Right from the opening hour – when the player is introduced to the vast, charred wasteland that was once Washington, D.C. – it becomes clear Fallout 3 is not just another role-playing game.
It’s the year 2277, 200 years after a nuclear exchange between the U.S. and communist China left much of the world in ashes.
The player has just left Vault 101, one of several underground fallout shelters scattered across the former United State of America, and it’s now up to the player to navigate the hostile landscape and find his or her scientist father, who holds the key to saving humanity.
Fallout 3 a Vision of What the World Could Have Been
Set in an alternate timeline, where the present reality and the game’s reality diverged after the events of World War II, Fallout 3 presents a retro-futuristic vision of a society gripped by nuclear paranoia and trapped in 1950s aesthetic.
In this beautifully realized vision of the future, household robots and nuclear-powered vehicles were once the norms, and fears of the “red threat” and an imminent holocaust were ever-present, as evidenced by the myriad of darkly funny propaganda posters left on the charred buildings.
None of that matters now though, as nearly every human soul has been eradicated by the Great War and only the bombed Washington Monument serves as a beacon of the past in this “Capital Wasteland.”
Grotesque ghouls, super mutants, murderous raiders and giant radscorpions have now taken over the desert-like world, waiting at every turn to kill and loot the remaining vestiges of civilization.
Fallout 3‘s setting, story, and haunting graphics provide the bulk of the atmospheric gravitas. But the game’s audio and soundtrack help complete the whole post-apocalyptic effect. Hearing howling winds of dust blow by while roaming the brown-grey wasteland can be downright chill-inducing.
Make no mistake, the experience of Fallout 3 can be quite depressing at times. But it’s probably the most immersive fun to be had in a video game.
Wreaking Havoc in the Capital Wasteland
One of the most enjoyable elements of Fallout 3 has to be the game’s combat.
While the player can go about dispatching D.C.’s mutant freaks in the game’s first-person shooter mode, it’s the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (or V.A.T.S.) that kicks the game’s combat up a notch.
The V.A.T.S. system is a nod to the turn-based roots of previous Fallout games. Players can use V.A.T.S. to pause the action, target specific body parts and queue up several shots before executing.
What usually follows is an over-the-top display of gore and violence, with heads being blown to bloody bits and corpses flying comically through the air. As is the norm in the Fallout universe, there’s a constant thread of sinister humor in everything, even in the enemies’ death sequences.
Still, beyond being a satisfying shooter, Fallout 3 is a role-playing game at heart. As with their previous blockbuster, Oblivion, Bethesda has implemented a deep character customization system that can be used to mold the player’s attributes and moral compass (karma), all of which have a real impact on the game world.
Some Flaws Diminish Fallout 3‘s Luster
Fallout 3 offers a fairly short main quest with a bevy of side quests that should provide up to 30 hours of gaming. Exploring every abandoned office building and every dungeon in the game would probably push that number to more than 60 hours – making it a great value for the buck.
However, the game does suffer from some setbacks.
Without giving much away, the end of the main quest is admittedly a bit of a letdown. And players can’t continue to explore after the final mission – an issue to be addressed by future downloadable content.
The shooting mechanics outside of V.A.T.S. also seem imprecise and clunky when compared to games like Call of Duty 4 or Bioshock.
Like Oblivion, the game also suffers from poor performance at times. And there are a bevy of odd glitches which include blinking textures and players randomly getting stuck to objects.
But these faults look minor when compared to the overall picture.
Fallout 3‘s atmosphere, graphics, and all-too-real setting represent the best of what this generation of gaming can offer. It’s highly recommended for any fan of RPGs or shooters.