Tuesday, October 28, 2008
"Fallout 3" offers deep gameplay, GOTY experience
What do you get when you combine "Mass Effect," "Fable," "Oblivion," "Bioshock" and "Call of Duty?" Here's a hint - you get one killer game.
Bethesda Softworks, known for the award-winning game series "Elder Scrolls," stepped up to the plate with a very difficult task. They had an opportunity to stray from the "Scrolls" path with "Fallout 3," an apocalyptic RPG that takes place years after nuclear war devastates the United States. Despite the daunting task, Bethesda has delivered an effort that is truly worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as "Oblivion."
Available on the Sony PS3, the Microsoft Xbox 360 and PCs, "Fallout 3" starts out with your birth after nuclear war. Several people, in an effort to preserve their way of life and existence, retreated to Vaults, an underground system of tunnels and living areas. Your parents delivered you in one of the Vaults - and you stay until you hit 19. During the beginning of the game, you hear from several Vault residents about the horrors of venturing outside of the Vault. From the way they talk about life outside of the Vault, you'd think it is certain death when you leave.
The customization in "Fallout 3" is unreal. You can choose your sex, race, your facial features and your name as an infant. Unfortunately, your dad doesn't say your name (Maybe Mad Skillz is too difficult to pronounce) but he does offer some wisdom early on. Your first real task is to walk to him. You learn how to jump, pick up items and unlock doors, gates.
After you finish your first assignment, things fast forward to your 10th birthday. You meet the Overseer, the head honcho in the Vault, his daughter and several other residents. You also meet your first enemy - this older boy and his gang. You can be nice and ignore his comments, or be like me - confrontational.
This is one of the few times where I was disappointed. The three boys surround your character and if you choose, you can escalate the situation and fight. However, there is no tutorial on how to fight - I got clobbered. You have to use your L-R triggers to throw your fists/fire your weapon. Having your father teach you basic hand-to-hand combat would have been a very nice (and needed) tutorial.
Following your party, you head to meet Jonas, one of your father's co-workers. You receive your first weapon - a BB gun. You enter a tutorial on how to fire it. There is a semi-targeting system - you activate it by pressing the R bumper on your controller. It will lock in on the targets and allow you to shift where you want to aim. There is a zoom feature that allows you to zoom in, but don't expect it to be very useful. Deeper in the game, if you target an enemy unaware to your presence, you can hit them with a quick-death blow. You access the target lock feature with the R bumper.
After finishing your weapons training, you pose with your dad to take a picture of the moment. Then, you are teleported six years to age 16. You are on your way to take the GOAT - it's a test that will determine what your job will be. You can also elect to help the Overseer's daughter out, who is cornered by the bully from your party and his crew. Of course, I clobbered the entire game and earned some respect from her. I didn't initially - I decided to wimp out and she cussed me out.
When you finish the test - don't worry, it's multiple choice and you can't fail - you are teleported again, this time to age 19. Without giving away too much of the plot, you are *forced* to leave the Vault - or die trying.
After leaving the Vault, depending on how much experience you have earned in your escape, you will likely level up. There are tons and tons of options at this point. You will be able to use your experience points to enhance S.P.E.C.I.A.L. - a type of body skill enhancer (not like Viagra!). You can choose from upgrades like Strength, Endurance, Intelligence and Charisma - and each will definitely aid you in your journey.
You can also upgrade your interaction skills - like Barter, Big Guns, Medicine, Repair, Sneak and Speech.
When you reach Level 2, you can add Perks to your character. Perks will allow you to add points to one specialty - for instance, I added the Lady Killer perk to my character. It allows my character to do +10 damage against female opponents. However - and this is why I added it - outside of combat, my character can access unique dialogue with the opposite sex. Every two levels, you are allowed to add additional Perks.
If you are familiar with "Elder Scrolls," you know the dialogue is awesome. "Fallout 3" keeps the trend going. You can interact with most NPCs, unless they are attacking you ("Hay, bud, lay off!"). The dialogue is pretty engaging most times - but falls short if you miss the question you want to ask. I decided to ask people about my missing father - but didn't want to come off as a whiner. When I tried to ask a guy about my dad, he said 'I am not supposed to talk about it.' It would have a good move for me to just ask him to start off with.
The second gripe I have about "Fallout 3" is the streaming map. Oh, I love the fact I can run across the huge sandbox with an ounce of load times. That's not my problem. I can even look past the load times in certain areas. It's amazing to be able to walk/run long distances and watch the 360 keep up seamlessly. What I have problem with is - the constant disc spinning. I have a brand-new Xbox 360 Arcade (with my old HD) and the 360 sounded like it was a Southwest Flight 1703 out of Hobby on the runway, waiting for clearance to take off. I love the streaming areas but the noise dampened the experience.
If you are looking for repeated areas like in "Mass Effect," look elsewhere. The scope of the landscape is breathtaking. As much as I loved "Mass Effect," the repeated environments made me think the developers got lazy and wanted to just finish the game. In "Fallout 3," it shows me the devs were creative from end to end.
The graphics are good - the facial expressions, the elements, loading screens are sweet. Though it is futuristic in feel, the 50s-style elements - from the burned-out shells of ranch homes, to the antique cars and the Vault boy logos - reminds me of "Bioshock." It really amazes me watching the helpful loading screens. If you love "Nick at Nite," you will feel right at home.
The sounds are impressive. You can hear the growls of feral dogs far off. You can hear the screams from random Raiders coming to end you. I really think the soundtrack is impressive.
The gameplay is good - if you have logged tons of time in "Oblivion," you have nothing to worry about. To keep track of your items (and yes, you can buy/sell items and even build customized weapons), you have a management tool called a Pip Boy. It allows you to teleport to locations, keep track of your items, your health (more on this later) and even allows you to target areas and map them with a GPS-like feature.
You won't be bored as you roam the Wasteland. You will be bombarded with tons of side quests. You can brush people off over their offers, but they aren't going to be wandering off. They will sit back and wait for you to make up your mind. Some of the side quests are absolutely nuts - and some quests can drastically alter the story. You get jumped on by a Raider - you kill him/her and the body stays throughout the game.
You have several weapons to choose from - ranging from lead pipes to weapons that can fire - no joke - ashtrays and teddy bears. Imagine getting OWN3D by a Cabbage Patch Doll.
You can also use several items to remain well. If you get radiation sickness or addicted to drugs (I am not making this up), you can consult your local healthcare professional to get you back in the game. Hungry? You can harvest the meat from a variety of animals you kill. Be forewarned - if you consume animals, they will raise your RAD levels. You can also use drugs to raise your health levels, increase your reaction times and the like. However, use with caution. If you use them enough, you will be addicted. You can fight it, but the withdrawals will make your character go nuts. A definite and unexpected dose of realism (as I eye my can of Red Balls - it gives you wangs!) that made my day.
Controls in the game rock when you are in first-person mode. However, the game goes rogue when you are in third-person. It's horrible. Your character may walk in one direction, but when you make a quick turn, you'll swear you are watching Michael Jackson's "Moon Walker" video. Thanks but no thanks to third-person mode in "Fallout 3."
Despite the warts, "Fallout 3" is a solid game that will suck you in and keep you for hours on end. If you enjoy RPGs with a hint of FPS, this game rocks. It's such an amazing game that does so many things right - and really shines and stands out as one of the best games I have played this year (I still <3 "Grand Theft Auto") out there. I think this game will consume several lives this holiday season - and since its available on the PS3 and 360, most gamers can explore the Wastelands on the console of their choice (Sorry, Wii).
I highly recommend taking "Fallout 3" for a spin. Block off some time to play this - and don't expect to pick it up, play it for a few minutes and drop it. No, sir. It will arrest your attention and keep you coming back for more.
The skinny: Futuristic RPG that offers elements of great FPS, has tons of customizations and streaming landscapes.
The good: Large scope, great gameplay, awesome dialogue and so much to do, you'd be hard-pressed to get bored. There's something for RPG fans and FPS fans too.
The bad: Third-person controls, loud disc spinning, all sorts of tutorials, but no basic fight tutorial.
The verdict? 9.7 (out of 10) - There is no doubt in my mind that this game is one of the worthy contenders of Game of the Year. Despite shortcomings, this game really shines. I definitely love the ability to get in with guns blazing on enemies, or sneak around ala Solid Snake or Splinter Cell. I do think this game was well worth the wait, and could easily be the best game of 2008. I look forward to my journey all over the Wasteland.