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E3 03: Hands-on with Fallout 3

(Editor's Note: This hands-on impressions article used the Xbox 360 version of the game)

It's extremely hard to really get a feel for what a game that has about 100 hours of gameplay in less than 30 minutes of time. Yet that was our constraints while playing Fallout 3 at Bethesda Softworks' E3 2008 meeting room. It was enough time to confirm that the game plays well in those 30 minutes but that's about it.

Still it was our first time actually playing the game that has a rabid fan base and while we wonder if anything will truly please every fan of Interplay's first two games in the series, Fallout 3 does at least have some high production values, a ton of options on how you can play as your unnamed character and some nasty mutants to blow away. As with Bethsoft's last two Elder Scrolls games Fallout 3 is played primarily as a first person game although you can switch to a behind-the-shoulder third person viewpoint if you wish.

Our quick demo began with our character opening the Vault and leaving its protection to enter the wastelands of Washington DC. It's a truly decimated setting; what structures that remain standing look like they could shatter if you just blew your breath really hard in its direction. Fallout 3's art direction dictated the game's future-as-the-1950s-look. It's extremely retro and adds to the game's satirical setting.

We spent most of our time in an abandoned elementary school as we explored, picked up items like food, water (needed for healing wounds) and mostly shooting (with your default pistol) mutant raiders who want you to take detention . . . permanently. Fallout 3 gives you two options for combat. You can play it as a simple shooter or you can switch to the VATS system which stops the game completely and allows you to select specific points on your enemies body to shoot along with the percentage of success.

We also fought off an advance from what looked like a mutant stray dog outside the school, attacked a roving radio robot that proceeded to respond with deadly force and even managed to take hits from mortar shots coming from a distance.Along the way you can use your Pip Boy 3000 wrist computer to improve your stats, go through your inventory, get special skill bonuses and lots more.

Visually Fallout 3 looks to be a treat just to watch. You will be able to explore a massive amount of territory and while there will be load times for, say, entering a building they seem to be pretty brief. We were told that the PC version should look much like the Xbox 360 game we played. There will be no DirectX10 port and we were also told that while it will be branded as a Games for Windows title there's no word on if it will have support for Games for Windows Live (specifically for achievements). Of course the big news this week is that the game will have extra content via download for both the PC and Xbox 360 ports (sorry PS3 owners).

Again there's just no real way to judge a 100 hour game by playing a tiny fraction of it before others have to take it on. We do think that Fallout 3 will likely be one of the best, if not the best, games of 2008, mainly because of Bethesda Softworks' track record with the last two Elder Scrolls titles. But will that translate into such a different setting? We should see how everything shapes up later this fall.


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