Sunday, January 17, 2010

Fallout 3: Operation - Anchorage (Xbox 360) Review

During the 2009 holiday season, the Xbox LIVE Marketplace saw many deals and discounts offered to gamers, and their Boxing Week sale featured 50% off for all of the Fallout 3 DLC on Dec. 27th only. At that cost, I decided to bite and pick up all the DLC for 2000 Microsoft Points ($29.00).

Fallout 3: Operation - Anchorage is the first of the DLC that was made available to gamers, and it also happens to be the first one that I've played through. 200 years prior to the start of Fallout 3, a nuclear war happened between the United States and China and the world was plunged into devastation and nuclear winter. Shortly before that, communist Chinese forces occupied Anchorage, Alaska, and the US waged war to set it free.

Flash forward to the exploits of the Lone Wanderer, and once the DLC is downloaded and installed onto your Xbox 360's HDD, you'll pick up a new Radio Signal (available immediately to existing characters and right when you exit Vault 101 for new characters) on your Pip-Boy 3000, a call for help from the Outcasts and a new map marker for you to head towards. Once there you'll discover the Outcasts under attack by the Super Mutants, and once your done a nice little battle lending them a hand, you can enter the outpost that they've set up.

The Outcasts are jerks, and while they weren't exactly the friendliest bunch of the Wasteland in the retail game, in Fallout 3: Operation - Anchorage they make it clear that they really don't like "locals." That being said, they need your help thanks to your owning of a Pip-Boy. You see, this outpost of theirs is set up inside an old military training facility and there's a locked armoury with a whole lot of advanced tech that hasn't been touched in about 200 years. They want it, but they can't get that door open and the only way to do so is to climb into the simulator, kind of like a Holodeck, and fight through the liberation of Anchorage. The only way to interface with the simulator though is with a computer, like the one you have in your Pip-Boy.

Of course even as a simulation it won't be easy as the safety protocols are disengaged, so if you die in the simulation, it's Game Over in real life. Except if you fall of a cliff, then you're fine. Apparently the US military didn't consider death-by-cliff a legit means of dying, so you can leap off as many of those as you want and you'll magically reappear on solid ground. I suppose no one said it was an accurate simulation, but anyway, here we go.

Inside the sim you loose all of your Wasteland gear (and get it back afterwards) and you're provided with the tools you'll need to take out the Chinese with extreme prejudice. The gameplay is rather different than what you'd find in the core game. You still have an inventory, access to your Pip-Boy 3000, and V.A.T.S. still functions however Fallout 3: Operation - Anchorage is more like a first person shooter than an RPG with FPS elements. You can no longer interact with almost any item in the game world and your path is fairly linear. Enemy and ally bodies fade from the sim instead of waiting around to be looted (and you can't loot them even if you reach them quick enough), and health and most ammo is replenished by dispensers in the field. In fact, any special object you can interact with, Health and Ammo dispensers, computer terminals, and Intel Packages that you can collect will all shimmer red and make an identifiable tone, making them very easy to locate.

So the gameplay is rather simplistic from what we're used to in Fallout 3, but there are a few cool new changes not available in the retail game. Once you make it to the US Base Camp, you can select and requisition the kind of weapons you want, basically choosing from standard Infantry, Grenadier, Sniper, or Heavy Weapons (Missile Launcher), and your weapons degrade so slowly that you simply won't notice or suffer any performance drops. For one Quest you also get to lead a squad, and you can determine the kind of soldiers that the squad is made up of. Loose a few along the way, and once an objective is achieved you can request a few more. Fun! Regrettably, leading a squad of several soldiers is about as large scale as you're going to get. While you often do feel like you're part of a war zone, shells exploding all over, your Controller vibrating with each impact, you're never going to be able to charge headlong into battle with dozens and dozens of battle hardened troops at your back.

Graphically, the winter tileset looks very nice. It's a great change of pace from the traditional, drab depressing grey of the Wasteland, and the winter camo theme on the American's Combat Armour and Powered Combat Armour looks real nice. There's a visible border to the game world, preventing you from wandering off and exploring, but it looks very cool and resembles the Animus effects from Assassin's Creed. Audio wise, the DLC's voice acting is good and the sound effects are pure Fallout 3, but there is no new music to speak of and we're left with the same tracks we've listened to for the last 100 hours or so of gameplay. That was a bit of a letdown, though it's not game breaking.

So of course you're wondering if the DLC is worth your hard earned Microsoft Points. Well, Fallout 3: Operation - Anchorage didn't take me too long to complete, clocking in at about 5 hours of play time on Normal. There are 4 new Achievements to earn that you'll get simply by playing through the DLC, and you can gain a few unique weapons to take with you into the Wasteland upon completion, as well as one new Perk. So is this all worth 800 Microsoft Points ($11.60)?

Honestly no, it's not. Fallout 3: Operation - Anchorage is fun and I certainly enjoyed myself, but it's very linear and doesn't really enhance the overall experience of your journey through the Wasteland. It's essentially a glorified side Quest, and while it's very cool for Fallout fans to be able to visit such a pivotal battle of Fallout lore, 800 Microsoft Points is very steep to ask for something with such basic gameplay and low replay value.

At the sale price of 400 Microsoft Points ($5.80) though I did get my money's worth, more or less a buck an hour, and I personally have no complaints. If you're dead set on liberating Alaska from simulated communist Chinese, I'd wait for the next sale.

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