This week Zero Punctuation wanders the post-apocalyptic wasteland in Fallout 3.
. . .Yeah, its pretty good.
(Credits start to roll, but are cut off)
All right, all right!
If I had Liam Neeson's phone number, I'll tell you what I'd do: I'd nervously call him up and blurt out something about how Darkman was all right before slamming the receiver down and running away. But hypothetically, if I wasn't an idiot and talked him into doing voices for my video game, I'd have him voice a character named Captain Dynamite, who has the face of Frank Zappa and nuclear missiles instead of legs. He'd fly around the player in a magic space buggy for the entire course of the game sprinkling rose petals and friendship. What I'm saying is I'd make the most of the talent.
Bethesda seem to be in the habit of hiring the biggest name voice actors they can find and having their character drop off the face of the Earth before you've even picked a class. They did it to Captain Picard in Oblivion, and now they've done it to Oscar Schindler in Fallout 3. It's a shame because Liam Neeson's smooth authoritative tones really helped ease the trauma of the game's opening, in which you are dumped bleary eyed and blood-stained out of your mum's vagina and are then expected to come up with a gender, name, and future appearance, which is a lot to ask from a newborn baby.
The character creation sets the scene by having you play through various key points of your miserable childhood in a small underground room populated by around ten people, and it's fairly effective at drawing you in. Even if the all important immersion does receive a little hairline fracture as you're leaving the Vault, when a window pops up going, "Just a moment, was there any part of your childhood you were unsatisfied with and wish to alter with your magical, time traveling, false memory syndrome?" But anyway, you emerge, blinking, from the underground for the first time and then an endless land of possibilities rolls away in every direction, evoking many conflicting emotions in your naïve young mind. All eventually silenced by one overpowering realisation: this seems a hell of a lot like Oblivion!
For the most part, it's like they just took that game and put new wallpaper over it; green hills painted brown, a few houses bombed, imps changed to mutant flies, and a fleet of garbage trucks sent around to dump rubble all the landscape. The scenery's a bit more varied and interesting, but you'll see the interiors of more copy-pasted subway stations than an indecisive hobo. And the characters of Fallout 3 and Oblivion both holiday in same part of the uncanny valley. Voice acting's improved though, so at least when you hear different people spout the same conversations verbatim, they at least sound a little bit into it. They still do that thing where they stand ramrod stiff while talking and never break eye contact, like they're incredibly paranoid that you're going to pick their pocket the moment they look away, which might make sense, because I usually do!
Of course, the major difference is that they didn't have assault rifles in Cyrodiil, which was a shame because they would have livened up the arena fights no end. With guns comes the much touted V.A.T.S. aiming system. In my E3 video, I speculated that watching every single gunshot happen in slow motion from a different camera angle would get old after a while, but that's not the case. Watching a super mutant's body fly off in one direction and his head in three others never loses it's charm as a spectacle. But in a nutshell, it's a system for lobster accountants who distrust the uncoordinated flailing of their pincers and would rather let numbers decide the outcome of battle. For people who actually know which end of a gun makes the loud noises, it's essentially a magic "hey look over there" button that keeps the enemy holding nice and still while you carefully pick off their testicles. And when you're out of action points, you can still fire manually. There's a good reason why no one's ever tried mixing real-time and turn-based combat and it's the same reason why no one's ever tried mixing jam with pus.
You also level up a lot faster than in Oblivion, and you can even do it while you're awake! I ended up putting lots of points into lockpicking and stealth, partly because sometimes I experience minor brain hemorrhages and I forget that the Thief series are the only games that have ever done stealth well, and partly because I was going to steal shit. Games have spent the last 20 years ingraining into me the instinct that being the stalwart hero of the land basically overrules society's petty ownership laws rather than Objectivist philosophy, on reflection, but I'll be buggered before I unlearn that for one fucking game. As long as no one's looking, you can pretty much help yourself, and most people are too busy staring at walls to worry about you. By the time I hit level 4 I was sitting on a haul worthy of a dingy, post-apocalyptic Croesus, but still had the highest karma level because of a few quests I stumbled into. So the people were showering me with praise even while they wondered where their wallets had gone. Eventually I lost interest, because I was practically wallpapering my house with money, medkits, and ammo, and all the challenge had exited the game with nary a farewell or tip of the hat.
Fallout 3 is a vast improvement on Oblivion. It's much more immersive and I found myself relishing the long hikes through the wasteland to my next objective as I drank in the atmosphere, met interesting characters and nicked all their stuff. But there's something rather monotonous about it that waters my enthusiasm; it's certainly closer to Branston Pickle than most games, but they chose too large a sandwich and spread the Branston Pickle so thin that there weren't any particularly chunky mouthfuls. But it's still Branston Pickle, and if you let it take you in, you'll be swimming in it 'til your eyes fall out. Fallout 3, that is!
Constructed from tin cans and engine parts: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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