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Game Review

There was a time, not all that long ago, when local schools ran bomb drills just in case a heartless enemy decided to drop "the big one" on us. Kids were instructed to huddle together and hide their heads in the hallway. Or protect themselves from that dreaded mushroom cloud by crawling under their desks. (Thank goodness for those radiation-proof wooden desktops!)

Luckily we never had to put the effectiveness of those exercises to the test. But the video game Fallout 3 asks: What would our lives have looked like if some evil despot had unleashed megatons of atomic destruction upon our world? And then it paints a suitably rubble-strewn future for gamers to monkey around in.

From a pure gaming perspective, this is a visually creative, often humorous, totally immersive title from the gamemakers at Bethesda. It blends retro-futuristic elements similar to those of the popular 2K game BioShock with the dystopian landscape of the movie Mad Max, the gigantic open-world design of Bethesda's own Oblivion game and the character conversation system of a game such as Mass Effect. So gamers are faced with grotesquely mutated life-forms, Forbidden Planet-style robots, '50s art designs and weathered citizenry with Wild West sensibilities—all scattered out over miles and miles and miles of virtual terrain.

Home Sweet Bunker
Play starts out in a huge underground bomb shelter called Vault 101, where the lucky Americans have been living for the last 200 years. Gamers are "born" there as either a boy or girl and, through a series of quick scenes, shape their characters from infancy to young adulthood. In a creative twist, a children's picture book and, later, a graduating exam help you choose a variety of strengths (perception, endurance, intelligence, agility, etc.) and skills (bartering, explosives, medicine, etc.) that will help as you make your way through life.

After this ingenious tutorial section, Fallout 3's story is kicked into high gear with blaring alarms as you discover that your father has mysteriously breached the vault entrance and disappeared into the war-torn no-man's-land beyond. So off you go to find him, quickly discovering that the post-apocalyptic ruins of Washington, D.C., are right outside the bunker door—along with a lot of crazy folks and radiated critters.

Quests, Moral Choices ...
Gameplay involves accepting quests from people you encounter and slowly unraveling the mystery behind your father's disappearance. But there's something else going on here, as well. The quests shape the kind of person you become. Something called a karma level is a big part of the game. It's a system that keeps track of the good or bad things you do and subsequently impacts how people react to you.

The conversation mechanic, for instance, offers multiple lines of dialogue to choose from when you interact with someone. And these choices change with your karmic state. Will you be a good person who agrees to help those in need and perhaps then receives vital information in exchange? Or will you join in with evil, twisted people and perpetrate terrible things to get your way? Your choices have far-reaching consequences, resulting in very interesting moral lessons that ultimately change the game's conclusion.

... And Darker Mouthfuls
Of course, a huge range of moral choices in a wide-open game like this usually means that things can quickly get nasty. Deadly, bloody encounters are frequent. And almost everyone you meet can be dispatched in any number of flesh-grinding ways.

My colleague, Kevin Simpson, and I each played through parts of this game while taking different karmic paths—just to see the kind of effect our choices would have. Early on, my negative-karma character was given a quest to take care of a problematic woman. Beating her brains out with a baseball bat, stealing everything she had and leaving her in a crumpled, bloody pile in the corner was the quest's dark conclusion. Another proffered assignment entailed detonating an unexploded atomic bomb and watching it obliterate an entire city of people.

And even when Kevin was trying to stick to the straight and narrow, he was often faced with killing something or someone. Heightening that interplay is a combat mechanic called V.A.T.S., which stands for Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. Whether using a ranged weapon such as a pistol or assault rifle, or a melee weapon such as a baseball bat or chain saw, gamers can click into this targeting system and pinpoint specific body parts of their enemy for a more deadly or incapacitating strike. Combat then switches into slo-mo mode and delivers a more intimate view of the gore-splattering outcome.

Two Plus Two Equals Gore
As you level up, a wide variety of special perks are offered which can muck things up all the more. A perk called Bloody Mess, for example, causes your victims to explode into what the game describes as a "red, gut-ridden, eyeball-strewn mess." The Cannibal perk, as you might imagine without any further description, takes things into even darker realms.

It can all get pretty radioactively ugly. So much so that the abundant profane language—spoken by young and old alike—feels like little more than foul glow-in-the-dark icing. And that's not even mentioning the sexual innuendo-laden conversations that are sprinkled throughout.

That a game with so much creativity, humor and lesson-teaching potential ends up bombarding players with this kind of content is disappointing to say the least. Game-reviewing website ign.com noticed the problems, saying, "If you haven't figured it out yet, this is not a game for kids or anybody with a developing moral compass."

And somehow even that sensible summation falls short of a full tally for this messy equation.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles



Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

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