Fallout 3

Content review for this game:
Pertaining to the ESRB rating.

Recommended age: As you might have read, this game is chock full of blood, gore, language (including many uses of the f-word); grotesque enemies; an overall horrific world; the ability to get addicted to drugs and alcohol; and there are some extremely tough moral situations.

But even devoid these issues, this game is way too big of a time investment for younger teens, let alone kids; the gameplay itself is borderline addictive once you get going; and it takes more than a little skill to maintain survival. So, I recommend this game for ages 17+.

Pros & Cons:
Pertaining to My short list.

Compared to the development team's last effort--Oblivion--this game has a far better draw distance (how far you can see), very little texture/object pop-in and a very solid framerate. And although there are a few clipping issues (as in, some solid objects go right through other solid objects), frequent (but brief) load times, and somewhat generic character models, the overall graphics are smooth, detailed and quite stunning.

The gameplay itself is extremely deep, with you being able to completely customize your character with dozens upon dozens of optional skills and abilities, from a stealthy ninja to a monsterous gunner (not to mention the option to change your hairstyle and face at any time). In addition, you can pick up literally any item in the game's world (from bent tin cans to motorcycle handbrakes) and use them to make a variety of weapons--the possibilities are endless.

You're given unprecedented freedom to explore the game's giant overworld, which is packed with tons of locations to explore, like an entire network of sewers, subway tunnels, all of the major D.C. landmarks (including the White House), dozens of other huge buildings, and the expansive wasteland. And because you can warp to any place you've previously visited, it makes the exploration even more compelling--there's nearly limitless places to discover.

However, although the story starts out well, and it has some intriguing elements, the further it gets in, the more it loses steam--and by the game's end, you really don't care what happens or to whom (even if it does have multiple endings). But, this is balanced by the fact that the story is just a small part of the overall experience, and you'll be exploring the overworld and completing side-quests long after you finish the main story.

(Just as a warning: after starting the last story quest and finishing the ending, you won't be brought back to the overworld, and you'll have to either load from a previous save or start over.)

Another downside is, like The Elder Scrolls, it's extremely hard to start out, with no money, weak weapons, no place to sleep, and very strong enemies. This can be quite frustrating at first (especially for newbies), as it's hard to know where to go; you'll constantly run out of ammo; and your weapons will break on a regular basis.

And although you can restore your overall health by drinking from the game's water sources, the water is radiated, which eventually leads to radiation poisoning, and you'll have to be cured for that in a completely different way; there's a weight limit on what you can carry; and the computer hacking and lockpicking system can be abstract, unclear and plain frustrating (at first). However, this is balanced by the fact that you can switch difficulty at any time from the options menu, and if placed at very easy, newbies can get by.

In other words, this game is only for the resourceful and very patient. If you're a big fan of The Elder Scrolls series (or first-person RPGs), then you'll love this game, because it's pretty much Oblivion set in a world with guns--and if all this sounds good to you, get it.

Blood and gore: Blood splatters and spurts in ridiculous and unending amounts when you or an enemy is hit or shot. Blood also splatters and lingers on walls, floors, and it visibly gathers on the screen, representing the blood in your character's face and eyes. Bodies do linger, and there are many bloodied and mutilated human (such as headless bodies hanging by hooks from bridges/building, etc.), monster bodies and scorched human skeletons (in ruined houses still lying in bed, the bathtub, etc.) scattered throughout.

The V.A.T.S system freezes the game at any time, and allows you to target specific parts of an enemy's body; if you shoot their head, legs or arms with a powerful weapon, the parts will blow right off in great detail (as in, full view of the muscle and bone structure in what remains), tons of blood/gore, and in slow motion. After the fact, you'll see the heads and limbs lying or rolling around what's left of the body.

In addition, there is tons of static blood smeared and splattered around the game's world (including some chunks of flesh); an optional skill allows you to blow enemies into an especially bloody and paste-like pulp when you destroy them; certain weapons (like lasers) disintegrate enemies into either a green pile of goo or ashes; and there is gibbing, meaning when you destroy enemies with high explosives, they do blow apart into bloody chunks. There is no option to turn blood off in this game.

Another particularly gross element are the "Gore Bags" scattered in areas where Super Mutants (a main enemy) are present--they feed on humans. The bags are netted, bloody and filled with mutilated human body parts. You can open these bags to get the items people were carrying on them at the time, but you can also procure and eat the mutilated parts (not shown, just selected in a menu). However, there are no positives to being a cannibal (which includes an optional skill to sneak up and eat on live humans), as you'll get lots of bad points, it shows up on your permanent stats, and people will view you in great disgust.

Last of all, many of the mutated enemies are quite grotesque. From Feral Ghouls, who were once humans exposed to too much radiation, and now look like anorexic zombies, with scarce rotting flesh (showing the overall skeletal and muscle structure underneath), to Centaurs, who look like a mix of giant larva and a mutilated human torso, with spine-like bones protruding from underneath their rotting flesh.

Intense violence: In the year 2077, a nuclear war broke out and quickly led to the downfall and destruction of the United States of America, forcing the remaining survivors to retreat to underground bunkers. 200 years later, in the aftermath, many people have left their bunkers to discover that the upper world is in complete ruin, and its inhabitants are mutated and grotesque monsters. However, a certain bunker, Vault 101, was closed and sealed at the very beginning of the war, and as of then, no one has entered or left it since. You're one of the inhabitants of Vault 101, and when your father unexpectedly escapes to the surface, you quickly follow. Now time to find him, and most importantly, find out what's going on...

The game opens with your character's birth, where you pick your gender, name and customize your appearance--all the while your father talks to you from the baby's perspective. Then to your toddler years, where you learn basic movement and pick your major stats from a children's book. Then to your tenth birthday party, where you receive the ever-important Pip-boy (main interface and menu system), are presented with your first moral choices and learn basic gunplay. Then to your 16th year, where you take the G.O.A.T test, which acts as a guide to set up more of your main stats. Then finally to your 19th year, and present time, where you're informed by the Overseer's daughter that your father's escaped the vault, and the Overseer's men are after you next. You escape, and then set out into the game's world...

Right from the start you see the ruined, desolate and infertile landscape of what remains of Washington D.C., which is now ravaged by nuclear explosions, and lingers with radiation. While making your way through this landscape, you see burnt-out and unoccupied housing, ruin upon ruin, and pools of dirty, radiated water. Once you reach the town of Megaton, you find the settlement to be made up of scrapped airplanes, a dud atom bomb (which a group of crazies worship), and some rough, strange people. After meeting the sheriff and getting directions to your next main objective, this is where the linearity stops...

You are completely free to explore anything and go anywhere you want, with the base gameplay consisting of picking a direction and running towards your goal, while fighting enemies, scavenging for items and leveling up on the way there. Once you reach your chosen destination, you search the ruin in question, find anything of value, escape alive, (optionally) warp back (instead of having to run all the way) to your favorite trading spot, turn in your items, repair and upgrade your equipment, sleep to regain your health, and repeat (there are, of course, many objectives in between these steps, but this is the basic gameplay--and because its sheer variety, it never gets old).

Your character starts out with a pistol, BB gun and baseball bat, but eventually gains access to shotguns, assault rifles, swords, lasers, gattling guns, missile launchers, grenades, mines, a flamethrower, and even a mini-nuke launcher. And while running through the wasteland, you'll come across many hostile enemies, like human raiders (barbarians who love to kill/ torture); mutated bears and oversized mole rats (you can eventually gain an optional skill to be friendly with animals); giant beetles, ants and flies; Super Mutants (look like mutated and oversized humans), Centaurs (explained in blood & gore), and Feral Ghouls (non-feral ghouls are civilized like humans and won't attack unless attacked).

The combat system is extremely violent and very brutal thanks to V.A.T.S, which allows you to target specific body parts of the enemy. With this system, you can take a blunt object (or gun) and beat/shoot people until you cripple their heads (making them far less accurate with aim), arms (causing them to drop their weapon), legs (making them either try to hop to safety, or crumple helplessly on the floor, which is good for stopping fleeing enemies in their tracks), and torso. This affects your character as well, and if you take too much damage in any area, you, too, will start to physically react. In addition, you can sneak up on people, put explosives in their pocket and create a violent mess; use a flamethrower to set enemies on fire (although after it subsides there's no graphic detail); set off chain explosions to take enemies out; and even use an optional skill to murder people silently in their sleep.

Devoid important story characters (who'll just go unconscious if you try to do them in) and children (who are invincible), you can kill anyone in the game's world, including civilians. However, killing innocents and non-combatants isn't a good idea, as at first you are very weak and will most certainly get killed immediately. You can also break into people's houses and steal anything, but this, too, has its negatives; if people see you looking at their belongings, they'll tell you that you'd better not be thinking about stealing it, and if you do (you'll know from a red-colored icon, while looking at said items), they'll either call the guards (who'll attack) or attack you themselves.

Your overall actions and the way you choose to respond to people in dialog affects your moral orientation, and for every thing you steal or don't steal, for every innocent person you kill or don't kill, it earns you a set amount of "Karma." And every time you speak with any of the game's characters, you're given the choice to either respond with a nice, rude or neutral response, and once you have a high enough skill in a given area, you'll often be able to pick a response based on Intelligence, Strength, Medicine, and even a skill on how well you converse with children. And if you want to take the saint-like path, the Speech skill is a must--it allows you to settle dangerous disputes peacefully when you otherwise couldn't.

This moral system affects the overall story, characters and ending (as there are multiple), and in the main quest you'll eventually have to choose between the Brotherhood of Steel (good) and the Enclave (bad). You'll also gain some party members throughout your journey, who'll fight alongside you (who can die), and other than Dogmeat (a dog you save from raiders)--depending on if you're good or evil--you'll only have access to members of your current moral orentation. Concerning the moral choices in missions, many of the dilemmas presented aren't clearly black and white, with some extremely difficult decisions to be made, and most often five or six ways to complete any given situation, ranging from cold blooded murder to saving a person instead.

There are some less generic and more restrictive decisions, an example being when you're stuck in a computer sim, and come to find out that a man has been tormenting your fellow captives for two hundred years; killing them virtually, and then reviving them to start again. You then have the choice to either help him torment them in exchange for your freedom, or you can hack into the computer and have the simulations put them out of their misery; stranding the man in his simulation alone and forever--and what's even harder is there's no other choice. This "what if" classroom, multiple choice answer psychology is encountered a few more times, but even if it looks like there's nothing to do but commit terrible acts, if you look deeper and use some patience, there is almost always an alternative and peaceful solution.

Concerning kids or even young teens, even overlooking the extreme violence, heavy blood/gore and pervasive language, this game is way too big of a time investment, with the main quest taking at least 20 hours, and everything in between taking dozens of hours more. The base gameplay is also addictive, with you constantly wanting to explore just one more place, or collect just one more item, talk to just one more person, complete just one more quest, etc. And other than the addictive element and the fact that it's very difficulty to maintain your survival, its set in a bleak, dangerous, brutal, and horrific environment, with grotesque enemies, hostile people, and some very tough moral situations--it's plainly more suited to older teens and adults.

Sexual themes: There's mentions of brothels and light reference to sexually transmitted diseases; if your character is female she can pick up and equip "Sexy Sleepwear," which looks like a lingerie gown; you overhear a few comments like a barman telling his prostitute how he wished she "screwed more" and slept less; there's an optional skill (if you're male) to smooth-talk to ladies--in other words, be a sleaze-ball; and if you're female, and depending on who you meet, some men will treat you differently.

  • Near the very beginning a bully picks on the main character's love interest, and playing on his gang's name, the Tunnel Snakes, he says, "I can show you a 'real' tunnel snake," and how they should maybe go to the store room.
  • Although there are a few prostitutes in the game's world, there's only one you can sleep with, and that's at the main bar in Megaton (first city you come across). You can pay her, and then go to bed, but it isn't shown; the screen fades to black, your character wakes up, and you'll see her lying there fully clothed--you can continue to "sleep with her" as many times as you wish.
  • A man named Dukov in the D.C. wastes has a ruined mansion, with two lingerie clad prostitutes, whom he hires to party, drink and keep him "company" all day and night (you never see them "sleep" together); and his chandelier is of two naked (but undetailed) women straddling each other (sexually).

Strong language: The language in this game varies, as the use depends on how many side quests you complete; who (including a child mayor of a solely child city who uses the f-word profusely), and for how long you talk to someone; and on what responses you pick and how the other people reply to those responses. Also, since you can talk to every character as many times as you'd like, including the option to repeat an entire topic, any language in those lines could be repeated indefinitely. And last of all, the game makes use of a branching dialog box consisting of three or more options. Some of these lines have language, and you often have the option to use the language listed below while conversing with the game's character (although it's read, not heard).

There are over two dozen uses of the words, hell, d*mn, a**, sh*t, and the f-word, over a dozen uses of the words, bastard, a**hole, God d*mn, and God, and under a dozen uses of the words, screw (sexual context), b*tch, p*ss, bullsh*t, SoB, Jesus, and Jesus Christ in the main script. Other than the main script, there are frequent uses of the words d*mn, God d*mn, a**, sh*t, SoB, and mild to moderate use of the f-word while fighting (especially human) enemies, and overhearing (often repeated) conversations between some of your allies.

Use of drugs: This refers to fictional performance enhanching drugs you can find, buy and take around the game's world like Med-X, Stempak (health packs), Ultra Jet, RadAway (treats radiation poisoning), Rad-X (makes you more resistance to radiation), Psycho, and Mentats. Other than treating radiation and restoring your health, the others are closer to steroids in nature, and give you boosts in damage resistance, strength, etc.--you can get addicted to these. However, the performance enhancing drugs are entirely optional (I never used them), and you never see the main character "shoot them up," as it were; you just go into a menu and select the wanted drug, which then takes immediate affect.

Use of alcohol and tobacco: (The ESRB didn't mention this in their rating) There is an unending amount of alcohol in the form of beer, vodka, whiskey, scotch, and wine bottles. You can pick these up, and if you drink too much (not shown, just selected in a menu), you'll become addicted, and either have to keep using--to subside the side-effects--or go to a doctor and get treated. You also see many of the non-playable characters (who are sometimes drunk) drinking, smoking, and there a few bars (where you can buy alcohol) in the game's world.

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