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Chefe does Fallout 3
Review - posted by DarkUnderlord on Sun 9 November 2008, 03:05:24Tags: Bethesda Softworks; Fallout 3
Fallout 3 – The Good, the Bad, and the Mutant
Reviewed by Chefe
The world of Fallout and the folks who surround it is diverse. Fallout and Fallout 2 were released ten years after their Wasteland predecessor captured the hearts of several geeky teenagers. I can imagine the horror that filled the minds of those young men when it turned out the successor to their beloved game would be so radically different. Ten more years after those familiar classics entered our lives a dying Interplay passed the torch onto Bethesda Softworks, the RPG community’s favorite pincushion. They decided to re-envision the franchise for a third time and take it in a bold new direction, to improve their engine, to improve their team, and to create an enjoyable experience for all who dare to venture out into the wasteland once more.
Did they succeed?
As the manual states, Fallout 3 takes place in an alternate timeline. The world as we know it is never existed. Humanity stopped in the 1950’s. The fashions and trends of that time never got old. It existed until 2077, when a nuclear holocaust destroyed most of the Earth. That is the game. Call it Fallout, call it Wasteland, or call it whatever you want, but Fallout 3 is a 50’s era imagining of life after the bombs. All things considered, it is a pretty accurate portrayal of what that generation must have thought about while they were hiding under their desks. What would the world be like? As you trek through the desolate terrain, what do you see? There’s a makeshift junk town up ahead, and a scorched tricycle on the sidewalk. Off in the distance a ruined metropolis looms with the ghosts of monuments that once inspired a proud nation. Miscreants and bums wander old highways. Traders scavenge whatever they can find and pack it onto their two headed cattle. The water shines in the dark.
A giant bee pokes you in the back.
I commend Bethesda for working with what they had, what they knew they could improve, and not failing miserably in an attempt to design a turn based engine. Large, free roaming worlds are what these boys do best. After suffering a nuclear holocaust a world becomes barren. There are no forests to enjoy, no wildlife to interact with, no nooks and crannies where interesting items and pieces of history can be found. In placing a lone mutant dog or a lone raider they have created a jarring experience for the player. You climb broken highways and mountains of rubble but encounter no stretches of desert where the blasts occurred. A world that is supposed to feel lonely ends up feeling cramped, and cramped with materials that make things seem like the bomb dropped only decades ago, instead of 200 years in the past. There are hundreds of places to explore in Fallout 3 and a myriad of items to collect, but put together they go against the bleak survival nature of the setting.
You’ll find yourself asking how a tricycle can be standing after buildings have been destroyed, why burned and unreadable books were kept for two centuries, and how an ancient box of apples can still be edible.
The places are interesting, however. To stare across a destroyed urban sprawl and see the ruins of the White House is quite awe inspiring. To look at the debris scattered amidst the asphalt as you pass an old gas station, along with the car skeletons that surround it so ominously, is a good experience. It’s intriguing to explore an old school or old house and find a computer with some information about the people who had once inhabited it. Science is a highly recommended skill because it allows you to hack these computers, which function as the game’s books and provide the much needed history that is the root of Bethesda’s games. Try to suspend your disbelief when you question how these machines are still able to operate.
Yet there are still mutated crabs and punk rock raiders who want to take you out of this experience, and often do just that. They invite you to play a game of mortal combat while you’re busy enjoying the scenery. If you play in Real Time, they have the upper hand in speed and health. If you play in VATS (Pause Time) mode, then you have the upper hand in speed and damage. Both modes can be fun, but there is no fair middle ground. VATS can completely eliminate challenges in some areas and bad enemy AI can do the same in Real Time. On the other hand, you may need to use VATS but the Slow Time mode ends up slowing you down more than the enemy fire, and in Real Time you might need to pump a hundred rounds into the head of a giant ant before he falls. There is no obtuse level scaling and thankfully challenges can be found anywhere, but the schizophrenic combat system does its best to hamper the experience.
There are those moments, though, that truly shine. You can sneak into a raider hideout and hear them conversing. If you make a noise, they react, calling you out and searching, sometimes in noticeable disbelief. An enemy can dive behind cover and take pot shots at you. A wounded mutant might run back and pick up some support from a friend. VATS can provide close up moments of your character struggling to fire an assault rifle, or brutal slow motion uppercuts delivered with brass knuckles. Battles can be invigorating. Your heart races and you duck behind cover to reload.
A raider runs into a wall. He keeps running.
The AI path finding is up there with the animations as being the Mutant after the Good and the Bad. It’s certainly an area where Bethesda needs to spend more time, as this has been a horrible problem for them since the switch to 3D characters in The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard. Walking and jumping animations have been improved, but that’s about it. There’s not much more to say in this department besides a little piece of advice: When a kid is running in between two rocks, just give him some time to work his way out of it before you decide to hit reload.
The poor AI is partially masked by the enhanced character models and textures. The faces look attractive and human. The hair styles are varied. The beard styles are incredibly varied. You can make your own authentic 1950’s style persona and have it looking good in no time, or in lots of time if micromanaging every cheekbone is your style. Men and women have different body types, walking styles, and poses. The voice work is another help here. NPCs will comment when you’re eyeing a lock, if you’ve taken too long for a quest, or if you’re simply well known in the area. There are generic townsfolk who make the settlements look alive and have interesting comments if you try to engage them in conversation. The named NPCs all have their own personality and the actors did their best to vary them by person. Malcolm McDowell is excellent in his role, as are a few unique voices you’ll find throughout the game. The much lauded Liam Neeson, however, shows up with a poor performance and an uninspired attitude. His voice is not so different from other older men in the game, and where it is different, it sounds almost like he’s attempting to channel the speech patterns of a certain Emperor from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.
As we all know, voice acting is nothing without the right dialog. In this regard Bethesda delivers… something. There’s good dialog, there’s some bad dialog, and then there’s some “so bad it’s good” dialog. Most of the bad dialog really isn’t that bad if you stop to think that the person you’re talking to just might be crazy, and there sure are a whole lot of them 200 years after the world was obliterated. Maybe it’s the radiation. As the player, you are given a wide range of options to choose from. Thankfully, and unexpectedly coming from Bethesda, choices are not “ghost” choices. That is, two choices don’t end up giving you the same response. Choices are also filled with skill checks. The whole game is filled with numerous skill checks for practically everything you do, along with dice rolls to accompany them, but dialog is where it is most apparent and most thoroughly used. Still in this general area, it is well worth noting that “wrong” choices don’t usually lead to an attack. You suffer consequences and can live with them.
Some NPCs can act, at times, like the PC. They might not accept you dropping a topic you’ve brought up, and will pressure you for information. These are small hints of a true character designer lurking in the darkness behind all the bloom, and offer a slight challenge concerning what you choose to say and ask. It will throw you off a bit when it happens. Maybe not revolutionary, but certainly it’s something quite new, and just going through this naturally might repress the urge to reload and try different conversation options, and instead accept what you have done, like a true RPG. Like the rest of the game’s best parts, these really good moments are few and end up being something you just happen to stumble into.
Consequences! Nice word, eh? There are many consequences in Fallout 3, and in some places they walk a fine line between survivalist games. Radiation is a constant threat. You receive it from being outside, fighting radiated creatures, drinking non purified water, eating food, and everything in between. Your limbs can be crippled in combat. You can become addicted to stat boosting drugs or alcohol. To remedy these problems you have to sleep, which can also give you a short term experience earned boost if you sleep for long enough, take medicine, and visit doctors. On the harder difficulties your health is really something to be intelligently managed. For all these dangers you have skills to help you out, such as Small Guns and Barter, along with S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats that govern the skills. You also have perks. Taking the place of both traits and perks from the previous Fallout games, Fallout 3 awards perks every level and they can vary from the useful, to the interesting, to the just plain weird. It’s an extra incentive to look forward to that next level besides basic skill points. These perks, such as Black Widow, can also give you unique dialog options, and some you might not have expected.
You, the proverbial role player, will enjoy the varied way you can respond to NPCs and the how you can shape the world through your actions. You might even find a hard to make choice here and there about whether to go with your guts or to go with what you know is right. Above all, it’s about discovery, and discovery is what Bethesda does best.
Ironically, discovery is also a cause of hurt in the world of Fallout 3. The game is perfectly fine with the player choosing the wild dialog options, but as soon as things get back to the real world, it doesn’t want you to go off track. Once a script ends, it ends, and the game doesn’t want you running it anymore. This is perhaps the biggest difference between Fallout 3 and its predecessors. The original Fallout begged you to break it. It begged you to get caught at level 2 by the Super Mutants, and attempt to kill Killian with Tycho at your side. Fallout 3 gives you choice, but outside of those choices it can get fuzzy. You attack someone through insulting dialog instead of starting the fight by running up and clobbering them with your baseball bat. There are many things to discover around the volcano, just don’t jump in it, or go to that area labeled “Caution: Native Cannibals”.
But when you are exploring that volcano, what are you listening to?
Most likely, it is not a composition by Inon Zur. Bethesda Softworks and Interplay have a long history of good music. Fallout contained some of the greatest and most immersive tracks that ever graced gaming. The desolate sound of wind, the clashing of keys on a keyboard, the wild raider theme, it all put you in the world and made you turn up your speakers. Mark Morgan composed those excellent pieces. Bethesda, on the other hand, has recently used Jeremy Soule, the genius behind the Icewind Dale music, along with numerous other works of art. His tracks for The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind and The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion drew you into the world of Tamriel from start to finish. For their newest venture, instead of Mark Morgan or their mainstay Jeremy Soule, Bethesda decided to hire a composer by the name of Inon Zur. This fellow apparently did not get the message that he was creating tracks for Fallout 3 instead of an amateur trash project destined for vaporware. The music in Fallout 3 is horrible. It will yank you out of the world, and then beat you senseless. It is not only inappropriate for the Fallout setting, but it is inappropriate to anything outside of the most low budget and soulless epic fantasy knockoff. The sounds and tunes clash with each other in a cycle of grotesque melodic madness. There is a reason why the PipBoy 3000 is equipped with a radio, and that reason is Inon Zur.
Birds chirp while the wind blows to the east.
If you turn off the affront to humanity’s auditory senses known as the Fallout 3 soundtrack, your ears will be presented with a serene, yet lonely, playing of great atmospheric audio. The sounds of the cities and especially the wilderness draw you into the setting and take hold. To hear nothing but the hollow wind as you walk alone on a ruined suburban street is chilling. The sound effects outside of explosions do their job, but don’t go far past meeting expectations.
Fallout 3 runs and is powered by the engine used for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. This time around it’s been upgraded and injected with steroids. A crash to desktop after you exit the application is still frequent, and thankfully still does not affect anything. Clipping issues are small and the body segments are less a problem. The body problem is fixed mostly because there are only two armor slots, but the models themselves do look much, much better here. High Definition and Anti Aliasing can be activated at the same time and HDR looks better than ever.
Textures are another story. Textures on people have improved tremendously, but that was not such a huge challenge in the first place. However, the world has actually taken a downgrade in the graphical department from its predecessor Oblivion. Many times I looked at an object and had a flashback to the late 90’s shooters. Polygon count seems to have been decreased from Oblivion as well. The textures themselves are bleak, but fit the style of the game.
If Bethesda was going for a gritty cartoony look, they sure nailed it.
These low res textures and decreased polygon count actually allow for a very cohesive looking and feeling world. It seems to “fit” the rest of the game, just like old school 2D “fits” the original Fallout. The world is intriguing and beautiful to look at, in that ugly sort of way. Your mind can jumble the paradox until you finally come to the conclusion that things do not look that bad. Unfortunately, fire effects have continued to go downhill, as they did from Morrowind to Oblivion. Things that burn in Fallout 3 do not have nice flames surrounding them. Explosions are another story, but fire, for some odd reason, is hideous, along with the smoke that goes with it.
Downgrading the graphics does have benefits, however. The Oblivion engine was known for stuttering, long load times, and constant slow-downs. These are no longer an issue in Fallout 3. Moderate hardware can enable both HDR and high levels of Anti Aliasing while enjoying good performance. VATS can seamlessly be entered and exited on demand. Effects such as explosions do not decimate your frame rates. The view distance is vast and you can see all kinds of objects in the distance. These downgraded graphics have also allowed the developers to put thousands of individual items into the game world. Empty cans and papers rest along the streets while smiling at your silently humming computer.
Now we break for some final thoughts.
Given the setting of the game, it shouldn’t be surprising that those who will get the most out of this are Americans. We have a deep patriotic pride for our history and, unless you’re black, the 1950’s are viewed as an idyllic time where the world was heading to perfection. To relate the past we know with the futurism of Fallout 3 is to feel a deep tingling of nostalgia. Americans of all ages recognize this stuff. We are intimately familiar with the cultural symbols. This is in no way saying every other culture is excluded from enjoying the game to its full potential, but perhaps much of the regional bias seen surrounding the release and hype can be attributed to this fact. There is certainly an Americanism factor at play in Fallout 3 that permeates almost every aspect, or at least tries to.
The main question is should you purchase Bethesda Softworks’ Fallout 3 and add it to your collection, supporting the company in their efforts to create more games? The survival aspect is challenging, and combat can be tough if you don’t go overboard in fixing up your character and keep the difficulty up. The world is well realize and, more importantly, cohesive. Your skills have a massive effect on the game, from totally avoiding combat through sneaking, proper detonation of mines, haggling of prices, and persuading people through dialog. It’s a world for you to explore. You are meant to go hiking and see the sights. See what kind of trouble you can get into and what you can unearth from old computer archives. Hack computers and fire Gatling Lasers. Pick locks and laugh at your enemies. Help the terror stricken family or destroy the town. Will the future be capitalistic or humanistic, or pure anarchy?
Fallout 3 is a very enjoyable hiking simulator. This title has been bestowed by many upon Bethesda’s titles, and their post apocalyptic wonderland takes the cake. It’s fun, silly, odd, engaging, and engrossing. Much has been said about this game from both camps; the lovers and the haters. I consider it a worthwhile investment if discovery is your thing and you’re willing to take a break from the high fantasy worlds and high-tech sci-fi environs that populate most of today’s industry. Fallout 3 is down to earth while still being crazy. It’s difficult and accessible. It’s gory and humble. It’s the sum of gaming paradox.
But above all, it’s a post nuclear role playing game.
Thanks goes to Bethesda Softworks for creating such an immersive and enjoyable game, and to the RPG Codex for deciding that a Chefe review might just work out.