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.
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).
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.