Fallout 3 might not be blowing anyone away yet, but based on what I played today at a special E3 hands-on session, fans of BioShock will be thrilled with Bethesda Softworks' latest action-RPG.
The premise is simple. Years after a titanic nuclear apocalypse, you leave the safety of an underground bunker to track down your missing father. Upon reaching the surface, you get your first look at the shattered streets of Washington, D.C...and it ain't pretty. Fallout 3 isn't likely to win many awards for its grim visuals; the graphics look like Gears of War on downers, with an emphasis on rust, decay, and corrosion. Simply put, the game's bomb-shattered world looks so detailed that it's actually something of a turnoff. Though Fallout 3's technology has jumped leaps and bounds since 2006's Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, I still think that Oblivion has more appealing graphics.
But dig deeper and you'll find an extremely promising game. Fallout 3 is shaping up to be 2008's answer to BioShock, a game that re-defined shooters by jacking up the psychological horror and allowing players to explore a ruined landscape. That, in essence, is Fallout 3. You explore from a first-person perspective (though you can swap to third-person with a tap of the Left Bumper). You can shoot enemies from this perspective, or hop into an assisted aiming mode that allows you to target individual enemy body parts: I mostly targeted headshots, and time and time again I watched enemy craniums popping off like dandylion flowers. It's simple, gory, and very immersive.
But Fallout 3 nails the BioShock vibe in other ways. For starters, you'll spend lots of time picking through trashcans, desks, and boxes scrounging for ammo, weapons, or other helpful items. You can loot corpses, too, to snag new guns or armor. Fallout 3 is definitely heavier on the RPG aspects than BioShock, but that RPG focus will allow for more customization and more replaybility -- you can specialize in Heavy Weapons, Energy Weapons, Hand-to-Hand combat, or Melee weapons like sledgehammers.
I was particularly pleased with the controls, which conform to most console shooter standards. You aim with the Left Trigger and fire with the Right Trigger. Reload is tied to the X button, as you'd expect. It felt smooth and natural, and though Fallout 3 won't out-shoot Call of Duty 4, players will have no problem picking up the basics of this game.
All in all, Fallout 3 was a pleasure. There are still some visual rough edges, and the load times were a smidge too frequent for my tastes, but I already want to play more. Look for Fallout 3 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC this fall.