Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage Review
Get out your Fat Men and warm up the Pip-boys, folks, because it's time to jump back into Fallout 3 for the first downloadable content pack. Even if you haven't gotten close to finishing the game yet, you'll find this pack to be mildly entertaining, and the loot you'll receive from finishing it will be very worthwhile. It's got some issues - namely that the whole thing plays out inside a linear "simulation" in-game and many key elements of Fallout 3 have been eliminated for this pack - but it's still worth your time if you're serious about seeing and doing everything in Bethesda's post-apocalyptic Capital Wasteland.
First, I have to say that I'm happy this first pack consists of more than just a bit of armor for poor old Dogmeat - it's a whole separate little map that you'll be playing on. It starts out with a radio beacon from the Outcasts - they've found some kind of vault, but it's tied to completion of a simulator of a battle from a couple hundred years ago, back before the nukes hit. Fortunately for you, your Pip-boy allows you to interface with the simulator, so the deal is that you beat this thing and you and the Outcasts will get to share in some loot.
Off you go - you'll find that the battle for Anchorage, Alaska, where you fight back against the Chinese that have invaded, plays out a lot like the Fallout 3 you know and love but lacks much of the appeal that originally kept you playing night after night. Namely, looting enemies, repairing weapons, scavenging your way into some semblance of a comfortable and adventurous life - all of this stuff is missing. The same goes for choosing your own path and striking out in a random direction. You won't get that here, as this is pretty much a first person shooter with a mostly linear plot and set of objectives.
What I do like is just how much looks and feels new here. The frozen, rocky areas that make up your game world are a far cry from the DC wasteland, and the entirely new set of costumes for the US troops and Chinese forces is more than you might expect from a downloadable addon. But with almost all of the RPG elements gone - you don't even refill your health by sleeping or using stimpacks, and instead use health regen pods placed throughout the game world - it feels, well, kind of like what a first person shooter inside the world of Fallout might feel like. And while you'll come across some terminals and recordings to help flesh out the whole thing, don't expect anything quite as brilliant as the voice recordings from System Shock 2 - they're not bad, but they're not terribly great, either.
At least the crazy gore and amusing physics of V.A.T.S. is intact here, as well as your skills, levels, perks, and ability to gain XP so you come out of the simulator with a few extra levels (as long as you weren't already 20 going in). You won't be taking any gear into the simulation though, and while you have the choice of different loadouts for most of Operation Anchorage and can pick from several companions for some firefights, you won't be filling your inventory up with junk or repairing guns as you go. Enemy bodies shimmer and disappear rather than hang around for you to loot, which does have the surprisingly refreshing effect of keeping a fast pace and making the game feel more like a legitimate action-only experience.
But it gets repetitive quickly. There are several new enemies, some of which will give you headaches with the weapons they carry, but you'll find that the variety of enemy attacks still isn't quite enough to be competitive with other FPS titles out there. Somewhere around hour 2 you'll likely want the whole thing to hurry up, and not long after that you will get your wish. The whole thing will last most players a few hours, which for $10 may not seem like that great of a value compared to Fallout 3 itself, but it's still a better ratio than you get out of the average 6-hour long, full-priced action game.
That being said, Games for Windows Live is the only way to buy this add-on on PC, and the whole system needs some serious work. The system of buying "points" with dollars may work when Microsoft has a captive audience on the 360, but on the PC it just frustrates gamers. It doesn't help that if you aren't planning to buy any other DLC for a while, this $10 pack requires you to buy $12.50 worth of points in order to actually make the purchase. Overall, GFWL is still more of an annoyance than a useful tool for most PC gamers, and it's good to hear that MS is committed to improving GFWL - because it's got a long way to go to earn the trust with PC players that Valve's Steam service has.
If anything, Operation Anchorage is a good hint of what's to come from Bethesda in future downloadable packs. With the third pack, coming in March, removing the game's ending and allowing players to continue the quest, we look forward to seeing this level of production values added to the game and integrated better with everything our wasteland adventurers have already done. Sure, taking the sweet loot in this add-on - and yes, there's something good for any character by the time you finish Anchorage - and using it in the rest of the game is nice, but we really like the Capital Wasteland, Bethesda. Give us more to do over there.