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Bethesda
"Fallout 3" is a role playing game for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 gaming systems.

Title: Fallout 3

Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (reviewed)

Studio: Bethesda

Rated: M for Mature

Score: 10 of 10

THE REVIEW:

Gameplay: Washington, D.C., is a city full of iconic symbols that don't define just a city but a nation. Monuments to past U.S. presidents such as Washington and Lincoln are instantly recognizable, apparently, even after the end of the world.

"Fallout 3" begins (without any need for exposure to the previous two games) inside Vault 101, far away from the radiation that has destroyed most of civilization and the mutant humans and creatures that terrorize what is left of it. Living a sheltered life in the vault prepares players for the great outdoors in such a clever yet functional way that it seems unlikely the rest of the game can live up to the standard. It does.

Most storytelling (film, theater, literature, even jokes) relies on a distinct beginning, middle and end. Fallout lets the players customize the structured beginning and then kicks them out into the wide-open world to make their own middle and end. Like the ultra-popular "Grand Theft Auto" series, and developer Bethesda's previous "Elder Scrolls" games, the world is at the players' feet.

But that world is full of deadly things like dog-sized cockroaches, hungry mongrels and irradiated, mindless survivors and pockets of deadly, slimey radiation. There are a variety of ways to die and plenty of methods to live. With highly customizable characters, players can choose to get by on their skills with computers, stealth, firearms, other character interaction or even just running a lot.

Even the most peace-loving player will eventually rely on violence to survive, and the game features an innovative combat system that gives players options on how to attack. The in-game world freezes while players can choose which weapon to attack with and which limb or extremity of the bad-guy to go after. Legs or a head might display a lower percentage chance to hit but may blind an opponent or render him lame.

Combat results are graphic, and the severed limbs or blood splatters alone would earn the game its mature rating. Adult curse words are present as well, and the leftovers of world devastation are horrific as well. Pains were taken not to display nudity of any kind, and there are some subtle instances of sexuality but not sex. In other words, its a pretty easy setting to be heroic in.

Few games are designed so well that it can matter as much as gameplay, but "Fallout," by its nature and by its unified 1950s themes (smart with a dose of humor) motivates a player to nose around its expansive reality for no other reason than to see what Bethesda has hidden in the corners.

As players live and explore, they can opt to follow the main quest or do dozens, perhaps hundreds, of smaller quests before returning to the main task or decide to play on the fringes for as long as they like. Of the games of 2008, it is the convincing game of the year.

Even taking a good deal of time before printing a review (as suggested by Bethesda) there are many interesting hours here. There are few games that allow so many types of play options that all reward the player. It is a technical marvel, extremely playable and features amazing design, all in one game.

Graphics: For a world of its size, there is a remarkable amount of detail, although things do get a little repetitive, but not to a degree that it ruins the play. Houses look the same, and some bad guys seem to have rolled off the assembly line, but the cityscapes and lovingly detailed destruction make it a visual bonanza. Faux products and advertising left over from the pre-war days are brilliant and funny. There is plenty to be horrified about and plenty to amuse as well.

Audio: The soundtrack of the game is fittingly 1950s themed, courtesy of the last remnant of the government broadcasting propaganda about how everything will be all right, and a resistance radio station and its spokesman, Three Dog. Ambient sound and character voices are convincing and fun.

THE WRAP-UP

Parent's take: This is easy: This is absolutely not a game for kids or anybody who can't easily separate fantasy violence from the real world. It is a game for mature players who want immersion in an electronic environment.

Final word: "Fallout 3" is a big, sprawling entertaining game that is wonderfully conceived and executed. It is the best game of the year for its entertainment value and its social commentary carefully sleeved inside the play. It is decidedly for adults.