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Posted by Brother None


Fallout 3 Point Lookout Review

Written by Michael Grizzly


Point Lookout is the fourth add-on for Fallout 3, released by Bethesda Softworks. Like the name suggests, it features a segment of the Point Lookout State Park in Maryland, southeast of Washington DC, the Capital Wasteland. It's a significant departure from Fallout's usual theme, featuring a lush yet horribly irradiated swampland instead of a barren, irradiated wasteland. But is the change of setting enough to make it a worthwhile add-on?

THE SWAMPS HAVE EYES


Despite the ancient engine, Point Lookout manages to look good. The wetlands are rendered well, with appropriate amounts of muck, water and decay, while buildings standing across Point Lookout are, for the most part, exclusive to the add-on and fit in with the aesthetic of a postapocalyptic swamp just fine. The look is one of the greatest strengths of this addon, as from Turtledove Detention Camp to Pilgrim's Landing, from the Ark & Dove Cathedral to St. Aubin Medical Facility, the style remains coherent and the buildings memorable, especially the medical facility with it's sterile tiles and eerie cleanliness.

The handful of new enemies, namely, the swampfolk, are rendered well too, with hideous deformities, worn clothing and that particular irradiated inbred hick quality creating the image of someone you really don't want to meet on a canoe trip. However, their looks are about the only good thing (if you can call being ugly beyond measure good) that can be said about them, as the animations are just downright horrible. If Fallout 3's animations made you cringe, the swampfolk will quite likely make you cry. Stiff, awkward and for the most part hilarious, the way the hillbillies move undermines any and all attempt at making them fearsome.

The reclusive hicks are the only completely new adversaries. Swamplurks, Swamp Ghouls and Tribals are just reskinned creatures and characters from vanilla Fallout 3 and while they look very good, one can't help but wish that Bethesda put a little more effort into bringing the swamps to life and create some more unique creatures, rather than reuse existing assets splashed with new paint.

The same can be said about new inventory items included in the addon. There is a handful of them and of those only a few are truly new. Their quality aside, three new pieces of clothing are not nearly enough for an addon of these size, especially considering that the new weapons are a retexture of a rifle from the original game, a shotgun with a different model and a Mesmetron with a different name and function. The latter is quite cringeworthy, as despite being a Microwave Emitter, it retains the original texture, including the subliminal projection gauge.

Such reusing of existing art assets is, sadly, quite commonplace. While the locations themselves are indeed good looking and of high quality, the scenery items are, for the most part, recycled from vanilla Fallout 3. It's not a major problem, but will irritate the more nitpicking of players.

THE MARYLAND AUDIO MASSACRE

The sounds and voices are well executed and of good quality. The ambient sound effects in the swamp help create an eerie atmosphere that defines the Point Lookout experience and while whether or not it's appropriate for Fallout is debatable, it is definitely well done. One minor problem is that the sound effects are a bit too silent and will often go unnoticed by players.

Voice acting is quite well done too. The characters are unique and their voices fit their personalities, while providing a fairly enjoyable experience, which is more than can be said for NPCs in Fallout 3 and certain characters in previous addons. Minor problems with tone and writing do not detract from the overall good impression the voice actors make. Well, with the sole exception of the swampfolk, whose stereotypical Southern hick voices feel out of place just a hundred kilometers away from Washington and inappropriate for what's supposed to be a fearsome enemy. A giant with a high pitched voice? Not what I call intimidating.

CONFUSEALANCE



The gameplay itself is pretty solid. The quests available to the player are varied and interesting, each having a solid backstory connected to places and events within Point Lookout, not to mention that there are a number of plot twists that are bound to take the player by surprise (not an exaggeration) and quite enjoyable scripted sequences, with perhaps the best being the bad trip you go on at one point. The structure of the quests has room for improvement - for instance, the main plotline, featuring Desmond's great game, is linear and you have to progress through the stages in a predetermined order, with no opportunity to tackle an objective in an alternative way or skip it entirely. The other major quest, the Velvet Curtain has a far better structure and can be started in several ways and, while still being fairly linear, gives the player more freedom than the main quest. Other sidequests are for the most part uncomplicated FedEx quests.

A significant improvement over vanilla Fallout 3 is that there are significantly less locations that you can't access unless you're doing a quest and those that are inaccessible have good reason to be. Sadly, the same cannot be said about combat, as it's still clunky and unrefined. This wouldn't be a problem if this addon didn't feature so much of it - Mirelurks, ghouls, robots, smugglers, hillbillies, tribals are all out for a piece of you and most of them are annoyingly unfair to fight, due to their massive amounts of hit points and insanely unbalanced wapons. Remember Fallout? Thought a power armour won't be even scratched by a shotgun or 10mm rifle? Think again, in Point Lookout, hillbillies with poorly maintained armaments can waste a power armoured warrior in just a few shots.

Combat aside, one of the highpoints of Point Lookout are the NPCs, the ones that don't shoot you, at the least. Compared to the cardboard cut-outs most of vanilla Fallout 3 characters are, the inhabitants of Point Lookout are interesting, have some good writing and wouldn't feel out of place in one of the classic games (their lack of swamps aside).

Furthermore, as this add-on has an obvious focus on exploration I have to say that it doesn't disappoint - the State Park is littered with unique locations, most of which have a backstory presented in game and finding them feels really rewarding as does discovering their history, especially of the sinister Turtledove Detention Camp.

But the enjoyable exploration is marred by an ailment the original Fallout 3 suffers from - the game is confused as to when it takes place. It's two centuries since the war and yet you seem to find working power and lighting wherever you go, undisturbed corpses and buildings filled with loot that no one seemed to think of taking, even though they're right next to it, terminals that have been running for 200 years without failing... when playing, it feels more as if it was a little over a decade since the war. While in the Capital Wasteland it can be excused to a certain point, as it was ravaged by war, it's not excusable for there to be unlooted easily accessible locations in an area which didn't suffer direct nuclear destruction.

FALLOUT HILLBILLIES

Now, does Point Lookout fit in Falllout? The answer is "Sort of...". The setting is a clear divergence from the nuclear desert that defines Fallout games and, as a side venture, it doesn't feel unfitting for the Fallout world, after all, it's a big place and certainly has a lot of variety. The elements of the addon, however, range from those that wouldn't feel out of place in a classic title to those that leave a Fallout veteran scratching his head and wondering whether he's playing a Fallout 3 addon or a sequel to Redneck Rampage. For the most part, the deciding factor are ties to pre-existing Fallout lore. What's connected feels good and appropriate, while completely new stuff, such as the swampfolk or occult motives feels forcibly jammed into the game with little to no thought on whether or not they fit.

SQUEAL PIGGY

In summary, Point Lookout is a good addon. It features a completely new area to explore, some good stories and quests, sounds and voices that are a cut above the usual Fallout 3 flair, all of which come together to provide an enjoyable experience. Inconsistencies and confused timeframe do not hamper the experience, long as you try to pay them no heed.

So, if you're looking for a new area to explore, enjoyable quests and some really good sequences, Lookout is a good choice. However, if you're looking for something more in line with the original Fallouts in terms of coherence, roleplaying potential and immersion, the princess is in another castle.

SUMMARY:
Pros:

* Good writing and voice acting
* Large, unique gamespace
* Great stories and quests
* Some really good characters

Cons:

* Swampfolk
* Horrible inconsistency
* Not Fallout enough