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10/28/08 Bethesda Softworks
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10/31/08 Bethesda Softworks

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Review: Fallout 3

By Craig Snow 16th Feb 2009 | 3,900 views 

Welcome to the wasteland... again

Note - this review is for the PC version of Fallout 3, a game which is very similar to, but slightly different from the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions of the game which we reviewed here. This review is therefore very similar to our earlier review, but contains some slight differences that deal with the PC-specific features and issues that the game has.

Fallout 3 is set in a post-apocalyptic Washington DC, and the game starts underground in ‘Vault 101’. So already the game includes two of my favourite storylines of recent years – firstly that of surviving a nuclear war and its aftermath, and secondly storylines revolving around secret underground bunkers (all that was missing was Mamma Cass’ ‘Make Your Own Kind of Music’). You’re set loose upon the world after you’ve determined your character’s attributes, explored the surprisingly small vault and its annoying inhabitants, and completed a few mini-tasks. The scene you’re presented with when you first leave the vault is impressive. After spending that first hour or so of the game in the relative darkness of the vault, your screen is suddenly flooded with light, and as your eyes adjust to the brightness you see the world for the first time from a brilliant (if somewhat convenient) look-out point on top of a hill.

That view is pretty impressive – you see the wasteland stretching out before you in all its glory. There are ruined bridges, buildings and cars in the distance. There’s absolutely no living plant life, just burnt out shrubs and trees, and there’s rock and debris all over the place. It is 200 years after the bombs that caused this destruction were dropped and humanity is still struggling to re-exert itself, small communities of survivors have banded together for protection and have formed small towns or communities that are almost always struggling to survive. That’s perhaps because there are many threats to the survivors, including teams of raiders, super mutants, Enclave troops, robots, ghouls, and some strangely mutated wildlife.

The world is pretty big, and you’ll cover most of the main landmarks while completing the storyline and key sub-quests. When you highlight the quest you want to work on the landmark you have to reach is indicated on the map. If you’ve already visited the location you can fast-travel to it (as long as there are no enemies nearby and you’re not inside a building), whereas if you haven’t you’ll have to start walking. I would have preferred it if you could move faster (it can take a long time to move across the map) and it can sometimes be extremely frustrating when you’re apparently stood on top of the marker on your map but it’s not obvious where you have to go next. I like the idea of not being able to simply transport to a location unless you’ve already been there because it encourages you to explore the world. I would often set off in the general direction of my destination and get side-tracked by something interesting, like a raider camp, a massive satellite dish, or an out-of-place building.

The game is completely open world. As soon as you leave the vault you can go wherever and do whatever you want, although stray too far from the main quest path initially and you will struggle in combat. I feel that this initial informal barrier to the open world theme was a great design choice. You’re gradually introduced to the basics, and then as your level increases and the quests available to you broaden in scope you’re given more freedom to explore the world without too many bad consequences.

Outside of the city that takes up a small central portion of the map, the world is quite bland and desolate, there are chunks of rock and slabs of concrete everywhere, and there’s very little going on. It really lives up to the name ‘Capital Wasteland’. If you wander around a bit you’ll probably spawn a small band of raiders, come across a few mole rats or similar animals, spot a few ruined buildings and the odd town here and there, but that’s pretty much it. It’s nice when you do come across something genuinely out of place or interesting, particularly if you’re slogging your way across the wasteland towards your next destination.

The city itself is impressive. It’s infested by super mutants, and the ‘boss battles’ with the giant super mutants make for excellent set pieces, so the city is much harder to negotiate through safely than the wasteland. The buildings are grand and impressive; all tightly packed together, and most have received substantial damage in the war. There’s much more variety in the city than there is in the wasteland - key present day landmarks like the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial make an excellent appearance, and it’s great when you realise that yes, you can go on that massive aircraft carrier that’s in the harbour.

It’s not all good news though. There are significant crashing problems with Fallout 3 on the PC. There have literally been stretches of three or four crashes an hour for several hours. It's frustrating and completely kills the immersion. Some patches have addressed the issue, but others have ironically made it worse. It's a fairly widespread problem, but is also computer-specific, so if you're lucky you may not notice any issues at all, but if you do there's no single fix that's guaranteed to work.

The graphics are solid, if slightly dated by the graphical engine, so don’t expect too much improvement over Oblivion in this respect. Whilst the character faces are clearly improved (in Fallout not everyone looks like a transvestite, for example), they’re all still quite fake and lifeless even when they’re talking. That said, the landscapes are quite impressive and when the V.A.T.S. system is captured perfectly by the camera (which isn’t always the case) the animations and rag doll physics are good, although these graphical benefits are often offset by unreactive enemies. The art style works well, the world is one massive ruin and you can really see that a bomb has hit the place. It’s a great post-apocalyptic setting, but there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on about the look and feel of the game, because although you recognise what the objects are you’re never actually convinced by them; everything is oddly unrealistic.

As for the music, there’s a radio section on your Pip-Boy 3000 which allows you to select a radio station to play as background music, much like in Grand Theft Auto. Unfortunately there are only a few radio stations available, and only a handful of those stations have decent coverage. It’s understandable that this would be the case in a post-apocalyptic civilisation, so it’s in-keeping with the game’s setting, but it does limit the extent to which you’ll use the radio stations. Given that the main radio stations are on a loop and the run-time is short anyway, you probably won’t find yourself tuning in later on in the game unless you spot a new station on the list or you want to hear reports of your deeds in the news bulletins. It’s a good concept, but it could have been better executed. With a longer playtime for each station it would have been an excellent feature, but it feels slightly half-hearted.

Not to fear though, the background music is excellent. Initially you probably won’t notice it, after all there’s a lot to learn so you could be forgiven for not even realising there is background music and the music is very subtle and nuanced, but later on you really begin to notice how varied and interesting the music is. It’s never overbearing and it adapts to your situation perfectly, so for example it’s quite mellow and sensitive when you’re exploring the wasteland, but more upbeat and combative when you’re in danger. The voice acting is good too. Liam Neeson is good as your father, and there a lot of varied characters to interact with over the course of the game. The dialogue works well too, you’re presented with a list of possible lines to choose from and the choices you make do impact on the storyline.

One of Fallout 3’s major selling points is the V.A.T.S. system of combat. It essentially involves pausing the game to select specific areas of attack. Each body part is given a percentage chance of a successful hit and you’re able to line up a series of attacks. You’re then presented with the results of your attack in a slow motion scene. On the whole the system works well, and it needs to because the ordinary shooter mechanics are pretty broken in Fallout 3. You’ll need to mix up regular shooting with V.A.T.S. because you only have a limited pool of points from which to launch a V.A.T.S. attack, so unless you’re willing to go and cower in the corner waiting for your points to charge up you’ll inevitably make use of the regular FPS mechanics. The problem with the regular shooting is that the accuracy is completely off. You can have a super mutant stood right in front of you with your sights aimed directly at his head and you can still miss. Ordinary shooter fans will find this lack of accuracy extremely frustrating, but even if you don’t hold any particular attachment to FPS mechanics the lack of accuracy is woefully poor.

The V.A.T.S. system works well, but it isn’t perfect. Sometimes the camera doesn’t have time to get in position to capture your shots, and in attempting to compensate will move around frantically, often leaving you with some pretty incomprehensible footage. The percentages often seem incorrect as well, and they don’t always account for obstacles. So if, for example, you’re firing in-between the railings of a staircase, the percentages will often remain unaffected. You could conceivably have a 90% chance of success show up on the screen, but in reality the chance of success for hitting some body parts will be 0% because the railings will be in the way. I quite like the V.A.T.S. system, it works well alongside a regular shooting mechanic because different situations encourage you to use a different approach, it’s just a shame that the level of accuracy for both is somewhat lacking.

As you progress through the game, completing quests, killing things and performing other activities, you’ll level up (to a maximum of just 20, which wasn’t enough for my tastes, and I easily achieved this level before completing the game). You’re given a bunch of points which you can then use on 13 different skills, varying from sneaking to your proficiency with energy weapons. On top of that each level also allows you to select one of many bonus perks, which include things like an automatic level up (only available once of course) or more life. This level up system allows for 100s of different variations, particularly when combined with your initial ability base, which you determine during your childhood phase. It’s a very versatile system, and it’s one that tends to only enhance your character’s ability to do certain things and doesn’t drastically change the gameplay experience, so choosing to invest in some of the more obscure perks and skills doesn’t end up punishing you.

The 3rd person mode is imported directly from Oblivion, which is unforgivable really. I don’t understand why Bethesda are actually incapable of making a decent 3rd person mode. It feels and plays exactly the same as the 1st person mode, and your character model looks dreadful. Most of my time was spent in 1st person and the only time I switched was in the wasteland, as I would usually be attacked from behind at some point and the 3rd person view gave me a little warning.

The game is pretty lengthy, which is excellent. You can choose to rush through the main story (which in itself is quite short) if you wish, but you’re unlikely to want to do that. The main sub-quests really work alongside the main quest, enhancing the story and revealing more about life before and after the war. Then there are the minor sub-quests, which result in much smaller rewards and tend to focus on more minor storylines, like particular relationships between characters within a town. These more minor quests don’t impact on the main story, and don’t really add anything to the overarching plot, but they’re there if you want the extra challenge. A lot of your time will probably be spent travelling from one location to another, or fast-travelling back to town mid-journey in order to offload all the items you’ve acquired. The amount you can store in your inventory is quite large compared to your more traditional action games, but given that the journey between locations can be quite lengthy, the amount you can carry quickly becomes an issue, even after you’ve got the perk which allows you to carry more.

Beyond that there are plenty of things to collect for achievements, such as the 20 bobbleheads scattered throughout the world. And some fun challenges, like planting a grenade on someone without them noticing. It’s possible to get all your achievements in one play through, but you’ll have to be careful about your progress because there are some easy to miss challenges that you can’t go back to. If you’re an achievement hunter then expect the completion time for Fallout 3 to at least double. The PC version also gives you access to the debug console and an extensive modding toolset and community, which really enhances the replay value of the game.

We recently reviewed Fallout 3 for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and it's a solid game on all three platforms, but it also has a lot of issues on each platform. The graphics engine is starting to look dated and the game has its fair share of technical problems. There are lot of great ideas that work well but aren’t perfectly executed, like V.A.T.S. and the radio broadcasts, and there are other ideas that aren’t really executed at all, like the FPS mechanics and the 3rd person mode. That said, the RPG elements are well executed, the open world is ambitious (giving you the freedom to explore, whilst at the same time giving you a clear direction and not leaving you to wander aimlessly), and the post-apocalyptic setting is great. Oblivion fans will probably fall in love with the game, and if you invest a lot of time and effort there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had, particularly if you can adapt to the game’s numerous idiosyncrasies.

VGChartz Verdict


Read more about our Review Methodology here

Sales History

Total Sales
1 n/a n/a 56,207 56,207
2 n/a n/a 23,389 23,389
3 n/a n/a 18,864 18,864
4 n/a n/a 25,539 25,539
5 n/a n/a 21,626 21,626
6 n/a n/a 24,711 24,711
7 n/a n/a 25,467 25,467
8 n/a n/a 27,656 27,656
9 n/a n/a 18,225 18,225
10 n/a n/a 8,622 8,622

Opinion (19)

Mordred11 posted 07/11/2011, 09:11
I simply loved this game. console commands FTW!
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yahoocom1984 posted 06/10/2011, 03:13
Remeber these numbers are only for retail and only for EMEAA, it doesn't include digital sales and Americas sales bitch
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Heavenly_King posted 30/09/2011, 10:35
I cant believe all the 850K are for EMEAA only. So if America is to be counted, it would sell 2M I think
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nilli posted 21/09/2011, 10:40
Pc version has not passed 2 million copies world wide and never will. Million could be close those. But it got pirated about many times more so the developers really screwed themselves by releasing it on pc.
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Fidelfc posted 10/04/2011, 05:06
Simply the BEST game ever made.
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yahoocom1984 posted 09/04/2011, 12:11
PC version passed 2 million copies worldwide
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