Fallout 3 (review) is an amazing experience. For a game that can take literally hundreds of hours to complete, it’s ironic that the first thing on gamers’ minds after beating it was- what’s next? Bethesda hasn’t stopped working on new content and now we have Operation Anchorage, the first of three downloadable content packs.
(Before we get into it- PS3 gamers, let me extend my regrets. Microsoft once again put down good money for exclusive content, so only Xbox 360 gamers and PC gamers with Xbox Live can join in on the fun. You’ll probably get it eventually, but it won’t be for a good while…)
After downloading the content pack, those who have never played Fallout 3 before or have since started a second game will have to get through the beginning of the game before getting to the new content- since it obviously can’t be accessed till after you’ve grown up and left the vault in search of your father. So hopefully you’ve got a save located somewhere in the middle of the game if you just want to play your new stuff!
Almost immediately after starting the game and walking around the wasteland you’ll get a note that a new radio signal has been picked up- the Outcast Distress Signal. It’s a message for any members of the Outcast Brotherhood (you know, the group of defected Brotherhood soldiers with the badass rust-covered armor) that can hear to report to Bailey’s Crossroads, because backup is needed immediately.
Bailey’s Crossroads is a metro located near the Red Racer Factory… you can’t fast travel there straight away but Red Racer will get you close enough. A little bit of travel through the Metro and you’ll come out on where you need to go, where the Outcasts are in a pitched battle against a group of Super Mutants. Here you’ll meet Defender Morrill and help them clear out a few mutants before finally finding the Outpost. They’ll ignore you until noticing your Pipboy, at which point Morrill will invite you down into the base.
It turns out that they need your technology to unlock an armory they discovered underground which, for some reason, won’t open unless a training simulation is completed. The simulation is a hyper-realistic (read: exact same gameplay and look as the rest of Fallout) take on the liberation of Anchorage Alaska from Chinese invaders… a true event that occurred before the two countries went to war and nuked the world. So it’s a simulation- easy stuff, right? Nope. The simulation’s so realistic that if you die there, you’ll have a heart attack in real life. They plug you in like Neo and you’re off.
The simulation seems a little bit unfair at first- you start a the lone soldier infiltrating a Chinese base with nothing but a silenced pistol and a trench knife. That may seem like an incentive to play things stealthy, but you’ll soon realize that this mission is all about combat. It’s the most straight-up piece of fighting in almost the whole game, so just go in guns-a-blazing and you’ll be fine. There are health and ammo dispensers (red cannisters that fill you up with a press of a button) scattered around the place pretty liberally, so don’t worry about getting low on either. It’s a nice setup since you can’t scavenge anything from your foes, who disappear in a glitch of computer bits when they’re downed… a pretty nifty touch.
You’ll eventually meet up with a fellow soldier and team up to take down three cannons that are bombarding the good American people. Afterwards, you’ll be sent back to base for the final battle to push the Reds out of our great snowy wasteland.
It’s pretty straightforward from here- you then have the choice of two missions to take out Chinese bases, and regardless of which you choose you’ll be doing almost the same work. You command a group of soldiers and can pick the various men on your team (everything from grenadiers to snipers to Mr. Handy) that will accompany you. They’re mostly bullet fodder, though- expect to do the majority of the work yourself.
After taking out the initial two missions the last battle for Anchorage will commence, and you’ll help your fellow soldiers get across the battlefield and take those goddamn Reds down… all the while chuckling at your fellow soldiers’ dialogue (“Better dead than red!” “USA!”, etc.)
One definite gripe is how easy the pack is. There’s not much challenge to be found here- keep in mind that I played through with an old save of mine, where my character was already at level 20. Perhaps if you play it right at the start of the adventure it might offer more challenge, but I doubt it. Every time you’ve just gotten out of a firefight with low health you’ll round a corner and stumble upon another health dispenser.
Also, despite the inclusion of the stealthy Chinese Dragoons (in blade-wielding Ninja or Sniper forms) that are a helluva lot of fun to fight and watch the corners for, there’s not much in the way of new units or boss battles. Even the much-hyped Chimera vehicles (that you only fight one of!) don’t play much of a role. This is the war to free Alaska from invaders! Shouldn’t the final battle have you fighting more than a lone soldier?
Then of course the matter comes down to price. Is ten bucks worth two to three hours of gameplay (and a hundred more points on your gamerscore)? Probably not, and especially not if you consider how much bang for your buck you got from the full game. But for the Fallout completionist, it’s definitely a must-buy. The new weapons and armor you gain after completion of the simulation will most definitely come in handy along your quest, and the Gauss Rifle is easily my new gun of choice. Just the zoom alone makes it worth it- never mind the nice punchy feeling it gives.
So while Operation Anchorage is a lot of fun and it’s refreshing to be able to step into a completely new area in the game, a stunningly beautiful and stark mountain range, it will ultimately come down to value for most gamers and to be honest this doesn’t have much. Bethesda did so well with Oblivion (after the horse armor debacle, of course) and its extra content- Knights of the Nine alone offered another 10 hours of gameplay, and don’t forget about the Shivering Isles expansion pack.
Of course, this is just the start of (Microsoft exclusive) Fallout 3 content. Two more packs are in the works- The Pitt, which brings you to an industrial raider town in the remains of Pittsburgh, and Broken Steel, which has you joining up with the Brotherhood of Steel once again to finally eliminate those annoying Enclave bastards. That last pack is the one everyone’s waiting for- not only does it raise the level cap of your character to 30 but it allows you to play past the ending of the game, quite a good thing for anyone disappointed when they reached the end of the main quest only to realize that your game ended there.
Operation Anchorage ends up an entertaining diversion, but with not nearly the depth to it that we had hoped.