Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Review of Fallout 3 - Part Three: Story, Dialogue, and Atmosphere

Continuing on from my last post, these are my thoughts on Bethesda's action-rpg, Fallout 3. Sorry about the lack of pictures in this one, but there's not much that can really be shown.

So what's a well-designed game without a good story to match it? ...well, Fallout 3, basically.

You see, there are a lot of problems that can cause a game's story to just not be good enough. Sometimes the story tries to much, sometimes it doesn't make you care enough, sometimes it gives you too much free reign, and sometimes it's completely seperate from the game.

Well... yeah, it's the last three. The main problem with Fallout 3's storyline is that it doesn't really matter what you do, aside from a few places that are part of the main plot. Okay, yes, the game cares about whether or not you blow up Megaton, but it certainly doesn't care if you retrieve Agatha's violin so she can run her radio station again.

That one in particular really got to me, because the whole time there's been only one other radio station that isn't broadcasting government propoganda. Yet when Agatha's station is renewed, nobody listens to it, and nobody seems to really care. Well, yes, it is very nice to have a new radio station playing classical violin music (a favorite of mine, which clashes nicely with blowing up zombies with grenades), it still isn't enough in terms of story. What would've been cool would be if you went back to Megaton, and someone's listening to it, and comments "Oh, hey there! Have you heard this Agatha lady's music? She just popped out of nowhere, apparently helped by a certain wasteland wanderer? *wink wink* Love the tunes she plays. So anyways, what did you want?"

Now, this isn't the only case of disconnect between actions and story, but I think it's a good example. We're talking about an entire new radio station, yet nobody seems to care.

And the story itself doesn't really hold up. Whenever you talk to people core to the storyline, they act as if time hasn't passed nearly as much as it may really have. For example, after moving into Megaton, people still will think you don't live there. And when you catch up to your dad, he acts like a lot less time has passed than it probably has. (For me, it was probably close to a year of in-game time, he acted like it was a few weeks.)

And the final nail in the coffin that makes me label this story as "poor" is that I don't care about any of the characters. Even dear old Dad doesn't feel as close to me as my shotgun, because he wasn't around for long enough. You're supposed to feel for him because he was there for 17 years of the character's life, yet he's only there for like 30 minutes of the player's life. This is pretty damn important. Characters like Moira Brown or the Sheriff from Megaton are more connected to me, because the latter is keeping an eye on the place I've spent days of the game in, and I've been trading with Moira as well as researching for her book. (It's one of the sidequests, and a pretty good one, if I may add.) But dear old dad? Bah. Hardly knew him. No character connections, no empathy, so I don't care.

And speaking of people, they really talk funny. I know I'm Canadian and may not know what most Americans from Washington D.C. sound like, but the dialogue in Fallout 3 is really... poorly acted. It's pretty wooden, although oddly enough it seems the male actors did a worse job than the female actors. I don't know why that is, but most of the men are really boring to listen to, and it's very hard to care about what any of them say.

That being said, a few performances stick out. The robots in particular are really well-acted, and some of the scientists have quirky and very mad voices. (The very stereotypical "scheming mad scientist" voice.) A few of the characters early in the game are done really well as well, such as the bully, Butch, who sounds like an authentic jerk.

A really impressive thing about the game is actually how many people are voice acted. Namely, all of them. It's not that impressive at first, but after playing for hours on end it really does help the feeling of immersion and is simply brilliant to see this sprawling wasteland where even the lone wanderers have their own lines. Not to say that those are original lines (they often duplicate across multiple people) but it's still quite an earfull. (What did bother me in particular though was the old man voice. He
seemed to play basically all the old men in the game, and it was really
obvious by the end.)

Now, this isn't to say that the place feels alive. This is the wasteland of a nuclear apocalypse. This place is dead, with what's left being either heartless monsters or small groups (or on occasion singular people) using all their effort to stay alive. And I really do have to say, the game pulls it off quite well. From the crushed houses to the collapsing metro and sewer stations, the game really feels like it takes place in the remnants of society. Order has given in to chaos, and there are only a few bastions of law and peace in the land. And those are constantly under threat.

Actually, one of the best atmosphere components is the raiders. Basically groups of sadistic wanderers, they hunt the wastelands and attack caravans; they mutilate, torture, murder, and downright destroy the people they find, and are really just plain sick. They're the crooks, the serial killers, the psychos: the people who can now run free thanks to the loss of order. I'd give you some pictures, but I really can't. There's a reason for that M rating. Still, they really add to the sense of hopelessness and despair that the dead wastelands have, and the game would certainly not be the same without them.

So to summarize: While the story itself is really poor, the amount of dialogue in the game and the fact that everyone talks is pretty amazing. The atmosphere is also really good, immersing the player into the world.

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