This game starts with your birth. Literally. You are pulled out of your mother and see the doctor and your dad – who happens to be Liam Neason (the voice anyway). The first section then follows you as you grow up, make friends and choose a career and so on. It sounds drawn out but in fact it doesn’t take too long and really adds to the rest of the game. There has been a nuclear war and by the time you hit adulthood neither you or anyone else has left your underground bunker – Vault 101 – for decades. Then your dad buggers off without even saying goodbye. Things go a bit tits up in the vault and you decide to leave.
By this point you have probably been playing for at least an hour and it genuinely feels strange and exciting the first time you walk out of the Vault and see the open landscape and ruins of Washington DC before you. The area is vast and you can explore it all. You can do this exploration at your leisure and this freedom is one of the principal joys of the game.
As with such freewheeling games as Grand Theft Auto or Elder Scrolls Oblivion (the latter also by Bethesda), you will most likely spend half your time following the story and the other half exploring. A great deal of thought has gone into how all the various groups of people have survived and you will find communities dotted all over the place. I loved stumbling across some of these. There are normal-seeming villages where you start to suspect that something is wrong the more you chat (cannibals?), an underground group of vampire types, ghoul cities (like zombies but friendly and chatty), virtual reality towns, a mad Russian with hookers, a ‘Mad Max’ type survivalist type town, and shitloads more. Also roaming the landscape are huge green mutants, rapid dogs, humanoid crab-like creatures, punk bandits, and so on.
On top of having your choice on where to go, you can also dramatically change your character development, the way you deal with people (and vice versa), and even the outcome of the game. You can choose attributes – strength, intelligence, etc; perks – speciality skills; even your morality. Your actions also have consequences to yourself, those you meet, communities, the world, and companions you make. The variety and difference between how the game plays out for each player is genuinely vast and satifying.
Graphically the game looks great. By that, I mean the art and design of the landscape and the characters. In particular the armoured characters that feature so heavily in the advertising and pictures like the one at the top of this piece. It is pretty to look at and convincing in a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ kind of way. Nothing special though. There are games with more detail and realistic characters both on PC and other PS3 games. This is forgivable to some extent given the epic size of where you can go. A more linear FPS for example, can afford to pay full attention to the graphical experience.
I should mention the VATS combat system. This allows you to pause the game, select a body part of the chosen victim, and then fire. You then get a brilliant sequence where you follow the bullet as it zooms toward the target before, if you’re lucky, blowing said limb off in a spray of blood. As with all games that have ever featured guns, it is at its best when you get in close and blow the head off. The VATS system is optional by why wouldn’t you use it? It’s fun and slow-mo and gory. It is slightly clunky but the first time you blow a rabid dog to pieces, you realise you don’t care.
Fallout 3 is fun but not flawless. There are some great set pieces where you join together with others to blow the crap out of some mutated behemoth or other. There should have been more of this. The combat is cool but can sometimes lead to weird camera angles. The story is actually quite satisfying but I accidently finished it before exploring several large chunks of the map. This latter fault can be rectified by either replaying it or downloading one of the newer add-on adventures that are available. Mostly though I was saddened by the fact that I got a dog called Dogmeat that I really grew quite attatched to. I then got kidnapped and lost him. He is now wandering around a fictional game on his own. Poor Dogmeat. Maybe I got too involved.
I enjoyed Fallout 3 and if I didn’t have other games to play would be still exploring now. If you like First Person Shooters or RPGs you will probably like it too.