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Fallout 3

Will Porter prepares to walk the wastes...

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Nevertheless your early years are a little less profound - dealing with a gang of Rebel Without A Cause-style greasers called the Tunnel Snakes who habitually pick on a good lady friend of yours (or ignoring them should you wish), and generally getting along with life underground.

Until, that is, your father disappears when you're 19 - and your isolationist Overseer assumes you had something to do with his disappearance topside. You know what happens next.

"That is one big gun!" half-shouts the idiot German journalist who's been sitting next to me as he desperately tries to impress our hosts. I shake my head. He'll never get a medal for being special, not like me.

"That is NOT a gun," affirms Todd Howard from his control platform, as I cross my legs, purse my lips and sashay my lower back and shoulders in the fool's direction. It's actually a gigantic metal key, hanging from the rafters - as any fule kno. It's just waiting for you to hack into the computer system to see it plunge into that beautiful cog door and let in some fresh air to the accompanied screams of Vault dwellers: "He's opening the door! Someone call the Overseer!"

Then it's a brief clamber over long-dropped placards reading, 'Let us in you fuckers!', and a brief ascent into daylight. Now, if we were playing the original games at this point there'd be a half-hour battle with 25 angry rats - so even the most fervent of interweb FO3 naysayers will have to admit that an element of progress has been made...

So we're out in the wasteland - where the Bethesda buzzword is that post-Oblivion, 'destruction is the new trees'. Blasted rocks, a frazzled petrol station and simple burnt desert make up your initial impressions of an area roughly the same size as that of Cyrodiil - albeit with far less (yet far more interesting) inhabitants.

It's here that, rummaging around in your Vault-issued and numeral-emblazoned boiler suit, you'll get the first taste of combat - against the giant ants, rad-scorpions and general irradiated critters of this new frontier.

The simple way is to aim the hollower end of your weapon towards an oncoming foe and click your old friend the left-mouse button, but thankfully it isn't always that simple. Your V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) means that, should you have enough action points, time can be frozen and specific shots or swipes made - with each potential hit area outlined in a fetching green timbre with percentage likelihoods for your attack hitting home depending on your skills and attributes.

A leg-shot might result in your enemy limping, an arm-shot might result in a dropped weapon, an antenna-shot might result in an extremely confused giant ant and a head-shot might result in a slo-mo bullet camera-chase and a satisfying burst of meaty chunks and claret. What with action points regenerating over time, it's a nimble way of merging the old school with the new school. Ending up with middle school, I suppose; only with even more swearing and violence.

Any caveats so far? Well, I'm a huge Fallout fan. You don't really get much bigger. (Well, you do but I guess I'm the smiling face of an unhappy bunch - one far less susceptible to throwing furniture at the walls or squatting atop my swivel chair, holding my knees, hopping up and down and hooting balefully at the internet.) I was just slightly concerned by the emphasis on spectacle and high-intensity action on show at my sneak-peek's climax - namely picking up a Fatboy missile launcher and firing miniature nukes at a goliath super-mutant behemoth.

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