Operation: Anchorage (Fallout 3 DLC)…

Operation: Anchorage (Fallout 3 DLC) after the break…

Operation: Anchorage (Fallout 3 DLC)…

My Fallout 3 game play “strategy” (yes, in quotes, as I admittedly do not have much of one) has been far from efficient – I wander wherever my fancy takes me, taking advantage of whatever unique armors & weapons happen to proverbially “fall into my lap.”

Granted, I like doing a bit of healthy research on the locale that I have entered or about to enter; After all, if a successful speech check or a careful eye means I might obtain a skill book or an unique weapon of some type, then why not? I remember painfully how, because of my ignorance in the “Big Trouble in Big Town” quest, I had to bend the rules in order to keep that town alive post-quest. Although I altered my character back to it’s pre -“bent rules” self, even that little “no harm, no foul” incident awakened my diligence to ensure that such an event never happened again.

So, when I finally stumbled upon Bailey’s Crossroads Metro (the precursor location for the “Operation: Anchorage” add-on for “Fallout 3”), some research was in order.

“Operation: Anchorage” is the first add-on (or “DownLoadable Content,” aka “DLC”) of five for the video game “Fallout 3.” In the old days, these types of add-ons might have been called “Expansion Packs.” However, the name “Expansion Pack” has an ironic pre-requisite that modern video game developers shy away from – Expansion Packs were often fairly hefty treats, sometimes being close to one-half the size of the actual video game itself. While other genres (such as real-time strategy) might be able to still afford such a luxury to it’s players, other genres like role playing games & first-person shooters (which often have large development budgets & even larger development schedules) have found it convenient to re-name & re-frame the expectation on what additional content can provide.

Ironically, the first “DLC” that I encountered in Fallout 3 is actually the first of the five DLCs chronologically offered to Fallout 3 players. Trust me when I relay to you that such a coincidence was nothing more then that.

“Operation: Anchorage” involves initially dealing with a faction called the “Brotherhood Outcasts.” For those not familiar with Fallout lore, a group called “The Brotherhood of Steel” wanders the wasteland of a post-apocalyptic America, searching for the lost technologies of a bygone era before a nuclear war devastated the world. In earlier games within the “Fallout” franchise, “The Brotherhood of Steel” were ambivalent towards the day-to-day sufferings of those who lived amongst ravaged wastes unless it directly affected their ability to preserve, study & improve upon the ancient but superior technologies of a pre-war America. However, the “Fallout 3” Brotherhood (at least, the ones in the Washington DC area), have had a change of heart – These Brotherhood are acting more like an ad hoc law enforcement agency, fighting against villainous super mutants (also a mainstay of the “Fallout” franchise) who regard normal humans as either snacks or guinea pigs for their mutation experiments. The “Brotherhood Outcasts” mentioned above care not for their newly-acquired policing role & have broken away from the Brotherhood to form a group more in line with what the original Brotherhood was all about. Consider yourself educated.

These Outcasts, after you encounter them in a self-preservational fight against some super mutants, become unnervingly interested in you upon spying the wrist retro-computer called “Pipboy 3000” that you are wearing. It just so happens that they have a proposition for you if you are willing to play a video game… Of sorts.

The Outcasts have discovered a well-preserved basement that has a most curious storage room… One that can only be unlocked once a person has successfully completed playing a computer simulation. The computer simulation is an event in Fallout lore concerning the recapturing of the city of Anchorage from Chinese soldiers. They’d be more then willing to play the simulation themselves except for one problem: Only someone wearing a Pipboy 3000 may play the simulation &, unlike a wristwatch, you can’t just take these devices off whenever you feel like.

So, the proposition is fairly simple – Play the simulation, win it & you get to keep whatever trinkets are on the other side of the storage room door when it unlocks. By the way, just as in the movie “The Matrix,” this is a simulation that plays for keeps – If you die in the simulation, you die in real life.

The DLC is very much action-oriented & anyone expecting the usual role-playing conventions such as side quests, engaging character dialogs & puzzle solving best leave their anticipations at the door. “Operation: Anchorage” is Fallout 3 trying it’s best to not just be a first-person shooter but also a stereotypical console first-person shooter. While first-person shooter action junkies might find the theme of this DLC inviting, bear in mind that most people obtain “Fallout 3” because it is, at it’s heart, a role-playing game & not a retread of “Doom,” “Halo” or any of the other quintessential first-person shooters that people have come to know & love.

Even first-person shooter enthusiasts, though, are best to temper their own expectations should they venture into “Fallout 3” far enough to finally experience this DLC. Much like a truck driver studying to a painter or a welder deciding to pursue a career as a wine taster, Fallout 3’s dabbling into the world of breakneck action isn’t exactly seamless. Indeed, squeezing a first-person shooter into Fallout 3’s role-playing world delivers a rather clunky product with more then a few questionable design decisions.

“Operation: Anchorage” has a peculiar trait for having enemies suddenly appear out of thin air. On far more then a few occasions, I was able to see enemies materialize right in front of me. Now, being within the theme of a computer simulation, perhaps it could be explained away that the enemies are being created in front of you or is otherwise a fluke of the computer simulation. However, if these enemies are purposefully being teleported right in front of you, perhaps some sound effect or visual cue could have been added to sell the notion that it is the result of a computer simulation rather then just shoddy trigger lines within the game that have to be stepped over before the enemies are generated.

Another trait that “Operation: Anchorage” has that, admittedly, can be explained away due to it’s “virtual reality” theme is the lack of interactiveness with the environment. Role-playing games have a prerequisite for some interactivity; Drawers can be opened, people can be talked to, objects can be exchanged or used to advance quests & the such. “Operation: Anchorage” illustrates the withdrawal of a lot of these traits – Scrap metal is seen but can’t be picked up; Toolboxes & other containers may well be welded shut; Characters have limited dialog options if any at all. The “computer wall” border, a shimmering blue special effect, is everywhere, reminding you that although the Alaskan landscape is vast, the playing area most certainly isn’t.

The third main trait of “Operation: Anchorage” that I wasn’t content with was the ammunition acquisition system. In the DLC, you encounter two ways of acquiring more ammunition: Either through a person called the Quatermaster or, when in the field, through small machines that look like a very large version of a coach’s whistle. Both systems failed in convenience & simplicity; A holotape (Fallout 3’s equivalent of a book) is needed to give to the Quartermaster & the machines seem to know how much ammunition you have & how much you are allowed.  Granted, there are very easy “exploits” to using both of these methods so that you never have to worry where your next batch of 5.56 mm ammo comes from or for having both a sniper rifle & a missile launcher in case you would prefer to dabble in both types of destruction rather then specializing in just one. However, why create an artificial limit? Ammo doesn’t have weight or take up space.

Finally, I just never understood why I needed a company of soldiers following me. I never needed them for a moment. Instead, I always sent them to the place that I wasn’t going to go so that I could accomplish the mission myself. The entire procedure of assigning roles to these soldiers & which person was to have what role… STOP! Too confusing! Did that really need to happen?

There were, to be certain, many positives that “Operation: Anchorage” had. Indeed, despite some large deficiencies, the DLC is not entirely incompetent.

For one, I really enjoyed the scenery & the accompanying environmental sound effects. Yes, you feel like you’re in wintry Alaska. You feel like you’re on a cliff’s edge where the wind chill is anywhere from “Why am I outside?” to “I can’t feel my toes anymore.”

The new meshes & textures were also varied enough from the regular Fallout 3 to be very refreshing. There are huge tube tunnels, segmented metal bridges & other scenery not in Fallout 3 that makes the overall area unique. Even the pre-simulation area offers a pristine example of what a typical “basement” setting looks like, practically glowing in it’s cleanliness.

However, I just got the sense that so much more could have been done with the material. This is a setting that cries out to be explored more fully. Wandering through these settings knowing that they are just stage dressing for a clunky first-person shooter hurts; These settings were meant to be walked through & explored rather then quickly run through with the sole intent of mowing enemies down.

I would have loved an over-arching theme where the computer simulation slowly begins to break down. People inside the simulation begin to act more irrationally & “buggy”; You begin to see holes in the simulation & are forced to exploit them to accomplish your “mission” inside the simulation; Maybe an entity inside the simulation knows that it is a simulation or an entity even ESCAPES the simulation into the real world… Something… Anything. The possibilities are extensive &, hopefully, an inspired modder would be willing to incorporate the DLC’s assets to a more worthwhile endeavor then Fallout 3 playing dress-up in a first-person shooter’s clothes.

I’m actually glad that the DLC, with it’s emphasis on action, is fairly short. Any longer & I would have been highly tempted to start cheating if only to end the ordeal & get back to regular Fallout 3 game play.

Although the gesture of a new setting was nice, the change of pace (and all of the clunky mechanics that went with it) was too significant & did not warrant enough for me to go through “Operation: Anchorage” again.

Let’s hope the other DLCs are better integrated into Fallout 3’s gameplay.

P.S. Yes, I performed the “Gary 23” exploit successfully. After all, you might as well get something out the DLC then just a few levels higher & some stuff in a room…

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