A mysterious signal leads you to the remains of a crashed spaceship half buried in the rubble. You approach cautiously, but before you can inspect further, you rise into the air, awash with blue light. Soon, you're peering into the faces of several probing aliens. Thus begins Mothership Zeta. This is the final downloadable content pack for Fallout 3, and a rather disappointing one at that. Shooting is not the game's strong suit, yet this DLC consists primarily of taking aim at bloated alien noggins and turning them into goo. Granted, the signature slow-motion Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System kills never get old, and a few cool moments brighten this trek through the workings of a spacecraft. But Mothership Zeta serves only to underline Fallout 3's flaws--mediocre dialogue, poor AI, clumsy animations--while capitalizing on few of its brilliant strengths. These issues make this four-hour adventure a tough sell at 800 Microsoft points ($10).
Nevertheless, there are some elements that Fallout faithful will appreciate, such as a few new weapons, like the alien disintegrator. Once you've come across your first one, you'll probably stick with it for the duration of the experience. This energy rifle is effective against every enemy on the spaceship, though you'll also get some mileage out of the drone cannon, which shoots plasma orbs that erupt in a flurry of energy when they land (and be sure to look for an improved cannon prototype hidden away). And as expected, slow-mo kills using the VATS combat system are always impressive to watch, though the confined hallways make it more difficult for the dramatic camera to find good views of alien limbs soaring through the air.
The stainless steel look of the ship's corridors and laboratories is a nice change of pace for a short while, but the endless gray hallways and cliched sterility of it all wears thin. Sadly, the action is unable to spice up the exploration. Fallout 3's second-rate AI seems all the more dunderheaded in narrow passages; somehow, these aliens have mastered interstellar travel, yet they cannot competently defend their spaceship. When you aren't shooting space invaders, you'll be heading to your next mission objective, which invariably involves pressing a few buttons and waiting a short while for something to explode. There are a few enjoyable sparks of energy, such as in a hangar sequence where you manipulate charged rods to fry a horde of oncoming nasties. Yet other objectives brimming with potential never bear any fruit. You'll be excited to don a space suit and float into space, only to find that your goal is just to press a couple of switches and teleport back inside. Like most of Mothership Zeta, this scenario is neither inspired nor atmospheric.
You aren't a lone captive on this bleak vessel. A few other unwitting hostages are there to keep you company, including a gracelessly voiced young girl who knows her way around the ship. One of them imparts a few different theories as to what the aliens are up to and what they want with their captives. His ideas are as good as any, as it turns out; you'll never know what the ETs are up to, what they want, and why they've got a death ray aimed at planet Earth. Nor does anyone seem particularly disturbed to have been abducted, as stiff animations and stilted dialogue make your cohorts seem more annoyed than traumatized. The only narrative elements likely to pique your curiosity are the various voice logs scattered about, which hint at the atrocities these aliens visit upon their unfortunate victims.
You may have cringed at the idea of Fallout 3 in space, and if you have, you already know Mothership Zeta wasn't created with you in mind. Carrying alien zappers from space around the postapocalyptic wastelands while wearing samurai armor (another possible bit of loot you can carry back with you) certainly won't appeal to every Fallout aficionado. Open-minded fans will glean some enjoyment from this sci-fi-skinned dungeon crawler, but by isolating its game's weaknesses without catering to its strengths, developer Bethesda Game Studios has ended Fallout 3's run of downloadable content not with a bang, but a whimper.