Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fallout 3 Review

Now that the holiday season has come and gone, the only thing that remains are the games to be played. The game I was most excited about was Fallout 3, after hearing raving reviews from nearly all sources, I picked it up for Xbox 360.

My initial impressions were less than spectacular. I found the controls overcomplicated, the button presses slow and unresponsive, the aim inaccurate, and the delayed load of textures made the game feel like something that should not have been released in its state. Needless to say, I put it down for about a week, then decided to give it another go, on PC. This switch made all the difference in the world. I instantly found the precision greatly improved and later found most of the other initial issues I had were practically erased. I was able to focus on the game.

The first thing that really popped out were the stunning visuals when looking at the landscape. You could see to the horizon, everything had realistic values and shadows. The visuals were very stylized, everything had a derelict feeling, perfect in keeping with the story. Bright colors were used sparingly which accentuated the feeling of depression that was present in nearly every character in every town. This made the game feel deep and helped me connect to the NPCs, which is important in a single player RPG. This nice feature later lost its luster, as I began to long for a change of scenery, but there really wasn't much of one throughout the game, there were only destroyed cities, and barren wasteland.

One of the first views a player is treated to as they leave Vault 101

As nice as the visual landscapes were, the NPCs did not look nearly as good. The textures were flat, and the characters had almost no shadowing effects. There are only a handful of faces, so the same people would pop up in every town with different clothes, and even the clothes were a little disappointing. There was almost no variety, and even the different types looked almost identical. In a game where character is the main focus, the lack of unique forms of armor was entirely, for lack of a better word, unacceptable.

The leveling and character progression system was done very well. Every level, the player gets to assign several points to various skills, such as speech, and sneaking. These skills affect the perks a player can choose later in the game. By the end of the game, a player is perfectly geared for one or two traits, but not much else, which is where the leveling falls short. Some skills are obviously better than others, such as speech. If a person has enough skills in speech, they can often entirely skip quests, which makes the game a little too easy and short. Worse than the unbalanced skills is the level cap. A player can advance to level 20, but then the leveling, one of the biggest draws of the game, ends. While getting to 20 is time consuming, there is a lot more of the game after that, and it would have been nice to see a higher level cap.

The story line is really the best part of the game. The game starts, appropriately, with a cutscene of your own birth. It then jumps forward to you living in a vault, a community sheltered both from the nuclear apocalypse that was imminent in the past, and the of outside influence, so you only know the life in the vault, and assume that everyone and everything outside of the vault has been destroyed. Things quickly go sour in the vault, as you learn that the Overlord has begun abusing his power, and you need to escape the vault to the harsh outside world. Once there, you begin an epic journey to find your father which leads you through dozens of cities. On the way you meet the several factions fighting for control over the Capital Wasteland. You quickly learn the Enclave is bad, the Brotherhood of Steel is good, and the Super Mutants are dangerous. The story was incredibly deep and rewarding, leaving me with a sense of accomplishment at every story point.

The Derelict remains of the Jefferson Monument in Capital Wasteland

Another high point of the game was the sound. As you progress through the game, you find several radio stations, each with their own style. All of the DJs had their own personality, back story, and taste in music. My favorite station was the first one I found, Galaxy News Radio. The DJ, Three Dog, told the news “as it really was”, and had a personality that really made him unique. His station played a lot of swing music, which went perfectly with the era of the game, but there were only a handful of songs, which began to feel old and tired after hearing them for 30+ hours.

The combat in the game too could have used improvement. The player has 2 options, melee or ranged, and while there is a wide variety of guns, there is no depth to them. They basically all function the same way, but with different stats and ammunitions. The guns were inaccurate, even when you were dead on. Bullets would stray far from where you were aiming, which gets frustrating in combat situations where you need to make the shot to stay alive. The game had an auto targeting system which did all of the work for you, it took any necessary skill from the game, and made the game point and click, which was not nearly as satisfying as doing the work yourself, but it meant actually hitting your target.

Overall I found this game to be an enjoyable experience, one full of memorable moments, like the stasis pods in vault 87, or the town of Little Lamplight. While the game had some flaws, it is still worth buying, a must own for RPG fans.

The Good:

Great Visuals

Amazing Story

Perfect Soundtrack

The Bad:

The Combat System

Level Cap of 20

Little Armor Option

Overall Score: 8.5/10

Playlist: Farcry 2, Left4Dead, Rockband 2

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