Try more like Bailout 3.
No that's a joke, you angry people. Fallout 3 is more like Oblivion with guns. No, not really. Man you guys are gullible. I could pull any age-old generalization out of a hat and tell you it fits Fallout 3 like a glove just to watch you squirm. "Does it really?" "Is that all it boils down to?" "It looks really deep but it sounds like it's just boring. Is that the case?" "Can you still kill kids?" "How big is the map?" "Is it big enough?" And, "That's what she said." But to be honest it's not as simple as mixing two well-known games together to describe what you'll get out of it, and clever wordplay isn't the way to go either. No, the fact of the matter is that Fallout 3 is one of those games that gives back exactly what you put into it, for better or for worse. That isn't to say that it doesn't come with actual positives and negatives, but experiences will vary so much that the only way to get a handle on what the game is actually like would be to collect several dozen detailed impressions and interpret whatever you've managed to gather from them all on your own.
And as a forward now, I must note that I've come into Fallout 3 with no frame of reference to Bethesda or the game lore. In other words, I haven't played Oblivion anything, nor have I touched a Fallout title up until now.
Then again, that's the nature of Fallout 3. You're mostly on your own in the Capital Wasteland, doomed to wander the vast landscape for all of game eternity (or until you finish the main storyline, because there's no free roam after that). The game starts off with you as a cute little baby boy or girl, wandering your father's quarters in Vault 101: the only safe place left on Earth. Actually I've jumped forward a bit. You see, the game actually starts with you being born and choosing a gender to fit. Then you'll probably spend close to a half hour customizing your character's cosmetic attributes, and will suddenly be rushed away into the very near future. Back to toddlerhood, you're treated to a briefing on character specialties, and then shoot forward again to your tenth birthday.
So you turn ten and get a Pip Boy. A what? Yeah, everyone's got one of these-- they're standard issue once you turn ten. Mapped to the circle button, this is how you'll manage your entire inventory and skill sets, data, listen to radio, check maps and set markers, manage quests, and check the time of day-- on a little electronic armband. Heck, you even get a cool little BB gun to shoot stuff with. Now you're all set for adulthood, right? Good, let's go.
After you take what is actually a fun little aptitude test to set your character attributes like charisma or intelligence, you'll soon come to find that things aren't going too well for your father who's escaped from Vault 101, which consequently throws you into what becomes the game of Fallout 3. In case you haven't figured it out by now, and in case it's not too obvious, this is a game that isn't in a hurry to entertain you. It's going to take its sweet time and slowly dig its hooks in. Hey, kind of like this really long introduction to the meat of the review. And yes I'm aware that there will be people who are coming into this with the mindset of love at first sight, so don't get smart with me about absolutes.
As far as gameplay, stats and weapons modifications, perks, dialog trees, bonuses per percentages, item weights and Rad values, how big the freakin map is, number of locations and how deep everything gets is concerned-- I'm not. For anyone looking to pick apart Fallout 3, go rent it, but for someone who wants to learn about forests instead of individual trees then this review is primarily interested in giving a look at the big scheme of things in our post-apocalyptic future. Maybe that preface should have come earlier, but it's more of an editor's note and hopefully everyone reading will find what they're looking for in the end. All I'll say is that yes, it's deep and yes, it's technical. You can draw up diagrams and maps all day and night-- just nerding out to your heart's content, but hopefully having someone do that for you doesn't tip you in one direction or another on whether a game is worth it. Just trust me, it's like an ocean.
In fact, the first thing you'll notice once you escape Vault 101 is how massive the Capital Wasteland is. Fortunately you've got a little compass with markers for the really important stuff, so you can get right to work on the main story. Unfortunately, there are so many sidequests and little nagging bits to tend to that it's easy to get distracted in the hopes of being rewarded with some really cool hidden gem of an item. If that's a problem for you then just shrug it off-- you'll come across plenty of cool stuff no matter how you play the game. That's the curse and beauty of its design, is that you're dropped in and told "Okay go!" If you want to try and reach a corner of the map as soon as you hit fresh air, then go for it. It you want to solve all of Megaton's problems before you touch another city's issues then that's up to you-- or just level up until you can blow the place to smithereens.
It's too bad that a game so full of options and choice didn't have a very compelling nature to it, in my opinion. Yeah the map is huge and there's a lot to see, but it mostly looks the same and once players familiarize themselves with the nature of the game's items, they'll be finicky as ever when looting. I suppose that's a healthy attitude to gain as it helps you move along quicker, but the thing is that the ennui starts to settle in with it. Obviously it's a video game and it can't be expected to have millions of different items within the world, but the stretch of the map magnifies any repetition in whatever aspects of the game there may be, including character types and dialog trees.
After a while, the game goes from aimless to feeling pointless, and it's hard to care unless you've found something to keep you playing. For this editor, that was sort of a difficult thing to do up until I got to some really hardcore melee weapons and a bonus gore perk that literally will make your opponents blow up like bloody crash-test dummies. Until then I didn't really care about my character's search for his father, nor was I particularly interested in any of the NPCs problems. This may be why for a portion of my time with Fallout 3, I became somewhat of a soulless wandering murderer.
The issue at hand may actually be that while there is the balance of karma thrown into the mix (with the goal being to stay as neutral as possible so as not to blackball yourself from one group of people or another), it doesn't really seem important once you realize that the only consequence of being able to kill nearly everyone in the entire game is that you'll be disliked by those who are alive. That is, unless the surviving few are people who've contracted you to do their dirty work, and the only reason they're still smiling through their teeth at you is because you've let them live long enough to pay up. Obviously it would take a very heartless person to massacre towns as they come across them, but that's where my entertainment came from-- it was the fighting. It always will be, and it always has.
Obviously this is a great time to talk about the new V.A.T.S. battle system, which can be jumped into at anytime in order to specifically target enemies (and even their limbs with ranged weapons) when you don't feel like freestyling a nailboard or sawed-off shotgun. This is at the expense of AP, though, and so the system can't be used continuously in battle as you'll have to let that bit recharge. That is-- at least until later in the game when certain perks become available which can remedy this situation.
So how does V.A.T.S. work? It's pretty simple, as everything is paused and you're allowed to organize a certain amount of attacks based on circumstances concerning your weapon, AP available, ammo, etc. It varies based on distance, as well, as you'll have a higher chance of landing a hit on an enemy who's closer or in clear view than one which you have to use a scope to target. Once ordered to execute the given commands, the camera goes into third-person to show the bloody results, which can be really, really brutal. So it's cool and not detrimental in any way to the gameplay. In fact, I preferred it to shooting regularstyle as if I were playing an FPS because I didn't care much for the controls as far as relying on my own two thumbs to properly aim wasn't the best course of action. But that's just my playstyle and once again experience may vary. Scratch that-- experiences will absolutely vary.
I haven't bothered much in covering the story and I won't either, since players will eat through it in a countless variety of ways, and some won't even get back to the main story after spending nearly fifty hours on side quests. The other contributing factor to this omission is that I didn't find the story or side quests to be particularly driving and so I claim to be in no man's land to call an opinion on whether or not it's a noteworthy aspect of the game, which says something in and of itself now doesn't it?
The future is bleaker than we expected, and that's the only reason Fallout 3 gets away with its muddy color scheme. It's vast, and empty, and while some will argue that it sets a tone (and I'd even agree on the basis that it's only attributed to those moments between dusk and dawn when you're wandering past crumbled expressways to the sound of a breeze and suddenly light string instruments slip into the mix, that only within those moments is it truly a reflective setting), it was mostly boring to me.
The character models are hit and miss, and please don't go into third person if you don't want to see you're character's weird-as-ever waling animations. Lip-synching is off, and weapon models are a mixed bag as well. Most of Fallout 3's visual assets are pleasing to the eye, but when you start to look for them you'll find more and more things to be upset about, like repeating textures or character models, which just brings you back to the room you're sitting in-- not sometime hundreds of years down the road. The audio is all aces, though. I won't vouch for the voiceovers, but sound effects and music have been set very well within the universe and not only fit, but add to the playing experience.
From the week I had with Fallout 3, that's about what I'd say in a nutshell that the game was like for me. It's ambitious, and I applaud Bethesda for that; but there's only so much you can do with such an open-ended formula before the game stops being fun and more of a hunt for entertainment. Then again, I like action-oriented games more than those spent walking twenty minutes in search of a new location.
I did come across a few glitches, which I suppose I shouldn't be surprised about; including one where a corpse floated in midair until it suddenly began to rise into the air on one of its legs, and even had the whole game freeze up a couple times. Fortunately, saves can be made at any point in time and those who are compulsive about it should never have to worry past inconvenience that the game may crash on them.
Another annoying little feature is that anytime your console notifies you that someone on your friends list has signed on or off, the game is automatically paused for the duration of the message. Whether or not this can be disabled I couldn't tell, but it does become a tad trying in the heat of battle. A little framerate drop was experienced within the expanse of the Capital Wasteland, but not within combat when it mattered. On the bright side, at no point did the game's fighting bits seem unfair or as though something hadn't registered, which is always good to note. Bearing all this in mind, the game is slightly smoother and better-looking on the Xbox 360, but that's not exactly the matter at hand, currently.
My issues with the game lie within the fact that whilst playing it, I wished I were playing something else. I wanted to play Bioshock for its heavy atmosphere and compelling story, or Mass Effect because I finally appreciate the dialog trees and voice acting. In Fallout 3, most of my decisions could be argued for the inconsequential feeling I associated with them. That's never a good thing, so it either means Fallout 3 wasn't my particular cup of tea or that it is actually that boring at times. However, I can appreciate that eventually the game had gotten its hooks in me, although it was mostly due to the fact that since I was reviewing I ended up actually play up through the initial five hours it took before I began to invest myself into the virtual world around me. After that, I managed to find things that interested me, which is at least an honorable mention that the game had redeeming qualities for someone who at first didn't care much for it.
Other decisive factors include the obligatory mention that there are no trophies or custom soundtracks supported within the Playstation 3 version. But if you really care then it shouldn't be a big deal, ya wimps.
Fans that have been waiting for Fallout 3, of either the Oblivion camp or Fallout's, will be happy with this one. To go back on my initial word of how to go about describing a game, it's like Fallout spent a few days at Bethesda's house but left so much of its crap over there that fans of either series would be fooled into thinking they were being serviced equally. It obviously leans more towards the Fallout series, and in convening with a few hardcore fans it is a lot like the past games in setting and atmosphere as well. For the uninitiated, however, it may or may not be a tough sell. I'd recommend that if you're simply curious that you rent Fallout 3 before making a full-on commitment, because it's going to ask for a big chunk of your life if you do-- and if you jump in but don't dig it then you'll be disappointed in a big way. And no, you can't kill kids.