Fallout 3 is an undeniably cool game. If you check back to one of my original posts, you'll see clear evidence of my love for post-apocalyptic fare, in any medium. And even though I can't race around in a yellow Interceptor Ford Falcon XB sedan with a flamethrower attached to my steering wheel, Fallout 3 does provide one hell of an open-ended, immersive experience. All of modern-day Washington DC and its surrounding area is re-created, down to individually recognizable streets and buildings - except that nuclear devastation has coated everything with a colorless gray. Your first glimpse of a ruined (but somehow still standing) Washington monument is, may I say, moving. Since this is Bethesda (makers of the extraordinary Oblivion, to which this is clearly a successor), you'll marvel at the desolate landscape and lose yourself examining constellations in the brilliant night sky (no more of that nasty light pollution to worry about).
But god damn it, I don't understand some of the design decisions they made. And it's pissing me off. First of all: why create a fantastically detailed world, where finding even a random lawnmower blade in an abandoned garage can be useful, when you concurrently bury it behind a frustrating & obtrusive U.I.? Since Falllout 3 is a an RPG, keeping track of your stats, weapons, ammo, items, health, quests, and notes is a near-constant process. Before many battles, you'll want to switch weapons to match your enemy - before crossing the wasteland, you'll want to refer to your global map. All of this information is, unfuriatiately, presented via a "Pip-Boy" electronic device attached to your wrist. It's supposed to be clever. It's not. It sucks. Consider:
Beef number 2: the hyper-cool V.A.T.S. combat system is, I've decided, fundamentally retarded. For those that don't know, Fallout 1 and 2 were turn-based games in which your character had a set number of "action points" to spend each turn on moving, firing weapons, etc. In all honesty, I found the system frustratingly slow and clunky, especially when compared to the much more elegant pause-when-you-want system adopted by the similar Baldur's Gate series. Even though it pissed off a lot of fan-boys, Bethesda ditched the outdated isometric, turn-based gameplay (see insert) and opted for a modern 3D, FPS-esque presentation for Fallout 3. And in my opinion, this was a good decision. The first-person presentation and real-time motion allows for a much more immersive role-playing experience with combat that frightens and threatens rather than bores you to tears.
You can now spend "action points" (which otherwise never appear in gameplay) to target specific body-parts of your enemy. The percentages represent your chances to hit those particular regions. In theory, this sounds cool. Want to prevent that Super-Mutant from turning your face into a bloody pulp? Target his right arm, and cripple it so that he can't swing his sledgehammer.
In practice, it's annoying and silly. 90% of the time, you'll find yourself targeting the head because a well-placed shot there leads to a critical hit wherein you'll decapitate your enemy. Furthermore, since ammo is a rare and valuable resource (as it should be), you'll likely close the distance with your enemy as much as possible (to increase your %'s), activate VATS (freezing combat), and then blow him/her/it to hell. At its best, it's a thoroughly unrealistic but kinda fun thrill that disrupts the flow of the game. At its worst, it feels like a cheat. I just don't get it. Bethesda: you can't have your radioactive cake and eat it too.
I'll probably keep playing the damn thing, mostly because the world is fun to explore, the quests are interesting, and there's an insane amount of cursing going on. Yes, it basically is "Oblivion with guns" (albeit NC-17 instead of PG) and I'm mostly fine with that. But yet again, here's an example of a game that could have been so much more but finds itself periodically wandering into mediocrity because of some blatantly poor design decisions. Let's hope the modders can make this the proper masterpiece it so badly wants to be.