The end of the world is nigh...
Role Playing Game – three words guaranteed to strike fear and loathing into the heart of any gamer more accustomed to roaring through cross-town traffic in a jacked sportscar, or pumping demented Nazis full of lead. But while post-apocalyptic epic Fallout 3 is governed by the bewildering statistics, intense character development and earnest dialogue that are the hallmarks of any hardcore RPG, the game’s immersive take on role-playing traditions and willingness to satisfy even the itchiest of trigger fingers make this one of 2008’s deepest and most gripping adventures.
Set generations after humanity brings itself to the brink of extinction in a billowing mushroom cloud, Fallout 3 is the latest entry in a hallowed series that began life in 1997, and has since been voted one of the best RPGs of all time in a string of geek-polls. Now shirking its PC-only roots for a simultaneous console release, Fallout’s development reigns have been handed to Bethesda Softworks, the coders behind 2006’s magnificent The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion; and while there’s still a seething fanboy contingent that claims it’s sacrilege for franchise creator Interplay to sign away its greatest triumph, Bethesda’s innate understanding of what a new generation of gamers wants from a modern role-player is the best thing that’s ever happened to the series.
Compared to most traditional role-players, what’s most striking about Fallout 3 is how it handles the serious business of character creation and development. While many RPGs use tedious menus and dismembered body parts to build a hero, Fallout 3 begins with the physical birth of your avatar, the sex and appearance of your digital self guided by the voice of a doctor as you emerge from the womb. Later, when it comes to choosing your character’s skills, the action switches to scenes of your hero at various stages of adolescence, each sequence using a friendly series of illustrated manuals and multiple choice questions to steer your hero’s evolution, simplifying the complex statistic-crunching that’s earned RPGs a nerdy reputation and making the creation process engaging, absorbing and seamless.
In terms of presentation, Fallout 3 is also stunning. From the clawing claustrophobia of the subterranean vault where your hero has spent their entire life, to the moment when they emerge – blinking in the harsh sunlight – to the nuclear-ravaged landscape of post-war Washington DC, the game oozes class at every turn. Even better, the people you’ll interact with along the way are all dripping with personality and charm, each brought to life by dozens of lines of dialogue that drive convincing conversations, these entertaining exchanges delivered by Hollywood voice talent that includes Ron Perlman, Liam Neeson and Malcolm McDowell.
But what will entice most casual players to take a chance on an RPG is Fallout’s delirious action. While the success of your attacks is still driven by invisible stats that operate in the background, it’s eminently possible to play the game as a first-person shooter, using an array of steampunk weapons to butcher mutants and Mad Max-style gangs of raiders. But for any habitual role-players who lack the jittery reactions required for a FPS, Fallout also features a familiar, RPG-style turn-based combat system where you can pause the action and aim for individual body parts, each shot given a percentage chance of success based on your current skills.
Gratuitous gore, a colossal game world, the freedom to choose your own path and an elegantly ironic use of Ella Fitzgerald tunes also make Fallout 3 the most atmospheric game this side of BioShock, and the most captivating role-player since Oblivion helped breathe fresh air into a stagnant genre.