Fallout 3: get your dose of post-apocalyptic mayhem

Fallout 3 has been in the making for the last 10 years since its predecessor was released in 1998. This is a game that was kept so top secret, that my first hint at its existence was a vague poster (seen left) in the Bethesda booth at the 2006 E3 convention in Los Angeles. Bethesda is best known for the Elder Scrolls games, including their best selling fourth chapter, Oblivion.

At first I was angry that Interplay, who owned the licenses for Fallout 1 & 2, would sell their best franchise to a company that tends to slap the same user interface and game engine on everything they produce. Was my favorite turn-based, post-apocalyptic, violence simulator going to be ruined by a company looking to make a few million dollars by releasing a graphical, cross-console powerhouse?

Now for the good news, with the game only a week away from being released, and around 20 minutes of in-game footage available from Bethesda, Fallout is looking as good as it ever did. Not only did it receive a much needed graphical update, changing from 2d conversation screens and octagon based combat tactics to a full-blown 3d world, with rendered shadows, particle effects and the ability to change between third and first person views at anytime; but it also kept the black humor, gore and targeting combat system that made Fallout the amazing game it was.

For fans of the original games, Fallout 3 picks up in the year 2277, which is about 30 years after the second game, outside of Vault 101. For new players, Vaults are large underground shelters that were created by Vault-Tec, a company spawned by the threat of a nuclear world war 3. Vault-Tec is also responsible for the Pipboy 3000, which is a wrist-bound piece of technology that acts as your "character sheet" in-game.

In Fallout 1, you are asked to leave your vault in order to find a replacement part for your water purifier – at the end of the game, you return to your vault with the part and in return they refuse to let you back in, claiming you have been corrupted by the irradiated remains of society. In Fallout 2, you play as a descendent of the original “Vault Dweller” and are sent on a quest to find the Garden of Eden Creation Kit (G.E.C.K.). You return with the G.E.C.K. and create a utopian society in the wastelands of the New California Republic.

Fallout 3 has no ties to the stories of the first two games, it just happens to be set in the same world. That world happens to be the ruins of Washington D.C. You start the game being soothed by the voice of your father, voiced by Liam Neeson, who has suddenly disappeared from Vault 101. The overseer of the vault decides that it would be best for you to venture out into the unknown and search for your missing father.

Within the first ten minutes of the game, you are assaulted with the visual intensity of a large vault door breaking its 100-year old seal, spraying smoke and dust into the air around you. As you step out into the cave the vault door was built in, you see the skeletal remains of people who tried to get into the vault before being killed by radiation, raiders, mutants, giant scorpions, two-headed cows or any of the other creatures you’ll see in the Fallout world. As you turn the corner in the cave, you’ll be nearly blinded by the first natural light that your character has ever seen. The game simulates the blur and brightness of light in the game, especially in this scene, but anytime your characters goes from a dark to brightly lit areas. As you leave the cave and step out into the world, you're given a panoramic view of what used to be downtown Washington D.C. In the distance you can see the shattered remains of national monuments and smoke coming from small camps and cities that have been set up by those who survived the nuclear holocaust.

Besides the opening scene of the game, and a few other clips detailing character design, conversation and combat, Fallout 3 feels like a modernized version of the originals. With the new Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System (VATS), players can choose to pause live combat and select body parts they would like to attack. Based on the part chosen, a chance to hit will be given, and if successful, will change camera angles for a cinema-style close up on the attack.

Fallout has been known for its gore in the past, and Bethesda has made it even bloodier. In one of the sample combat videos, you can see a raider getting their arm blown off by a shotgun, and the blood just flows from the removed arm. There is so much gore, that as of July 4, Australia has officially banned the distribution and sale of Fallout 3 (almost 4 months before it was even released). VATS is an amazing improvement from Bethesda’s past combat systems, and is something that Fallout veterans and newbie’s can both enjoy.

There’s nothing I can say to make you pick up Fallout 3, but if you are a role-playing fan, first person shooter fan or just a casual gamer looking for some black comedy kicks, Fallout 3 is a game that caters to all types of gamers. Since Fallout 3 will be coming out on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC, there’s no excuse to not play it when it comes out on October 28.