Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Top 50 Games - 17. Fallout 3
The RPG is facing difficult times. Once a niche genre adapted from the tabletop to the computer screen, the 90's saw Square turn the Japanese role-playing game into blockbuster material, offering stories and visuals that got as close to Hollywood as games had ever been. But now the JRPG is stagnating and nobody knows exactly what to do. The western RPG evolved from D&D-based dungeon crawlers to Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect, garnering much success in the modern era, although if ME2 is any indication, today's WRPG is starting to lose some traditionally indicative features. Bethesda had been developing its first-person Elder Scrolls series for years, truly breaking into the mainstream with Oblivion. The fourth entry brought complex role-playing to life in the new console generation, satisfying the desire for both immersive realism and statistical abstraction. Following the game's success, Bethesda picked up the Fallout franchise, a post-apocalyptic isometric Interplay WRPG that hadn't received a sequel in years. Taking many liberties, Bethesda fused the black humor and art direction of Fallout with the gameplay model and first-person perspective of The Elder Scrolls. The result was Fallout 3, a huge affair that is nonetheless meaner and leaner than Oblivion. The fat had been cut out and replaced with succulent, satisfying RPG meat. As I mentioned in my piece on Oblivion, Bethesda knows how to take an unoriginal setting and make players feel like they're interacting in a real place. The Elder Scrolls is typical Tolkeinesque high fantasy, but Fallout is much more interesting: an idyllic 50's-style America nuked to hell by Red China. It's a fascinating landscape to explore, and explore it you can, with every dull brown horizon able to be reached on foot. Fallout 3 has a lot to offer players, but in my mind the most enjoyable and effective moments come from wandering around the Wasteland and coming across new places of interest, be they quest-critical or merely atmosphere-enhancing. While the wide empty spaces may seem all but lifeless, there is so much to discover out in this virtual world that the 100-hour mark seems like nothing. In my lonely travels I've found a crashed UFO (in which there is an awesome Alien Blaster), a verdant oasis (as its name, Oasis, implies) high up on a mountain, a place where you can die of radiation poisoning in 0.1 seconds, and much much more. Apart from aimless wandering there are tons of worthwhile quests to undertake, all of which are interesting and rewarding in one way or another, and many of which present difficult choices to the player. Gameplay mechanics include the spectacularly entertaining V.A.T.S., which pauses the game to lock onto an enemy and let the player pick out body parts to shoot at. I used the V.A.T.S. method as much as possible, eschewing typical FPS run-and-gunning for the more involved, deliberate, and sadistic pseudo-turn-based style. One of the most inaccessible parts of Oblivion was the menu, and this complaint has been addressed wonderfully in Fallout 3. Pressing B on an Xbox 360 controller brings up the Pip-Boy 3000, an arm-attached computer that lets you access your inventory, stats, map, etc. very easily, and in a highly charming manner. Fallout 3's Wasteland is filled with so much great content, I still haven't seen all of it. I've never been to Paradise Falls, I've never completed the Nuka-Cola challenge, I've never been to the White House ruins, and I've never figured out what the hell is down there that can get me to die of radiation poisoning in less than one second. And I'm glad I haven't found this stuff out, because it only serves to augment the enticing mystery and wonder of Fallout 3, the uncanny ability it has to get you thinking about what we've seen and haven't seen long after you put the controller down. If the apocalypse is this much fun, then I say bring it on, China (just kidding).