Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Fallout 3

To kick things off, I'll start with a quick review of Fallout 3 for the PC.

Yes, this uses the same engine as Oblivion, but this is not Elder Scrolls with Guns. This is also not the Fallout you remember. We now know what it isn't, but what about what it is?

This is a deep, engaging RPG with some shooter elements. Since you can switch between first and third person (I encourage you to spend some time in 3rd person view just to see the great detail that goes into your character model). This is the first game since Deus Ex that I feel really allows you to play how you want to play. Talking your way out of most situations, stealth killer who only attacks from the shadows, stand-up brawler who puts your fist in someone's face, or shooting them before they even can see you. No matter your play style, you'll find accommodation in this game.

Combat also has depth to it. Excellent twitch-shooters will appreciate the ability to shoot at a distance, and the responsive controls, although the reduced accuracy until your skill is raised up a bit. Those who prefer combat to be more methodical can rely on VATS (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System). The VATS takes your distance from enemy, and obstacles in the way, your skill with the weapon, and other factors and calculates a percentage chance to hit different body parts, as well as probable damage dealt. Some enemies even have specific spots on them that if destroyed, give different penalties such as becoming frenzied.

Graphics in the game look good close up, and don't require extreme amounts of hardware to achieve, but at the cost of the pop-in distance becoming a little distracting at times. NPCs that you meet will actually look different, and you'll be able to differentiate them at a distance if you learn who's who. You'll also need to rely on the light shed by your pip-boy in order to see in dark areas, and the game is actually able to project a creepy atmosphere which can really make you fear for your life. 

Sound is another high point. Despite being a wasteland, there are still lone insects chirping, objects make noise when kicked around or dropped, you have a radio available to listen to (as well as various radios tuned in as you explore). If you listen closely, you can hear enemies before you see them in close areas, and the intelligent characters will even talk to each other on occassion. 

For the main story, it's engaging enough, though if you're an explorer, you might end up skipping large chunks by accidentally poking your nose into the wrong place. To me, though, where the game really shines is in the side quests. Almost every quest can be completed in multiple ways. Good, neutral, or bad. And you're not locked in to playing any one way. No matter what, you can always pull it around. It also isn't just the cheezy "Please help us, you're our only hope" attempts to sway you to good, and the "I'll pay you lots of money" to be evil. People who need help make actual cases for helping them. If you're the type to look out for other people, you'll find plenty who are in a tough spot. If you want to look out for #1, then you'll find others with a similar mindset who are more than happy to enlist your services in their goals. I really applaud Bethesda for getting excellent voice actors and a solid script. Too few games realize just how important those things are in an RPG.

Now, there are a few places where the game falls down. The quest tracker is frustratingly vauge on the steps at some points in quests, and you might need to take a few notes by hand, just in case. There are a few random crash bugs, as well as reports of the game crashing when entering VATS on some systems. It can be very difficult to see some enemies even while they're in the open and attacking you. Leveling isn't very transparent. Yes, lockpicking, science, and barter are fairly straightforward skills, but what about small guns, stealth, speech, or medical? Just what amount of bonus are you getting for your point investment? And while the sound is good, it doesn't make a distinction about height. An enemy might be a level above or below, but it will sound like it is right beside you.

Save for those faults though, this is still an excellent game and I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, eye-candy graphics, or good combat. Fallout 3 has a very good chance at being in my top 5 games of 2008, and you should get it for whatever system you have available.

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