BY ELIOT HAGEN
It’s been a little over a decade since we first popped “Fallout 2,” one of the greatest role-playing games of all time, into our CD drives and once again enjoyed several hundred hours in post-apocalyptic USA, so the newest installment had to meet some incredibly high expectations. When Bethesda Softworks, makers of the critically acclaimed “Elder Scrolls” series, acquired the rights to “Fallout 3,” the gaming community was poised in anticipation.
As a lover of the original games and one whose life was swallowed up by the incredibly immersive “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” I was confident that “Fallout 3” would satisfy and even exceed my expectations. Fortunately, I was right.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Fallout series, it takes place after the two-hour Great War (World War III) that occurred on October 23rd, 2077. On that day, the superpowers attacked each other, resulting in a nuclear holocaust that all but destroyed the Earth. The 1950s style seen in the games stems from the ‘World of Tomorrow’ aesthetic, with the 2077 world be built as people in the 1950’s would have predicted it. This unique timeframe presents us with a world that is unmistakably ours, yet strangely foreign. As for the direct timeline, “Fallout 3” takes place in 2277, 30 years after the events of “Fallout 2.”
The game begins with your character being born in Vault 101, and through a series of brief vignettes taking place at different times in your life, you gradually build your character by distributing points between your attributes and allocating skill points while being coached in the basic gameplay elements. The real game begins once you leave the Vault at age 19.
Ron Perlman returns as the voice of the narrator, beginning the game with the immortal line, “War…war never changes…“ and, in addition to Liam Neeson as your Father, Malcolm McDowell lends his talents as the voice of the President. Harold the Mutant plays a part in the storyline once again, and you’ll also come across Dogmeat, presumed to be the descendant of the original canine companion found in “Fallout 1.” There are, however, far fewer pop culture references than in “Fallout 2,” though this does little to detract from the gaming experience.
“Fallout 3” is unlike any game you’ve ever played, reviving the original series with splendid form and fusing it with gameplay aspects seen in “Oblivion.” However, it’s not simply ‘Oblivion with guns’ as so many cynics and skeptics have labeled it. Neither is it a first-person shooter. It is role-playing at its finest and purest. The perspective is the only thing that might make one think that it’s an first-person shooter.
In addition to the real-time combat option, veterans of the series will prefer the strategic turn-based option known as the ‘Vault Assisted Targeting System,’ or ‘V.A.T.S.’ This, as in the originals, uses Action Points to queue up actions and allows the player to target specific body parts.
This is where some fundamental differences come out. In the original games, you needed Action Points to move or to access your inventory. This made the combat slow and procedural. In “Fallout 3,” however, you only expend action points when you go into V.A.T.S. In addition to allowing you to target the head or the limbs to either deal major damage or cripple your opponent, each time you use V.A.T.S. the game switches to a dynamic camera that moves around cinematically and organically so that no animation is the same. Trust me—it never gets old.
Another major aspect of the game is the choice and karma system, which is just as dynamic as in previous titles. The choices you make determine the storyline, your reputation, the reactions of those around you, the dialogue, the quests you can take, and the prices in stores. Unlike some other games that only give the illusion of choice or divide choice into terms of black and white, “Fallout 3,” and, in fact, the entire series thrives on making it so the entire course of the game can be changed by the slightest action.
“Fallout 3” is an example of how games should be made. With hundreds of hours of sterling gameplay, a massive game world with varied environments that never get repetitive, a changing storyline with multiple endings, and a well-written script, you can’t go wrong. There’s the occasional graphical glitch, yes, but they only seem like major issues because everything else in the game shines in excellence. As for the addictive nature of it…be prepared to free up plenty of time and lose a few hours of sleep if you start playing this.