Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: Fallout 3

Originally posted at Accursed Farms Forums on November 4th 2011.

Platform: PC (Windows Live)
Released: 2008
Genre: RPG
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Buy on Steam

I'm not much of a RPG fan. Since I didn't grow up with many RPG titles, it's a genre I've always found it difficult to get into, always having associated it with cliché DnD games featuring wizards, orcs and other typical fantasy elements. Throughout the 90's, all I associated with RPG's was stuff like Final Fantasy, Diablo and I was never exposed to any of the cult classics such as Earthbound or Terranigma. As a result, I was more used to playing pure action titles, and in a lot of ways you could say I prefer killing enemies with a shotgun over using magic and swords. Therefore it was sort of a mindblowing experience to play Fallout 2 for the first time. Since I hadn't played the first game I didn't exactly know what to expect. Judging by the screenshots and cover art it looked to be something unique though, I could tell that much. Fallout 2 absolutely blew me away. It was like a breath of fresh nuclear air to play a RPG that sort of didn't really feel like any RPG, it felt like more of a turn-based action game and that's what I liked about it. And something about the post-nuclear universe, ripe with movie references, awesome weapons and tons of interesting quests to do, just drew me into the game like nothing I had experienced. I can blame Fallout 2 for missing almost a month of school when I was in junior high. I mean, Fallout 2 was the only game so far that let me become a slutty pornstar who, when she wasn't starring in another porno masterpiece, was using her sexual skills to fuck a guy until he exploded so she could get her car back. Fallout 2, as a result, has become one of my all-time favourite PC games. Naturally, when I heard they were working on a Fallout 3, I was hyped and I had all sorts of expectations. I should probably have left those expectations at the door...

Fallout 3 takes place about 36 years after Fallout 2 and instead of a more Southern feel we're placed in and around the ruins of Washington DC, in what the game refers to as the "Capital Wasteland". While this does help it distance itself from previous titles, I was hoping for a more different setting, and I think Brian Fargo himself pointed out that the presence of supermutants in this region sort of feels off because he originally intended them to be limited to the regions of the previous titles. Fittingly the game starts inside a vault, namely Vault 101, which as an experiment has allegedly not been opened after the nuclear war. This enclosed environment gives plenty of opportunities for you to get used to the controls of the game and attempts to make the character creation a more integrated experience with the game. As you start out as a baby, the first thing you do is setting your SPECIAL points, and for those not initiated into the character creation of the Fallout franchise, SPECIAL refers to the 7 basic character traits; Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck, all strongly affecting the game experience and how you play the game. As you grow up and learn how to interact with the world, use your PIPBoy (a wristcomputer that keeps track of your stats, inventory, quests and such), and you also get to set 3 basic skills through a funny little test called the GOAT.

As you progress through the game and earn XP by completing quests and kill enemies, you gain levels, and on each level you get to pick a perk and upgrade your skills to further form your character. In this sense, the game feels very familiar to earlier titles, though since you don't pick any traits during the character creation like in earlier titles, these are forced to become perks you pick up later in the game. As a result, I was a bit annoyed that stuff like "Black Widow" and "Bloody Mess" and especially "Animal Friend" perks couldn't be applied at the start of the game, like you could in Fallout 2 where you can have delicious bloody mess from the very beginning.

One of my main criticisms with the game has to be the weapons. In Fallout 2 each weapon felt powerful and rewarding to pick up, but in Fallout 3 the weapons overall feel very weak, and the whole gimmick that they start breaking after a while gets annoying fast, though for the most weapons it's easy to find weapons to repair with. What I dislike about the repair system is that it feels very limiting. For instance, you can't use any scrap metal or similar guns, you have to use pretty much the exact same gun to repair with, which results in you walking around with a broken gun with a ton of ammo that you can't use simply because you have to find the exact same weapon or distinctly similar to repair it. The combat shotgun in particular was a disappointment. Let's compare the shotguns from Fallout 3 and Fallout 2 for a moment. In Fallout 2, the combat shotgun is a black motherfucking AUTOMATIC shotgun that has a burst fire option that literally tears your enemies apart in one go, which made it one of my fav weapons in Fallout 2 because while it used up a lot of AP, it paid off in spades. Now let's look at the Fallout 3 combat shotgun. It's a barrel-loaded shotgun that not only breaks easily, it's only effective when fully repaired and mostly against weak enemies. It feels like a downgrade for me as I was really looking forward to using an auto shotgun in a FPSRPG. Why there aren't more autoshotguns in FPS'es amazes me.

The other weapons do their job well, my favourites being the Chinese Assault Rifle, the UZI and the powerful Tri-Laser rifle. But the way they fire feels very off. I think it's because how well you hit your enemies isn't at all based on how well you actually aim. The game uses a sort of smart auto-aim based heavily on how high your Luck and weapon skills are, kind of like in earlier Fallout titles. The only difference is that this worked in 2D because you had no way to actually aim in realtime in those titles, but in a FPS title this definitely ends up as an annoyance, especially when using a sniper rifle and you KNOW you are dead center on a guy's head but you miss just because your weapon skill is low, your Luck is low or because the game just right out decides to piss you off. The VATS system is probably an attempt at working the turnbased AP system from older titles into the game, but it absolutely falls flat as while it helps you achieve more cinematic kills that look great in screenshots, it wears heavily on your weapon and basically ends up feeling like a useless gimmick that doesn't really add anything to the game experience, though watching a head explode in closeup slow-motion IS as satisfying as it sounds.

The enemies in the game range from mutated insects such as cockroaches and ants, though you will also stumble upon raiders, slavers, and even supermutants. In the more dungeon-like levels of the game you are more likely to meet ghouls however, the feral kind being the dangerous kind. Strangely enough the enemies level up along with you so the game never ends up feeling too easy, though to me that's actually a good thing.

The main quest in Fallout 3 basically sees you searching for your father throughout the Capital Wasteland. The standout moment of the game is definitely how you actually find him. In a vault where the brilliant Dr Braun (the inventory of the famous G.E.C.K. from Fallout 2) has gone insane and locked its inhabitants in a computer simulation ala Matrix, you enter the simulation to deal with him there. Inside this simulation you are forced to do very morally wrong actions which WILL lower your karma, or as an option you can just kill off all the inhabitants, which grants you a massive karma boost. Aside from that, the main quest ends up feeling very cliché as it sees you joining the Brotherhood of Steel (the so-called good guys in the game), pitting you up against the Enclave as the omnipresent oppressive force. While it does grant for a lot of great FPS action, it does feel you're not left with much of a choice in the end, and unless you have Broken Steel installed, be prepared to not be able to play the game after ending the main quest.

The sidequests are often far more interesting and morally grey. For instance, the game allows you to basically become a massmurdering SoB by giving you the opportunity to blow up an entire settlement for a good price, granting you a massive negative karma boost. Later on in the game, you're even allowed to do some slavery and help a settlement of slavers. Of course, you can be a goody two-shoes hero and do the opposite of these things, but for me, the fun comes from how you are free to do these things. The only thing I do really dislike though is that the game doesn't progress unless you do some good things, so if you plan to be evil, you will most likely end up as a morally grey anti-hero. Other than that, I feel the game is a great deal less over-the-top than Fallout 2, and lacks a lot of the more adult material I experienced in F2, where as previously mentioned you could become a pornstar. In Fo3, you're not even able to have sex with anyone, though you might get close one time. It feels like the game is trying to cather to a larger audience and as a result, it feels very tame in comparison to F2.

Traversing in Fallout 3 is also a big problem in of itself. Often you are forced to travel vast distances by foot as you cannot use the fast travel option until you've discovered a place to fast travel to. While you might encounter a few enemies to slay and loot, this is a very tedious experience and ends up slowing the game down massively. In Fallout 1 and 2 you never had this problem because you used an overworld map between towns and rarely had to see the actual wasteland as you walked. Of course, to remedy this, the main map in Fallout 3 is a lot smaller than it was in earlier titles, so it does feel more cramped. Basically, I wish they used the same system as in Fallout 1 and 2 where, if a character pointed out a location to you, you could fast travel there immideately. And while the Capital Wasteland probably wouldn't allow for it, a car would be nice. I mean, there are tons of cars in the game, but none of them drivable? It feels like ANOTHER downgrade from Fallout 2 where traversing the wasteland was a cruise once you got the Highwayman. Here you are basically forced to become yet another pedestrian. I'd rather play RAGE...

And another thing that makes Fallout 3 a bit boring is the obvious lack of any weather effects, I mean come on, Oblivion had at least SOME weather effects, would it be so hard to add a little rain? And the incredibly monotone level design is another problem. While it stays true to earlier titles, the lack of variety in design wears on you rather quickly as EVERY dungeon more or less looks identical. I don't know if they were being lazy or something or if the game just suffers from an attempt to add as much content as possible on the cost of making everything look the same. There's also a constant greenish hue over the game that further makes the game look boring. After playing this for an hour or two I feel myself craving other colours than a constant GREEN. It suffers from the same problem as Gears of War where everything is gray and Deus Ex HR where everything is piss yellow. Come on, is it really such a bad thing to have some graphical variety in the game?

One of the redeeming factors of Fallout 3 though is the voice acting, which is pretty good for the most part. Almost too good since the character animations are pretty much the same as in Oblivion, only slightly updated, so they end up looking really dated, especially when you compare the facial animation to games like Deus Ex HR or LA Noire, or even Half-Life 2. Hearing Ron Perlman doing his "war never changes" speech really helps set the tone for the game and keep the continuity with the older games in the franchise. Liam Neeson does a decent job as your father but ends up feeling a bit flat, as Liam Neeson often does. Other than that, you quickly notice they recycle a lot of voice actors for different roles, so sometimes I wonder if a character is someone I've met before, though I suppose with the number of characters in this game, getting a different actor for each would require a ton of voice actors.

The music is also pretty decent, and is mostly very atmospheric like in the older games, though this is probably the first game that has real music in the actual gameplay as you have some radio stations to tune in to, the most notable being Galaxy News Radio, which broadcasts pre-50's oldie music. It's kind of surreal to listen to Billie Holiday sing about love when you're slaughtering a bunch of ghouls with a shotgun, though I can probably thank this game for introducing me to such old music as I probably would never have sought it out by myself.

That was quite a review, so how can I sum up this game?
While Fallout 3 does a good job at bringing Fallout to the FPS genre, it does feel very tame in a lot of ways, especially compared to Fallout 2. It feels a bit unfinished too for a lot of reasons, not only because the engine is quite buggy and you'll often find glitches and random crashes happening. I feel that there was a lot of wasted potential for a truly stellar title here and Bethesda was probably more occupied with just making an Oblivion with guns, which is pretty much what I should've expected to begin with.
But despite these shortcomings and it being a lackluster followup to one of the greatest RPG's of all time, it's an enjoyable and addictive game and I did have fun playing it. But it isn't any Fallout 2. It does get plus points for being highly modable though, so if you're tech-savvy enough, I suppose a lot of the bad things about it could be remedied using mods.

It gets 5 out of 10 Nuka Colas.


- Alyxx

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