Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition User Review
Fallout 3 places you in the shoes of a young man who awakes one morning to find his father missing from the Vault in which they have lived for their entire lives. Before you even get to this point, you are asked to choose your appearance, set up your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, Luck) and tag three skills from a selection of twenty. After the short tutorial introducing you to the controls, you embark upon your first mission, which is to follow the footsteps of your father and escape from the oppressive Vault. While in many games, this would be to allow you a glimpse at what is to come, it is not so with Fallout 3. The first mission is little more than a continuation of the tutorial. Once you step out of the Vault, the world is revealed and looking out at the destroyed bridge somewhere off in the distance, as well as all the small details between you and it, your breath will catch in your throat. From that initial point, the main quest will have you tramping over the entire map and discovering dozens of locations between where you are trying to get to. Add to that the dozens of side missions and you realise that there are hundreds of locations.
Unfortunately, the scale of this game works as a double-edged sword. Because the world map is so large with so many points of interest, and because of the limitations of the space available on a DVD, the graphical quality of the game is really quite appalling. It is painfully obvious that Bethesda Softworks has gone to great lengths to create a beautiful (in a sort of destroyed mess kind of way) world and, to an extent, they have succeeded. While the Scarlett Johansson of video games this is not, it exudes an almost singular charm in the way it blends realistic backgrounds and character models with cartoon violence as people and creatures often explode in a glorious shower of blood, gore and eyeballs after being shot. Combine this with the plastic character aesthetic usually reserved for games built using the Unreal Engine and it creates a rather comical mix. It should be mentioned that Fallout 3 features an extremely limited colour palette, made up primarily by browns, greys and dull greens. Also, there appears to be a sort of filter applied to the game which results in blurring and the colours fading into each other slightly. It’s a nice effect, but a little odd. Of course, it could just be my TV, but I’m putting it out there anyway. In short, the atmosphere of the game is what will keep you coming back rather than the fidelity of the graphics.
The world, in general, is dead and desolate, sparsely populated by NPCs that will almost always do everything in their power to end your miserable life. The detail in the faces is actually quite good, especially on the ghoul characters, as are the many different outfits that you will find throughout your travels. The lip synching on the other hand could have done with a lot of work. It balances out though because the sheer number of dialogue options in this game are astounding, and were there to be properly detailed lips for each and every word, there would be no room on the disc for anything else. Also, the animation feels dated as I’m sure that most of them are ripped straight from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. My biggest gripe was the walking animation when using the third-person view, as it always appeared as though your character would be power walking. The similarity between the two games is not surprising, given that they were released only two years apart and built by the same team on the same engine, but it is nevertheless disappointing when you think how much more fluid it could have been made.
One of the best feelings you will have while playing this game is finding the set pieces, as they stand out from the rest of the dreary wasteland in such a remarkable way that you will smile at the beauty poking through the devastation. At least, I always smiled. It reminds me of hope. Some of these locations include: the broken remains of the Washington Monument, the wreck that was once the White House, the boat-come-Rivet City and Tenpenny Tower. Beyond this there are many others, and every time I find something new, I remind myself that my map is still barely half-done, and so there must still be many more like this. (Yes, I’m writing this being close to 35 hours into the game, but having had actually played it for much longer, the reasoning for which will be explained soon, or not.)
One of the problems that plagued my game was that textures would flicker on objects. It wasn’t exceedingly common, but it was still a bit disturbing to see a wall of windows disappear, then reappear repeatedly. Another problem is with the collision detection when using doors and fighting enemies simultaneously. Often I would find myself needing room in a confined space so I would run through a door and close it to buy a few seconds, only to have the enemy either end up stuck in the door, or walking straight through it. Again, it’s only a minor thing, but it is still annoying, and a stupid problem to be forced to face. All I can hope is that Bethesda and Obsidian Entertainment will update the Gamebryo engine to fix these problems and improve the mediocre-at-best graphics for the soon to be released follow-up Fallout: New Vegas. I know however that it is a vain hope. It had naught but the most minor revision between Oblivion and this game, so why should they bother with a game set in the same world? Anyway, yes, these flaws are annoying, and detrimental to the experience, but they are by no means game breaking.
Again, the sound effects are a mixed bag. Explosions really pop and the firing of most guns punctuates the wasteland with a satisfying crack. Most of the weapons have an individual sound, although there is still an obvious overlap in the different rifles and shotguns and the like. The minigun sets itself apart with its whirr, as does the .44 Magnum with its explosive bangs. The laser weapons, yeah, not so much. They do nothing to set themselves apart from most other lasers with a generic electronic zap. The radio stations are simply painful to listen to. You will pick up different signals on your Pip-Boy at different points on the map, but it’s a shame that there are so few and they all repeat their message ad nauseum without a break for music. After a few repetitions, it becomes tedious to listen to and so is easier to turn them off and enjoy the ambience.
That is, at least, until you find someone to talk to, or an enemy willing to growl at you. Thankfully, the creature effects are actually very good, from the roar of the Super Mutants, to the hiss of the Feral Ghouls and the various barks, grunts and hisses of the other critters you’ll encounter, it all feels fitting and suitably threatening. Tied into this is the voice acting. While it is by no means bad, it is incredibly average. Most of the NPCs have similar, or even the same voice, and none of them actually sound commanding enough to garner your instant attention. The ghouls are worse. While their rough, grainy voices are pitch-perfect for someone whose oesophagus is rotting from radiation, I swear that there is only one voice actor for each gender.
The ambient sound effects are the best of the lot, but the gentle strings as you walk aimlessly and the heavier sound of drums when you are embroiled in conflict are again derivative of what was featured in Oblivion. That is to say fitting, but boring. Utterly fantastic though. Have no doubt about that. One peculiar problem that I faced was that the sound would have occasion to drop out completely, or overlap and overpower each other. Again, it is a small stupid thing that takes away from a persons overall enjoyment of the game.
Where the game really shines though, is in the fun you can have simply through exploration. Movement, like most games, is dictated by pointing the left stick in the whichever direction you want to go, while the pressure exerted on the stick dictates your speed. The right stick controls the camera, offering you a 360 degree look around whether in first- or third-person. Incidentally, this forms one of my favourite parts of the game; the fact that you can switch between the two views with a tap of the L2 button. Third person is great for exploration (provided you can get over those mediocre animations), while the first-person view is perfect for shooting anything that crosses your path. You can also push the L3 button which puts you into sneak attack which results in you scoring a critical strike if you attack an opponent without them noticing you.
The X button is used to interact with the many different people and objects whether through talking to them, picking them up, or activating them. The Triangle is your standard jump with Square being used to draw or reload your weapon, or by holding it down, to holster your weapon. L1 is used to block when using a melee weapon, or zoom in slightly when using a ranged weapon, with R1 attacking either way. The R2 button controls V.A.T.S., which I think is probably the best thing about the entire game. Okay, it’s a glorified bullet-time controlled by accuracy and luck, but it shines in being just that. It works by pausing the action and highlighting every enemy with shooting range. You can use this to line up a series of shots to different body parts of a single enemy, or all of the enemies. The number of potential hits depends on your Action Points meter, which refills over time. Each weapon depletes the meter by a different amount, but you will usually have between two and four shots to use. When in V.A.T.S., the left stick is used to select the body parts, the right to select the target, the R1 button to confirm a shot, the circle button to withdraw a previously selected target, or exit the system, and the X button to set the action camera in motion to show you your hits (and misses) in glorious fashion. A very easy and intuitive, not to mention useful feature to have.
Finally, we come to the Pip-Boy, a remarkable little object, which works as everything from a HUD, to a weapons wheel, to a quest menu. You enter it by pressing the Circle button (holding it down turns on the light, an altogether useless item), and then navigating through the three major tabs with the R1 and L1 buttons. These are Status, Items and Quest Data. Each of these features sub-tabs which you look through using the D-Pad. As you would assume, Status refers to the health and well-being of your character, showing what effects they are suffering from, the degree of radiation poisoning, overall health and limb damage as well as your perks and skills. Items contains, what else, the myriad little junk things you have picked up in your travels. Weapons, Outfits, Ammo, Aid and Miscellaneous objects are all packed away neatly here in alphabetical order, and this is where you will spend most of your time when in the Pip-Boy, deciding on which weapon is best for the situation at hand, the best outfits for wasteland wandering or city strolling, or most importantly, making sure you don’t drop dead in the midst of combat by dosing up on Stimpaks, Water, Blood Packs or any of the meats you can procure from the beasts you kill. Finally the Quest tab holds all your information pertaining to your objectives. From telling you where next to go, to gathering your notes it is helpful. Also featured here is a local map, which you can use to check for any doorways you might have missed, and a world map through which you can fast travel to any location that you have previously been to (which is a VERY good thing).
On top of all of this, as with any RPG worth being called an RPG, there is a levelling system. You gain EXP through such means as killing critters, discovering locations, disarming mines and completing missions. Levelling up gives you an extra 10 HP and lets you choose one perk from an exhaustive list, and giving you a bunch of points which you can use to improve your individual skills.
I had no major gripes with the control scheme, or the way it as utilised, but I did have a couple of complaints, and that is that the hot-buttons, set up in the Pip-Boy and activated by tapping the D-Pad, was counter-intuitive. Or at least it seemed that way to me. The jumping I also felt was far too “floaty”, (a common complaint of LittleBigPlanet) another problem carried over from Oblivion. The third gameplay fault was that the camera is annoying. Set at the default sensitivity, traversal and movement are near perfect, but the aiming is wildly inaccurate. Reducing the sensitivity makes your chances of hitting what you’re trying to better, but makes your turning circle feel too slow. It’s just a personal thing for me, but disappointing.
All in all, the controls are well-implemented, which makes the game great, but it has some flaws that are well worth being called game-breaking. One of these is serious frame-rate issues whenever you load a new area, or when there is intense action happening on screen. Another is the frequent freezes which makes the game unplayable and the system unusable. The only way to correct this is to reset your Playstation 3, this losing any progress you have lost since your last save (or auto-save). As a result it would do well to save often. The third problem (and they always come in threes, do they not?) is unforgivably long load times in spite of an installation of almost seven gigabytes. You will often be left sitting looking at a loading screen for well over thirty seconds when fast-travelling. All of these are serious problems, and very detrimental to overall enjoyment, but with the size of Fallout 3, the ridiculous number of missions and the non-linear style, it makes it very easy to simply turn it off for a few days or weeks while you occupy your time with another game before coming back with a fresh take on it.
Now, the off-puttingly low replay score is obviously bewildering to some, but it’s quite easy for me to put it into perspective. Once you’ve completed Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition, done every mission on offer, raised yourself to level thirty, collected all the Vault-Tec Bobbleheads and talked to or murdered everyone in the game, there is no need whatsoever to come back unless you are a real trophy whore. I haven’t the slightest idea how many missions there are, but each of them is multilayered and they will often force you to travel all over the Capital Wasteland, and ‘waste’ a lot of time in the process. So yes while you will have no reason to go back, it’s unlikely that you will want to as you have in all honesty, probably logged several hundred hours, if you are dedicated enough. I’ve already written almost three thousand words, and I still feel as though I have barely scratched the surface.
Now, onto the disparity between the individual scores and the overall score. Again, there is a very simple explanation, and one that I feel is oft-overused in terms of entertainment experiences. Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition is so fantastic because it is truly greater than the sum of its parts. However, I disagree with the fact that it scored the GOTY in the face of very stiff competition from the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4, LittleBigPlanet, Dead Space and Valkyria Chronicles. Yes, the base game may have been larger than any of them, but in terms of overall quality, it simply cannot stack up. That does not mean that it is not worth your money, particularly now, six months out from the GOTY edition. It succeeds admirably in doing what a game should do, and that is offering the player a fun experience, while being punishingly hard at times. I believe that Fallout 3 is a very accessible game, although likely not advisable for children, and certainly not as an entry game, but for someone who has the time on their hands to experience what the game has to offer, it cannot be missed.
Finally, Fallout 3 is a masterpiece of design. Never have I experienced anything else that can annoy me so much with its flaws, yet keep me wanting to come back. It is inspiring that it can fail in so much, yet succeed in such a definitive fashion. But then, this is only my two cents, and why should you believe me? I’m only one bloke doing his small part to make the world a more open place.
Thankyou for your time and I hope that you found my words to be both informative and helpful. Until next time PSXE, Peace and Law be with you.
This user review does not reflect the views of the PSX Extreme Staff.