Previews

Fallout 3

Will Porter prepares to walk the wastes...

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Now, I'm just as aroused at the thought of running through a wrecked Washington DC with the famed Brotherhood of Steel as the next man - but for me, Fallout should be more subtle, almost like a cinematic Western in its approach. Games developers often throw in as much eye candy as humanly possible into their early presentations because they assume games journalists are stupid and only respond to the loudest and most blatant stimuli. And I honestly hope that this is the case here and that, as it was in the earlier games, the absolutely stupid big guns only come out in the end-game.

The same stand-off between spectacle and subtlety is perhaps true of the BIG DECISION laid forth with Megaton - essentially choosing whether or not to vaporise it. Megaton itself is a lovingly constructed little area - a place which, having had my threat level assessed by robot law-enforcer Deputy Weld, opened itself up through the machinations of an ancient airplane engine and fuselage.

Here, happy cult members (helpfully indicated by a direction sign marked 'Local Cult') worship an unexploded bomb, while townspeople go about their business - all of whom seem to have similar voice-actors to Oblivion by the way, even if they are far more expressive in looks, sounds and motion this time. Oh, and I'm sure that Megaton Sheriff looks just like one of Cyrodiil's Redguard guard models.

WHICH TO CHOOSE
But let's not drown ourselves in little details - we're talking life or death here. Radio-detonate the bomb at the behest of a stranger and watch the pretty mushroom cloud, or dob in the bastard to the local constabulary. Or just kill him and blow it up anyway?

The choice, as they say, is yours! It's this kind of final decision-making, actions after which there is no going back, that are key to Fallout 3 - and indeed, its previous incarnations. The explosive format of the decision itself is a little extravagant for my tastes, but hey - at least it's there.

But what else haven't I told you yet? The neat hacking mini-game in which you spot words in a wall of computer code (far better than BioShock's effort, I reckon). The fact that drug addiction and jet abuse is still rife in the wastes. The delightful way in which a re-energised and rather officious underground-train bot will demand tickets from super-mutants ("tickets please!", "stupid robot!") before rating them as a 'threat level Omega' and blasting them into chunks. The return of the two-headed brahmin.

The way your PIPBoy can play holodiscs just as it could before, and pick up radio stations to boot - a DJ on one of which can give you missions, then talk about you between songs. The fact that one of the bits of Washington DC you visit is called Chevy Chase. Is that a real bit of the American capital or Bethesda making a joke? It's funny either way.

GET YOUR SHADES ON
With solo role-playing now condensed by the required mega-budgets into rare high-impact releases, next year is looking pretty hot. With BioWare offering Dragon Age and (in all likelihood) Mass Effect, and Bethesda doing the Vault Boy dance come autumn, the stage is set for us to pump a huge amount of hours into fantasy, space and apocalyptic future alike.

Will the rubric of Fallout 3 reach the depth that the fanboy inside me demands? It certainly has the potential to. It's a tried-and-tested stonker of a game concept, in the hands of some genuinely passionate people who have adopted the licence as if it were one of their own. The wasteland seems to want us back, and I for one can't wait for the first bomb to drop.

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