Disasters, decisions, and the road

I’ve always found even crappy disaster flicks to be engaging, and not just because seeing Freddy Rodriguez get concurrently flattened, impaled, and then immolated is cathartic. Disaster films trigger a primal survival instinct that causes you to question what you’d do in the protagonist’s circumstances. With a tornado bearing down on you, would you try to race to a partially shielded underpass or jump out and strap yourself to a pipe with your leather belt? If a tidal wave approaches, will you hop on a moped and try to outrace 700 mph waves up a hill like Elijah Wood, storm into a solid library building like Jake Gyllenhaal, or haplessly mew weepy paternal anecdotes like Tea Leoni? OK, maybe disaster films that solely contain nonsensical gibberish don’t count.

But good disaster stories seem to draw you into them far more effectively than tales that are less threatening. I’m currently listening to the amazing audiobook version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (McCarthy was in the spotlight last year for writing No Country For Old Men). It’s a rare treat: a post-apocalyptic novel written by a top tier, 73-year-old author instead of a kid who still feels too nostalgic for afternoons spent croaking Lord Humungous lines after watching The Road Warrior for the tenth time. Navigating through The Road has been an affecting journey. It’s impossible not to ponder how you’d react to the dire events that the characters confront. Would you accept a stranger’s offer for assistance, or would you eschew human contact and forgo potential resources in order to ensure the security of your party?

The best roleplaying games similarly cause you to question courses of action, and encourage you to vest personality into your alter-ego. Modern RPG fans too often seem to define the quality of a roleplaying game by the number of character development choices, instead of the frequency of genuine roleplaying choices. The perfect roleplaying game would allow you to do anything that a character in those circumstances could possibly do, and have that character’s fortunes greatly depend upon creative strategies. Instead of storming a castle by trying to fireball through the front door, it might be more effective to spend some time in town and cull together some grappling equipment, or to trudge into the swamps looking for a sewer entrance. Rarely do RPGs reward or even permit such dynamic strategies, but the best ones like Fallout 3 do, and that’s one of the main reasons it’s clearly our RPG and Game of the Year.

Fallout 3 is also, of course, a disaster story, and one that we can imagine and relate to far more readily than a fantastical tale of an evil wizard crushing the dwarves. So we’re automatically more inclined to have empathy for the plight of our character, and to concoct survivalist strategies. Amazingly, in Fallout 3 those intuitive tactics regularly work. Charismatic characters can bargain their way out of predicaments, stealthy assaults on enemy encampments are rewarded, and goals can invariably be achieved through an array of methods that reflect the strengths and personalities of characters. More than any other recent RPG, or computer game, Fallout 3 legitimately gives you the opportunity to roleplay a character who could reflect your actual personality. You can even roleplay as yourself in Fallout 3’s world, and only make decisions that you personally would actually take in those circumstances. That’s just not an opportunity granted very often, at least in any meaningful sense without a ton of extrapolation. Fallout 3 draws you into its setting and allows you to walk your own road. Good Journey.

January 14, 2009


  • waran4 - January 23, 2009 11:41 p.m.

    I have FO3 on both PC and 360, and it's much more laggy/buggy on PC than 360, but it's almost impossible to hit anything without using V.A.T.S. on the 360, with the exception of when you use the Minigun or Eugene (it's a minigun too, but it's better :D). Also, if anyone who reads this, I would recommend to get FO3 for a console, if you do not have a category 4,3 or higher system (equivalent to approx. 3 ghz dual core processor, 3 GB RAM, 512 MB Geforce 8800 GTS)
  • Taxtm - January 23, 2009 4:28 a.m.

    Hell, even the soundtrack gave me chills while playing this. The game ROCKED! Too bad I only got to play it at a friend's house, and it was just a rental. It's games like these that make me regret getting a wii over a PS3 pr 360 even more than usual. ((growls) damn nintendo with all their empty promises and crappy "casual" games) Oh well, guess it's time to start saving up, oh wait that's right! The econemy's shot! Here's hoping that Obama and the big wigs in Washington actually figure out how to pull us out of THIS load. But I digress... Awesome game, and most (if not all) of the music is available on iTunes in various iMixes.
  • magicwalnuts0 - January 20, 2009 1:08 a.m.

    I could hit things without vats.... and it was almost as satisfying because you aim the crosshair yourself.
  • Tasty_Pasta - January 19, 2009 4:07 a.m.

    Fallout 3 is really good, and I would definitely consider it RPG of the year. But in my opinion, it's not at all game of the year. Just like Oblivion, it's really glitchy and unpolished. It has horrible random freezes, quest bugs, and visual glitches. And the combat is horrible. Without using VATS, it's nearly impossible to hit anything in a face-to-face fight. They did a fantastic job with the environment and decision making, but to me, the gameplay is garbage.
  • Jimmyjammy - January 17, 2009 5:42 p.m.

    @lorien The road chilled me right to the core. A mod that tasked you with reaching the coast at all costs whilst searching for scraps of food with a gun with only 3 bullets would be really interesting. Plus managing the health of your character and the boy.
  • Defguru7777 - January 16, 2009 2:30 a.m.

    Your choices are never clear-cut. I tried being a good guy, but through my ordinary choices (and the Tranquility Lane quest), my karma went down to Neutral.
  • mrandydixon - January 15, 2009 7:05 p.m.

    Great piece, Desslock. I re-read The Road just before Fallout 3 was released to better prepare myself for the coming 50+ hours of post-apocalyptic survival, and I was certainly happy that I did. And I'm sure that if McCarthy ever emerged from his own fallout shelter for long enough to stand in line at his local GameStop (maybe Oprah could pick him up a copy?), he'd enjoy reliving his novel as much as we did. Keep up the good work.
  • ELpork - January 15, 2009 6:32 p.m.

    "stealthy assaults on enemy encampments are rewarded" If you can ever, EVER, pull them off.
  • ReduceReuseRecycle - February 12, 2009 3:51 p.m.

    Desslock, First, I want to thank you for your article on why Fallout 3 is your game of the year. It made me take a second look at the game, and I've added it to my "to play" list. However, regarding The Road, I think you're doing yourself a disservice by listening to it instead of reading it. The sparseness of the text, the lack of quotes, commas, apostrophes, and chapters add to the experience. I think you're missing a lot by not seeing the words on the page.
  • Armygrognard - January 24, 2009 1:50 a.m.

    Until a week ago, I'd have given it a 9/10 or a 10/10. After last week, a 1/10. Why? Liberty. Prime. Glitch. Left4Dead is now the way to go.
  • darkwolf777 - January 20, 2009 11:51 a.m.

    Fallout 3 does have a large amount of bugs but if can work around them like i have this really is game of the year. forgive me mgs4.
  • Rhesus - January 19, 2009 3:49 p.m.

    Fallout 3 is a great game, but only in certain parts. Like for combat, yeah I can only hit stuff in V.A.T.S. and that gets kind of annoying but the storyline is incredible, so I guess that balances things out. The one thing that I hate about Fallout 3, though is that sometimes it seems like you only have one decision to make. Like when you travel to Vault 112 and go into that simulator, God I lost so much karma in there. But when you ignore that and other minor issues, Fallout 3 is a great game.
  • DeadGirls - January 17, 2009 2 a.m.

    Fallout 3 was a pretty great game. I really enjoyed my first play-through. I explored every map-marker (and places of interest not marked) and took in as close to 100% of the content as is possible. I have come to the conclusion that the game's depth as an RPG is deceptive. There are really only a few quests that have meaningful 'decisions' for the player to make, and they are usually quite obvious. There are a few more quests that allow different approaches (based on your skills or karma) but are played out (except for a few lines of dialog) exactly the same each time. And most quests can easily be done regardless of skills or karma, by shooting. It seems that 75% of the content in the game is not involved with any specific quest or friendly NPC, and (with a few memorable exeptions) is worth exploring only for exploring's sake. Neither the combat nor the stealth were very compelling game elements by themselves, and though it took way way longer than I expected, I finally got tired of VATS and head/pants explosions. Oh yeah, and the ending(s) sucked. Fallout 3 may still have been the best RPG of the year, but I think we could do much better in the future.
  • Sebastian16 - January 16, 2009 1:53 a.m.

    Lawl@ELpork; True true.
  • Wave360 - January 15, 2009 7:44 p.m.

    Fallout 3 FTW!!!
  • lorien - January 15, 2009 6:08 p.m.

    "The Road" is an excellent book. I would love to see a Fallout 3 mod based on it.

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000