Monday, February 1, 2010

Upstart Programmers from Maryland Reboot A Venerable Game Series...

After I played this game for about an hour I decided that it could have just as easily been titled OblivionShock. The heritage of this game is so blatantly obvious that anyone who has played video games in the last 5 years could instantly spot homages, allusions, and outright thievery from a dozen games or more. Somehow, I don't mean this as a bad thing.

While it's clear that Bethesda Softworks (a Zenimax Media Company) used the exact same engine as they did in one of my favorite games (Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion) and were very heavily influenced by the 2K Games 2007 release BioShock (both feature the ability to craft new weapons from scrap, a 50s kitsch theme, and a wonderfully retro soundtrack) you should not make the mistake of thinking that this game cannot stand on it's own two legs.

Fallout 3 is, of course, a continuation/reboot of Interplay's Fallout series that was first released in 1997. As you may have guessed, it is set in an alternate future that has been ravaged by a nuclear apocalypse (my third favorite kind of apocalypse, by the way) that killed the vast majority of life on Earth. You start the game as an infant in one of the last bastions of human life that has been (relatively) unharmed by the massive amounts of radiation that has flooded the world, Vault 101. The Vault is an underground bunker in the vein of a 50s style backyard bunker that houses several families and provides shelter from the outside world. You begin the game proper as an infant and there are a few tasks you must complete in order to progress. This is more of a tutorial to get you used to moving and looking around the world. After making a few skill point allocation decisions you are fast forwarded a decade to your 10th birthday party, where you will be fitted with a Pip-Boy 3000. The PB3K is like a tricorder/backpack/GPS computer that you wear on your arm, Leela style, that never comes off. Despite the futuristic sounding nature of the device it looks like an old monitor for a Commodore Vic-20 with 4 color choices from an old CRT screen. Additionally, it works as a flashlight.

After the party you are again flash forwarded (back off ABC, I'm not infringing on your copyright), this time to your 18th birthday, where you are about to take the Generalized Occupational Aptitude Test (G.O.A.T.). This test guides you towards making a few choices about how you're likely to play the game, and what skills will be most useful to you as you progress down the story path. Shortly after you receive your (hilarious) test results, an event occurs that throws the Vault into chaos and eventually leads you to the outside world for the first time in your life. Just before exiting you get a chance to change everything about yourself one last time before things are set in stone for the rest of the game (name, face, skill allocation, etc.). After that, you're on your own.

Fallout 3 paints a very dystopian picture of our nation's capital, though it is a surprisingly accurate one, map wise. National monuments appear where they should, the surrounding area is laid out just like the real world, albeit destroyed by a nuclear apocalypse, and the D.C. Metro system is depicted as the huge, sprawling thing that it is (and surprisingly clean, just like in real life). As you wander about the Wastelands you'll encounter hippie pirate radio announcers, zombies, mutated insects, mutants, fire breathing ants, and 6-foot tall Forbidden Planet style robots, to name just a few. There are rewards and consequences for your moral choices, as well as a vast array of conversation options so your character can be an awe-inspiring hero, a Lone Wanderer, or an all out evil overlord. It's up to you.

Featuring the voices of several well known actors (Golden Globe nominees Liam Neeson & Malcolm McDowell as well as Golden Globe Winner Ron Perlman), an awesome soundtrack, and a story with no less than 12(!) endings, Fallout 3 is a definite must buy. If you pick up the Game of the Year edition it comes bundled with 5 expansion packs that add new achievements (or trophies if you're a PS3 person), new weapons, and new story.

9 out of 10 stars.

Go buy it. Now.

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