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Blood shows up nicely against the snow

What do you want from the first batch of downloadable content for Fallout 3, arguably the best game released in the last couple of years? How about a difficult to download combat simulator, that strips most of the familiar gameplay meat from Fallout’s bones leaving it feeling detached from the bulk of the game? Uh, well, that wouldn’t be the first thing that springs to mind, no.

But that’s what we’ve got here. Operation Anchorage is an odd affair – it feels more like a fan made mod, albeit a hugely professional one, than an expansion to the original game. That’s not to say that it isn’t fun – it does, after all, contain the hugely satisfying VATS system and many, many flying limbs – it’s just not what I expected from the first batch of additional content. Although perhaps I shouldn’t be that surprised: Horse Armour anyone?

Anchorage adds a single mission to the main game – you pick up a radio signal from the Brotherhood Outcasts and off you trot to investigate. They’re holed up in their underground base in need of some poor sod with a Pipboy to complete a combat simulator in order to access secret storage area, and, oh happy day, that sod is you!

Once in the simulator you’re tasked with seeing off the Chinese invasion of Anchorage, Alaska.  You battle your way across the frozen landscape, seeing off Commies who, once dead, disappear in a flash of blue (this is a simulation, remember).

What Bethesda have given us here is, to be blunt, a linear shooter. There are no role-playing elements on offer here as there’s no choice – you’re told where to go and what to do when you get there, and that’s that: there’s only one way of completing your mission. No agonising decisions to make (apart from picking what weapons payload you’ll use for part of the simulation), no good and evil, nothing. And that’s my main beef with this DLC. After gorging on the epic freedom you have in the main game, it’s jarring.

As I mentioned earlier though, it’s still kind of fun. As a shooter it’s OK, and as a diversion for your character it’s pretty enjoyable. Fallout 3’s combat has always been a laugh. It is, however, monumentally easy. Ammo and health dispensers are scattered regularly throughout the game, and even with a low level character you’ll breeze through the whole thing in 3-4 hours.

The rewards are pretty decent too and when it was all done and dusted, Gary Lineker, my angelic level 3 character, was several levels higher and tooled up to the teeth. If anything, it may actually unbalance the game a bit at those levels. I also like the way it looks. Set against a snowy backdrop, it certainly feels very different from the Capital Wasteland and creates an atmosphere all of its own.

Look, I did enjoy Operation Anchorage but the mark I’ve given it belies that fact. I’m just so disappointed that it seems to ignore everything good that Fallout 3 did before it. I wanted something that expanded the Wasteland - added more missions, characters, weapons. More role-playing. You’ll get none of that here, and it’s that fact that I can’t forgive.

Special mention must also go to the Windows Live Marketplace. Why did Bethesda choose to use this Microsoft mess to deliver their DLC? It’s been designed by a malevolent gibbon and is adjective-defyingly awful. Seriously, if you really can’t live without this DLC, wait for it to come out via retail.

And preferably when it’s bundled with more content, which will be soon by all accounts. As it stands though, I can’t recommend Operation Anchorage by itself. It’s just not Fallouty enough.

Take That give those Commies what for.