First, let me reassure franchise fans -- Fallout 3 is still chock-full of its particular style of humor. While there's some stuff we can't mention -- content of the loading screens, main storyline cut scenes, and achievements -- there's still plenty of stuff we can. But first, some background information.
The game starts you off emerging from a nuclear fallout vault. You're in Washington DC and the immediate area, if not the entire country/world, has been devastated by nukes. The first thing you'll notice when you step out into the sunlight is that the screen blurs as your character's eyes adjust to the light. Once you can see, you get a magnificent view of the destroyed city, with gorgeous detail and a very long draw distance.
The initial level still does have some color, as well, at least in daylight. The large, open environment is a bit lacking in life -- perhaps to be expected after a nuclear strike -- but there's a lot of variety in the environmental objects and debris littered about so it's not as dull and boring as the trailer on Monday appeared. The roads you'll travel have a lot of textural detail and are actually uneven so that you'll bounce up and down a bit while traversing them.
Fallout 3 is an RPG that plays a lot like a first-person shooter, though you can also switch to a third-person over-the-shoulder view. The big talking point is the lock-on power, where you freeze time and zoom way in on the enemy, targeting various body parts. Each target zone has a percentage attached to it, depending on the size of the region and your distance from the enemy, which affects whether or not your shot will hit. Also you're limited by your AP in the number of shots you can take -- AP takes several seconds to recharge fully. Once you've selected your targeted shots, press A to accept and, if you score a hit, you'll be treated to a cinematic scene detailing your attack. If the shots are enough to completely drain the enemy's health, you'll also get a nicely rendered death scene. It's not an auto-hit insta-kill so makes for a much cooler mechanic than I thought in my initial impressions Monday.
You don't have to play Fallout 3 like a shooter, either. You can crouch down to enter stealth mode, and a text note at the top of the screen will tell you if you remain hidden or if you've been detected. Obviously you slow down a fair bit while in stealth mode. Which brings up another point, and that is that movement in general feels a bit slow while crossing the empty portions of the landscape.
Eventually I fought off some little critters and some insane human raider and found a little hit with some items to raid. I decided to use the "Wait" feature to check out the nighttime effects. Pressing select will bring up a menu that lets you select a time period to fast-forward to, and once you accept your view zooms out and you can see the time progressing, as the sun sets and the sky turns dark. I emerged beneath a rather pretty starry sky into the dark wasteland.
Since this is DC, I eventually spotted a ruined Washington monument in the background just before coming across a fenced-in compound with some more raiders. After dispatching them, a local ran up to me offering me a side quest. I could've been real mean and killed him on the spot, or told him to buzz off, or agreed to help out -- normal branching dialogue options for the genre. The character models were pretty lifelike with realistic-looking faces, though the lip animation and eye movement was a bit off.
There's the typical set of RPG elements here, with stats and skills and abilites and a hefty inventory galore tucked away within an elaborate and rather humorous menu system. But the really cool part is the radio stations that you can tune into in different locations. In the ruined DC area (Capital Wasteland), for instance, you can listen to a propaganda broadcast from the "President", who's taken over the country, while you play the game. There was also a news broadcast, and even one from a China-based station. Some of the broadcasts appear to give you information for seeking out side quests as well. Really this was the most entertaining part of the demo, but I'm one of those people who enjoys listening to the fake talk radio stations in Grand Theft Auto, too.
Overall it seemed like a pretty fun game. Fallout 3 is due out this fall for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.