PC Game Review: Fallout 3
The spiritual successor to Wasteland and the best of previous Fallout games, Fallout 3 is everything a fan could ask for.
The Wargamer is pleased to present
Bethesda Softworks for an Award for Excellence.
Fallout 3 is an exceptionally immersive and enjoyable game.
It’s OverJohnny…It’s Over!
I am standing out on the observation deck of a partially ruined Washington Monument, overlooking a bomb-blasted, trench-riddled mall. Explosions rumble in the distance. Smoke rises from several different locations on the Mall, but I know I am safe up here. For now.
I am standing up to my ankles in muck in a DC area Metro station. There are two dimly lit tunnels in front of me. One holds a years’ cold train wreck. The other one holds…well, God knows. But I did hear sounds of movement coming from this tunnel. Maybe I should avoid it.
I am pressed against the marble floor of the cupola in the Capitol building as chaos, bedlam, and a torrent of machine gun fire erupt around me. Combatants run amok on two different levels, trying to kill each other and now me with some heavy firepower. I shouldn’t have become involved in this. Too late now…I hope my armor holds.
Those three scenes all occurred in one two hour session of play with Bethesda-Softworks’ newest release, Fallout 3 . To say that this iteration of Fallout 3 was both highly anticipated and highly reviled would be an understatement. I am going to check any baggage I have with Bethesda at the door. And as a gamer, if you’ve read this far into the review maybe you have done the same.
One of Electronic Gaming’s Greatest Franchises
Fallout 3 owes its existence first and foremost to the PC and Commodore-based game Wasteland. Set in a future Las Vegas wracked by nuclear war, Wasteland was released in the late 1980s and featured a host of different Vegas locales to visit and explore, as well as a variety of different mutated enemies for players and their parties to combat using a turn-based system. The character creation system also offered gamers a huge range of choices. Wasteland was engaging, atmospheric, and totally addictive, and set the bar very high for any post-apocalyptic computer-based adventures to come. Wasteland still has fans to this day, more than 20 years later.
The original Fallout, released in the early 1990s, and it carried the torch for the genre that was passed to it from Wasteland. The game was updated with the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. character creation system, giving gamers even more options with which to design their character. The game was still set in the desert southwest of the U.S., ravaged by nuclear war, but now featured an isometric view of the world, and still included a turn-based combat system. The original Fallout is still lauded as a beloved classic for story-telling, action, and its dry, sarcastic take on 1950s paranoia and optimism.
Fallout 2 was released several years after its predecessor, featuring uodated graphics and a new branching storyline. Basically an extension of the original Fallout universe, Fallout 1 and 2 are well regarded and spoken of together as a high point in PC gaming and storytelling.
The next (and at the time, last) game in the Fallout universe was Brotherhood of Steel. Brotherhood of Steel was not an RPG, but a tactical combat game set in the Fallout universe. The game did not get a good reception from critics or gamers, both of whom declared the game almost impossibly difficult, buggy, and just not the RPG that the Fallout cult had wanted. Gamers began asking the question: Was that the end of the Fallout franchise?
The Fall of One of the Greats?
After the release of Brotherhood of Steel, the Fallout franchise fell into a dark path of intellectual property wrangling, started and failed projects, Van Buren, and dead-ends. But finally, now after almost ten years, a new Fallout game is here. Note this iteration is not the aforementioned Van Buren project, which still exists on a drive somewhere but has never been completed.
Many fans were disappointed to find out that Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights to Fallout, and to be honest I did not know what to expect either, having loved the Fallout world since childhood. I liked the Elder Scrolls: Oblivion game to a degree, but I hoped that the newest Fallout could hold the weight of the series’ great moments of the past and remove the tarnish of Brotherhood of Steel.
A Brave New World
Upon firing up Fallout 3 for the first time, I have to admit I was giddy with expectation, feeling like a 13 year old kid all over again. It’s great to know that certain things in life can still generate so much enthusiasm in a time when so many are so cynical about so much.
The opening movie is a deceivingly simple simulation of an old microfiche scroll that most libraries have used to store newspapers since the 1950s. This artistic style is awesomely rendered and carries throughout the entire game, with old ads, posters, and public service announcements carrying on Fallout’s tradition of dark humor.
You Are Such a Character
The first task the player is charged with is character creation using the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system, still as deep as it was in previous games if not moreso. For about an hour of game time, the player guides his avatar through the very early hours, days, months, and years of life, while choosing every aspect of their character’s personality and appearance down to hairstyle, body type, and hundreds of different skills and abilities. Just using the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system is fun as there are so many different aspects to choose from.
These early scenes all take place in the hallowed halls of Vault 101, one of several vaults designed to keep humanity safe through its darkest hours. Until a harrowing event forces the player to leave its womblike safety, Vault 101 is the player’s entire world. Upon leaving its confines, I couldn’t help feeling like an explorer, pioneer, or astronaut. This thrill of exploration stayed with me throughout my game time and became addictive to the point where on some occasions I had to pull myself away from the computer.