If you're afraid of heights, beware of one particular climb in The Pitt, the second installment of downloadable content released for Fallout 3. A seemingly endless journey up a precarious series of stairways leads you to a remarkable vantage point, from where you look out onto the decrepit skyscrapers and soiled smokestacks of postapocalyptic Pittsburgh. It's an impressive--and oppressive--sight, and it's one of The Pitt's highlights. The plot threaded through the atmospheric vistas isn't as spine-tingling, sometimes relying on game cliches so old they're practically arthritic. Nevertheless, The Pitt is a natural addition to Fallout 3's bleak wastelands, and the story's moral ambiguity leads to a meaty decision that will cause you to reconsider whether the needs of the many must always outweigh the needs of the few.
That moral ambiguity revolves around the enigmatic Ashur, who presides over the inhabitants of The Pitt. The population is made up primarily of slaves that toil for Ashur, and the effects of radiation are turning them into barely human monstrosities. You initially enter this dystopia with the intent of stealing a cure that the growing slave rebellion may use to treat its irradiated brethren, but what begins as a clear oppressed-versus-oppressors tale is gradually turned on its head. This is due to simple but effective dialogue and voice acting that make Ashur sympathetic and believable--and a surprising plot twist that complicates your mission. Before this development, however, you will interact with some far-less-interesting characters, as well as confront one of video gaming's least exciting cliches: the battle arena. Discussing the arena's purpose would reveal important story elements, but suffice it to say that the setup is contrived and leaves a few plot holes that could have used some filling in.
The areas you investigate are more vertical than most of Fallout 3's DC environments. Uptown and the steelyard in particular make good use of vertical space, which leads not just to great views, but to some fun combat as well. The Pitt introduces a few new enemies, the most interesting of which are trogs--agile, sharp-clawed fiends that have a nasty way of pouncing on you when you aren't looking. You won't be firing at them with your usual arsenal, though, because all of your items (cliche alert number 2!) are taken away after you make your way into the city. However, you'll still accumulate a full inventory of stuff before you're done, including an imposing new melee weapon: the auto axe. This makeshift whirring blade slices enemies into grotesque, bloody chunks, which makes using it for slow-motion Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System kills particularly satisfying. It's too bad that you don't get even more playthings to take back into the wastelands with you. The new infiltrator rifle is a solid addition, but it doesn't have enough oomph to distinguish it from Fallout 3's other assault rifles, nor does it have that slapped-together, homemade feel that makes the auto axe so rewardingly grotesque.
You could run through The Pitt in a couple of hours if your goal is to simply finish it, but sprinting in such a manner denies you this content's pleasures. It doesn't harbor as many secrets as Fallout 3's finest side quests, but it does offer a few wonderfully dismal areas to explore and a story that, while flawed, satisfyingly blurs the lines between right and wrong. For 800 Microsoft points ($10), you won't walk away with much loot to show for your jaunt into the smoky factories of Pittsburgh, but you will remember your chats with The Pitt's mysterious master.