Friday, December 19, 2008

Playing in the ashes

WB is happy to introduce new contributor
Nighthand, coming aboard just in time to make a last-second gift suggestion for any gamers in need of post-apocalyptic adventure.

A new contributing writer, a new area of subject matter? Might as well start with a new game, and one of the newest to hit the markets with more than a ripple is Fallout 3.

Fallout 1 came out in 1997, Fallout 2 in 1998. Now, ten years later, Fallout 3 finally has hit the markets to remind us why we so loved a world struck by nuclear war, with the strange juxtaposition of the 1950s and the post-2000s.

Fallout 3 is a fun and original game from the beginning — a beginning that’s not only the start of the game, but the start of your character’s life. That’s right; you begin your adventure quite literally at birth. From there you’re given the option to choose your name and, via use of Vault-Tek technology, extrapolate your future appearance.

A time jump later and you are a toddler, learning to walk, and the first RPG element enters the picture. A children’s book titled “You’re S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” is available to read. Each letter in S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stands for one of your attribute points (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck respectively) and each is accompanied by a two-line rhyme explaining in simple terms what that stat deal with.

Next, you’re taken to ten years old, and given a Pip-Boy, which is essentially a computer on your wrist and serves through the game as your menu. This is only slightly jarring later in the game when you encounter people who know what it is, and know how to use it to give or take information from it, but no one else has one. Given that you’re supposed to have been stuck in the vault for two hundred years, it’s a little out of place that centuries-old technology is rather common knowledge while being far from common-place.

You progress through your childhood to your mid-teens and are given a test which has absurd questions, each with answers that determine your in-game personality. The only effect this has is to choose what skills you start off with, and if you’re unsatisfied you can change them immediately afterwards (or choose to skip the test entirely by talking to the teacher, who offers to let you cheat.)

From here you’re let loose in the Vault tutorial area and the real game begins. Things swiftly go wrong and you’re thrown out into the irradiated wasteland that is the Washington D.C. area, free to explore and choose your path through the world as you like.

The character creation process is original and enjoyable, which is rare for an RPG. It’s even worth going through again, rather than skipping, when you inevitably make your second character. A second character that is almost necessary to experience the full game, choosing the evil alignment choices rather than the good (or vice versa, if you went evil the first time around.)

The world of Fallout 3 is expansive, detailed, and full of life. Of course, most of the life is either anarchic raiders who want to kill you and take the nice things you’re carrying, or radioactive mutated animals that see you as a tasty meal. Later on the two combine, and you find yourself facing supermutants. There’s a lot of back story for just about everything in the game, some of which comes from the previous games, and some of which you find scattered about in dialogue.

Dialogue in Fallout 3 is amazing. Sure, sometimes the voice actors are a little flat, or the topics a little out of place. It’s not always appropriate to question someone about the history of their settlement in the middle of a firefight, for example. Overall, though, most of the characters are believable and in-depth. The main characters, that is; there are plenty of unnamed settlers that serve no purpose beyond making an area look more populated.

So, some of the things that show up in Fallout 3, at least for a good aligned character:

- A wandering trader named Crazy Wolfgang (a reference to numerous used auto salespeople of questionable sanity) begins his conversations with “So what can I, the craziest of all possible Wolfgangs, do for you?”

- A mad preacher ranting about us putting the sun in a glass jar and breaking it over ourselves (the nuclear war) and filling his alleyway with explosives, which he detonates when he sees you. Killing him from a distance yields several mini-nukes, a rare ammunition for a rare weapon.

- A feat called ‘Bloody Mess’ that, when taken, causes an absurd amount of destruction when you kill an opponent. Often a critical hit to the head will cause al of the opponent’s limbs to explode away from their torso in an impressive, if unrealistic display of gore.

- Another feat called ‘Mysterious Stranger’ where a Humphrey Bogart lookalike in a fedora and a trench coat finishes off an enemy you failed to kill with his special .44 Magnum.

- NPCs that interact. Very often you’ll be traveling through the wastes and find a group of mercenaries fighting a group of raiders or supermutants, or even wildlife. In fact, wandering around, it was a sad sight to find Wolfgang was no longer the craziest of all possible Wolfgangs, he was the deadest of all possible Wolfgangs.

- A city built inside a beached aircraft carrier, the history of which is long forgotten.

There would be more, but spoilers are to be avoided so soon after a game debuts, so that will have to do.

So what is there to complain about in such a game? Well, for one, after a while the majority of the opponents cease to be a threat. While the game has a significant focus on making the D.C. wasteland realistic, even replicating the positioning and internal layout of buildings such as the Capitol and the nearby museums, the game play stretches the bounds of realism with the ease radiation is dealt with, and the aforementioned Bloody Mess perk.

On top of that, the plot is… short. The side quests are more prevalent than the main plot, and it’s easy to talk to the wrong person too early and bypass quests from the main plot. You can go back and do them, but they don’t have the full effect they would have. If you’re careful, though, these issues aren’t enough to get in the way of having a fun time with the game. Overall? Metacritic’s 93/100 and Gamespot’s 9/10 are pretty accurate.

(Finally, if you’re looking for the typical WB “deeper analysis” component to appear here, exploring what the game might mean as the response to a need in pop culture: hey, it’s the holidays! Our gift to you is this review, and a chance for you to enjoy figuring out the Deeper Relevance.)

No comments: