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Posted by Brother None

Fallout 3 Operation: Anchorage Review

Written by Mikael Grizzly

Operation Anchorage is the first DLC episode released by Bethesda Softworks for Fallout 3, giving players a chance to witness one of the most important events in the Fallout world - the Anchorage Reclamation. The episode shows the final stage of the campaign, pushing the Chinese out of Anchorage, Alaska in January 2077.

Since very little is known for certain about the pre-War times, Bethesda had a lot of freedom in creating content for this DLC. However, did they truly use this opportunity fully?

"Hyper realistic military simulation"

One area in which Bethesda's Fallout 3 does well is art direction. With all it's flaws, the game had a very solid, retrofuturistic look and Operation Anchorage does not fall behind, building on foundations provided in Fallout 3 and background lore in Interplay titles.

Alaska is rendered beautifully, with each location having a distinct look and feel, every place you visit is different and memorable. One of the most scenic are the Cliffs, where you disable three massive cannons, the whole sequence reminiscent of the Guns of Navarone. Character design is also superb, with excellent Chinese winter troops looking to stab you to death with bullets, supported by Chimera tanks, bombers and stealthed Crimson Dragoons. The ensemble is complete with winterized American equipment, including the T-51b.

But art direction is not enough, sadly. The Gamebryo engine shows it's age when you look around and realise that there are still absolutely no environmental shadows, while animations (save for a few new ones) haven't improved one bit.

Yet, despite persistent flaws (stemming both from engine limitations and developer laziness), Operation Anchorage looks good. It's not Marilyn Monroe, but looks good enough to have dinner with... if you can tune out the annoying noise she produces.

"Sim death... real death"

Fallout 3 isn't exactly an example of stellar writing and Operation Anchorage is no different. While secondary characters have average to good writing (my personal favourite is Sgt. Benjamin Montgomery, a True American Hero™), major characters, such as general Constantine Chase, Protector McGraw or Defender Sibley are, at best, passable. But writing us just one side of the coin, voice acting is a different pair of brahmin altogether.

Simply put, it's horrible. Primary characters have voice actors that are so over the top, that they end up being hilarious rather than serious, in particular general Chase, who simply tries too hard to play the role of "Badass General". Yet he pales in comparison to Defender Sibley.

Oh yes, Sibley. If there's someone to use as frame of reference when it comes to bad voice acting, it's Sibley. His voiceover is atrocious, making even the worst VO from Fallout 3 look glamorous by comparison.

Secondary characters are better, yet unremarkable. The Outcasts, together with Defender Morril who triggers the quest, sound appropriately competent and xenophobic, while Americans and the Chinese from the simulator are decent, fitting their role. Of course, they suffer from the same ailment Fo3 did: one voice actor per character type. It's not noticeable with the Chinese (since they die faster than they can speak), but becomes painfully obvious whenever American troops are encountered.

However, sound effects themselves are superb. Alaska sounds just like a battlefield, with Chinese bombers looming overhead, distant artillery barrages and gunfire, complimented by the eerie ambience of a frozen tundra.

"Just like a computer game, eh?"

But apart from graphics and sound effects, a game also has plot and gameplay. Unfortunately, both are, at best, lacking, especially the former, which doesn't make any sense at all. There's no explanation given as to why exactly completing the simulation gives you access to the armoury, why it needs a PIP-Boy to run properly, why it wouldn't accept a power armour's interface, why the Outcasts can't simply force the door open... it's basically Fallout 3's "cool is good" design philosophy, except with the last bits of sense stripped away. Its only saving grace is the simulation itself, which is well done... though its really hard to mess up a simple plot in a linear shooter, right?

Because that's what Operation Anchorage is. It's a linear shooter in which you follow a pre-set path, shooting Chinese in the process. Combat wasn't the best part of Fallout 3, with overpowered VATS and AI that makes politicians look like MENSA members, but there it was at least balanced with exploration and some character interaction. In the grim past of the Fallout world, there's only war.

And you're fighting alone again, to make it worse - the touted "strike force customization" feature is a failure, as you have no control over their behaviour and their AI is pretty much nonexistent. So, in the end, you still have to shoot everything yourself, since your squad either ends up dead, stuck or watching the wall.

What further degrades the gameplay is how sparsely populated the battlefield is. One would expect the final confrontation between American and Chinese forces in Anchorage to include massive amounts of soldiers and ordnance with, but no, the operation feels more like a small skirmish on the sideline of the actual battle. Tense trench warfare in Anchorage is a yawn-inducing walk through narrow corridors, blasting the occassional mandarin-speaking grunt to pieces in overpowered VATS. A large vehicle depot supporting many tanks is a small yard with ten grunts to kill. The final "push" adds injury to insult, as it consists of six T-51b Power Armour soldiers running through an ice field to blow up a door.

"You can take whatever you want"

In the end, Operation Anchorage is a wasted opportunity. An interesting premise is destroyed by horrible voice acting, sub-par writing, nonsensical plot and all the original ailments Fo3 suffered from, including bad animations, badly implemented physics or wonky AI. Graphics, sound effects and atmosphere are not enough to elevate it above mediocrity.

A handful of new items (few of which are usable in the main Fo3 game), three hours of enjoyable (but rather uninspired) gameplay and a rather basic storyline make the first Fallout 3 DLC an investment not worth making.

Unless you're a desperate Fallout 3 junkie, though in that case you already own it, don't you?