Some things must be made clear. One, I played Bethesda's Fallout 3 today. Two, I have never played a Fallout title before, so I can't judge it based on the merits of the series. Joystiq will detail the differences between Fallout 3 and its predecessors in its hands on preview llater this week. With that out of the way, let me just throw this on the table: Fallout 3 is Oblivion with guns. It's a short analysis, but I stand by it. If one were to expand upon this analysis, one might say that Fallout 3 is a post-apocalyptic Oblivion with guns. Having said that, allow me elaborate that this is a compliment. Oblivion fans will understand this. Upon hearing my analysis, our own Xav de Matos noted, "I think I need a cigarette.... that sounds awesome."
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My time with Fallout 3 was brief. I was tasked with escaping an underground vault which separated my character from the desolate world outside. Once outside my character shielded his eyes from the blinding light of the real world -- which bathed the entire screen for a few seconds, a cool effect -- I explored the barren world, a landscape of broken roads, dilapidated buildings and radiation. Fighting my way past feral beasts and equally feral humans. I was able to acquire some new armor, weapons and, in one case, vodka.
Managing your inventory is done through the PIPBoy menu. Again, this process is reminiscent of Oblivion, with different tabs for items, character traits, skills and the like. Items can be hotkeyed to different directions on the D-pad for quick access (sound familiar?). I was able to use several armaments, including police batons, a pistol and, strangely enough, a BB gun. The BB gun actually came in handy for setting off trip mines, though it didn't do much damage to enemies.
Speaking of combat, it's important to remember Fallout 3 is an RPG. Though it looks like a first person shooter (or third person, if you choose to play that way), every attack you make is still based on your combat abilities. If you're not proficient with a pistol, a shot that looked perfect might still go wide. Just because that evil dog is in the crosshairs, that doesn't mean it'll get shot.
Of course, the star of the show is VATS, the Vault-tec Assissted Targeting System, which was showcased at the Microsoft Press Briefing earlier this week. VATS allows you to stop time and zoom in on your targets. From this vantage point, you can highligt individual body parts, all of which display how likely it is your shot will hit. Do you take the headshot with only a 20% chance to hit or the body shot that has a 50% chance? It's a neat system with the added bonus of letting you stop the action and assess the situation. That's a good thing when you're being peppered by gunfire on all sides.
Graphically, Fallout 3 is very pretty, which makes sense considering it runs on the Gamebryo engine, which also powered Oblivion (surprise!). It's very cool to see Gamebryo applied to a more modern setting and it's used to great effect. It's a trip to see the Oblivion style combat trade bows and arrows for guns and baseball bats. Of course, the bad comes with the good. The game still comes with the somewhat flat textures and stilted animations.
Of course, that hardly affects the meat of the game, which is character growth. As you progress through the game, levels are gained and skills are learned. A traditional set of skills are available for upgrading, including different weapons skills, stealth, lockpicking, hacking and the like. You can also choose new Perks when levels are gained, which give boosts to the stats you already have. Some perks enhance your hacking skills for example, while others enhance your skills with small arms.
Overall, Fallout 3 looks to be a good RPG on the grand scale that Bethesda is known for. The post-apocalyptic setting, the 1950s kitsch that invades every part of the game (you have got to listen to the in game radio broadcasts), the intriguing VATS system, all of it should please fans when the game releases later this year.