Fallout 3: Hands On. Again.

By Kieron Gillen on August 5th, 2008 at 6:54 pm.

Didn't see one of these

If you’re a regular reader of the finest PC gaming site on Earth, you’ll be aware that Old Man Murray hasn’t updated in years and you’re probably wondering why you keep on clicking there. But people who read us regularly will remember that the tenacious terrier of games journalism, Mat Kumar, had a quick go at Fallout 3 while at E3. Last Friday, I was left alone with the game for about an hour.

And this is what I made of it.

Actually, before I start, I’ll better show my cards. Every piece about Fallout 3 is picked over by obsessive people from either side – because, it seems, you have to have a side with Fallout 3 – looking for weaknesses in moral character. Rather than people worrying whether I’m a casual apologist or whatever, here’s the way I’m wired. While having played both the original Fallouts, I didn’t obsessively – they came out in a non-PC-owning year, and went back too late. That said, RPGs remain my definitive genre, though I’d put the boundaries further than most purists. And, probably most damningly, I don’t care about game lineages whatsoever. If Fallout 3 was a Rainbow-Islands-inspired upwards-scrolling platformer, I would only object if it was a pale imitation of those tiny-lesbians (NO REALLY!) Bub and Bob’s finest hour. And that applies just as strongly to games I adore as games I merely respect too, before anyone goes in that direction.

And, with all that said, Fallout 3 was mostly highly entertaining.

Mostly.

Actually, I did see this bit, I think. It's right by the start.

This is probably an artifact of the shortened time experience, but the moments I loved the most weren’t the post-apocalypse gloom ones. They were the sense of playfulness to it. I was going through the game straight – that is, heading into town, chatting to everyone, taking a quest, going for a nice little explore and then getting torn apart by a thing with claws the size of my entire body.

(By which you can read: I suspect the level-scaling problems of Oblivion are well gone. Though that caused the problem of me being torn apart. Oh, you know what I mean.)

But even as I was basically playing it seriously, I was attracted to the slightly goofy stuff. Which is, thankfully, goofy in exactly the right post-apocalyptic way you’d hope. For example, I had far too much fun drinking from the toilet. Sure, it was contaminated to shit – pun unintended, but I can’t actually bring myself to press backspace now – but it quenched the thirst and the juxtaposition of the hungry-slurping sound-effect and a bowl that hasn’t seen a brush since the nuclear war 200 years back is inherently glorious. It was almost as splendid as when I killed a bandit, stole his bondage-gear clothes, and wore them, complete with a pair of Gordon-Freeman specs and a baseball cap I’d found. I looked like Rick Moranis gone apeshit crazy, a glorious Mad Max 2 mess.

I say this to note that after all the debate about Fallout 3, and everyone trying to show how much of a serious, grown-up game it is, we shouldn’t think of it as a dour thing. This is, in a blackly comic way, fun.

(And worth stressing that there’s far more standard outfits available for those who like their post-nuclear waste straight).

Nope, didn't see this either.

The writing? Even with an hour – and half of that actually doing the social chat thing – it’s too early to really make a call. If there’s a problem, it’s less with the words or the voice-acting, but the relatively stiff characters as they deliver them. I remember the sheer wonder when I first played Vampire: Bloodlines, with characters who’d actually act like… well, actors. That we’re years on, and only Mass Effect in the RPG has really raised the stakes at all is somewhat depressing.

Oh – and there seems to be more conversation options than Oblivion too. There’s a lot of the classic three (Nice Guy/Mercenary Guy/Cunt), but alternates turned up too. Perhaps predictably with my like of slutting my way through RPGs, I picked the Lady’s Man perk which was soon put to work on a working girl. To get extra information. A little extra information I like to call “Sex”.

Actually, just extra information.

Perhaps oddly, my biggest reservation was what Mat liked a lot. That is, the VATS system. I’m not sure what may have changed – certainly in some demonstrations people have noted it seems to cause fatalities more often than would be reasonable (and lots more gore too). That certainly wasn’t true when I played, making my experience – the gore was extreme, but not comic extreme, and the killing power wasn’t absolute. Talking to another Journalist there, he couldn’t see why anyone would use it when just shooting does the job well enough. I’m not sure I agree – when it works, it’s agreeably cinematic, and it has its own flavour.

The problem is, when it doesn’t work, it just takes you out of the game entirely. Case in point is one of the most common enemies, the Mole Rats. These rodents charge at you and – rather than other creatures which do a back and forth sort of pattern – just repeatedly throw themselves against you at point blank range. You see one approaching and go to VATS. After getting off one shot, the bugger’s on you and you’re unloading at point blank range as it scurries against your legs. Which looks openly silly, as if you were trying to chastise an over-friendly house-pet.

Which, I suppose, is a good thing – the system as a whole appears to operate, but a specific interaction causes problems. It’s only so worrying that Mole Rats were the most common antagonist in my time in the game. Which would have been dispiriting anyway, even if they were a more interesting opponent to fight against. Rats? Bloody Rats? This RPG designer in-joke must be crushed.

That’s a little downbeat to end on. But it is a post-apocalypse game, so perhaps that’s somewhat appropriate.

, , .

83 Comments »

  1. cyrenic says:

    I was a little worried about the writing because the only dialog I’ve seen out of the game so far was pretty poor, though it was only a snippet. Hopefully the writing stays at least passable as the game progresses.

    I’m likely going to wait a while to play this though, Bethesda games tend to be better if you wait until they get patched several (or many) times.

  2. Willem says:

    Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines was excellent.

    That’s all I’m going to say.

  3. Fumarole says:

    Well, that was certainly… I don’t know what. A thumbs up? Down? I guess I’ll just keep waiting for the game.

    Also, please change the button to Opine Away. Opinion is a noun.

  4. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s a thumbs-up, but I did lean more on stuff I didn’t like. Because the Mole Rat stuff is absolutely fixable, and I’d like them to.

    KG

  5. Cooper says:

    I had the same reservations with the VATS system when it got posted here before. It was gory, sure, but not funny.

    The issue seems to be that the gore in Fallout was originally pre-animated. In very fine detail. It was designed to be funny. Often laugh out loud funny.

    To make someone’s limbs ripping apart or head imploding a funny thing takes some skill. It seems that the randomisation of the body physics (exclamation mark) engine will result in the same level of hilarity seems too hopeful.

  6. hello shot says:

    Can you explain about this lesbian Bub and Bob thing? How are they even female?

  7. kadayi says:

    Much as I like Mass Effects vocal/visual work, I’d say I preferred VTM:B because the fixed first person view added to the impact, and to me it’s still the benchmark other RPGs have yet to reach. The Girl Vampire on the beach = stand out moment. Pity that FO3 hasn’t surpassed it then…

    Anyhows K, what’s the inventory management like in Fallout 3, and is looting fairly straight forward or mind numbingly tedious?

  8. John Walker says:

    During my play, you could substitute Mole Rat for Fire Ant. I think it’s going to be a competition between the two for most over-populated and irritating enemy. I hope they lower their numbers. No one has ever enjoyed niggle enemies, ever.

  9. Pavel says:

    So, did you manage in that timeframe to finish some quest(s)? If so, how did you do it (without plot details)? Are there any other ways to do them?

  10. Charlie says:

    Well I’m still excited about this game and I liked your preview. You don’t hype games up, you point out the bad and the good, which lots of journalists just don’t do.

    It did seem to emphasise the bad but I can completely understand. They have a really cool post apocalyptic setting to work with and they decide to send rats at you all the time! Is it just to make the other monsters seem more excited when you encounter them? I really don’t understand.

  11. Jochen Scheisse says:

    “I saw a Mole Rat today.”
    —-
    ► Quest
    ► Trade
    Dialogue

  12. Tim James says:

    Grammar nitpick alert:

    Does anyone ever write “pun unintended?” If we’re talking about words rolling off the tongue in the right way, then just put “no pun intended” like everyone else!

  13. Morbus says:

    Good preview, I think, but, oh dear, you said some bad things about Fallout 3! No this place will be full of people complaining! (which is probably something you want :P )

    I do have to point out a dire stain in your piece. As pretty much every other previewer, you preview fallout 3 as a Bethesda game, not as a shooter or as a RPG or as a mix of those things. I don’t know, maybe I’m not being fair, but if Fallout 3 were being developed by an unknown company (as in without any previous work) and wasn’t called Fallout 3, would you see it differently?

    Seriously.

  14. Geoff says:

    Morbus,

    It’s being built with Bethesda’s engine from Oblivion, so that starts everyone off with a good template for look and feel expectations. It’s easier to start off with that and explain how it differs from Oblivion than it is to build up completely from “well, you walk around in a first person view, then click on NPCs to talk to them. Some of them will have the option to trade, while others will not. Anyone can be attacked, but key plot-dependent characters cannot be killed…” and so on.

    If it was an unknown company, the previews would still probably say something like “the gameplay resembles Deus Ex more than Final Fantasy, and Bioshock more than Wasteland…”

  15. EyeMessiah says:

    I like “pun unintended”. Its more musical.

  16. Deadcatt says:

    John, one question I have, that will determine if I purchase this game or not. Do they offer Legacy controls? Or is the same controls from Oblivion?

  17. Morbus says:

    That wasn’t my point. I mean, gameplay wasn’t my point. My point was the expectations, but in the sense that maybe he wouldn’t tolerate as much faults as he does, if he does.

    I’m just saying. People look at Fallout 3 as a Bethesda game, not judging it for its one (de)merits. If it was an unknown company of half their PR money (god knows where it goes, and maybe some other people too), people would start complaining about no dynamic shadows, about the sloppy animations, about the stupid (not comical) deaths, about the dull AI, about the hand holding even (maybe?). I’m just saying. Lots of people actually complain about those things (more than complaining about the lack of torment-like writing quality, or about the lack of the description box no freaking journalist seems to miss), but they don’t get heard, despite being a large chuck of the potential consumer-base.

    At least that was the impression I got from reading the first gameplay footage trailers released last month.

  18. Morbus says:

    From reading the comments to those trailers, I mean.

  19. Dan (WR) says:

    Does melee work in VATS? Are there punchy-kicky animations?

    I’m a little disappointed that they’ve fallen back on Mole Rats. The first few hours of Fallout 2 are appalling to replay. Killing Rats, Radscorpions and Geckos is no fun whatsoever.

    I’m most looking forward seeing what the writing is like, but any game where you can play a post apocalyptic poo-slurping bondage bandit sounds good to me.

  20. Willem says:

    To be fair, we do complain about all that with Bethesda.

  21. Bozzl3y says:

    I applaud the use of the word “cunt” twice in two days, people just don’t say it (or type it) enough.

    Erm, back on topic – the game sounds good.

  22. Optimaximal says:

    I applaud the use of the word “cunt” twice in two days, people just don’t say it (or type it) enough.

    Often for good reason!

  23. Kieron Gillen says:

    Our general rude on C is “only when it’s funny”. It’s relatively heavy ordnance and should only be used appropriately.

    Re: Melee VATS. Didn’t have a chance to check it out.

    KG

  24. Maximum Fish says:

    Vampire Bloodlines had spectacular writing and spectacular delivery. I loved Mass Effect, but it didn’t even come close (in my opinion anyways). Bioware’s writing has recently (Jade Empire, Mass Effect) been really stilted and painfully unsubtle, maybe owing to their console-focus these days. Mass Effect’s delivery was good, but the dialog wasn’t an iota as clever as the writing in Vampire.

    Also, Fallout 3 has huge shoes to fill itself in the writing department, as second to Vampire (and maybe Escape from Butcher Bay – but that’s not an RPG) is the original Fallout.

  25. Killzig says:

    Kieron,

    Do we have iron sights?

  26. matte_k says:

    Hmm… Bethesda ran a competition a while back to design a perk, the winning entry making it into the game. My entry was something VERY similar (read: exactly) to that perk, even though it didn’t win. I mean, it’s a fairly good chance that somebody came up with the idea at the company, but…

    you have to wonder…

    Still, shameless plundering aside :D i’m looking forward to this. “Darkly comic” is what i’m after.

  27. LionsPhil says:

    Mole Rat? Fire Ant? Where the hell are the radscorpions? Ye Gods, you have one screen, one screen of rats, then move on to the mutant, gigantic scorpions. And raiders. And, generally, mostly empty wasteland.

    Sounds like Bethsda are going to turn this into another Oblivion grindfest. I can’t wait to stab rats for two hours before I can learn how to use a gun, no sir-ee!

  28. Bet says:

    Have you no shame, Mr. Gillen?! You got my hopes up that Old Man Murray had updated just to talk about Fallout 3 :( Erik Wolpaw, Chet Faliszek where are you guys! Oh right…Valve…

  29. Arcanum says:

    Regarding VATS being less lethal and gory: I’m guessing that’s a combination of the character no longer having the Bloody Mess perk, which makes any kill ludicrously gruesome, and starting with less powerful weapons. Just speculation based on previous previews.

    Good article, though! Glad to hear about some nice, black humor. :)

  30. Kieron Gillen says:

    Arcanum: That’s my theory too.

    KG

  31. Briosafreak says:

    Does melee work in VATS? Are there punchy-kicky animations?

    Melee works on VATS mode, but without body part specific damage. While you can aim for different body parts using fire or energy weapons, melee just let you punch or kick in general terms, no aiming for the head or the legs.

  32. Janek says:

    Aww, man. If so, I will dearly miss the ability to kick a supermutant’s face off with a hand-to-hand specialised character.

  33. danarchist says:

    I am truely hoping the comedy you mentioned is similar to what I remember from the first two games. I recently played the super long named Penny Arcade game, and discovered laughing my ass off can make ANY game worth replaying.

    And as for the grammar nazi’s out there. I shall now refer to you as “The Cult Of Clippy” and will hunt you down jay and silent bob style. Sleep lightly.

    ;)

  34. Alex says:

    Who’s Clippy? Is that like Chippy? Where’s my Chippy..

  35. Briosafreak says:

    Emil Pagliarulo once posted this:

    Yes, you can use V.A.T.S. for melee and unarmed combat. You just can’t target individual body parts when using those weapons.

    He’s a better source than me, so here it is.

  36. Dr_demento says:

    It sounds like they’ve fixed the combat since Oblivion – seriously, people, that combat was some of the weakest I’ve ever seen – now I just have to hope they fix the one-voice-per-race irritation. Otherwise the realism really isn’t going to happen.

  37. Erlam says:

    Does it still have the melting-face people from Oblivion? My friend thought his video card had died when he played Oblivion, hahaha…

  38. Briosafreak says:

    @Erlam:

    Yes and no.

  39. Mike says:

    So, does VATS ‘pause’ the action while you go through the routines of firing? Because I’ve seen some videos of, say, grenade tossing, and I’m a man who likes to strafe around a lot, because standing still tends to make me catch my death of death. Especially when you’re against moving targets, I don’t understand how VATS is expected to work, let alone be chosen as an option.

  40. John Walker says:

    VATS does melee, yes. I watched someone repeatedly use it for baseball bat attacks to enormous amounts of amusement. Heads coming clean off, etc.

    I’m keeping my mouth shut on stuff cos I was covering for elsewhere. But VATS has specific uses that are more particular, and far more interesting than simply being a more accurate means of getting a head shot. You can use it very tactically.

  41. danarchist says:

    Clippy is the little “helper” guy in microsoft office. He may actually be the anti christ

  42. John Walker says:

    Clippy hasn’t been in Office for about a decade!

    Now it’s stupid cartoon animals bothering you until you can find the giant bat shaped button to bludgeon them to death with.

  43. rehashbodash says:

    Please write more about details concerning inventory, stats and other animals. Rabid rabbits?

  44. Charlie says:

    Imagine being the guy who created Clippy. He must feel awful for what he unleashed upon the world. Everyone knows Clippy and everyone hates him!

  45. sbs says:

    I’m still optimistic about this game and I just hope that they have chosen the worst way possible to show off the game at E3 and the likes. The previews I have read seem to be confirming my theory, so i feel no need to fall into despair just yet.

    Also, after reading this thread I feel a strong urge to play some more Vampire: The Masquarade – Bloodlines, which I picked up a few weeks ago from the bargain bin; I still have to finish this one.

  46. Caiman says:

    I knew someone who thought Clippy was cute the first time I helped her install Microsoft Office, and asked me to leave it in. I got an exasperated phone call about a week later asking how the hell to get rid of it.

  47. Willy359 says:

    Ah, Bloodlines.
    “Police are investigating. They know it was you.”
    Brilliant.

  48. DM says:

    Well, I’m optimistic as to the outcome of this game. Let the record show however, that if Bethesda fail me, my wrath shall be comparable to the pure destructive potential of a heavily armed chariot made entirely of flaming shards of bloodied glass.

    Or more likely (If less dramatic), I’ll be really, really annoyed.

  49. James says:

    Sounds like it will be my sort of thing, but I’ve expected that for a long while now. I’ve never been much of a Lineage Botherer either, though, so I’m probably not as likely to get worrisome about the whole thing.

    On the other hand, this knowledge tortures me like crazy, considering that living in Australia means there’s no Fallout 3 for me. If anyone wants me I’ll be sobbing in the corner.

  50. DM says:

    I was under the impression that a modestly censored version of Fallout 3 was fairly near confirmed for Australia?