Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Xbox 360 - Fallout 3

Fallout 3 by Bethesda

This is the successor in the Fallout series and also, in a way, the successor to Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV (see my review here). This game uses the Oblivion engine to create a new world in the Fallout universe. I have mixed reactions to the use of the engine here. Let me explain why.

Note, the game can be in First or Third person style shooter mode by pressing the left bumper on the Xbox 360 control. So, you can view through the eyes of the character (FPS) or view the whole character (TPS). This same feature is available in Oblivion.


Granted, I am not that far into Fallout 3, but I have played Oblivion from cover to cover. Having worked with that engine in the past, I can at least talk about the things that work and those that don't in Fallout.

Overall, the gameplay is identical to that of Oblivion (walking and fighting). Additionally, Fallout 3 adds a semi turn-based targeting system, but in many ways it's pointless. If Fallout 3 works in any way like Oblivion, the characters will level up at an identical pace as the character player leaving these fighting techniques mostly ineffective. This was probably one of the single biggest sore spots with even Oblivion. I found that whenever I could avoid fighting in Oblivion and get what I needed, this worked best. Unfortunately, without the use of magic in Fallout 3, it's going to be a bit more difficult to complete the levels. The use of magic in Oblivion actually made the game workable. In Fallout 3, I'm reserving judgment, but I suspect it may end up being more difficult than it should be.


In the beginning of Fallout 3, you will find yourself walking and walking and walking (and very slowly, I might add). While this worked in Oblivion (due to the age in which it occurs), it really doesn't work well in Fallout 3. Yes, the world has been devastated by Nuclear Holocaust, but at least some form of transportation (such as a horse or mutant horse or something) should be available to aid in travel.

Fast travel is available once you have discovered a place, but you can't travel to places you haven't discovered (exactly like Oblivion). So, yes, fast travel works, but only to a point.


Unlike Oblivion, where the game throws very low level creatures at you in the start, Fallout 3 throws many very difficult (much higher leveled) creatures at you all at once before you have leveled up. You have no real weapons to speak of, no armor and very little in hit points. So, expect your character to die and start over regularly. This means, save early and save often.

Worse, the enemies are random. Like Oblivion, when wandering you'll find enemies and friends and they are very clear cut. There's no persuasion involved at all. This is the one thing I didn't like about Oblivion and I hoped they would fix in Fallout 3. I would prefer that most people you meet are neutral (neither like or dislike you) and don't attack by default. You have to then persuade them to be your friend or they will become your enemy (once finding out who you are). To me, this is a much more realistic way to handle first encounters. Characters should not automatically know you unless you tell them who you are. Automatically having most creatures become your enemy and kill you is really just over-the-top and rather lame. In this same idea, some non-sentient creatures may automatically attack you, but they shouldn't unless you provoke them. Of course, this isn't how it works. All enemies attack the instant they 'see' you.

Locating Enemies

Clearly, there is some kind of way to locate enemies on the compass, but it's really not clear enough to be useful. So, I'm not sure why it's even there.


Ok, so maybe there weren't any guns in Oblivion.. but there are in Fallout 3. My problem is that the 9mm pistol you're given can't even kill a mutant ant in one shot, much less a person. Unlike most shooters that allow head shots to kill with one shot, Fallout 3 doesn't. It doesn't even kill them with 5 shots. I mean, come on. It's a gun.. and radiation or not, as far as I know, a single gunshot to the head kills anything. This is probably the single biggest flaw in Fallout 3.

Map - Pip Boy

Don't get me started here. Ok, let's. I am not a fan of the Pip Boy device at all. It's lame and difficult to navigate. Just give me a map and quest system like Oblivion. Oblivion's system is clear cut, easy to read and tells you what you need to do. The green screen Pip Boy is hard to read, hard to navigate, annoying and difficult to decipher. This change was not a good design decision.

The Pip Boy's control settings are not changeable through control settings menu. So, while you can invert Y on the movement control, you cannot change them for movement on the map. So, I always end up moving the map in the wrong direction because Y control on the map needs to be inverted.

Oh, and why do you need to navigate into the Pip Boy just to change your weapon?!?!?

Waiting and Sleeping

These work exactly like Oblivion. Health regenerates completely when you sleep in a bed and waiting lets you pass time easily. That said, the leveling up system has been untied from sleeping. Now you can level up as soon as you have passed the right amount of points. This is a good thing. It was difficult to find a bed in Oblivion and appears equally so in Fallout 3.

Main Quest

Now that I have completed the main quest, I can definitively say the game is no where near as charming and inspired as Oblivion. Once done with the Main Quest, the game ends. You must restart from a previous save to continue playing. Worse, the ending is a series of static images with a voiceover discussing the outcome. This is highly disappointing as I expected to see at least some kind of cinematic. So, you don't get to see what happens, they just tell what happens.

Side Quests

I'm still working on these, but I'm not overly thrilled to finish them up knowing how the game ends.


The wasteland look, while impressively done map-wise, is really not going to be appealing to stare at for 1-2 months while I play this game. I'm actually already tired of the junky trash and waste all over the place. Yes, I realize this is supposed to be post-nuclear war, but perhaps this wasn't the best idea for game visuals?

With Oblivion, you at least got to play the game pre-gate creation by avoiding the main quest. So, you get to walk around a green lush forested countryside. Even after the Oblivion gates start spawning, the game is still mostly pleasant to look at. Not so with Fallout 3. It's a bleak barren wasteland with nothing really that pleasant to see. Visually, they spent a lot of time building the cracked pavement maps, but overall the look is not pretty. In some ways, it kind of reminds me of Half-Life 2.. but Half-Life's terrain looked far better.

The wasteland look was one of my main concerns with Fallout 3 and, so far, this is as much of an problem as I expected it would be. I will continue to play the game, but so far I'm not thrilled with the idea of staring at a wasteland for the entire game.


Just like Oblivion, there is non-combat and combat music themes. So, when you get in proximity of an enemy, the combat theme starts. Outside of that, it plays the non-combat theme. I found that in Oblivion, I quickly got tired of listening to either theme and eventually turned them both down to just barely audible.


There are some things I like about Fallout 3, but more things that I don't. I find it hard to get past some of the issues (like wasteland's constant junk piles and treeless hills). So far, I have not found much in the way of engaging weapons or enhancements that make this game that much better.

So, Fallout 3's story and experience is no where near as charming or as inspired as Oblivion. Even today, I'd still play Oblivion again simply because I want to revisit that world again. But, I can't say the same of Fallout 3. I don't particularly like the world set up in Fallout 3 nor will I want to visit it again. For this reason, I think an extended gaming experience in Fallout 3 is overkill for both the story and world. As much as I don't want to say this, a more straightforward linear shooter engine would have worked better for Fallout 3 than using Oblivion's very detail oriented game engine when clearly this much detail isn't necessary.


  • Sound: 8/10 (workable, but gets annoying after a while)
  • Graphics 8.5/10 (a bit glitchy like Oblivion... this wasn't fixed in Fallout 3)
  • Bugginess: 7/10 (locked up twice through the main quest)
  • Controls: 8.5/10 (reasonable, but could have been enhanced)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 2/10 (Not really wanting to revisit this world)
  • Overall: 8.7/10 (not a vast improvement over Oblivion)

Xbox 360 - Saints Row 2

Saints Row 2 by THQ

Parental Advisory: This game features mature themes and content. This game is likely best suited for ages 17 and older, but of course the decision is up to the parent.

While I wanted to love this game as much as Saints Row (click for review), it's just not as complete as I wanted it to be. I expected so much more from this game and really got the same gaming experience as Saints Row. That's not a bad thing, but it really should have been more.

Controls and Gameplay

The gaming style and play of this game is identical to that of Saints Row. The button mappings are the same as SR and very similar to the GTA series. That said, THQ really did little to make the gaming experience more than SR. There are some nifty additions to the game, but not enough to make it substantially different than the Saints Row experience.


The one thing that THQ added to SR2 is flying and water vehicles. It's unfortunate, however, that you have to play through the entire game to get the assault chopper (which would have come in handy far earlier in the game). However, you do at least get access to the Oppressor 'copter early enough (of course, no weapons) which speeds up traveling from place to place. Note, you obtain the assault chopper by finishing the last mission of the game. So, this is why you have to play through the entire game to get it.

In networked play, you can use an assault chopper (or any other vehicle) if another networked player has finished the game. They can bring out the assault chopper (or another vehicle) from their garage and let you use it. But, you cannot store their vehicle(s) in your garage. You can only get the assault chopper yourself by finishing the game.

Still, there are issues with the flying vehicles. Namely, while you can store these vehicles specially designed garages, you can only customize land vehicles. I really wanted a chop shop game and a mechanic place to customize the 'copters and watercraft vehicles. Alas, no such modification garages exist.


The mission play works identically, again, as SR. So, you're going after rival gangs and taking over their territory. You must play side missions to gain respect credits to access the main missions. Once you gain enough respect, you can begin playing through the main missions. You can play through the Brotherhood, Samedi and Ronin missions in any order until you get to the each of those respective mission threads. Once that's done, then the Ultor missions open. Once you complete the Ultor missions, you get the Tornado assault chopper.


While the 3D characters do look better and there's more verbal talking from the primary character, it really doesn't enhance the game that much. The movements of the characters were not that improved and the mouth movements are a bit stilted.

What's missing?

Well, lots frankly. I would have preferred to allow limited configuration of the player character up front and force the user to do missions to gain stats, improve physical appearance and change their abilities. Instead, just like SR, THQ opted to use the plastic surgeon to change appearance. So, the whole appearance thing ends up shallow and meaningless. I would have preferred something like if you eat too much you get fat, or you go the gym and workout and build up strength and muscularity. I liked this aspect of GTA San Andreas and was expecting it here. What I don't want to have, though, is forced eating.. so you have to stop by places and have to eat regularly. That really does get in the way of gameplay. But, as part of a gym mission, that would be ok.

In the personality area, THQ could have extended the relationship aspect of the game to allow for actual relationships between various people you meet. So, instead of just taunting and complements, this could have lead into Sims style relationships.

Co-op mode / Xbox Live

While this feature does exist, you have to beware of letting other players into your game. More about that shortly. The two-player gameplay is interesting and can be fun, but only if both players are playing through the game at the same pace. If you get someone in your game who has already completed the game fully, the other player who is still working through the missions will feel like the game is being spoiled.

Ok, so onto the Xbox Live Co-op issue.. Allowing a co-op player into your game with cheats enabled prevents further achievement by either player. When you accept someone into your game who is using cheats, you won't find this out until after-the-fact. This means, by the time the game tells you of the cheats, your game is already screwed. For example, I had just completed a mission (two missions, in fact) and hadn't saved. I got a request for a co-op session and allowed it. Only after I accepted the player in did I find out the player was using cheats. I kicked the user off, had to reload from a previous save and re-do two missions again to ensure cheats were not affecting my game progress. Beware when allowing random players into your game through Xbox Live.

The game really should allow you to prevent players who are using cheats from even connecting to your game or it should tell you of the cheats up front and allow you to kick the player off without affecting your existing game. Basically, if you want to play Saints Row 2 without this issue, turn Xbox live requests to invite only. Otherwise, someone with cheats turned on and who selects quickmatch may find your game and connect to you.


The game tries to be too much like Saints Row, but with only a few updated features. I really wanted more out of this gaming experience than I got with SR. Like, for example, THQ added the Taunt and Compliment features. But, these features are small and minimal making the game experience pretty much the same as Saints Row.

  • Sound: 8/10 (workable, but gets annoying after a while)
  • Graphics 8.5/10 (glitchy, camera problems)
  • Bugginess: 6/10 (many full out lockups towards the end of the game)
  • Controls: 9/10 (reasonable, overall works, could be somewhat better in places)
  • Bang-To-Buck: 3/10 (Might play more just to find details)
  • Overall: 8/10 (could have been so much more)
Note: bugginess is denoted by 1 = most buggy, 10 = least buggy.