Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format: 360, PC (version tested), PS3 (TBC)
Release: Out now
Well, at least Fallout has achieved symmetry with its recent run of DLC. The fifth and final episode, Mothership Zeta, is every bit a spiritual successor to the first, Operation Anchorage. Another pell-mell dash through unlikely places full of hostile elements and random mishaps, it pretty much sums up Bethesda’s fraught journey beyond (and now above) the original Wasteland.
Unlike the other DLC, though, it doesn’t need a redundant local encounter to act as a doorway between worlds. As you investigate the mysterious alien crash site from vanilla Fallout 3, you’re abducted so fast that you barely have time to wave your hands in front of your body (the FPS sign for confusion, metamorphosis, or imminent rectal violation). Then it’s on to the loading screen and the titanium holding cells.
Mothership Zeta’s greatest asset is its looks: with its all-new textures, surgically precise curves and gathered trinkets from human history, it really is an alien environment. Until your band of mismatched abductees – including a Japanese samurai, orphan saboteur and intemperate gunslinger – attempts a breakout, the only signs of disturbance are the exquisite torture devices splashed with gore and the witty audio logs of previous inmates, their historic beliefs proving no match for the intrusive alien cattle prods.
Bethesda’s formidable art and technology outdo themselves at almost every turn, especially during rare glimpses of the ship’s location miles above the Earth. Deep blacks try to soak up the sun as it warms the observation decks; the engine rooms evoke Forbidden Planet and Metropolis with their towering bronze coils and gangways; and the jabbering aliens and their death ray-toting ships are right out of Mars Attacks! Then there are the usual Fallout flourishes, from the dazzling new Drone Cannon to the generators spewing fluorescent dry ice.
Whoever designed such beauty should be pretty peeved at the game around it. The strictly linear story and onslaught of enemies, many of who like to hang back and soak up ammo with their energy shields, leave little tolerance for errors and flaws. On this particular spin of the Fallout bugs roulette wheel, we encountered a script bug so catastrophic that we couldn’t finish the game – we actually had to clip through a doorway and use console commands to bring everything back on track. Early community feedback suggests this is as bad as it gets, but it’s a far from isolated case.
Design flaws include a bizarre decision to cordon off most of the ship after completion, locking away any unique items you previously overlooked. Much of the game commendably favours stealth players but the rest can feel shambolic. The much-vaunted spacewalk in the souvenir Gemini Spacesuit gets plenty of build-up, and could have been extraordinary had it not been 30 seconds long. And there are a fair few nagging Bethesda-isms in there, too, such as you losing karma for shooting often indistinguishable alien workers.
Of course, this could have been the best of Fallout’s downloads. They all could have. It’s not easy giving consecutive middling scores to these updates because, as DLC goes, they’re more generous, creative and adventurous than most. Released according to a gamer’s schedule rather than a developer’s, each coming mere weeks after the last, they beg for whatever sympathy you can salvage. But in the case of Mothership Zeta, for all the love that’s gone into it, that’s as uncertain an amount as ever.