Sunday, 23 February 2014

Well-Rendered's Games of the Generation #5: Fallout 3

Fallout 3, Bethesda Game Sutdios/Bethesda Softworks (2008)

I know I sound like a broken record, but the one thing a video game can do that no other narrative medium can is give you a world and let you explore it however you want in order to draw your own conclusions. The most intense experience I have had of doing exactly this is in Fallout 3, Bethesda's post-nuclear follow up to Oblivion.


Set in 2277, 200 years after the "Great War" in which the United States was reduced to barren rubble following all-out nuclear war, Fallout 3 sets you loose in the "Capital Wasteland", which was once Washington D.C. While some humans still roam the wasteland as bandits and others live above ground in makeshift towns such as Megaton (built, of course, around an unexploded nuclear warhead that the residents now worship), you grew up in Vault 101, one of many such nuclear bunkers scattered around the country. 

When your scientist dad (played by a cuddly Liam Neeson) leaves Vault 101 under mysterious circumstances, you decide to leave and explore the wasteland for yourself. Thus begins a quest across a sparse, hostile world filled with mutants, robots, savages and the decaying remains of those who have tired to carve out a living on the land before you. It was the remnants of the wastelanders' lives that inspired me to write this piece for The Escapist back in 2010, in which I talked about narrative through level design, particularly way in which you can learn about people through the homes that they build for themselves and the objects they surround themselves with.


While Oblivion and later Skyrim gave us lush, fertile worlds filled with cosy homesteads and imposing castles, Fallout 3 shows the ingenuity of people who refuse to be dragged down by the apparent hopelessness of their situation. While some people raise families in tiny dwellings filled with salvaged toys and books, others have formed large, powerful communities such as Rivet City, an entire society inside an aircraft carrier. During the course of the game, the Lincoln Memorial can become home to liberated slaves, slavery once again being a common - and lucrative - practice.

The Fallout series takes place in an alternative universe with a timeline that diverged from our own shortly after the second world war, which means that culture, aesthetics and design are retro-futuristic. The result is a darkly humourous cross between The Jetsons and Mad Max, in which wholesome Americana struggles to shine through grime and anarchy. It is a coherent world with a strong visual and (a)moral identity based on a solid science fiction premise, and in no other medium would I be able to immerse myself in it so comprehensively.



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