mean I only played it three days, I mean that I’ve logged in just under 72 hours in the game. I didn’t want to review it till I beat it and experienced as much of it as I could, and this is how long it took me.

It’s not something I’m proud of (neither is my wife, who became concerned that I’d become one with the couch a couple of times), but it’s a testament to a game that never gets boring, that’s constantly showering you with stuff to do and see and explore. I haven’t had gameplay sessions like this since I played Final Fantasy 3 on the SNES in middle school. The game doesn’t care that you want to get to bed at a decent time, it’ll grab you in and keep you held prisoner, allowing you freedom only once you notice light streaming in your window. Every quest you finish only leads to another, and you’ll find yourself simply exploring the world to see what there is to find, for literally hours on end. I didn’t even see it all.

It’s a tremendous game.
 
THE PITCH

“Let’s take Fallout and stick it in Oblivion!”

Make no bones about it, this is a much different game than the previous Fallouts. Much more in line with Bethesda’s Elder Scroll series, it plays and looks a helluva lot like Oblivion. That’s not a bad thing, though. Anyone who’s played through that game knows how much fun it is, addictive and deep like no RPG before it.

Simply take out all the lame forest-y fantasy world of that game, replace it with a post-apocalyptic Washington DC. Wrangle up the elves and trolls and wizards from that game, take them out back and shoot them, because now you’ll be dealing with Mad Max-ish Raiders, crazed government soldiers in power armor, and ghouls- former humans who were exposed to way too much radiation.


CHUDTIP- Think this is a lot of carnage? Try picking up the Bloody Mess perk.


You play a boy or girl who is born in a fallout shelter, years and years after a nuclear war between the USA and China left most of the world a smoldering wreck. You grow up over a few ingenious opening levels, seeing your father trying to raise you right and tell you stories about your mother, who died during your birth.

One day when you’ve become a young man you wake up to blazing alarms and everyone going crazy in the vault. Seems that your father has left the vault for reasons unknown, something no one has done before, and something that is strictly forbidden. You fight the Overseer (the leader of the vault) and escape into the real world, blinking your eyes and seeing sunlight for the first time in your life.

You stand surrounded by destroyed buildings and highways, a battered wasteland that used to be a thriving city, and walk off in search of your father.

THE PLAY

The game’s all about exploring the world, finding things to do and people who need help, and choosing how to go about doing it. You’re given complete freedom in that regard- any character can be killed or shunned and you’ll miss out on all those quests. If you see something you like you can simply steal it, but risk getting attacked in this lawless world. And of course half the fun is finding all sorts of nifty items and weapons around the wastes. The change to guns has given a Fallout a far superior combat system than Oblivion. It’s just plain fun to go into the VATS mode with the touch of a button (which effectively stops time and allows you to target sections of an enemy’s body) and blow off someone’s head, watching it spin through the air in slow motion and bounce a few times before coming to a rest. It just never gets old, and the variety of weapons ensures that you’ll find the perfect method of destruction.

But let’s tackle a couple of the issues people have had with the game first.

Firstly is the level cap. In the interests of making sure you don’t become overpowered (since unlike Oblivion, enemies don’t level along with you to supply a constant challenge) the maximum level your character can reach is 20. You’ll get there fairly quickly in the game, and it is a little bit of a disappointment… It’s not a deal-breaker, though, you just have to be careful when picking perks and such because they’re in limited supply. PC gamers can grab a mod that eliminate the cap, and one of the upcoming DLC packs will raise it, so at least there’s that.


CHUDTIP- There are only a few of these guys in the game, but expect a battle. Bring plenty of Mini-nukes and you’ll take them out in no time. Watch out for that fire hydrant.



The game also gets incredibly easy if you do lots of quests, and you’ll
end up with a stockpile of weapons and bottlecaps (the currency in
post-apocalyptia) that will leave nothing out of your reach. And there
really isn’t that much to spend your money on, anyway. Would a few more items for the house have hurt, or incredibly expensive weapons that are otherwise out of your reach?

Also, the animation for the main character is just as weird and stilted as in Oblivion, rendering the 3rd person view absolutely useless. It can’t be that hard to do some good animation. Your guy doesn’t even look like he’s touching the terrain- it’s like he’s gliding over it wearing wheelies.

What does all this mean? That the game is just a hair shy of being perfect. But people spend too much time nitpicking and not enough looking at the big picture, and when the rest of the game is as polished and as stunning as this one, it really can’t detract from the experience.

THE PRESENTATION

Does it get more beautiful than this?



I submit that it does not.

The music will stay with you forever, a great mix of old timey music that does a great job of adding a bit of humor to the mix. Butcher Pete‘s gotta be the best song. But for such a long game there’s not nearly enough music to keep you occupied, which is a bit of a downer. The songs can’t have been that expensive to license, why didn’t they get more?
 
THE REPLAY


You wouldn’t think there would be much replay value after so many hours, or reason to ever play it again, but you’d be wrong. Thanks to a clever Karma system (that records how good or evil your choices are) there are many different ways you can tackle the quest. I chose to play it as a goodie two-shoes for once, and regretted not allowing myself to indulge in my darker side a few times. You can do some truly evil shit in this game, like convince a man to try suicide again (head first this time, duck right in), hunt down escaped slaves, hell, even detonate a nuke in an innocent town. There’s also a ton of different endings. They’re based on what you do in the game and don’t really change much but some narration (by none other than Ron Perlman once again!) but as in life it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Unlike Oblivion the game ends when you complete the main quest, so keep that in mind if you want to experience everything you can.  There of course will be DLC coming out (read about it here) there will
be plenty of reasons to come back to this world and try another go at
it.

THE VERDICT

Game of the year, of that there’s no doubt. There’s been nothing as deep as it before and I can’t wait for the DLC, and to see what Bethesda has up next for the series.

9.8 out of 10