Expectations for FallOut 3 are, to say the least, riding high. Having already won numerous awards for “Game of the Show” and “Game of the Year”, to say that most have already judged Bethesda Softworks’ latest would be to put it mildly. Utilising the same game engine as The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, having appeared at a succession of trade shows in a highly respectable form and looking gorgeous at every possible opportunity, most would be forgiven for sitting back in astonishment before having even played the game. But, as most Hardcore Gamers should be well aware by now, promises are one thing, delivering on them is entirely another.
FallOut 3 is a Free-Roaming Role-Playing Game, First-Person by default; though a poorly animated third-person option is available. Unlike Alone in the Dark, regular transition between the two isn’t required, or indeed, expected. The player begins life in an underground bunker, known as Vault 101, playing through the early stages of their life and introducing several important characters. Before this brief Tutorial ends, the player has already made numerous decisions which could drastically alter the path of their FallOut 3 career.
Once the player exits Vault 101, the entire Map is free for the player to explore. Most players will find themselves funnelled along a predetermined path without realising it on their first play, only finding an alternative when consciously breaking the set-piece. This in itself is the beauty of FallOut 3’s gameplay. While maintaining many traditional videogame conventions, such as a Levelling structure and Equipment System that will immediately be familiar to fans of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the game presents many under a thick layer of well conceived narrative and dialogue, anchoring every aspect believably to the game’s post-apocalyptic world.
At times, the lines between Quests that are aiding the fight for your cause and those which are superfluous become blurred. Adding to the immersive nature of the world in which, as with most videogames, the side-Quests do inevitably help with you main adventure, the player is required to judge which venture to embark upon next, or how to deal with it; often resulting in jumping ahead a little – without missing any vital storyline details. It is for this reason that several playthroughs of FallOut 3 can invite very different experiences. And not just in that of how your character plays as with The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, or how the world reacts to you as with the balancing act that is Fable II, but actually with the gameplay on offer, and unfurling of the twisting tale.
Though Fallout 3’s Quests provide a wealth of opportunities, the options for procrastination seem somewhat limited compared to the likes of Fable II and Saints Row 2. The rewards are certainly far fewer than in most games, and, perhaps representative of its world, each demand a great deal of struggle. Fallout 3 is a game about perseverance under harsh constraints; both within its narrative and its demands of the player. Supplies are often short and landscapes empty and limitlessly grey. The atmosphere of loneliness and social depression is thick and incredibly well maintained throughout: FallOut 3 is a world that been loving constructed with a painstaking attention to detail. Each city is populated with a knowing Artificial Intelligence and the almost linear early wasteland romps have the largest variety of beautifully grey creations in the history of videogames. The scope of the vision is breathtaking, though, unlike The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, it may not be as welcoming to newcomers.
The title’s combat has been cleverly devised, but will confuse many at first. The VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) is used to supplement the player’s own aim, limited by the Action Point Meter. Slowly recharging over time (or more rapidly with the correct item), the Meter limits the system to the effect of a special move. When the target has been selected from the options available on the specified opponent(s), the game initiates a series of slow-motions scenes depicting your shots and their accuracy, and allowing for some particularly gruesome fatalities.
Bethesda Softworks have once again raised the bar for real-time animation. Though Mass Effect truly looks fantastic, the last year has seen advances that have all but been ignored due to the hardened faith the industry now seems to have in the law of diminishing returns. An aesthetic and aural treat, FallOut 3 is one of the most technically competent titles to have been released this year.
Thankfully, it appears as though FallOut 3 does deliver on most of its promises. A Too Human style culling of a few features that were once thought to play an integral part may blindside a handful of players, but most will have acknowledged the difference between fact and PR bumf far before playing the game. Possibly the easiest recommendation for the Hardcore Gamer yet on the Current-Generation, FallOut 3 is big enough to sustain interest between games for those with limited funds, angry and violent enough to please the First-Person Shooter crowd and with a deep plot ready to motivate even the most hardened Role-Playing Game devotee. Bethesda Softworks have created a title that will not only be considered one of the best of the year, but probably, one of the best of this Current-Generation.