When Bethesda picked up the Fallout realms, still smouldering from the nuclear megaton bombs that Black Isle put up, we were a little anxious. The previous two Fallout games were (and still are) considered absolute classics, and coupled with Oblivion’s Marmite-like ability to prescribe love and hate in equal measures all we wanted was for the third game to stay true to its roots and expand on the stuff we liked the best. Rest assured this is exactly what they’ve done.
But first, this is clearly a Bethesda game, and it’s worth pointing out why and what this means to the unfamiliar. If you’ve ever picked up Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, or even Morrowind, you’ll know that the developers like to give you a massive open world (almost) right from the start, and let you craft and create your own story at your own pace. In their recent titles there’s always been a single plot thread running through the centre that’s crucial to ‘finishing’ the game, but exploration and deviation is not only actively encouraged but is almost forced upon you if you want to get the most out of them.
And Fallout 3 is no different. Right from the off, when you’re restricted to the safe yet claustrophobic Vault 101 for your character’s first 19 years, you can’t help but recall Oblivion’s dungeon and similar plot development. Sure, in Fallout you start as a baby and progress to a teenager through a series of vignetted episodes that essentially steer your character’s classes and abilities, but the initial environements are all designed to look and act the same creating a closed off training session before the game suddenly throws you into the sun for the first time in your life, just as Oblivion did when you escaped the tunnel.
Once free, your first principal task is to locate your father, but the game opens up exponentially very quickly and side quests, this time better fleshed out and bigger, will consume just as much time as the main story thread. The bigger challenge will be making a name for yourself in the wastelands of post-war Washington DC, surviving amongst the scraps and battling the various foes you’ll find scattered around the barren landscapes and the game’s major townships. The environment is harsh and unforgiving, but your PipBoy, essentially an inventory, map and abilities HUD, will often keep you on the right track.
This being set in the future, you’ll be right to expect a change in the weaponry from swords and shields, and indeed Fallout 3 delivers in the huge amount of guns on offer. Your initial choices as a baby will determine your specialised fields, but you’re free to pick and choose as you wish, as long as you’re not expecting too much from massive chain guns if melee combat was your desired method of battling. Enemies seem smarter and quicker in Fallout 3, so the focus on the slower turn-based V.A.T.S. aiming system is welcome: the game will pause and allow you to target specific parts of your prey along with statistics on hit rate and damage amounts. Of course, you can opt to scrap in realtime too if that’s more your thing.
The biggest draw though for us was the way that every action and every choice has a real effect on the path the story takes. Your moral decisions will stay with you for the rest of the game, and whether you choose to put your faith in good or kill everyone you see is entirely up to you, and it’s down to the great script and the open-ended quests that such non-linear gameplay still results in a compelling adventure. There’s no right or wrong, even at the very beginning of the game.
Much has been made recently of the visual differences between the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game, and we’ll be honest and say we’ve only had the PS3 version here at TSA Towers. Whilst this means we can’t make any objective comments about how one version performs over the other, the PS3 game looks fine to us. Naturally, this is an open ended, massive world, so don’t expect huge detail in every corner, but there’s plenty of variety in the areas and the characters look far more natural than they did in Oblivion. Animation has been ramped up, the interface is slicker and the frame rate holds steady enough. We’re assuming you’re not getting this for the visuals, though.
What is slightly worrying is the buggy nature of the game. We had the game freeze on us several times, there’s a 5 second pause everytime somebody signs in and out of PSN or sends you a message, accessing the XMB is lethal and there’s a few areas in the game that simply don’t trigger the next section, such as the now infamous G.O.A.T. exam just before you leave the vault, so when you know you’re reaching that stage ensure you have a new save just in case you need to reload and try it again. Hopefully all these can be patched out sooner rather than later, but we found the game was more stable when signed out of PSN.
Don’t let this put you off too much, though, Fallout 3 is a wonderful game for fans of the genre. It’s humourous when it wants to be, yet also deep and worryingly tragic when required to be. For fans of the previous games wary of what Bethesda would do to their beloved series this is a godsend even if it’s not really a true sequel in every sense of the word, and for anyone wanting something to last them through the Winter this is a must-have. From the wry swipes at society to the enjoyable gunplay and character development, Fallout 3 has something for everyone.