Monday, June 08, 2009

Fallout 3

This is a really good game.

I've been playing it for close to a month now (note the coincidental timing with my lack of blogging) and there's still lots more for me to explore. It's a role-playing game set in a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. The gameplay itself is typical, with lots of bad guys to kill, quests to complete, treasure to loot, and items to craft. But what sets the game apart is incredible size and depth.

To give you an idea of the size of the world, the first time I played the game through, I reached the maximum level of 20 and completed the main quest without exploring even half of the locations on the map. Now I'm on my second playthrough, seeking out the locations I missed the first time, and there are still a couple dozen places I've yet to visit.

The world itself is rendered beautifully, with painstaking attention to detail. Addtionally, the depth of the backstory and the characters you interact with make it easy to become immersed in this gloomy world. Even the voiced-over dialogue is moderately thoughtful...good enough that it doesn't constantly remind you that you're playing a video game.

Another amazing aspect of the game is the amount of both historical and pop culture references throughout. There are plenty of "easy" references in a futuristic post-apocalyptic wasteland, to Mad Max, Starship Troopers, and the Transformers. But there are hundreds of more subtle, buried references to subjects as diverse as Cool Hand Luke, the Shining, Sifl and Olly, and a 1793 painting called The Death of Marat. Of course, the vast majority of these are lost on me, so they don't improve gameplay on their own. But reading all this stuff when browsing the Fallout 3 Wiki gives me a real appreciation for the amount of time and caring the designers put into the game. And it's even educational sometimes too...for instance, I learned the story behind the origination of Arlington National Cemetery.

And finally, saving the best for last, in Fallout 3 you can create a Railway Rifle. It fires railroad spikes at lethal speeds using steam power. Fatal head shots result in the victim's head being torn from the body and stuck to the nearest wall (or ceiling, if you crouch and aim up) by said spike. And the gory dismemberment is accompanied by a delightful whistling sound as the steam is released. In spite of a limited number of components to repair my Railway Rifle, and a short supply of ammo, I find myself overusing this weapon for the sheer aesthetic pleasure of it.

Fallout 3 easily one of the best games I've played. Still, it could take a few lessons from the Witcher. The moral choices in the game lack any subtlety, and are all strictly black-and-white (enslave or set free, kill or negotiate, dentonate a nuclear bomb in the middle of a town or disarm it, etc.) What's worse, the 'bad' choices often have miniscule rewards, so there's very little reason to vary behavior unless you're strictly role-playing. And of course, the inability to seduce even a single female character, including the one wearing nothing but a neglige that you lead across the Wasteland to safety, is a frustrating omission.


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