gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Fallout 3 – Xbox 360

Fallout 3 - Xbox 360 - Box artReview by Johnus Maximus

Set in the desolated post-apocalyptic wastelands of Washington DC in the year 2277, Fallout 3 is an immersive and gripping action RPG that allows you to carve your own destiny in the bleak aftermath of a nuclear war.

The game was released on October 30th and is also available for PS3 and PC. It was created by Bethesda Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax Media, and is without question a contender for the title of “game of the year”.

The game begins with a short introductory movie narrated by Ron Perlman, which tells the story of how mankind brought itself to the brink of destruction with nuclear weapons and is now desperately struggling to come to terms with the aftermath. The unchanging and futile nature of war is presented to you as an inescapable fate to which your character the “Vault Dweller” is born into and no sooner are you born when your mother dies, leaving you to be brought up by your father James (voiced by Liam Neeson).

From these early moments the character creation process begins, albeit in a much more irregular manner than most role playing games, it is tightly interwoven with the basis of the plot and so it becomes easy to immerse yourself into the game from an early point. Using advanced genetic projection equipment, you are able to “predict” how your newborn character will look when they are older. A wide range of haircuts, skin tones and facial features are available to choose from as well as both genders.

The game fast forwards a year, where as a crawling toddler you are taught the basic controller functions for movement and actions. Pressing the A button results in an outburst of baby speech, and once you release yourself from the playpen you soon discover a learning book for children which will teach you the differences in each of the SPECIAL abilities – Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck.

Fast forward again and it is your tenth birthday and a surprise party has been thrown in your honour. This is where your first interaction with the other vault dwellers occurs, you are free to explore the many differing conversational options and see how implementing these causes other characters to act. Some will reward your kindness, some may just want to punch your face in.

Fallout 3 - Xbox 360 - sunset
Even a beautiful sunset feels bleak against the ruined landscape

As a ten year old you are gifted a PipBoy 3000 by the Vault Overseer, this handy gadget stays attached to your arm forever and will serve as your menu system – controlling your inventory, your status conditions, and your quest notes all from one handy screen. You’re also given a bb gun and are instructed how to shoot targets using traditional first person shooter controls as well as the Vault Automated Targeting System (VATS), which pauses time and allows you to target specific body parts on your opponent.

The plot skips ahead once more and you’re now 16 years old and about to take your GOAT (Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test). This series of bizarre hypothetical situations with multiple choice answers will prompt suggestions from your teacher as to which of the thirteen character skills (small arms, explosives, bartering, science, etc) you’d be best to spend your experience points on during the game.

After all this character development is over, the real fun begins. Another time shift occurs and you’re now aged 21. Rudely awoken by your friend Amata, she tells you that your dad has left the vault and if you don’t hurry and escape too her enraged father, the overseer of Vault 101, is going to kill you. Working your way through the levels of the vault, helping or hurting people who might need saving from ferocious irradiated cockroaches, you ultimately get the access codes for the vault door and venture outside, where your eyes are assaulted by the bright sun overhead.

Once they adjust and you step a few feet forward you see firsthand the desolation of the landscape around you. Everywhere across the horizon you can see the barren rubble of destroyed highways and buildings as well as a lot of dirt and rocks. From here on you are free to choose your destiny – will you opt to follow the main storyline, follow your father’s footsteps and learn the true secrets behind your sheltered upbringing or will you deviate into a life of exploration and wasteland conquest. Fallout 3 allows you to do as much of one or the other as you like.

Fallout 3 - Xbox 360 - Moriartys Bar
Moriartys saloon – the main source of information in Megaton

If you’re not the exploring type you’ll be glad of the helpful push in the right direction you get early on, as the town of Megaton is somewhere your father has headed and is close to the Vault entrance. Venture to this shanty like community built from old plane parts and corrugated iron, and you’ll soon discover what living conditions people have to endure in the wake of nuclear war. Food and water is irradiated and a cocktail of pharmaceuticals are required to make sure you don’t get poisoned by radiation and develop deadly mutations.

The inhabitants of Megaton are a mixed bunch, from the one-slice-short-of-a-sandwich Children of the Atom cult to the Wild West style Sheriff Simms and the mysterious Mr Burke. There is a cafe, a doctor, a supply shop and a few house, as well as a pub, so if you behave properly this could be a good hub to return to when you get weary of your adventures. Getting information as to your father’s whereabouts will depend on the way you talk to people.

One of Fallout 3’s primary game play elements is karma, where your actions within the world determine how the world treats you. If you do kind things like helping tramps who need clean water, or saving people from marauding Super Mutants then your karma level will increase. Likewise, if you steal from and kill innocent people your karma level will decrease. Depending on the path you tread, many of the characters in the game will react differently to you and it will also affect the available quests, so playing through more than once is necessary if you want to see everything the game has to offer.

Taking an early opportunity to arm yourself with a decent range of weapons and armours will help you when you step out into the wasteland. The playable area is immense and you have only a couple of points of interest on your Pipboy map, it is up to you to venture out and discover the many perils and treasures, friends and foes that exist in the world. You can opt to follow the fairly linear storyline, but the most fun to be had is definitely exploring the world for yourself.

Fallout 3 - Xbox 360 - Subway ghouls
Deranged and dangerous ghouls roam the ruined subway tunnels

One of the major criticisms from Bethesda’s previous title, Oblivion, was that as your character levelled up, so did the world around them. For Fallout 3 this has been made a lot better, so as you traverse the Capitol Wasteland you will find that some areas that although occupied by mutated creatures or savage raiders are reasonably traversable, while other areas will scare the crap out of you and have you running for the safety of your home until you’ve levelled up enough to try again.

As well as the many small townships and safe havens that are populated by normal folk there are roving bands of cruel raiders, who shoot first and ask questions later. Malfunctioning robots reminiscent of those in 1950’s B-movies are often found lost in the wasteland, picking fights with the many deadly creatures that can be found, like giant mutated scorpions or fire breathing ants.

Decrepit victims of radiation poisoning have become the zombie-like ghouls and though some still retain their cognitive abilities and are still human in nature rather than appearance, they eventually lose their mind and become feral, stalking the network of subway tunnels that run underneath the city. There are also the deadly Super Mutants to contend with, these were once human but through a forced evolutionary process have become hulking, savage monsters with the desire to rend humans limb from limb.

Two rival factions of human military power fight for dominance over the land, the Enclave – devoted upholders of the American governmental system and faithful servants of President Eden (voiced by Malcolm McDowell) – and the Brotherhood of Steel – technologically advanced organisation holed up in the ruins of the Pentagon desiring the destruction of the Super Mutant menace. Siding with the Brotherhood will allow the Vault Dweller to gain access to some of the best mechanised armour the game has to offer.

Fallout 3 - Xbox 360 - Messy VATS kill
VATS targeting system result in some gory limb explosions

Graphically Fallout 3 has very little to criticise, the realisation of a 1950’s inspired future, with its Jetson-like cars and domestic robotic helpers combined with the harrowing wasteland has been created very well. The palette in this game is mainly grey and brown, the years following nuclear war have taken their toll on both the man-made and natural environments. There were a couple of noticeable oddities that occurred, things like the remains of the dead shaking eerily or poking through walls. As unexpected and scary as that was though, it was very infrequent, so no detriment to the game play.

The sound in the game also works well, there is subtly unobtrusive yet slightly eerie ambient music that accompanies your exploration, and the tempo speeds up when action is imminent. There is also the Pipboy radio receiver, which allows you to tune in to distress signals, morse code and a couple of radio stations. Enclave radio plays patriotic marching band music with intermittent posturing from the President, while Galaxy News Radio plays songs from a bygone era and includes comments from the host Three Dog that relate to the Vault Dwellers actions in the Wasteland.

With such a vast array of skills, abilities and bonus perks available as you level up there is so much potential for how your character will finally turn out. Persistent exploration and quest completion will definitely see you hit the maximum level cap before you attempt to complete the story. I’d say that a play through with a conservative amount of exploration would take about 30 hours from start to end, although if you wanted to see what was hidden in every disused house and darkened cavern you could be playing in excess of 60 hours.

While this may seem like a long time, the game has a robust save system so you won’t have to commit massive amounts of time to get the most out of it. Given the graphic nature of the confrontations in the game it is rightly given an 18 certificate, as well as being quite gory at times it can be extremely suspenseful and not for the faint of heart. Although the game appears to be a first person shooter, it very much stays true to its role playing game roots and will provide lasting value for fans of either genre. It is truly one of the best games I have played this year and I urge you to consider adding it to your gaming collection.

Fallout 3 is awarded our maximum score, 5 Nuka-Cola bottlecaps out of 5.

five stars

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008, Computer Gaming, Featured, Xbox 360.