Previews

Fallout 3

Hands-on: We spend five hours in Fallout

I intended, upon leaving Vault 101, to strike out west in true pioneer spirit. To begin with, I wasn't interested in Megaton and I wasn't interested in hunting down my errant father - I just wanted to push Fallout 3 as far as it would go.

Sadly west wasn't on the menu (Vault 101 backs onto a mountain) so with the less catchy epithet of "Go north-east, young man" ringing in my ears I set off on a post-nuclear hike to see what I could see.

An hour later I was standing on a jut of highway sticking its nose over the lip of a nearby hill, a bombed-out town in the Bethesda district of Washington DC.

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I'd come up to peek inside a truck balanced precariously over a 50 metre drop, but stopped to admire the view.

To the south the half-dried up Potomac River meandered past the remnants of the capital, where I could just make out the Washington Monument.

Everything was brooding under an atomic sky while cheery '50s music discussing the prospect of "seeing my sweetheart again" was piped from my wrist-mounted Pip-Boy. In my entire five hours of playing Fallout 3, this was the highlight.

You see, my first reaction to playing Fallout 3 was how empty it felt. There are wandering monsters and pockets of Raiders here and there - but the feeling of stalking through a barren wasteland is like no other.

Bereft of the immersion-sapping load times of STALKER when moving between zones and the near-constant wolf and bandit attacks of Oblivion, this game is draped with a feeling of solitude.

Sure, the tranquillity of my Route 355 vantage point would soon be lost when my attempt to negotiate the descent resulted in a 50 metre fall but, in its early stages at least, Fallout 3 does have that vital feeling of being alone on a brutal and vast frontier.

Power of the Atom

Of course, this chance to capture some me-time has to be balanced with the frequency at which you could be blowing dogs' heads off and seeing their brains rolling around.

As such, even in the wilderness, violence is never all that far away. Cleverly, your UI's compass marks out areas of interest but never gives a clue as to what they are, nor how far away they lie.

You simply know that if you keep on walking in a certain direction at some point you will find something, maybe hidden, that will be entertaining.

Obviously you are not alone. Slavers roam the wastes recruiting strays, Super Mutants wage war with human forces, ostracised sentient ghouls live in an area of Washington known as Underworld and the unorganised Raiders occupy many of the wrecked buildings you come across.

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Meanwhile, the Brotherhood of Steel - they of big guns and power armour - return as the world's Knights Templar, forever at odds with the ruling faction, the Enclave.

Last seen at the close of Fallout 2 when their oil rig HQ blew up consigning them to the watery depths, 36 years on the Enclave's political powergrubbers are very much part of the firmament.

With the Washington landscape to play with, Bethesda clearly couldn't resist having the faux-American government return - now led by President John Henry Eden, ably voiced by Malcolm McDowell.

Eden's voice resonates through the wasteland much as Wallace Breen's did through City 17, whether on a looped Enclave radio station or through propaganda-delivering eye-bots that roam the barren landscape.

His stern barks and calls for Enclave-led unity are punctuated by teeth-grinding patriotic music, leaving no doubt as to who the antagonist of the piece is.

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