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Fallout 3
Score: 97%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Shooter/ Free-Roaming

Graphics & Sound:
10 years. That is how long it has been since the last time anyone got to leave a certified Vaultec Vault. Going out into the wasteland for the first time is an unbelievable experience and truly indescribable. Many people have been worried about whether the franchise can still hold any weight or meaning after so long. Bethesda promised an amazing game when they announced that they were taking the license from Interplay and it is. Fallout 3 is everything that could have been expected and more.

From the moment that Fallout 3 begins, everything looks simply gorgeous. There is a commitment to the franchise that can't really be explained. Bethesda took their time to ensure that every facet of the Fallout 3 universe fit within the framework of the original games that came out over a decade ago. The scenic vistas are breathtaking and every character is lively and vibrant. Huge, open areas in the wasteland truly convey the feeling of loneliness like no other game before it. Load times are kept to a minimum and everything runs at a smooth rate. Honestly, it needs to be seen to be believed.

The sound design in Fallout 3 is just as superb as the visuals. Every. Single. Person has something to say... literally. Every character you encounter has a voice actor and almost everyone can be interacted with a unique dialogue tree. The sound of firefights in the distance and radio stations broadcasting through your PipBoy 3000 are phenomenal. Being able to cram all of this content and data onto a single disc is utterly remarkable. The sweeping score and rich compositions manage to emphasize the mood at just the right moment every time.

Fallout 3 literally starts the player by being born. You come into a world engulfed in turmoil and on the verge of a global meltdown. The panic has spread and your family, as a last resort, decides to live out the impending nuclear holocaust inside a hardened steel bunker called a Vault. Everything to make life enjoyable can be found in your Vault and you will experience your first birthday party, your first PipBoy, and even your first significant other (if you want) within the first hour of gameplay. Around the time that you turn 19, your Dad has somehow escaped the Vault and traveled out into the barren wasteland. All you have to do is find him. That is the only true goal of Fallout 3.

Of course, I say one goal because there are literally hundreds of other quests to go on at any given time. Quests range from anything between gathering scrap metal for a local plumber to becoming a contract killer and retrieving a body part as proof of the dirty deed. The quest structure and quest trees are as close to an MMO as anyone can get without actually being connected online. Anytime a quest is accepted, it is automatically added into your PipBoy, which acts like a P.D.A. of sorts that keeps tabs on the minutia like stats and maps.

The Fallout franchise has been known for two things: perks and skills. Every game was about how you played the character you wanted. If you rolled a high speech character, you could fast talk your way past entire chunks of gameplay without having to kill a single person. Fallout 3 brings all of that back around, but adds in elements of The Elder Scrolls series to create an extremely intimate player-creation experience. The only other time that I have felt such commitment to the character on-screen was in an MMORPG. I truly care about my character, Sir Diddymus, and his exploits in the wastes of Washington D.C.

There are a set of 6 base skills called S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skills that affect core mechanics like endurance and charisma. Then there are 13 regular skills that affect the more personality-driven aspects, like weapon affinity and specializations. On top of all of that, there are Perks. Perks are rewarded after every level earned (max 20) and give you a fundamental change in the way you progress your character. Perks include things like special dialogue options for members of the opposite sex or essentially turning yourself into a ninja. For those that are wondering, yes... Bloody Mess is still in there as well as the buckets of gore that come with it.

Then there is V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System). At any time during combat, you can slow down the pace in order to target specific body parts of enemies. Each part of the body is highlighted and a hit percentage is displayed. That hit percentage changes based a number of different factors, but V.A.T.S. is the safest way to deal damage in Fallout 3. The beautiful thing about it is that you never have to use it. V.A.T.S is completely optional and if someone was so inclined, they could play the entire game like a standard shooter. The camera can be in first person, or you can pull it out to an over-the-shoulder view. This is the most approachable game in a very long time.

How can anyone rate the difficulty of a game as big as Fallout 3? Everything is optional, so if it seems like it might be too hard, then don't do it. If you want a challenge, there are numerous areas to explore that you could attempt to take-over to add an extra challenge. Honestly, even though it sounds cliché, the hardest part is putting it down. There is always one more thing to do. Even if you ran through the main story quests, which take around 15 hours, going back and playing a different alignment or different path will keep you coming back.

Even for the tougher puzzle-based quests, there is always more than one solution. For example, there is a safe that is locked by a computer terminal. How would you get into that safe? Well Fallout 3 lets you decide based on your character. You could hack the safe with your lockpick skill, or you could hack the computer terminal to unlock the safe electronically, or you could search for a slip of paper or sound recording of the password for the computer without having to hack it, or you could simply do a nice deed for the owner and they will give you the contents as a reward. Nearly every quest and puzzle can be approached in this way. If this was a linear game, it would be too easy but since it is wide open, it isn't quantifiable.

Game Mechanics:
Nearly everything that needs to be known can be viewed or learned from the PipBoy 3000 located on your character's wrist. Press the circle button to access everything from inventory, to health stats, to radio stations that are playing in the background. It seems that most of the game is centered around the use of the PipBoy and because it is such a vital part of the Fallout experience, this game would not exist without it.

Standard controls are pretty intuitive and work really well. (R1) attacks with whatever weapon is equipped. (R2) enters into V.A.T.S. targeting, while (L2) pulls out the camera to your position of choice and (L1) aims more accurately or blocks if you have a melee weapon equipped. The sticks are your movement and aiming respectively.

With such a glowing review, you might ask is there ANYTHING wrong with Fallout 3? Yes there is. Technical glitches mar the entire experience. A.I. runs into walls or gets stuck on random objects, entire sections of the story can be skipped as if nothing happened at all, and bodies fall from the sky so they can be put right back where you left them if you re-enter an area. Basically, all of the bad aspects that came from Oblivion. There is one instance for the PS3 version where the game freezes anytime that the system gives you a notification, such as low battery on the controller or when friends sign on or off. In this case, however, the bad is nearly insignificant by comparison. Being able to craft your own journey in a game this large is epic. Fallout 3 deserves all of the acclaim it will get and deserves a place on your shelf if you haven't yet picked it up. If you are a old-school fan of the franchise or a newcomer that is looking for a more in-depth RPG experience, it is hard to go wrong with Fallout 3.

-HanChi, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Hanchey

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