Author: Yennaedo Balloo & Thomas Schryver
My God. What have we done? Purchasing Fallout 3 during the semester we’re both supposed to be writing our senior comprehensive papers has to be among the worst decisions ever made. Based on the shameful number of hours we’ve logged in since its Oct. 28 release, two things are clear: Our priorities may need some reordering, and this game is positively brilliant.
Bethesda studios can call this one its masterpiece. Fallout 3 has been surpassing gamers’ wildest expectations of what a truly open world game can be in this generation of console technology. Fallout 3 continues the 11-year tradition of the Fallout storyline, which portrays the United States after a nuclear holocaust. Players take on the role of a young underground vault-dweller who leaves the safety of subterranean shelter for the radiation-drenched waste-scape that once was metropolitan Washington D.C.
Detail is what defines this game: The wasteland is vast and rife with all sorts of secrets that make exploration worthwhile for both aesthetic and pragmatic gameplay reasons. Scavengers, slavers, cannibalistic super mutants and giant cockroaches roam the post-apocalyptic scenery, with scattered junkyard towns and settlements serving as echoes of the demolished civilization. Bethesda makes a great addition to the gameplay by allowing players to “fast travel” from point to point on the map without having to necessarily traverse old (and potentially dangerous) terrain.
Visually, the game is stunning, although players of Bethesda’s previous Role-Playing Game (RPG) Oblivion will recognize that Fallout basically uses the same graphics engine, with a few tweaks added. The ambient sound is richly detailed and the score is superb. The developers may have taken a cue from the Grand Theft Auto series by including radio stations that your character can listen to while in the game, with unique radio DJ personalities.
The voice acting is not as impressive, often coming off somewhat corny and flat, but it’s still far superior to most of the mediocre voice acting featured in today’s games. And given the deliberately rampant 1950’s imagery and B-movie influence on the game, it sometimes makes it all the more fun to hear a super mutant yell, “I’ll eat your brains and drink your blood!!” at you in a cheesy, gravelly voice.
More than just the aesthetics, the gameplay itself is what pushes this game beyond all common bounds. Your first act in the game is to design your character (choose a gender, name and design your face to the most minute detail). After that, the real customization of your character (and subsequently the game you’ll play) begins. Your character, like any person, has a number of personal attributes (Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Charisma, Perception, Agility and Luck) and these inform natural affinity toward specialized skills (Repair, Medicine, Guns, Speech, Lockpicking, Sneaking, and about twenty others).
By choosing to distribute your skills toward a given characteristic or skill, you lean your character toward a certain style of gameplay, and thus changing the entire game itself. Devoting attention to Strength and Guns, for example, makes you a bit more prone to simply plodding along and getting into fights to solve problems. Whereas devoting points to Charisma and Speech offers special options and the ability to convince people of certain courses of action and leads to a completely different experience.
It’s the depth of this game that makes it achieve superlative status, though. Beyond your own character, in every conversation you have with Non-Playable Characters (NPCs) you are given a series of options of how to respond and lead conversations to a unique end. This depth goes from the conversation to the game world itself.
For all our praises, the game is not perfect. One odd addition was Fallout 3’s “karma” system. While it is not uncommon for RPG’s to feature “alignment” meters, which keep track of how moral or amoral your character has been, the karma meter in Fallout 3 is a bit too fastidious for our tastes. Our virtual kleptomaniac tendencies were highly scrutinized by the game. Every time we wanted to do a little harmless Robin Hood style thieving around, an unhappy orange face would appear at the top of the screen saying “you’ve lost karma.” This karma can then somehow be sensed by all of the game’s non-playable characters, who will treat you differently based on crimes or good deeds they never saw you commit.
Also, do not come into this game expecting a First Person Shooter (FPS) just because of the presentation; it’s primarily an RPG and thus allows for automated fighting and aiming if you so elect. Although you can play it as a traditional FPS and ignore the auto-aiming, the FPS controls are a bit slow and clunky for it to really encourage this and you’ll be challenging yourself more than you probably should. Also, the game can be a lot to take in for the average gamer, who will need to be ready to absorb a lot very fast when dropped into the Wasteland – but a challenge is always a good thing and this challenge is worth it.
While Thomas played on his PC, Balloo played the Playstation 3 version of the game and found the presentation gorgeous, but not without its hiccups: textures were occasionally a little slow to catch up and render (especially in the Wasteland) and there are some frame-rate stumbles and stutters that may raise an eyebrow. But overall, nothing damning of the experience by any means (nor are these issues limited to the Playstation 3 version, apparently).
Thomas: The bottom line is that games like this don’t come around too often. Fallout 3 is a highly detailed and ingeniously crafted game that truly does justice to the hopes of an “epic” gameplay that fans of Fallout have been waiting years for. It’s time to wake up and smell the irradiated coffee. Pack up your Geiger counter and set out to scavenge your own copy of Fallout 3.
Balloo: Fallout 3 is by no means perfect, but it gets right what any game should get right, and that is a memorable and immersive experience for its players. The game’s wrinkles are more than sufferable for the sake of such a spectacular overall experience. Beyond the base qualities and core gameplay, Fallout 3 shines through its fantastic world ready for you to explore and the sheer freedom and depth of possible experience this game allows and encourages. This is one experience that any gamer who owns a Playstation 3, XBOX 360 or capable PC should be sure to get a hold of.
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