By Lewis Denby,
fresh out of Vault 101.
do you predict a classic? ‘Citizen Kane’ struggled to
make any waves in the ‘40s, and Francis Ford Coppolla was
reluctant to accept a job on ‘The Godfather’,
envisioning no way to turn it into the groundbreaking
picture he wished to direct. Did those who saw the works of
William Shakespeare in the 15th Century expect
schoolchildren around the globe to be studying their
Away from the higher arts, few would have expected Fallout to have such an enormous impact on the gaming radar.
Released in 1997 among an assortment of big-name
action titles, it sparked a fair bit of interest in the
gaming press, but was ultimately overshadowed by
higher-profile releases at the time.
Still, over a decade later, the third instalment has
become one of the most hotly anticipated role-playing titles
in recent years, the franchise having gained an admirably
dedicated following that still stands just as strong after
all these years. Expectations
are high. We’re
due a modern classic.
difficult to tell whether Fallout 3 will be this game
– such accolades require hindsight to be fully
justifiable. What’s an absolute
certainty is that Bethesda’s take on the Washington
wastelands feels fresh, exciting and captivating beyond any
similar title I’ve played in a long time. Indeed,
whether or not it pokes its head up above some of its
groundbreaking ancestors seems oddly irrelevant.
It’s distinctly a game of our times and, judged in
that respect alone, it’s near-unparalleled.
Playing Fallout 3 feels like a
real treat – the sort of game we’ve been owed for a
deeply intriguing and richly rewarding, tense and
atmospheric, and – like so many titles these days – just
a little too short. It’s
all relative, of course – there’s more to do in Fallout
3 than in 90 per cent of modern releases – but with a
main quest taking only a few hours to complete, it does feel
a little on the pokey side when running from start to
But those familiar with Bethesda’s previous work (and,
let’s face it, even if the name Daggerfall
means nothing to you, it would have been hard to miss Oblivion)
will realise that this isn’t the way its games are meant
to be played. Deviating
from the pull of the primary narrative makes for a
fascinating experience, and the wealth of options to choose
from is truly commendable.
game of our times..."
With that in mind, a warning.
There will be times, particularly later on in the
main quest, when characters do their absolute best to rush
you along into the game’s finale.
Once you’re there, there’s no way back and,
unlike in Bethesda’s previous work, ‘finishing’ the
game drops you back to the main menu.
The ending comes without much warning, and I found
myself standing before the final sequence without fully
intending to. Take
your time with Fallout
3, keep a number of regularly-updated save files, and
you’ll be able to avoid this disappointment.
Comparisons with Oblivion
are inevitable and understandable, given the scale and
sandbox nature of the game, but aside from the obvious
it’s not a parallel I found myself drawing.
In fact, the standout aspect of Fallout
3 for me was the outstanding scope for experimental
approaches, putting it more in line with something like Deus
quests have only one method of completion, but most sections
of the game can be tackled in a wide variety of ways,
depending on how you’ve tuned your character.
It’s not that there are ‘different routes around
levels’ – there are at times, but that’s not the
thrill here is born of the realisation that there are so
many distinct ways to behave in order to advance in the
game. A typical
(though actually nonexistent) quest may involve exploring a
ramshackle settlement for a clue or vital piece of
there’s an overly suspicious guard at the gates.
To gain his trust, you're asked to bring him a
valuable item from the dangerous outlands.
Quiz him more and he may suggest that handing him a
bit of money might cause him to wander off for a while.
Have a scout around and you may find another guard,
who you build up a rapport with before he goes and puts in a
good word for you. Threaten
them both and they may back down; or they may get angrier.
If you really can’t be bothered, you can just shoot
them both in the spine.
And that’s before you even get in.
You’ll know about the much-touted decision early on that
allows you to completely obliterate an entire town if you so
might be bored of hearing about this by now, but in truth,
there’s no better microcosm of the whole game.
Save, destroy, or anything in between.
The freedom is almost immeasurable.
them both in the spine..."
This freedom plays out in a delectably atmospheric
Washington DC, 200 years after the nuclear war that all but
destroyed the planet. It
exists in a parallel timeline where the aftermath of World
War 2 led to designer conservatism, with early 50s culture
idealised and maintained, while technology was allowed to
advance at an alarming rate (except for the 1980s computer
terminals, seemingly). When
the nuclear war came, the lucky were housed in vast
underground bunkers – the Vaults – to avoid the
radioactive fallout. For
some reason, the Vault you were born in never re-opened, and
its inhabitants seem worryingly cagey about the outside
After spending much of your childhood designing your
character in an inspired series of ‘rites of passage’,
all hell breaks loose in Vault 101.
Your father is missing, your friend is dead, and
you’re forced to flee for your own life.
A far cry from the lush safety of Oblivion’s
greenery, you discover topside to be desolate, decayed and
littered with the dangerous aftermath of intense conflict.
It paints a lonely picture, and an ambiance that rarely lets
up throughout. Few
games manage to capture such a marvellous sense of place,
but Fallout 3 does
so with real aplomb. It’s
achieved through a very deliberate combination of
audiovisual techniques: primarily, the radio stations play
chirpy announcements and upbeat ‘50s music, while the
scene around you firmly establishes a bleak tragedy of a
planet. The art
direction is superb and surprisingly varied considering the
limited palate Bethesda had to work with.
Miles of deserted sand and dust have never looked so
fascinating, and some of the spooky interiors overflow with
It all amounts to Fallout
3’s main aims: atmosphere and immersion.
On the whole, it succeeds so remarkably well that,
when you’re snapped out of your trance on a few occasions,
it becomes all the more frustrating.
Mainly, we’re talking about bugs here.
There are a couple of dialogue issues, but largely
the script and acting are perfectly adequate.
It is slightly silly, though, that it’s possible to
skip entire quests by simply turning up at a later location
in the game. If
you’re creating a large, open-plan world that
encourages heavy exploration, you need to make sure the plot
functions tightly and efficiently within this world.
At times, Fallout’s doesn’t, which can create severe problems.
With this in mind, stay away from Rivet City until
someone specifically tells you to go there.
There's a gaping plot hole as well, which some won't experience
but a fair few will. Without spoiling anything,
there's a chance - based on an earlier decision - that
you'll find yourself
scratching your head as to why a plainly obvious approach to
the finale isn't possible. This actually scratched a
fairly big mark in my opinion of Fallout 3 at the
time, and with it being literally right at the end, it could
leave a lasting impression for some.
There are also a couple of nasty physics niggles, including
enemies that get stuck
on scenery and occasionally keep twitching long after death. One
time, a previously static corpse catapulted itself into the
stratosphere when I walked over it, though I found this far
more entertaining than I probably should have.
These are all known problems with the Oblivion
engine, and issues that affected that game equally.
It’s a perplexing shame that they’ve not been
fixed in the meantime.
But when the rest is this good, it’s difficult to stay mad
for long. Some
will moan about the difference in tone from the previous
games, or the heavier emphasis on combat.
3 with Black Isle’s titles is a little futile, though.
It reeks of nostalgic arrogance to expect a modern
developer to create a title in line with decade-old
expectations, and anything less than a dramatic shift of
approach would have undoubtedly alienated the rest of its
target audience. For
what it’s worth, Bethesda has captured the feel of the
original games exceptionally well, albeit without much of
the offbeat humour adored by many.
And, as a next-generation title, it absolutely excels in all
the right places. It’s
deep, involving, captivating and creative, with simple
mechanics utilised to staggeringly diverse effect.
This sort of game doesn’t come around very often at
all. When it
does, the only sensible reaction is to soak it up, then
shower it with praise – and that, thank you very much, is
exactly what I’ll do.
FORMAT: PC (reviewed) / XBox360 / PS3
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