As a first experience of the game, it seems somewhat familiar. You’ve emerged blinking into the sunlight from a subterranean vault, and stretching before you is a panoramic view of a genuine world, the horizon stretching ahead tantalisingly. A pathway lies in front of you, but as your gaze twitches towards the periphery of your vision, there’s the sense that you could head off in any direction and discover what is out there.
And then you glance towards the bottom right of your screen, and you see a gun. The cynics were right. Fallout 3 really is Oblivion with guns.
Bethesda, giving us our first substantial hands-on play with its controversial sequel to the Black Isle PC classic, start us not at the beginning, but the beginning of the real game. It’s the moment analogous to you leaving the first dungeon in Oblivion, with your previous youth in the Vault acting as an extended character-creation and training sequence. In other words, it’s the first point you get to truly define your destiny – and, for many, that section was one of Oblivion’s high points – the second when all is possibility. Seeing it reprised here isn’t something to set alarm bells ringing; it’s actually enormously comforting. So while it may be Oblivion with guns, that label is as obfuscatory and useless as arguing that Planescape Torment was Fallout with swords and a regenerating corpse.
For a start, the sensation of seeing this de-saturated wasteland isn’t one of wonder and proto-Tolkien joy. It’s a little sadness, seeing burnt-out homesteads filled with discarded toys – and it’s moments like this when the power of a more technologically capable engine is ideal for selling the world to you. Secondly, while it’s Oblivion with guns, it’s not as if you have to shoot them. While others at our demo session experiment with the extremes of freedom available, opening fire at sheriffs and other meager bastions of civilisation in this post-apocalyptic hell – which the game is quite happy to accommodate – we choose to approach it pretty much straight. We spend a good chunk of our time talking to the inhabitants of Mad Max 3-style settlement Megaton before deciding to take a random quest, which sends us trudging into the wasteland, getting embroiled in small-town politics at our destination and, in transit, finding a few distractions upon discovering an abandoned underground station.
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