Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage
Fallout 3 was a game already so expansive that even the very idea of extra downloadable missions does initially seem a little unnecessary. After all, to really explore everything Bethesda’s 2008 masterpiece had to offer required at least two playthroughs (not least because of the oft-criticised decision to force the player to start again upon completion), while many gamers will testify to simply ignoring the central narrative thread and instead spending hours on end scouring every inch of Washington D.C.’s devastated remains.
The beauty of Fallout 3 lay in its system of progression, a structural design that accommodated nearly every style of play and one that felt truly open-world without sacrificing a linear momentum. Operation Anchorage by comparison is, if we choose the most generous description, a significantly more streamlined experience. It’s not as though we were expecting an entire new world of course (DLC is by its nature a very focused affair), but what this first DLC offering for Fallout 3 does is, through certain strange omissions, remind us how the original game built so well upon the foundations of both first-person and RPG conventions.
Operation Anchorage is the name given to the effort of the U.S. Army to liberate Anchorage, Alaska from the Chinese Communist invaders; you first prove your worth as a budding soldier, before leading a team across the snowy plains to destroy several targets and making the final assault on the Chinese stronghold. In setting and story it’s the least enticing of the three packs, the forthcoming entries offering promises of a new town (The Pitt, which will be set in Pennsylvania) and in the final part, Broken Steel, the long-awaited raising of the level cap from 20 to a still measly 30.
Beginning as a radio signal intercepted whilst exploring the Capital Wasteland, the first part of Operation Anchorage sees your player facing the prejudice of being a ‘mere’ wastelander when encountering the army for the first time. Though the conversations are understandably curtailed, the impression of numerous stories all taking place throughout the world simultaneously is, as in the full game, well observed. The combat then all takes place in a simulation, similar to Fallout 3’s superb Tranquility Lane mission, albeit with the 50s suburban domesticity replaced by generic industrial virtual reality.
These sections that comprise the bulk of Operation Anchorage are both underwhelming and strangely satisfying. The former because there’s little evidence that Bethesda have expounded much effort on these extremely linear and formulaic areas; the latter because walking across the side of a mountain, using the V.A.T.S.-system to behead a Communist soldier is, for the sub-3 hours of this package, diverting enough. Even the objectives (destroy fuel depots/artillery guns etc) feel like parodies of FPS-staples. The mountain locations are a pleasing break from the grey steel of the main world, but there isn’t much to do whilst there apart from follow the one path, whilst the final section actually takes the idea of ‘corridor shooter’ literally. In essence it’s everything that Fallout 3 wasn’t; if Bethesda set out to surprise then they’ve succeeded. Seen as an antidote to the normal game these run-and-gun missions are, in a way, therapeutic.
Our review for the last piece of notable 360 DLC, Fable II’s Knothole Island, raised the excellent point as to whether a place for such relatively frivolous content exists in such a tough economic climate. Operation Anchorage doesn’t help shed much new light on the matter, leading us to sit on the fence with regards to its merits. For the price there’s just enough game and subsequent reward to make this a recommended purchase for anyone who also spent the late months of 2008 seduced by Fallout 3: XP points are generous, and the armour at the end is very useful. Everyone else will probably save their pennies for GTA IV’s The Lost & Damned (console DLC’s true epoch), and there wouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Next stop Pennsylvania…
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