Wander lust

It's okay to look in Fallout 3
By RYAN STEWART  |  November 24, 2008
3.5 3.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Fallout 3

Fallout 3 | For the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Bethesda Game Studios | Published by Zenimax
Several games have attempted to re-create an entire major city to serve as the environment. Fallout 3 destroys one — Washington — and deposits you in the midst of the wreckage. You'll find the Reflecting Pool on the Mall filled with radioactive water, the Jefferson Memorial crawling with zombies and mutants, and the Washington Monument reduced to its skeleton. That last one in particular makes the game all the more unnerving and unsettling.

You play as an individual who was born and raised in a bomb shelter. You're compelled to leave the security of that shelter when your father (voice of Liam Neeson) escapes without warning or explanation and the shelter's cult leader orders your execution. You set off after dad, only to discover that what lies beyond the vault's walls is a ruined wasteland, the result of a nuclear disaster. You find more than a few villages in addition to the DC metro area populated by survivors and settlers. Your pop has visited a few of these places, and the locals will tell you where he's going. But that information doesn't come free — you have to embark on a series of quests to increasingly remote locations in the wasteland. You'll do something for one settler, who will then tell you to go to another town, where you'll meet another person with a different task for you, and so forth. It makes sense in context: you're armed and intrepid, so of course people want you to run errands for them while they stay safe. There's a moral aspect to Fallout 3 as well: you earn karma for helping people and lose it for robbing them, lying to them, or attacking them without provocation.

For combat, Fallout 3 implements the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS), which lets you zero in on a specific area of a foe's anatomy. You can target a mutant's arm and render him unable to use his firearm, or his legs, so he can't escape. Or go straight for the head shot, which will dispose of him faster, even though you're more likely to miss. Or go for the torso, which is easier to hit but less damaging. It does take some time to adjust to VATS, since it will stop each encounter cold to bring up the targeting interface, and after you've used it to attack, the interface does not pop back up even if your quarry is still alive, so you're vulnerable to attack if you're not quick on the draw. Once you've gotten used to it, though, you'll find it's effective.

Fallout 3's real focus isn't on combat, however, or even plot. It's about exploration. The dozens of side quests have nothing to do with the main plot, and it's easy to get caught up in those and forget your main objective. Fallout 3 uses its setting to advantage in this regard, playing off our familiarity with Washington's great landmarks (even though many of us have never seen them in person). Most gamers who see the Lincoln Memorial in the distance won't be able to resist the temptation to check it out. Surely everything else can wait while you investigate, right?

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