Review: Fallout 3

Russ Pitts | 28 Oct 2008 04:01
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Eat a candy bar to regain some health and you'll get irradiated. Drink water, get irradiated. Walk in a stream, get irradiated. Residual radiation is ever-present, and while there are medications and tools you can use to reduce its effects, or reverse them, you can't avoid it. It's in the very air you breathe. In Fallout 3, in addition to you health meter, you must also pay attention to your radiation meter. Get too much and you may not be able to repair the damage.

Fallout 3 is a game of numbers, starting with number one, which is you; i.e., who you should be looking out for. Look out for number one, and you'll survive. Your rad count is another number. Keep that number low. Bullets, you need to keep that number as high as you can.

The weapons in Fallout 3, at least the early ones, should be familiar to anyone who watches the local news. You start out the game with a pistol and a certain number of bullets. If you run out, you'll have to hope you can find some somewhere, or steal them, or loot them off the corpse of that guy who was shooting them at you. Nobody in Fallout 3's post-apocalyptic nightmare world manufactures bullets (or much of anything) anymore. So whatever you can scrounge is all you're going to get.

You can assemble makeshift weapons (like a flaming, gas-powered sword) out of found odds and ends, but bullets for your assault rifle are priceless antiques (as if the rifle itself), so you'd be wise to conserve ammo. You can set booby traps, de-activate booby traps set for you and use them against their makers, and bludgeon enemies to death with baseball bats, lead pipes or any number of other items. Believe me, they'll be used against you. As will rocket launchers and gatling lasers.

The role-playing system of Fallout 3 is based on that of the original games; at the game's start, you can choose the basic characteristics of your avatar (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility and luck) as well as those skills (small guns, speech, lockpick) for which you will have an aptitude. Then, as you progress, you can increase your skills and earn "perks" such as "Bloody Mess" which gives you a damage bonus and ensures most things you kill will die horrible, bloody deaths.

Those new to this kind of throwback role-playing might be a bit taken aback at first. If anything, Fallout 3 stays too close to the original formula in this regard. This is not "role-play light" by any means, nor is it the usual magic and monsters style of roleplaying a lot of gamers are used to. Newcomers to the universe will have a mildly steep learning curve, but the game does an excellent job of holding your hand through it, and the world's dark humor makes it a joy to interact with.

On the good vs. evil kick, there's the Karma system. Everything you do in Fallout 3 affects your Karma. Steal something, you get negative Karma. Rescue a captive, you get positive. There are Karma-based abilities and even story options. If you're too good, some characters in the game may not deal with you, if you're too evil, the same. And if you're generally neutral, not good, not evil, you end up on a different track. According to Todd Howard, the executive producer of the game, the number of possible endings you can reach, based on your positive and negative actions throughout the game, is on the order of 500, and which you end up with is based purely on how you play the game.

After 20 hours, I'm nowhere near the end, so I can't judge how disparate those 500 possible endings may be. I don't think I'm even near the middle. Fallout 3 is an enormous game. I can see spending 80 - 100 hours on it, easy. Unfortunately, at the end of those 100 hours, I may need to visit a shrink.

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