Game Reviews: Fallout 3
Oblivion with guns? Well, yes and no. Whilst it is very obvious that both games are from Bethesda, Fallout 3 entertained and engaged me much more than Oblivion. It shares many of the flaws that Oblivion had, but alleviates many of the issues that caused me to give on the fantasy game around the ten hour mark.
The combat was one of the primary reasons that Fallout 3 succeeds where Oblivion failed. Although some have criticized the combination of the VATS system with the traditional FPS, personally I feel its integration is one of the most crucial improvements in the engine. Tactically combining the use of these two techniques in intense shoot-outs is far more satisfying than the slashing and magic hurling of Oblivion. I’m aware that essentially there is no difference between the firing of a gun and the hurling of a fireball, but despite that the combat in Fallout 3 feels significantly more satisfying. Despite the frequency of its occurrence, I still don’t tire of the sight of a Super Mutant’s head exploding. Whilst it is gratuitous and slightly sickening, at least it adds an impact to the combat and it certainly makes the combat more involving than its fantasy counterpart. The HUD system also has a lot to do with my appreciation of the combat in Fallout. One of my reasons I struggled in Oblivion was there was no health indicator for an opponent, thus when I fought an opponent and died I never knew if the person was too powerful for me to defeat at that stage, or if I had simply made poor tactical decisions. As a result I would get frustrated through repeated engaging an enemy in order to determine if I could win through alternative tactics. In Fallout a lot more information is available including not only the health of the enemy but in VATS the potential damage your next attack will cause is also displayed.
The ‘Pip Boy’ is a device strapped to your wrist that serves as your information interface giving you all the information you need such as quest notes, item menus and your current status. Whilst the Oblivion inventory screens felt a little clumsy and unwieldy on the consoles, the Pip Boy is far more user friendly, and more importantly simple and streamlined. It suits the setting perfectly and thus provides a way to give information, and the HUD display, to the player in a way which doesn’t feel incongruous or contrived. As for the setting itself, the ruins of Washington D.C. following a nuclear war, it is a matter of personal preference. I found it to be more interesting than the well executed but somewhat bland, generic fantasy setting of Oblivion. As well as the improvements in the interface, the setting also adds a dark and twisted sense of humor which was more appealing than serious fantasy.
The aftermath of a nuclear attack obviously provides a lot of potentially interesting scenarios and moral decisions. Thus the karma system in the game, whether you are playing as a ‘good guy’ or a ‘bad guy’, feels very substantial. There are often multiple outcomes to each quest that have ramifications as to your rewards, but more importantly do provide some real dilemmas. I won’t spoil any of these missions, but the Tranquility Lane scenario caused me some distress. The game compliments these heavy moral decisions with a wicked sense of humor. The characters in the Fallout universe are far more varied than the wasteland backdrop, and it is genuinely interesting to visit a new town and see the new insanity that surrounds you. Whether you stumble across two costumed superheroes battling in a small town, or stumble across the cloning lab full of identical inhabitants all called Gary, it really is an environment worth exploring, if only to see what fresh madness the next location will present. By the way, the Gary clones can only say their own name, but still have a full range of vocal emotions; hearing one shout ‘Gaaarrrrryyy’ in a mournful manner is one of the most hilarious things I have encountered in any game.
But after all this high praise there are still a number of issues that I found irritating. It may be due to the vast scope of the game, but Fallout 3 is unacceptably buggy for a console game. The frame rate sometimes drops significantly and the game has frozen on me numerous times. I have also been unable to finish missions due to a door that suddenly becomes permanently locked or a vital character that disappears. It doesn’t ruin the game but it certainly hurts the experience. And for PS3 owners, if you finish the main game you are unable to continue, so I hope you have plenty of back-up saves if you want to continue questing after the main story.
Technical issues aside, the level cap is way too low. Unless you are very focused on completing the game you will have maxed out at level 20 before you finish the main story, which somewhat takes the enjoyment out of combat. The looting system makes sense due to the setting, but the actual grind of searching every object, picking out the valuable ones until you are over-encumbered, returning to town to sell off goods you don’t need, then repeating ad-nauseam is needlessly tedious. If they had just included fewer worthless object or increased the weight that the character could carry it might improve the situation, but leaving a dungeon halfway through completion to unburden your character is an irritation that could have been avoided.
I was genuinely shocked at how much I enjoyed Fallout 3, although this may have been due to my low expectations for the game. Whilst I knew that the game had won widespread critical acclaim and multiple ‘Best Game of 2008’ awards, my trepidation was due to my lukewarm reaction to Oblivion. This game is Oblivion with guns, but at the same time it is so much more than that. Better combat, a sleeker interface, darker humor, moral decisions that have a real impact, and a liberal sprinkling of madness make it far superior to the game which shares so much of its DNA. It’s a shame that with its buggy nature it can’t entirely shed the shadow of its past.