Hands-on / Fallout 3

One of the greatest travesties of the modern era of gaming is when great games get updated and completely and totally lose the gameplay and the feeling that originally made them great. Usually this happens with a transition to 3D or because the new company developing the game is really just using the game’s heritage to sell copies. Upon first seeing Fallout 3, I thought that this too would be the fate of this legendary cult favorite. Actually, my first thought was, “Oh, I better play the original Fallout,” but right after I did that my first thought was about Bethesda messing it up.

Now I’ve had some time with the game thanks to E3 and and while I couldn’t really get that far in just 30 minutes to tell you how the game truly plays or runs, what I can tell you is that new Fallout feels a hell of a lot like old Fallout, just with prettier graphics and all new gameplay mechanics. You’re dropped outside in the post-apocalyptic world of Fallout 3 and the same sense of a large desolated world that you got from the first game is right there. As I started playing, I felt almost exactly like I felt when I jumped into Fallout for the first time, except now I could see a gorgeous horizon of destroyed Washington DC instead of a bunch of pixels.

You can actually play the game in three different ways. You can run around shooting in first-person, or you can do the same in third-person, thus allowing you to see your custom built character (all the depth of character creation is still there) and the plethora of pretty outfits you can put him in (my favorite that I got to wear was the clothing from an enemy that I killed that had spikey shoulder pads). These two modes work pretty standardly, though the third person view keeps the camera so that you’re always looking over your characters shoulder, and it’s a little weird to not have him constantly centered.

It’s the third mode, called V.A.T.S. (Vault-Tech Assisted Targeting System), that’s the real kicker. Just like in the original Fallout, you can target different parts of an enemy with different percentage chances to score a hit. Hit a knee and a bad guy might go down, score a head shot and the fight could easily be over. The mode instantly turns a real-time fight into a turn-based one with flashy camera moves and kills. You just click the right bumper and the scene pauses and zooms in on your enemy, select where you want to place your shots and how many you want to take with the amount of “energy” you have, and then fire. The camera pulls out and shows you taking down the enemy (or totally missing). It’s a really interesting way to implement an old mechanic in a new way.

Graphically the game is stunning. I was playing on a 360 and it just looked beautiful, though some of the character animations were a little jilted. I guess that can happen when you’ve got such a large world to fill. Another thing I noticed was that the game’s interface was much simpler than the original’s, and it was far easier to pick up the controller (or keyboard) and just jump in. This might sound like a letdown to the dire hard Fallout fans out there, but trust me, the game still has tons of depth, especially with the 125 hours of content Bethesda said it will have, 25 hours of which is the main quest (thanks for the question buddycuffs, sorry no answer on the bobble head doll). Plus the amount of armor, weapon and attribute selections are still staggering, meaning you’ll be hard pressed to find another character like yours.

And to answer your question bestcox: they said yes, of course. But from the brief time I’ve had with the game, it looks like Bethesda is really doing something special with Fallout 3. I know it’s moved from my “keep an eye on list” to my “must have list” already.