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Preview of Fallout 3

I emerge from the gloom of a dark nuclear bunker into dazzling sunlight which blinds me temporarily. Slowly, the world emerges from the glare and the impact is staggering. Stretching out as far as the eye can see in all directions lays a bleached, irradiated wasteland populated by ruins and bomb craters. This was my introduction to Fallout 3 and the game couldn’t have created a better atmosphere.

After acquiring the rights to the game, Bethesda seems to be taking the series in a new direction, while very much retaining the feel of the original. The classic top down view has been replaced with either first or third person perspectives which can changed in game at the press of a button. This feels fresh and paints the vision of a bleak future in a new and more authentic manner.
You create your character, a resident of nuclear bunker "Vault 101" and set out to investigate your father’s disappearance. While this forms the main storyline of the game, lasting between 20 to 30 hours, there will be a large number of side quests that can be performed for various factions, such as the noble Brotherhood of Steel, the remainders of the US government known as The Enclave, or other groups such as the Raiders or the Super Mutants. This level of variety will add an extra 100 hours of gameplay if the player chooses to complete them. Bethesda appears to be keeping to their ethos by offering an unprecedented level of variety and choice.

The freedom found is reminiscent of Oblivion, which is an easy but far too simplistic comparison to make. Fallout 3 offers so much more and Bethesda have gained experience and taken heed of feedback from their previous title. The game doesn’t feature an enemy levelling up system but instead presents the player with a variety of opponents from the very beginning, some easy and some virtually unbeatable at a low level. This seems promising as it reduces the impression that the world revolves around your character and instead places you in the environment. Tackling the bigger opponent’s nets you more experience points towards levelling up, as does increasing the difficulty setting. Thankfully the game features an excellent management tool to provide an overview of your character in the form of the Pip-Boy 3000.
This marvellous tool gives details on everything you could ever need to know, from the weapons and items you are carrying to the level of radiation that you have absorbed. It also manages your perks and stats which are awarded with each level gained. With a level cap of 20, there are plenty of options to tailor your character to your own style and the perks themselves are intelligently designed. These include the jet black humour found in the series and choosing from the excellent range is difficult. The "Bloody Mess" trait caught my eye in particular, which increases the chance of reducing your opponents to a pile of dismembered limbs and bloody entrails.The variety on offer is expansive, and improving your character is satisfying and challenging. In my play test, seeing the experience point’s increase already had me planning ahead and developing my own style to tackle problems almost subconsciously. It’s this immersion in the game world Bethesda seem to create effortlessly through carefully crafted environments you can’t help but explore.

The environment itself is impressive, ranging from small deserted hamlets to enclosed post-apocalypse communities, who all have a use for your unique talents. The wasteland itself is hauntingly desolate and brings to mind classic apocalypse fiction as a key source of inspiration. The authenticity of the 1950s era is also rather chilling and offers a sense of familiarity which taps into the sense of isolationist horror.
The game’s opponents you face help to reinforce this, with many of them mutated almost beyond recognition. Hideous bloated flying creatures, gun wielding abominations and radiation spewing monstrosities all attempt to tear you limb from limb. The design is excellent and only serves to make this horrific vision of the future all the more plausible by taking sci-fi conventions and subtly altering them.

In order to fight off these mutants you have the option to either use real time first person or to use VATS (Vault Assisted Targeting System). VATS essentially pauses the action, allowing you to assess a situation and then use a quota of action points to perform attacks on your enemies. Enemies’ individual body parts can be targeted to disable them and make subsequent attacks easier. The system is very smooth, simple and looks excellent.

After your actions have been selected they are replayed in a cinematic style slow-motion scene which shows the aftermath. The Fallout series has had a reputation for violence and this game is no exception. Taking a brutally realistic approach, your attacks have shocking consequences. Limbs are torn off by gun fire, bodies turn to ash and heads are literally disintegrated under sustained attack. While this inevitably will be controversial, any less would undo the game’s unflinching and uncompromising nature as it helps to paint a bleak vision of the future. Fallout is undoubtedly an adult gaming experience.

In my short time with Fallout 3, I only scratched the surface of a game with meticulous attention to detail and design. This is a game which places so much emphasis on decision making that there are over 500 endings based on a plethora of player choices. Your character feels believable, real, human. Even down to the imperfections such as becoming addicted to medication or alcohol with their own associated withdrawal symptoms just feels right. Lock picking using a pin and screwdriver, sneaking through a Raider encampment or bartering with a weary trader all combine to make Fallout 3 a very promising game. With a release date of October 31st I am going to prepare by stockpiling canned goods in my garage and starting to convert my basement into a blast shelter.
Bring on the end of the world.

evilgiraffeman | 12th October, 2008

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