Fallout 3 PlayStation 3
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
Developed by: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
War, war never changes but tastes and technology do and things have changed a great deal since Fallout 2 was released on the PC over a decade ago. For many fans of the series, there has been a lot of apprehension surrounding the development of Fallout 3. The original Fallout games were turn-based affairs, had a sense of humour unique to the time they were developed and a character quite unlike any other RPG that's been made. If you were to ask me what I would have wanted from a Fallout sequel, I would probably have said that I wanted a similar game to the first two Fallout titles only with updated graphics. Of course this wouldn't have appealed to many other than hardcore Fallout fans. Isometric turn-based RPG's are an acquired taste and nowadays most people expect gorgeous 3D visuals and open worlds that you can explore at will amongst other things. Bethesda just couldn't do Fallout 3 in the same vein as Fallout 2. They had to bring it into the twenty-first century whilst retaining the flavour of the original games and it's something they have achieved in style with Fallout 3.
The story for Fallout 3 is set in the open wastes of post-apocalyptic Washington DC. The game begins in Vault 101 with your character (who can be male or female) being born and your mother passing away shortly after your birth. The early phase of the game acts a tutorial and you'll play through a few key events in your character's upbringing including a birthday party (in which you're given your Pip-Boy, a device worn on the arm that has a myriad of functions) and an examination known as a G.O.A.T test where your answers will shape what kind of character you will be (you can make alterations if you're not happy with the results). Things eventually go pear shaped however as you learn that your father has escaped Vault 101 and the Vault's security forces are after your blood because the overseer of the Vault doesn't like anyone leaving and he believes that you knew what your father was up to. The upshot of this is that you have to escape the Vault and it's on leaving the Vault that the game truly opens up into a non-linear experience.
The main storyline in Fallout 3 is only a small part of the game. If you were to stick strictly to the storyline it's possible that this could seem like a fairly short RPG. That's probably not how most people will play the game however. During the course of the game there are many side quests to complete and it's most likely that you won't see all that the game has to offer in a single play through. There are quite a few ways to solve the quests in the game. You can go the good, evil, violent or peaceful route with many of the quests which is certainly pleasing and it also adds to the replay value because you're going to want to play through again and take different actions just to see what the different consequences were.
One of the biggest reservations I had about Bethesda developing Fallout 3 was that their Elder Scrolls games featured real-time combat and I honestly didn't want this in Fallout 3. Whilst there is real-time combat in Fallout 3, Bethesda have decided to include a system known as V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) which gives the combat a turn-based feel that's rather similar to the combat system found in the original Fallout games. As soon as you are involved in a battle you can press the R2 button to activate the V.A.T.S. and then you'll have action points (AP) to use. You can aim your attacks at various parts of the body such as the head, torso and limbs (you're shown percentage rating for the chance of a successful hit for each body part). Once you've chosen your attack targets, you will see a slow-motion sequence of your attacks being carried out. Your action points replenish over time so should your initial attacks not kill the enemy you'll have to wait a while before you can press the R2 button again to choose your attack manoeuvres once more. The V.A.T.S. combat system works really well and definitely works a lot better than the standard real-time combat which actually feels slightly disappointing. Throughout the game the combat remains quite challenging as the enemies appear to scale to your level meaning you're always faced with challenging enemies, regardless of your character level.
During combat one thing will become immediately obvious, Fallout 3 is an extremely gory game. Shooting a character in the head usually results in decapitation and you'll usually see limbs removed if you hit your enemies there. It can be quite a shock where you first see this and the blood fountains that accompany it. Still it is an 18 rated game and the use of profanity in the game, from certain characters, only reinforces this. Fallout 3 is a far grittier experience than Oblivion as a result of the violence and the gore but in many ways this is in keeping with the earlier Fallout games. There are no lush medieval style environments here. The landscapes are barren wastelands and the locations are either derelict buildings or essentially piles of scrap materials that have been used to concoct residences.
Fallout 3 is pretty much on a par with Oblivion in regards to its graphical quality. To a degree this is a little disappointing because Oblivion (at least on the PC and 360) is a few years old now. The PlayStation 3 version does suffer from some technical problems. The frame rate stutters on occasion and there are several glitches. Whilst exploring the wasteland I've seen textures fail to load for several moments leaving a horrible patchwork effect of coloured squares where the ground textures should be. I've also seen missing textures on character models too, which looks even more unsightly. There is no anti-aliasing in the PlayStation 3 giving the graphics much more of a jagged appearance. The lighting effects also look rather basic at times. Animations are mostly look OK but the one real disappointment in this respect comes when you switch from a first person perspective to a third person perspective. As in Oblivion the animations of your character when changing to a third person view are very poor. This would be a problem except that it's much more enjoyable to play the game from a first person perspective and most will never want to switch to a third person mode.
Thankfully, Fallout 3 is subtitled. As in Oblivion, there are Dialogue Subtitles and General Subtitles and by default only Dialogue Subtitles are enabled. Unfortunately Fallout 3 is also like Oblivion in that the introductory cutscene isn't subtitled meaning you'll miss out on the 'War, war never changes' dialogue that the series is famous for. Other cutscenes in the game are subtitled (at least the ones I've encountered are and it's worth pointing out that you'll need to play through the game multiple times to see everything it has to offer). All important conversations in the game are subtitled. The subtitles are placed against a darkened background for maximum clarity. Occasionally there are some comments made whilst you are conversing with another character and these extraneous comments are not subtitled (which makes a lot of sense as it would become confusing). If you look at the door of a building which you shouldn't enter, someone will usually comment that you shouldn't even think about it and these comments are not subtitled. The dialogue from the radio channels on your Pip-Boy are not subtitled which is unfortunate and this does deny deaf gamers some of the game's ambience. Objectives are given in text and can be recalled at any time from your Pip-Boy. Tutorial messages are also given in text. You are warned in text when enemies are close by (you'll see red dots on your compass too). In fact the game uses red text to denote dangerous situations. There aren't any captions to depict the approaching enemy sounds however and it's possible that some enemies will spring a surprise attack on you during the game but for the most part you'll be aware of their presence. If you attempt to enter a building that you shouldn't or use items that you have no right to, the descriptive text for all of this will be red. In short then it's not a perfect experience for deaf gamers but there aren't any serious problems here.
Despite its shortcomings, Fallout 3 is arguably one of the best RPG's on the PlayStation 3 to date. Some diehard Fallout fans won't be happy with the game and will simply label it as a post-apocalyptic Oblivion rather than a true sequel to Fallout 2 and in some respects that's a fairly convincing argument. The important thing to remember is that if you ignore the Fallout heritage for a moment and take the game for what it is, you have to admit that it's actually a very impressive RPG. Some of the Fallout flavour has been retained thanks for the most part to the skills and perks used during the development of your character, the V.A.T.S. combat system, which is excellent, and the interface artwork but it's still an Oblivion-like RPG. In some respects Fallout 3 is a more focused game but there's plenty of room for doing your own thing and you'll need to play through the game several times before you can say you've seen everything it has to offer. Fallout 3 on the PlayStation 3 has its share of problems but it's still an RPG that most fans of the genre will thoroughly enjoy and Bethesda have captured just enough of the series' spirit to satisfy most fans of the Fallout series.