I have always considered myself to be more of a casual gamer. I still havenâ€™t clocked GTA IV and I usually prefer to muck around than to try and unlock an extra costume or cut-scene in other titles. So when I find myself playing one game through to 3am in the morning - it usually means itâ€™s pretty captivating stuff.
Fallout 3 is a very difficult game to put down and the strange thing is, the game isnâ€™t even all that brilliant in terms of gameplay alone. Itâ€™s basically just a typical mash-up of RPG elements and plenty of first-person shooting thrown in. Yet itâ€™s the overall presentation, level of detail and good old fashioned story-telling in Fallout 3 that cause it to be extremely addictive.
Fallout 3 takes place in 2277, years after a nuclear war that has devastated our planet Earth. Just prior to the man-made apocalypse, large cities known as Vaults were built underground for a select few citizens to live in. Outside of the Vault, the world is now contaminated and lies in ruin thanks to the atomic destruction of war. As the mantra that has been taught to you for years goes, â€śNobody enters and nobody leaves the Vaultâ€ť.
Your character was born and raised in a particular Vault simply known as number â€ś101â€ť. Vault 101 is located underneath what was once Washington DC, but is now known as The Capital Wasteland thanks to the nuclear fallout. You are the offspring of one of the Vaultâ€™s doctors and through a series of cleverly incorporated child-hood sequences, you get to create your own custom character. The game opens up at the time of your birth (itâ€™s all very tasteful really, but still a bit gory) that allows you to choose your gender and your name. The game then skips to one year later where youâ€™re an infant and here you can further customize what your character may grow up to be. Much like an extended tutorial, these stages of your child-hood teach you the basics of gameplay and give you some background information about your fellow Vault inhabitants. But even your decisions at this early stage in the game will have consequences so careful thought is required. Finally the game brings you into young adult-hood where the comfortable sanctity of Vault 101 is about to be shattered forever.
You wake up one morning to find the Vault in chaos. Your father has disappeared for reasons unknown and the authorities have turned against their own people. Grabbing what few possessions you can find, you must leave the confines of Vault 101, the only world you have ever known, and venture out to the outside world. This is essentially where the adventure really begins and the transition to the desolate surface world is literally stunning. From the dimly lit and repetitive corridors of Vault 101 you emerge to blinding sunlight and a sepia-toned wasteland that stretches into the distance as your eyes adjust to the glare.
Graphically Fallout 3 is brilliantly depressing. The Capital Wasteland is both visually and physically a harsh environment, filled with radioactive hazards, crumbled ruins, mutated creatures and survivors that are both hostile and friendly. With Bethesda behind the works, many people were concerned that this game would be just like Oblivion, but with guns. However Fallout 3 has a completely different feel to the Elderscrolls titles. For starters the Capital Wasteland is much smaller than what was presented to us in Oblivion. This isnâ€™t a bad thing however, as the area is packed full of decayed towns and eerie cities. No more trekking for miles trying to find something of interest. The Capital Wasteland is still epic however and Bethesda have captured the tone of the previous Fallout games while giving them a major facelift at the same time. Simply walking around will cause you to stop just to admire the landscapeâ€¦ or to try and spot deadly landmines or raiding parties in the distance.
Fallout 3 also differs from Oblivion thanks to the V.A.T.S feature. This often talked about Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System allows the player to freeze the action mid-combat and to enter a complex targeting sequence. With it you can specifically target different parts of your foe, from a headshot through to possibly aiming at their arm thatâ€™s brandishing a weapon. Strategically crippling a limb like an arm or a leg can disarm or slow down your opponent, giving you time to asess your situation and to conserve ammo. Each of these areas that you can target is given a percentage rate of success that will vary depending on your distance, angle and your skill with the weapon. For example you may enter the targeting mode and find you have a 61% chance of a headshot, but an 88% chance of hitting his right leg as it is extended with his stride. The choice is yours. But youâ€™ll need to use it wisely as you only have a limited number of shots that you can use with V.A.T.S at any one time. Each time you use it (even if the shot misses completely) you will drain your tally of action points. These points do restore themselves but if you are faced with multiple foes you will need to use the traditional crosshair free-shooting method plenty of times as well. Even in free-mode, head-shots will still do more damage but with some foes moving at speed you will need an excellent aim to pull them off. You can also line up multiple shots with V.A.T.S and each time you use it you will be presented with a stylish slow-motion view complete with massive amounts of gore. Youâ€™ll never get tired of watching your headshot decapitate your opponentâ€™s head and watch it fly off into the distance. Or watch a mutant explode into a pile of bloody lumps after an explosive is lobbed into his face.
Another vital piece of equipment that youâ€™ll need constantly is the Pip-Boy 3000. Gifted to you when you were ten years old, this electronic arm gauntlet gives you access to your status, equipment, inventory, maps and quests. Itâ€™s essentially a futuristic PDA and using it in game is quick and seemless. Throughout your travels in Fallout 3 you will come across hundreds of items and pretty much anything that isnâ€™t bolted down can be picked up and stored in your inventory. This has more importance due to the ability to construct your own items and weapons if you find blue-prints and have some knowledge in repairs and basic engineering. If you donâ€™t, you can track down a merchant to make it for you and one of the best weapons you can hope to get is the Rock-It Launcher. This handy little thing allows you to fire any item you can fit into it as a projectile, so all those ash-trays and empty bottles you have in your pocket can finally be put to good use. There are dozens of weapons to try out in Fallout 3, from melee types (baseball bats, pool cues, police batons, wrenches) to long range weapons (pistols, shotguns, grenades) but finding ammo can sometimes hamper your trigger happy desires. Further to this, every weapon has itâ€™s own lifespan as well. Everytime you fire a gun or strike something with your baseball bat, it deteriorates in condition eventually forcing you to repair or discard it.
Fallout 3 is filled with so many variables like this that the gameplay is virtually limitless. Every decision you make has consequences and your actions will affect the world around you. For example you may need to drink some water to restore health, but doing so from the local well exposes you to radiation. This is fine if you have some Rad-X or RadAway handy, but otherwise you will encounter the long-term effects of radiation poisoning. Even taking too many pain killers or medications may prove to be addictive and you will experience withdrawal symptoms without them. There is even a karma system that keeps track of your personality traits, essentially giving you the choice to play as the hero or the villain. Or a bit of both if you want.
When you encounter a neutral person in the Capital Wasteland you can determine your relationship with them with your positive or negative dialogue. But regardless of your dialogue, your physical actions will still have an effect. For example I befriended a desperate young lady taking refuge in a decrepit hut. After a quick chat I was thinking that we were best chums so I decided to help myself to some of her medical supplies from her pantry. But as I turned around with my hands full of syringes she shot me in the face. Needless to say my newfound friend was soon a corpse on her own kitchen floor and my karma took a bit of a nose-dive. So I proceeded to take everything in her house, trashed the place and ran off.
Fallout 3 still has plenty of RPG elements to back up the action too. The game revolves around a S.P.E.C.I.A.L role-playing system where you can allocate points to seven attributes that make up your character. They are Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Experience points are earned from exploring new areas, killing enemies and completing missions. On top of your standard leveling-up process there are also Perks that help to refine some of the more, well colourful attributes of your character. For example â€śBloody Messâ€ť increases your ability to strike devastating hits to your opponents, often causing them to explode all over the place. Another Perk is â€śCannibalâ€ť that allows you to eat the bodies of your corpses to gain some extra health, but with a clever decrease to your karma with every bite. â€śBlack Widowâ€ť and â€śLady Killerâ€ť are gender specific abilities that allow you to be more effective against enemies of the opposite sex. â€śAnimal Friendâ€ť can present you with aid of nearby animals to help you in combat and so fourth.
The options presented to you in Fallout 3 are so numerous and complex that you are likely to want to replay the game just to experience them. Surprisingly enough, the main central quest in the game clocks in at only around eight hours. But players can spend this time again just on side-missions and exploring the Capital Wasteland before they see everything the game has to offer. Likewise, the presentation of Fallout 3 is just as impressive as the amount of scope in the gameplay. Often you will find yourself laughing awkwardly at a humourous sign on the wall, or at a line of dialogue from a fellow survivor. Even the retro 50â€™s styled cartoon stills create an excellent juxtaposition to the overall dark tone of the game. The music and voice acting is superb and coupled with a brilliant plot, you will find yourself attempting to explore everything and to talk to everyone that you see. To really appreciate the atmospheric graphics, this game should be experienced with the lights dimmed and with little distractions if possible. Although this title may have a few too many elements for a pure first-person shooting fan, Fallout 3 was still surprisingly accessible to even this casual gamer. Recommended. But now Iâ€™m off to start building my own nuclear fallout bunker in my back-yard.