Review: Fallout 3: Part 1, The EndingSo, Fallout 3.
First things first: Fallout 3 is an excellent game. It is worth every cent of $50, and you should buy it, right now. The rest of this "review" is going to consist of whining and nitpicking, which in no way should dissuade you from immediately purchasing the game.
If you are going to buy the game, then I also suggest that you immediately stop reading, since I am going to spoil the ending of the game, which echos the setting of the game in being both apocalyptic and shitty.
Second things second: I have only (only!) put about thirty hours into the game. I've gotten one character to the level cap and to the end of the game, and another to level 15. I estimate I have completed maybe half of the total side quests.
Final warning: I am not going to provide a smallnumber/bignumber "score" at the conclusion of this review. "Scores" are used in the professional game review/promotion industry so they can produce a metacritic score, which determines how much the developers get paid; as well as being convenient performance metric publishers can show their investors, which then determines how much they spend on advertising with the very people who produce metacritic scores. As one might expect from a number produced by people who can only benefit from its inflation, it is absolute bullshit with zero grounding in reality.
Now let's talk realism. No Mutants Allowed, famed throughout the land for their extraordinary level of dedication to the original Fallout, ripped the hell out of Fallout 3 for being unrealistic.[*]
Why yes, Fallout 3 is certainly unrealistic, in much the same way that World Of Warcraft is a lousy documentary of medieval serfdom, and Team Fortress 2 is not an accurate depiction of corporate espionage.
This is a game where you'll go from looting a supermarket of two hundred year old junk food to fleeing across the wasteland from a pair of giant mutated scorpions the size of the nuclear powered pseudo-Buicks that jam the roads.
This is a game where the currency is bottlecaps. Not metaphorical bottlecaps, but literal bottlecaps, from glass bottles of Nuka-Cola.
*: No Mutants Allowed is a hardcore Fallout 1/2 fan site, so a bad review of Fallout 3 from them is about as unprecedented as the sun rising and the Pope continuing to waste tithes on fancy shoes. Of course they weren't going to like it, even if it shit gold and farted rainbows it still would be a first person shooter/rpg and not a third-person isometric turn-based tactical rpg; and NMA would rather preferred that Bethesda had just remade Fallout 1, or better yet, had not made a Fallout game at all.
Sure, it's got a classic open-world RPG all-predators-no-plants ecology, complete with hilariously tiny "cities" (Where the hell do all the kids in Lamplight come from?) and invisible walls, but it also has a steam-powered nuclear catapult, with which you can kill twenty-foot-tall sewer-pipe wielding mutants. Fallout 3 balances serious with wacky magically well, to the point that even a world-class nit-picker such as myself can find no crack in the polished wall of flawless presentation from which to demolish the entire game.
Until the ending.
Oh the ending.
From all quarters I heard wails and lamentations concerning the end of the game, so I put it off until I hit the level cap, and boy am I glad I did, because boy it sure does suck shit.
Now, I never finished Oblivion, (or Morrowind, or Fallout 1...) so I cannot make the sweeping generalizations[*] so beloved by critics, but Fallout 3 seems to have a hard time with big quests. The dozens of side quests are executed well, and the "big" side quests, like Replicated Man, are brilliant; but the main quest is unforgivably clumsy.
*: "Bethesda can't handle epic-level games", "Bethesda can't handle games", "Bethesda sucks", "bethesda is gay lol".
At several points in the main quest the game will freeze you in place to watch NPCs talk at each other. Disregarding how much damage this does to immersion, the game doesn't bother to steer you to a good place to actually watch the dialog, so it's trivially easy to end up out of position and subsequently spend the entire "cinematic" staring at the backs of the NPC's heads. If you're truly gifted, (or extraordinarily dumb) you can end up all the across the room when the game freezes you in place, wondering if you were suddenly afflicted by some mysterious bug. No bug, just some NPCs deciding to have an Important Talk and forgetting to invite you.
But it's better than actually watching the NPCs talk.
The facial animation system is adequate at mild emotions, but fails spectacularily at anything more extreme than mild irritation, and changes in posture or gestures are completely unimplemented.
Watching the NPCs stare at each other while the voice actors chewed the scenery, I was struck by how much better this could have been if someone who knew what they were doing, like Valve, had handled it. Valve is the undisputed master of talky FPSes, and listening to the commentary in their recent games reveals just how much time they spend polishing player experience, something that Bethesda sorely needed to emulate.
But most of the fault lies with me, and my chronic overexpectations. The same thing happened with Phoenix Wright. I stupidly expected a grand story arc out of it, with the fresh young idealist gradually taking on more and more ambiguous cases for more and more money. It would be an extended digression on the subjective nature of truth and morality. It would be fantastically written, win a dumptruck worth of awards, and sell about three copies.
This hallucinatory dream was dashed by what turned out to be CSI: The Japanese Adventure Game, without any of CSI's intelligence, character driven drama, or anything approaching subtlety. It also postulated its own hilariously repressive legal system, where no case can last more than three days, and the burden of proof lies on the defense; which is a golden example of the Japanese contempt for human rights.
What was I talking about, again? Right, Fallout 3.
Fallout 3, tying into the theme of, uh, "things that are radioactive", has a whole lot of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the idea that any nuclear weapon could remain operational for two hundred years is patently ridiculous. Information on the shelf-life of nuclear weapons is predictably scarce, but there are certain hard physical limits to longevity.
1.) Neutron emission from the radioactive components damage electronics and "poison" explosives by transmuting their component atoms, and in the process changing their chemical composition. Steel exposed to neutron radiation swells, knocking complex machines out of alignment and becoming more brittle. This would first reduce explosive yield, and eventually render it completely nonfunctional, within as few as fifty years, depending on the design of the device.
But, more importantly: 2.) Radioactive elements have a finite half-life.
As anyone who read the wikipedia page on it knows, half life is how long it takes for half a radioactive element to naturally transmute. Since each product nucleus by necessity must be smaller, the decay chain eventually results in a stable nucleus. The half life of plutonium is a lot longer than 200 years, but a nuclear weapon uses no more fissionable mass than it absolutely needs to, and is rendered nonfunctional long before half the mass decays.
So it's a race between 1 and 2 to see which one renders the weapon nonfunctional first, not withstanding that nuclear weapons are electrically powered, and will not detonate if the battery is flat.
Therefore, it's a bit of a mystery why the Capital Wasteland is littered with working nuclear weapons.
Disregarding the mini-nukes, the strategic nuke at the center of Megaton, and the nukes Liberty Prime hucks like a quarterback; there are the aforementioned nuclear powered buicks. Which blow up after being shot a few times.
No. Wrong. Nuclear reactors don't blow up, period. And even if the cars were powered by nuclear weapons, they don't blow up when shot. And if you could shrink a nuclear reactor that blew up when shot small enough, you still wouldn't put it in a car, because that's enormously fucking retarded.
What were fender benders like pre-war? As soon as bumpers tapped, would both drivers jump out of their cars and sprint away from the inevitable nuclear explosion? Are parking garages completely absent from the Capital Wasteland due to their propensity to reduce themselves to radioactive craters at the slightest touch?
It was monumentally stupid, but it was a tolerable variety of stupid, up until the game started taking itself Seriously, at which point everything just fell to shit.
Let me hit you with a plot synopsis:
Two hundred years after the third world war, your parents were the lead scientists at Project Purity, a joint effort between Rivet City and the Brotherhood of Steel, whose goal it was to build a big water purifier into the Jefferson Memorial, which was supposed to clean the fallout from all the water in the Capital Wasteland. Unfortunately, your mother died while giving birth to you, so your father up and left, to raise you in safety in Vault 101. Twenty years later, you're grown up, so your dad up and leaves the vault to go and talk Stanislaus Braun, inventor of the GECK and all around sadistic dickbag. You show up, rescue your dad, grab a GECK, head back to Rivet City, and restart Project Purity.
The Enclave, seeing a great opportunity to genocide some mutie scum, show up and seize control of Project Purity. Your dad inexplicably refuses to give them the activation codes, so they kill him and capture you. Colonel Autumn interrogates you for a while, until the all-seeing AI president, John Henry Eden, finally notices you and orders you up to his office. Autumn decides he doesn't like the cut of Eden's jib, and orders his troopers to kill you. His betrayal goes spectacularly poorly, since you're a walking arsenal, and Eden still controls the base's defenses. Autumn flounces off to sulk at Project Purity, while Eden points out just how much he loves apple pie, and how goddamn much he hates mutants. Eden hands over a virus that's magically supposed to kill anything mutated, somehow, and asks you to be a dear and pop that sucker into the Purifier when you power it up.
Before leaving, you can point out how odd it is for an AI to be the president, a question that has apparently never been posited to Eden in the last two hundred years, since it causes him to freak the fuck out, activating the self-destruct, and killing all the people in the secret Enclave base, as well as destroying priceless technology, though he politely waits for you to exit before doing so.
You hop over to the ruins of the Pentagon, where the Brotherhood of Steel loan you the use of a single squad of power-armored troopers as well as a 40-foot robot. You smash through some cursory Enclave resistance, gank Autumn, and activate Project Purity, which kills you in a burst of radiation for your troubles. The End, roll credits.
See any problems there? Because I sure did!
First of all, fallout doesn't work that way, you dipshits. Fallout is radioactive dust resulting from a nuclear explosion: bits of bomb casing and tamper, dirt irradiated by neutrons, etc. A defining characteristic of fallout is its short half-life, on the order of 50 days. There just wouldn't be that much fallout left after two hundred years.
But even if there was a significant amount of fallout around, which there wouldn't be, it's still just radioactive dust. Any water filter that can remove silt would remove fallout. You don't even need to remove bacteria to remove fallout.
Project Purity is presumably a big water filter, a water purification plant, which isn't something that strikes me as needing a whole lot of research. Water filtration, after about six hundred years, is about as solved as a problem can be. Operating a water purification plant sounds like a job for an engineer (who, of course, solves practical problems) rather than a team of crack Hollywood Scientists.
But even if Project Purity required a battery of scientists to solve a nonexistent problem in an overcomplicated manner, why does it kill you with radiation. Is it removing fallout via irradiation?
Note that if, at this point in the game; you have either Fawkes, whose radiation resistance is a plot point, or Charon, who is healed by radiation, they will refuse to activate the purifier for you, because they're dicks. It still kills you if you put on a radiation suit, load up on Rad-X, then type in the code. You can't even poke the keypad with a stick from five feet away, outside the zone of death.
Telling Autumn the code while he's interrogating you results in him starting Purity, then shooting you, which is treated as a game over, despite resulting in the exact same thing as the real ending.
Congratulations, you made it to the end. If you enjoyed the bits about game design, then you might enjoy this piece (mostly) about robots, and how they would be much better video game avatars than humans; and if you liked the bits where I was loquaciously vitriolic, then you might enjoy this piece about the worst videogame ever to be made. Don't forget part 2 in my series on Fallout 3, concerning Ethics, due to come out in another six months.