Crispy Gamer

I Survived Four Hours of Fallout 3, Part 1

I've spent my entire life underground -- raised from the cradle in a high-tech nuclear shelter. Outside my protective shell, the flotsam and jetsam of humanity scrape by for survival in a radioactive wasteland. I'm about to join them in their living hell. And I'm feeling pretty dang excited at the prospect.

I've got four hours to play Fallout 3, the post-apocalyptic role-playing game from Bethesda Softworks. The game's product manager Pete Hines is at my beck and call, providing something of a personal commentary track for my experience.

Wasteland
The wasteland.

I take the Xbox 360 controller in hand and move toward the control panel and press a dusty button. The huge metal vault door opens with the grinding of gears and a hiss of air. I walk tentatively towards the opening and through the corrugated aluminum door between me and the rest of the world. The wreckage of America sprawls out in front of me. The world is a grey, lifeless place -- a mess of bare stone and crumbled concrete. In the distance I see the rotting corpse of Washington.

We liked the idea from the original Fallout that you lived your whole life in the Vault. And what would that be like? How is the player going to feel walking out that door the first time with their eyes adjusting to the wasteland? All the possibility -- and feeling a bit overwhelmed. But at the same time, that first quest marker isn't that far away from you.

Pip-Boy
I love the Pip-Boy 3000. It's so bad.

My Pip-Boy 3000, a personal computer strapped to my arm like the Nintendo Power Glove, tells me that news of my father awaits in a town called Megaton. A green blip flickers on a map; a dotted line lights the way. I feel ambivalent towards the man who brought me into this world. Why should I chase after this deadbeat? What's my motivation?

Of course, I'm missing part of the picture. I haven't played the Vault portion of the game. I haven't actually met my old man (played by actor Liam Neeson). But I get the idea that plot in Fallout 3 doesn't have quite the urgency as in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, where a man as formidable as the actor Patrick Stewart tasked me in the game's first minutes with saving the world. Here, my old man's trail of breadcrumbs doesn't feel quite as alluring in this strange, deadly new world.

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In Oblivion, [the plot] isn't presented in quite that same way. There's at least the appearance of urgency -- even if there isn't actually urgency -- whereas in Fallout we don't necessarily do that. You get a bit more of that as you start to play the main quest; you'll get more of a sense of the urgency. It is meant for you to ask, "Know what? Do I care where my dad is? Do I just want to go explore all this stuff? All I really want is a better gun." It's up to you to prioritize what's important to you.

Killing enemy
It broke my heart to kill the girl from Kajagoogoo.

I make a spur-of-the-moment to-do list in my mind. Dad doesn't even crack the top ten. I turn an abrupt 180 degrees from my intended direction and set off in search of adventure. It finds me at the end of a mutant stinger: Hovering five feet off the ground is an overgrown bee, mutated to the size of an owl. He's buzzing mad and intent on puncturing me with a barrage of airborne barbs. I pull up VATS -- the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System that comes bundled with my Pip-Boy 3000 -- thumb the reticule over the beastie's bulbous body, and proceed to fill the bug full of lead. He goes down fast. I close the distance, find my dead foe and loot his corpse for a single slab of insect meat. Already I've got the bug. I want to find something else to kill and farm. I long to find and collect detritus, treasure, guns and gear.

That's what everybody does. That's the fun. Just going through, whacking stuff, and taking whatever they've got.

I'm under the shadow of a wrecked freeway overpass propped up by tilting concrete pylons. The road, maybe two stories up, comes to an abrupt halt. The husk of a ruined bus teeters on the edge. There's got to be something good up there, I think. Picking my way across the landscape, I eventually come to the spot where the ramp meets the earth. My suspicions were correct: The elevated stretch of freeway has been claimed by survivors. Barricades have been propped up along its length, transforming the interrupted roadway into a defensible position. There are a ton of obstacles between me and my goal, where imaginary treasure awaits.

Navigating around the burnt shells of cars, I come eye to eye with my first survivor -- a leather-clad villain straight out of "Mad Max." The Renegade comes at me swinging a pool cue. (Apparently the guy isn't happy to see me. His friend, somewhere off in the distance, drives the message home by taking pot shots at me with a sniper rifle.) It takes a little trial and error to effectively clean house. With judicious use of save files, I try to maximize my effectiveness as a killing machine. On one go, I use too many stimpacks to heal bullet wounds. Another time, I wander too close to a burning vehicle: The thing blows up in my face, leaving my lifeless body sprawled across the asphalt. And then there's the guy with the Flamer. It takes several attempts to snuff the guy before he gets within range. I kill them all, adding their sniper rifle and flamethrowers to my arsenal.

I walk to the edge of the overpass where the ruined people-carrier teeters. I circle the thing trying to find a way to get in, and find none. There's got to be treasure here somewhere, I think to myself. I broaden my search, checking the improvised bunkers the Renegades have propped up on the broken street. I come out empty-handed. There's not a treasure chest to be found. No gold. No jewels.

We just gave you something that lights people on fire!

Yeah, maybe I need to readjust my expectations when it comes to wasteland loot.

This feature is based on early code of the game for the Xbox 360. The game was played in one sitting at a media event.

Don't forget to read Part 2 and Part 3 of this feature.