America - Front
America - Back
By DKII 16th Feb 2009 | 4,568 views
Fallout 3 was our Best Western-style RPG last year, and now Operation Anchorage is here as the first of three downloadable content (DLC) packs for the game, all of which are available exclusively on Xbox 360 and Games for Windows Live for $10 (or 800 Microsoft points as they'd prefer I say). Yes, I said Games for Windows Live (GFWL), not PC, because in order to get Operation Anchorage on your PC you need to have a GFWL account, purchase Microsoft points (which don't come in a convenient 800-point size, of course), and then always be signed into your GFWL account while playing Fallout 3, adding several seconds to the initial loading time. If your old save file wasn't already linked to your GFWL account, you'll have to dig into your directory structure, find the save files, and copy them over. It's a hassle that shouldn't be necessary on the PC, and frankly just encourages piracy. Obviously on the 360 you don't have these issues.
Operation Anchorage looks, sounds, and plays much the same as the main game, with all of the same high and low points, so check out our review (360 , PC ) of the main game for more details on the game itself. Once you have purchased, activated, downloaded, and installed the DLC, just boot up your old save file (or a new game) and wander around the Capital Wasteland until you discover a new radio signal (which shouldn't take more than a few minutes if everything is set up correctly). Listening to the radio signal opens up the first of four quests in the DLC, and tracking it on your map will eventually lead you to an old bunker being raided by the Brotherhood of Steel.
Without spoiling too much of the plot, you'll get hooked into a simulation designed to help American troops prepare to liberate Alaska from the Chinese. You retain all of your skills, but are limited to the simulation-mandated inventory. While you can technically complete this quest line at any point in the main story, there are some factors that may influence your decision. If you try this as soon as you get out of the vault, it will be a bit more difficult (since your skills aren't as high) and you'll get locked out of several rooms/terminals that give you better weapons and more plot information if you don't have those skills over at least 25 yet. Conversely, if you're already level-capped, you won't get any experience from the quests and related fighting (which is a considerable amount, as I went from level 15 to 18 during the simulation alone), and the quest rewards probably won't mean as much to you if you already have some of the best equipment available in the game. That still leaves a large middle range, but most people interested in the DLC will probably already be at the level cap and thus will get the least out of it.
Probably the first thing you'll notice once you're inside the simulation is the relative change in scenery - blues and whites abound in the snowy landscape, though it's still pretty much an empty wasteland. You'll be spending roughly a third of the time indoors, as well, however, and the only difference there is the lack of rubble. Right away, the nearby Sergeant briefs you on your mission and sends you on your way. At this point, Operation Anchorage changes a bit from Fallout 3 to generic FPS. There are a few story elements here and there, but overall very little dialogue and interaction - you're running around gunning down Chinese Communists. Later on you'll even have a squad of soldiers following you around to help out. Instead of managing an inventory of Stimpacks and ammo clips, you'll run into infinite health and ammo dispensers around nearly every corner, along with a number of powerful weapons. Since you no longer need to loot downed enemies for everything they're carrying, dead bodies disappear in a glitch-like flash of light. It's a cute touch to remind you that you're in a simulation but it also just adds to the feeling that you've taken a timeout from Fallout 3 to play an FPS mini-game. If your sneak skill is high enough you can add a bit of stealth to the combat, which changes things up a bit, but you still often have to rely on Fallout 3's less than spectacular gunplay.
Completing the four quests in the DLC will take you anywhere from three hours if you run through guns blazing, to six hours if you play it stealthily. That's not a lot, but there are a few extra bonuses thrown in. During the simulation, you'll come across a Gauss rifle, a sweet long distance energy sniper rifle that actually has a high damage rating and can hit enemies at a distance (as long as you're not using VATS, anyway). It's of limited use in the indoors areas, but great for picking off tower sentries. Best of all, you get your own upon completing the simulation, as well as a set of stealth armor that turns you nearly invisible when in sneak mode and a souped-up set of power armor. Just in case you didn't already have it, you'll also be granted the perk to be able to wear the power armor you just got. Also there are 10 intel cases to collect throughout the simulation, and if you find them all you'll get a perk that gives you small bonuses to your Lockpick, Science, and Small Guns skills - again, only useful if you haven't already maxed these out.
From a technical standpoint, Operation Anchorage comes with a new round of crashing issues on PC - my first three hours in the simulation had no less than five crashes. These crashes don't happen to everyone, but there are a number of different causes so it can be difficult to track it down and fix it. Fortunately, if you quicksave often, you can hop right back into the game without too much delay, but it's still very annoying and inexcusable. The 360 version suffers from the same technical problems as the main game, but fortunately doesn't add any new ones. The new items given through the quests have a couple of bugs of their own, as the armor shares an id with another set of armor and can thus mess up a side quest, while the Gauss rifle doesn't work properly in VATS.
Overall, Operation Anchorage is a big step from Bethesda's initial DLC efforts at selling horse armor, but doesn't offer the same high-quality experience as the main game, suffering from an identity crisis and continued technical issues. It's still an enjoyable experience for $10, the loot obtained upon completion is worthwhile if you haven't already maxed out the original game, and the quests come with fully voice-acted dialogue, but with two more DLC packs on the way soon you may want to see what those offer before committing yourself to this one.