There is a Fallout fever in my house. The Weiner Daddy is playing on 360, I’m playing on the PC using both keyboard and mouse and the Microsoft game controller. We’ve been playing since the game was released on October 28th, and neither of us is anywhere near completing it. I will also note that neither of us have encountered any of the nasty bugs reported by Kotaku, but these are known issues, so your mileage could vary.
Welcome to post-apocalyptia, children! The theme and setting are the same no matter which version you choose. Fallout is set in an alternate history universe full of retro-futuristic kitsch and post-bombing hell. Imagine the American 1950s, only with 22nd century laser and gene-mapping technology. By the time you are on the scene, the bomb has long since dropped. It’s 200 years later, you are ready to crawl out of your sealed Vault and see what’s what in the ruins of Washington, DC. The Capitol Wasteland comprises a HUGE area, and the sidequests alone can take you hours upon hours. Unlike Bethesda’s Oblivion, however, you can and will want to get back on track with the main quest eventually.
Think bleak. As befits the setting, the Fallout 3 world is full of brown, grey, and yellow. Unlike the repetitive trash-strewn levels of Hellgate: London, the environment of Fallout 3 is huge and fairly varied. When does Bethesda reuse something in the game, they are doing it on purpose. Think all those tract-home shells look alike? That’s the point. All of that suburban sameness makes it much more powerful the first time you see the ruins of the Washington Monument or the Capitol Building.
The character models are straight out of Oblivion, albeit with different clothes. The facial mapping and details are improved from Bethesda’s RPG, but the idea is the same, with the PC having the edge over the 360 in detail. Enemies vary, from mutated critters to raider gangs to super mutants. The critters are pretty much all the same, but the raiders and mutants are varied. If you look closely you can see the attention to detail, as most of the humanoids’ armor is actually pieced together bits of the trash strewn across the Capitol Wasteland.
It is here that the PC and 360 versions diverge. Fallout 3 is not a shooter and it is not a full-on action RPG, but is something of a chimera of the two. After fighting with the mouse and keyboard for over 20 hours, it is clear to me that Fallout 3 was designed for a controller. Even the lowest mouse sensitivity option will swing your view way wide of the enemy in front of you. Lockpicking is nearly impossible to do without failing a few times, due to the twitchy nature of the PC controls. My experience was vastly improved when I used a gamepad on my PC.
Combat is its own strange bird. On the shooter side you have the option to take a first-person view and use your weapons as you see fit. On the ARPG side you have the V.A.T.S. system; action points-based pause-and-play combat. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t really play Fallout 3 entirely as a shooter or entirely in V.A.T.S. Most of the time you’ll use V.A.T.S., then try and duck and cover while your AP recharges to use it again. Why? Because the FPS perspective doesn’t work that well. The target reticule is small and inaccurate, and there is no lock-on. This is true in both the PC and 360 versions.
Searching for and picking up items must almost always be done in first person view. The “target boxes” for small items, such as stimpaks, is ridiculously tiny, and unless you’re nose-to-nose with them, you may not be able to highlight them to grab them. This is a little better on the 360 version, but here again the PC version suffers from poor mouse control.
Don’t let the PC control issues dissuade you. Fallout 3 is a fantastic game. It is engaging, fun, and deep. You will care about your character. You will care about some NPCs and want to kill others. You will make irrevocable choices early on that will truly affect your game path and the game world. Evil is as viable a choice as good, and your experience will differ greatly depending on which path you take. You can get through the main quest in about 10 hours, yes, but if you do, you’re missing the point. I didn’t miss it at all, and I’m wondering how I’m going to balance playing more Fallout 3 with the release of Wrath of the Lich King on Thursday.
For being an excellent and engaging game with real consequences and deep story branches, I am giving Fallout 3 five weiners out of five.