Developer/Publisher: Bethesda Game Stuidos/Bethesda Softworks, ZeniMax Media
Release Date: October 28th, 2008
ESRB Rating: Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
Available On: Microsoft Xbox 360 (version reviewed), Sony Playstation 3, Windows PC
Genre: Role Playing Game
Number of Players: 1
Strong Points: Fantastically realized post-apocalyptic world; gameplay blends real-time combat with mathematical mechanics of traditional RPGs; astounding production qualities
Weak Points: The Wastes are so barren that it\'s possible to feel like wandering around aimlessly when traveling; no voice acting from the player\'s character.
This review has been adapted for use with Christ Centered Gamer from its original form as seen on Revolve21.
Fans of the Fallout series have been waiting a very long time for Fallout 3 to arrive. The game series has been set in an alternate timeline where technology continued to improve, but society held true to the ideals and forms of the atomic age. In the game\'s universe, nuclear war in the late 21st century destroyed much of the human population and radically changed the earth (from the animal life to the water sources, everything biological has been affected). The humans that survived did so by retreating to Vaults. It is in Vault 101 that this game\'s protagonist begins his/her journey some 200 years after the bombs had dropped.
Previously, the game series came in the form of an isometric turn-based RPG. Even more importantly is that the series was was developed by another company, Black Isle Studios. When development of Fallout 3 was announced to be placed in the hands of Bethesda, known for the Elder Scrolls series, and that the game would shift to using an engine similar to that of the Elder Scrolls games, longtime fans trembled. The rest of us, who never managed to play Fallout in the past, quickly became giddy with the idea of "Oblivion with guns in a post-apocalyptic world." A great number of people in both camps have walked away from Fallout 3 thoroughly impressed, but not all of them got what they expected.
The first thing to note about Fallout 3 is that it absolutely is not Oblivion with guns. The graphics and physics engines may bear similarity, but that\'s largely it for common ground in terms of gameplay. So, if we can do away with that preconceived notion, let\'s talk about what Fallout 3 is instead of what it isn\'t.
At its most basic level, Fallout 3 is an experience of epic proportions. From the opening act of the game (which is a cleverly veiled character creation and basic control tutorial) to its conclusion, you can tell that the game is designed with a scope that few others come close to. The story picks up with you finding Vault 101 in a state of panic. Your father, for reasons unknown, has left the vault with no explanation or note. The chaos that followed his disappearance has resulted in the deaths of many of your fellow vault dwellers. Before you even escape Vault 101, you will be faced with a number of moral decisions to make.
These moral decisions, which fill the entire game, do a great deal to set Fallout 3 even further apart from games that could be considered its contemporaries. Any moral decision made (be it in the form of conversation or in explicit action) results in good or bad karma. Your karma affects the way the rest of the game can be played. If you opt to play the game with heavy leans towards good, shady characters in the game will not trust you. Without spoiling anything too surprising, your actions can greatly impact the game world around you (adding even more to the huge scope of the game). So great an impact do you have on the game world that an entire town can be destroyed by your hands. The inverse is true if you play with an evil bent. The game also allows for party members to join you in your quests. Your karma directly affects which party members will actually choose to join you. In many ways, the game encourages you to be rather moderate in your morality, but the moral decisions (in practically every instance) are entirely yours to make. Karma also guides character development in that it decides which Perks you can apply to your character.
Which leads us to a look at Perks and the other elements of character development. As a full-fledged RPG (don\'t let the real-time, gun-based combat lead you to believe that it is anything short of an RPG), you are given a great deal of control over your character\'s abilities. Characters have seven base stats (known in the game by the acronym SPECIAL). Each of these stats affects the effectiveness of your character\'s skills and base attributes. For instance, a character\'s Charisma stat influences his/her ability to deal in marketplaces, Endurance impacts how much life the character has, and so on. Beyond the base stats are a host of skills or abilities. Skills include tings like Medicine, which determines how effective healing items are; Small Guns, which include pistols, rifles, and the like; and, among many other skills, Sneak, which allows you to get past enemies undetected. To add one more layer to the complexity of character building, Fallout contains Perks. You can choose from a list of available Perks once every time you level up. A Perk is a permanent addition to your character. Some Perks raise statistics or skills, others open up new topics in conversations, and others increase the amount of money and ammo you find in fallen enemies and boxes. There are more Perks than these, including the Bloody Mess perk (which raises the explosive nature of the violence even more), but this list serves as a basic overview of the benefit of Perks.
Character development takes place in true RPG fashion. Experience points are gained in order to level up. Experience points are gained after any successful use of a skill or death of a foe. Sneaking around does not gain experience (since there is no way to confirm success or failure), but picking a lock or hacking a computer does result in an experience boost. Still, the majority of your experience will be gained through combat.
Fortunately, the combat in Fallout 3 is beyond excellent. People who play first-person shooters will find the basic combat fairly comfortable. Move, aim, shoot, reload. Simple enough on the surface. However, in practice, you are not so very likely to play the game as you would a conventional shooter. Considering that the game truly is an RPG, hits are determined by mathematical probabilities that are computed behind the scenes instead of by pure aiming skill. Because of that, impossible shots that could potentially pulled off in a conventional shooter are not likely to be pulled off in Fallout. More importantly, though, Fallout includes what is called V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System).
VATS works by pausing the gameplay, zooming in on a targeted character, and allowing you to select a certain body part to aim for before firing. VATS provides you with the computed probabilities mentioned before, which helps in deciding whether to go for a headshot for maximum damage, a series of body shots for greater hit potential, or sniping the missile launcher out of the foe\'s hands. The computations shown on screen reflect hit probability, resulting damage, and the amount of AP (Action Points) that firing will use. See, VATS requires AP to use. Fortunately, AP regenerates quickly while playing, but this limits the use of VATS. The result of this is a balancing act of tactical positioning, run and gun tactics, and the precision of VATS.
Of course, Bethesda seemed to want to continually drive home the fact that Fallout 3 is a legitimate RPG. To prove the point, ammunition is limited in every non-melee weapon and, more importantly, weapons break down over time. As weapons break down, their effectiveness is quickly reduced. Naturally, this means that you\'re going to need to have your weapons repaired. You can pay to have weapons repaired at a dealer, but money is somewhat hard to come by in the game, so another option was made available: You can repair the weapons yourself. Your ability to repair weapons is limited by your Repair skill. Additionally, repairing a weapons means sacrificing another weapon of the same kind for parts. Thus, that Laser Rifle you just used to the point of failure will need you to have another rifle of the same kind in your possession in order to repair it. This mechanic requires you to decide whether or not to sell that third rifle you picked up on your last excursion.
The combat in the game is amazing in concept, balance, and execution. Few games are this ambitious in their combat systems, and fewer yet are able to reach their goals with such masterful skill. Still, for as much fighting as you\'ll do in the game, I would have a hard time truly calling it the game\'s focus. No, the game\'s focus is the unfolding of a tale that will determine the fate of the remnant of humanity. The narrative is carried out through exploration of the Wasteland and many junctures with significant characters and some scripted events. Still, there are few times in which the narrative is forced upon you after leaving Vault 101. For the most part, pursuit of game objectives is left to you. If you would rather go adventuring through the Wastes to see what is out there, the game allows for that and even rewards you with powerful items and experience. There are also a good number of optional side quests in addition to the main quest for you to go on. Each of these quests carries its own story with it.
The main quest is fairly lengthy. I walked away from the main quest a little bit in my playthrough, but I would estimate that the narrative spans 20-25 hours of gameplay for those who rigidly stick to it. Still quality is far more significant than duration when it comes to the narrative of a game like this. It is a good thing then that the narrative is interesting and engaging. I found myself caring about what came next, as well as figuring out who/what I needed to track down to continue. The fact that many of the significant characters carry their own lives and backstories with them adds to the pull of the narrative. The ability to twist the narrative by your moral actions make it even more interesting to watch unfold.
Beyond the narrative aspect of the exploration is the atmosphere the game carries with it. If the story isn\'t compelling enough on its own, the design of the game world serves as the clincher. It\'s easy to play the game and assume that a nuked DC would look quite like the world of Fallout. The ruins of residential areas, the rubble strewn about the remains of the subway, the barely standing Washington Monument, the remnants of civilization that have pulled together to survive the harsh environment, it all adds up for a result that is both devastating and beautiful.
And the game is beautiful not just in artistic direction, but also in technical prowess. By and large, the world is highly detailed in polygon count (resulting in character/object smoothness) and texture maps (resulting in fine details). Likewise, the special effects are largely appealing. Lighting is handled excellently. Really, though, words fail to capture the visual beauty of the game, so I can only recommend viewing more screenshots and watching some videos to appreciate the quality of the visuals. There is, however, a significant shortcoming: Animation, while smooth in terms of framerate, often seems bulky. This is especially noticeable when playing the game in the third-person view. Still, it is an offense that is relatively minor and easy to overlook in the grand context of things.
In terms of audio, everything except for player dialogue is spoken. The voice work in the game is largely good. A few voice actors seems somewhat uninspired, but the majority actually add a bit to the gameplay and narrative. Of course, the presence of Liam Neeson and Ron Perlman on the voice cast is sure to help make the narrative that much more appealing. Similarly, the audio effects, from gunshots to the sound of footsteps, suit the game well and really place you in your character\'s shoes.
The also game features a one-two punch of licensed music from the early Atomic Era and masterful original music by Inon Zur (who has composed music for a host of other games and some movies). Though the visuals may be credited for setting the atmosphere of the game, I would say that the licensed soundtrack is what sets the game setting in stone. Who would have thought that music from the 1940s could actually accentuate over-the-top post-apocalyptic violence and questing?
Ah, but there is that matter of the over-the-top violence. Make no mistake, Fallout 3 absolutely earns its Mature rating from the ESRB in every respect. The violence alone is over-the-top. Headshots on enemies typically result in decapitations. These decapitations are pretty gross, and the can be amplified further with the acquisition of the Bloody Mess Perk (at which point heads and limbs can be blown into further fragmented pieces). The game demands violent behavior to progress (whether you kill in cold blood or for survival is up to you). For the most part, you can kill anyone and anything in the game world. A few select characters will only be rendered unconscious since they are needed for the game story. Additionally, children cannot be killed in the game (except for one small piece that is a simulated world within the game). Depending on how you choose to play the game, you can become a contract killer or a mercenary. It\'s possible to become a cannibal. On a larger scale, it is possible to blow an entire town away in a very explosive sense.
Beyond the violence (which will likely turn many away) there is a lot of profanity in the game. Some characters are more prone to cussing than others, but profanities up to, and including, the f-bomb can be heard (and even used by the player) throughout the game. Sexuality is a mixed bag. Immodesty is scarcely an issue (some of the female Raiders are underdressed, but not horrifically so). It is possible to hire a prostitute. However, little-to-no sexual talk takes place. Hiring her results in following her to a room where she literally falls asleep on top of the bed and you can do likewise to regain health (as you would in any other bed). Beyond these moral issues, it is possible to take drugs (both medication and illicit) for stat boosts. In taking these drugs, it is possible to become addicted and require more drugs or formal treatment to keep health moving. Slavery is also an issue in the game. There are a couple of instances where sex slavery is implied but not explicitly stated. To match the freedoms present in the game, you can fight slavery, or you can use slavery to turn a profit (enslaving everyone from criminals to children).
In the end, however, it is impossible to deny that Fallout 3 is not only an amazing game, but it is also a strong contender for game of the year. In terms of gameplay, it is masterful. In terms of production quality, it is absolutely top notch. In terms of narrative, it keeps you playing. In the way that freedom is so unhindered, and the ability to become as good or evil as you would like, it is astounding. In every respect, Fallout 3 has lived up to, if not surpassed, the hype that has been building around it for the last year. Morally, however, it is messy to say the least. For those of you who are remotely likely to be put off by the violence or language in the game, I cannot advise you to go against your conscience. For the rest of us, the game is practically a must have.
-Kenny Yeager kenny at revolve21.com
Morality Score - 25.5/50
Gameplay - 20/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4.5/5
Violence - 1/10
Language - 3/10
Sexual Content - 5.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10