E3 2008: Fallout 3 Hands-On

Two-headed cows, club-wielding mutants, and crippled wolves: Fallout 3 is a wonderful tour through a disgusting wasteland.


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The world of Fallout 3 is ugly. When you leave the dank vault for the very first time, the place that served as your home and your only vision of reality, you are greeted to a blinding sun spreading light on a desolate wasteland. The trees that still stand have crooked limbs with no leaves, your Geiger counter will tick when you approach disgusting pools of water, and the terrain is littered with broken rocks and toxic-waste pools. There is still life in this world, but it's pretty sickening. Two-headed cows with enlarged udders and peeling skin lay lifelessly next to corroded buildings. A decomposing mutant cow isn't even the most disgusting thing; there are giant mole rats that snarl and leap with ferocity, along with all sorts of mutant/human hybrids. Fallout 3 is a hideous world, but after playing the game for a half hour today, we weren't ready to leave it yet.

The demo started at the doors to the vault. The final room separating you from the contaminated outside world is so dark that it's hard to even find the switch to open the hatch. After the door to the world opened and the blinding flash of sunlight faded away, we were treated to the same type of ever-expanding environment that Oblivion presented when you left the underground tomb for the first time. Of course, the fertile forest has been replaced by a stinky cesspool, but the feeling of awe still remained. There is a road immediately in front of you, leading you through a broken city with odd inhabitants. But we decided to veer off the beaten path to see what horrors would exist after the bomb changed life forever.

As we slowly made our way through the rocky terrain, twirling the camera to see a broken highway bridge that seemingly defied gravity, it seemed that this world was completely devoid of life. There were no deer running away in fright or birds circling the skies. Our only companion was a determined bee that continually circled our head. When we crested a hill and looked down at a small lake, a fight broke out in the distance. Two wolves were walking around a metal droid, lunging at it and then jumping back just as quickly. After a minute of battle, there was a small explosion and the wolves turned toward the hill in search of a new enemy.

Though combat in Fallout 3 can take place in real time, it's far more satisfying to go into VATS mode and target specific sections of your foe. Given that you're armed only with a weak pistol, it would take more than one shot to take down these beasts. Instead of risking a serious bite wound, we stopped time to contemplate the best way to handle this attack. In VATS, you are given the percentage chance of actually hitting specific parts of the body along with the amount of damage that would be dealt if you are successful. With the animals only a few feet away, a shot to the head was all but guaranteed, but it wouldn't do enough damage to instantly kill it. Instead, we targeted the front two legs of each wolf, a lower percentage chance of success but one that would cripple them if successful.

When an extremely powerful shot is landed in Fallout 3, the camera often slows down to show the full weight of your actions. In this case, we were treated to a few slow-motion bullets, a tortured yelp, and two wolves that could only lamely limp in our direction as we slowly finished them off. The wolves are pretty easy compared to the other enemies in the wasteland.

As we continued along our path, cutting over hills and through pools of water, we came to a crumbling church. Here we found out that it's not fun to be picked on by those stronger than you. The church was full of supermutants and centaurs who laughed off the tiny wounds that our weak pistol doled out. One grotesque being wore a protective shell, so the only way to deal damage was to shoot it in a tiny eyehole, making for a low-percentage shot. After shooting one club-wielding freak in the left leg 10 times, we finally crippled him. He was no longer able to perform a lunging strike, but he still endlessly limped after us. When he got too close, he landed an off-balance blow directly on our arm. It caused the right arm, the one carrying the gun, to be crippled. You can continue to fight in this state, holding a wobbling gun and hoping for the best, or you can go into your Pip Boy screen and heal specific mangled parts. Even with a healed arm, the onslaught was too much, and we found out the hard way that veering off the beaten path in Fallout 3 can lead to quick, painful deaths.

The death and the mutants are probably expected parts of Fallout 3, but one element that surprised us was the fully functional third-person view. We were able to position the camera at an optimal angle and distance behind us, and then it closely followed our every move. Fighting was just as easy and satisfying in this view, and moving around the terrain felt just as natural as in first-person mode.

Time with the demo was short, so we were not able to try out the dialog system (our insistence to travel uncharted lands prevented that), nor could we see how the relationship with the dog will function. A dog companion is not in this version, but we were told that you would be able to issue rudimentary commands (such as find or attack) or just ignore the thing if you would rather roam the wasteland alone. The game is still scheduled for release this fall and seems to be shaping up nicely. Action is certainly slanted toward the time-stopping VATS style (though you can still simply fire at will if you prefer), and there are plenty of places to explore and quests to conquer. We were told that roughly 80% of the world and its missions are optional, so that leaves a lot of extra content for people itching to see all that Fallout 3 has to offer.

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