29/06/2013

Story-liners: Fallout 3 (2008)

War, war never changes.
Game: Fallout 3
Alternate version: Fallout 3 Game of the Year Edition
Release: 2008, retail
System: PC/Sony Playstation 3/Microsoft Xbox 360
Starring: Liam Neeson, Malcolm McDowell, Ron Perlman
Directed by: Ashley Cheng
IMDB page: Link opens in a new window
Description: In the year 2077, the American people sealed themselves in bunkers called Vaults to escape the impending nuclear holocaust. In 2277, you are a citizen of Vault 101. The Vault has never been reopened, and probably never would be, if your father hadn't suddenly done so. You find yourself chased out of Vault 101 and into The Capital Wasteland trying to chase down your dad and find out why.

Hans' thoughts:

Before I get to the actual review, I'd like to state that since this is a open-world RPG, the game is absolutely HUMONGOUS. Therefore, I will keep to the main story arc of the game, disregarding the side-quests and downloadable content. Sit back tight, this one's gonna be a long one:

The Fallout series has always been a very politically oriented franchise. Set in a world where the paranoia of the Cold War endured and the popular culture always held a similar vein to 50's culture. To me, this series serves as a slap back to reality for those who dare speak of the 50's as "the good old days". Funnily enough, the series does lend a certain love to the era, making a lot of the positive parts of the game be derived from the 50's. Here I'm especially talking about the in-game radio playing music from the 30's/40's/50's. Seemingly the only music that survived the nuclear holocaust were by singers like Billie Holiday - who would have thought it?

After a short intro sequence, and a narrator bringing you up to speed on the state of the universe, the game starts off at your birth. Here you'll go through character creation, followed by certain moments from your childhood all the way until you've turned around 19 your first steps, your 10th birthday, your school finals). Here, the first thing you'll notice is probably this: your father is voiced by Liam Neeson. Now, if you haven't had the urge to check the cast of the game's voice actors, you probably will now. Ron Perlman? Malcolm McDowell? The game actually has quite a few big name actors attached to it, but somehow Fallout 3's atmosphere manages to pull you so far into the story that you forget the world around you. This is what happened to me at least, in any other case I had noticed Neeson right away, just as well with Perlman. However, the few seconds of an absolutely stunning intro-sequence made me forget about everything. Suddenly, I was in The Capital Wasteland.

Throughout the game, the player
 character is consistently referred to as
"The Lone Wanderer" and "That Kid from the Vault".
As for the other voice actors attached, they generally do a good job. However, it brought me out of the experience more than a few times on the sheer scope of how recycled certain voice actors were. You have 3 or 4 voice actors doing the voices for almost all the characters - important ones included. The only exceptions to this rule are your father (Liam Neeson), the narrator (Ron Perlman), President Eden (Malcolm McDowell), Three-Dog (Erik Pullum), Elder Lyons (William Bassett), the player character at age 1 (Jake Howard) and Amata (Odette Annable). The rest of the 50+ voiced characters in the game are done by Jeff Baker, Karen Carbone, Johnny Contino, Gregory Gorton, Peter Gil and Duncan Hood. Those are a LOT of characters for such a small crew of voice actors. Unfortunately, this also means that a lot of the work done by the 6 crowd voices are at times phoned in performances. While certainly not to the depths of some dubs I've heard, at times it is certainly a bit emotionless. This isn't helped by the fact that non-playable characters keep direct eye-contact with you during the entire conversation you have with each of them. You will notice the entire problem a lot more, when sound-files bundle up and a character speaks through 2 or 3 different voice actors because of the conversation choices you have made. A frail old man will suddenly speak with the voice of a 30-something and such.

On the right, a typical raider from Fallout. On the left, Wez from
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
Stylistically this game is beautiful, in spite of the destruction of the world around you. The 200 years following the nuclear holocaust has led to mutated animals, a heavy decline in the state of buildings - those that are left, anyway - and of course the unity of what's left of humanity leaves much to be desired. Speaking of humanity, while a lot of the positive input you get from the game (such as the aforementioned radio) take a lot of notes from the 50's, a lot of the antagonists you face are grounded firmly in the 60's and 70's. An immediate threat (besides the monsters) you'll face is that of the raiders, gangs running through the wastes in packs. They are all heavily inspired by 60's, 70's and 80's counter-culture, especially that of punk. They drink a lot, they yell a lot, they curse a lot, they take a lot of drugs and a big bulk of them have Mohawks (which, if you think about it doesn't make much sense in a world where resources are very limited). Though many of them are cannibals and takes slaves, if that somehow makes it make more sense. They also wear these sorts of strapped together metal armors, I imagine their initial designs were inspired by that of the Mad Max movies.

As for the actual looming villain in the distance, this is a case of a great setup, but not that much of a pay-off. Throughout the game you see these small robots flying around, transmitting a radio signal you can play from your "Pip-boy", a sort of all-in-one computer that's strapped to your wrist (the thing also serves as the game's menu system). The radio signal is transmitted by someone calling themselves "President Eden". Eden sounds like a kindly old man, living up to the all-American patriot stereotype. He speaks of a dog he had as a child, what it means to be an American and quotes famous Americans, seemingly oblivious of the extremely "survival-of-the-fittest" world around him. The music he plays on his radio station is also music you would describe as fiercely patriotic. These are songs such as "Stars and Stripes", "Yankee doodle" and "Dixie". 
I've been thinking quite a bit lately about something we can all relate to, something that is unquestionably, inescapably… American. I am referring, of course, to our great national pastime - baseball. - John Henry Eden 
As for the pay-off, while it is certainly surprising to find out who President Eden is, the final battle against the antagonists of the game could have been so much more than what it eventually amounts to. I'm not going to spoil what it is here - suffice to say that the build up is so much better than the actual pay-off.

That is actually a very accurate description of the entirety of the main story-line of the game as well. While the game itself has some great themes, pieces of dialogue and atmosphere, the main story-line ultimately falls flat. Many of the non-canon side-quests amount to much better told stories and in some cases more well-rounded characters. Especially the optional add-on content puts a lot more emphasis on character development and detail. The father (the only other character featured in the game from the beginning to the end) ends up being a very one-note character, ultimately becoming the "father was a saint" stereotype. Throughout the game, he constantly makes a point of quoting the deceased mother's favorite religious quote:
I am Alpha and Omega. The beginning... and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life, freely. - Revelation 21:6
To the quotes credit it does end up being a great narrative tool on the hows and whys of his actions. However, the father ends up being very bland, which is sad when considering the talent doing the voice. This is a classic example of the journey being better than the destination.

Wrapping things up, while Fallout 3 is a great game game play-wise, the story ultimately feels a bit flat and rushed compared to the rest of the content in the game. I wanna re-emphasize that I only looked at the main plot in the original version of the game. This game holds a lot of great content, loads of hours of worthy gameplay as well as an entirely new ending provided by the add-on content. If you are to play this game, I suggest you play that version instead.

(All quotes and additional information was and can be found on The Vault, the Fallout themed Wikipedia)
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