Monday, December 8, 2008

Fallout 3 Review | PlayStation 3 & Xbox 360


I profit from kidnapping and imprisoning people for life. Doctors, security guards, shop owners... children, I enslave them all. My malevolence wasn’t inert though. It slithered out of me slowly, gaining strength from the toxic wasteland of Washington DC. But that’s skipping ahead. Nineteen years ago, in 2258, all I knew of the world was the sterile, but radiation-free under-ground Vault 101. I went to school and had friends, but when my father mysteriously left the vault — something that’s not happened in the 200 years since nuclear war ravaged the Earth’s surface — everything I’ve known to be true has become undone.

Fallout 3’s stage is a grim, and articulate one. The parable “it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters” aptly sums up the Fallout 3 experience.

Though it may look like it from the back of the box, Fallout 3 is not a typical first-person-shooter. In fact, it doesn’t even play like a FPS (not in the beginning at least). Like developer Bethesda’s previous game, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Fallout 3 relies on role-playing elements like skill-building and leveling-up to push the player deeper into its rich world. Roaming the massive wastelands, you’ll come across all manner of individuals that need help. It’s the typical questing for some poor sap, but it’s the context of Fallout’s world that sets it apart from other RPG experiences. For example, I happened across a Ghoul (humans horribly disfigured from too much exposure to radiation) that felt discriminated against. He wanted access to a town of “smooth skins,” but everyone inside was bigoted against his kind: Leaving me with a moral choice, fight for his rights, or exterminate his settlement. It wasn’t a necessary quest to complete the main story, but this, and many other side-quests like it, are too compelling not to see through.

Slave trading, too, isn’t necessary. It’s all up to you. I just happened to discover the slave trading mecca ironically named Paradise Falls. It’s here that I’ve been making my fortune, but out of all my friends playing Fallout 3, none earn their cash this way. Some play valiantly, freeing slaves, and some haven’t even stumbled across this unfortunate town.

If you’re not drawn into the story telling by-product
, there’s still plenty there to enjoy. That is, if you’re not expecting first-person-shooter gunplay. See, you build your character’s stats throughout the game, so if you’re not investing any experience points into your firearms skill, you’ll end up shooting more scenery than enemies. Everything in the game is based on behind-the-scenes ‘die-rolls’ that factor the level of your skill for the particular action your performing. Everything from how much weight you can carry, to how accurate you are with grenades needs to be nurtured if you want to excel in any particular area.

But, it’s not just your character traits that you alter, you literally have an impact on the world in Fallout 3. When I discovered the city of Megaton, for example, with its dormant nuclear bomb in the center of town (hence the name), I learned that I could either disarm or detonate the bomb (vaporizing the town and all of its inhabitants from the map). And the consequences are real, everything from quests you can only get from certain villagers, to shops and items that you can only buy in Megaton are gone for good. What did I do? I blew the town to hell. The blast, seen from a mile away on the balcony of a barely-standing high-rise, was so gloriously intoxicating I reloaded my most recent save to see it again, this time in the light of day.

Ultimately, Fallout 3 is a game that’s as fun as you make it. And that’s the greatest asset of Fallout 3: its narrative isn’t solely dependent on the main quest line. In fact, what I like the most about Fallout 3 is its oratorical nature. Trading stories with friends on what perks they invested in, how that affected their game, some of the crazy characters they ran into; it all inflates the otherwise desolate world into something epic.

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