Hmmm. Bethesda doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of this DLC malarkey. One minute things are looking up with Broken Steel and Point Lookout, then something like Mothership Zeta comes along and they're back to where they started. What we have here is Operation Anchorage in space - featuring the same mistakes and the same boons. Actually, the mistakes are even more jarring in Zeta - partly because it feels like Bethesda hasn’t learnt their lesson and partly because, well, because it's just that little bit worse anyway.
Mothership Zeta is a corridor shooter, plain and simple: no role-playing; no decisions to be made; no consequences to your actions; and a complete detachment from the main game. You investigate a distress call in the Wasteland and find a crashed UFO complete with dead alien. Up you saunter and, would you believe it, you get abducted. Didn't see that coming did you?
You wake up on board the ship and have to escape, along with a bunch of irritating misfits and a little girl who acts as your guide. It's all pretty stereotyped actually. If you've seen the X-Files, or any movie featuring a UFO, then you'll know what to expect – experimental machines with probes, and the aliens all have bug eyes, three fingers and cloaking devices, and burble in a high-pitched, nonsensical language. They're actually done really well - their chirruping dialect is perfectly pitched and they bizarrely have far more personality than the other NPC's on board, and they look fantastic. As does much of the rest of the mothership – it’s very shiny and, well, mothershipy. If I got abducted, I’d be pretty chuffed if my place of captivity looked as swanky as this.
Satisfying aliens and decent graphics aside though, this falls flat on practically every other level. The level design is uninspired and just a series of twisting corridors - there are no open areas (which even Anchorage had). The weapons, although nice looking and decent sounding, are insipid, boring and repetitive, and I bet you won't use them once you escape. As mentioned above, the NPC's are absolute gits - I couldn't stand any of them and the girl that leads you through the place is an irritating, smug little know-it-all who I badly wanted to VATS to pieces. And it's completely detached again. Sure, you can revisit the mothership as and when you want once you've completed the mission, but you probably won't, and this feels more unlike Fallout than any of the other add-on packs. And it’s a one-trick pony: escape from the mothership whilst massacring aliens. Sure, there’s the odd sideshow such as scavenging alien tech and thawing out other abductees, but these are an incredibly thin layer of icing atop a cherry-less cake.
But what got my G.O.A.T the most is the fact that, after the criticism of Operation Anchorage, they've gone and done it all again, and somehow made it even worse. This is the last DLC scheduled for Fallout 3 and it's by far the worst. At least I could partly recommend Anchorage, but I just can't bring myself to so with Zeta. I wanted them to go out with a bang - maybe another level cap increase and some more perks. Hell, how about flinging in a band of rag-tag, post-apocalyptic cowboys who drive Brahmin across the wasteland, whilst perpetually battling marauding Raider rustlers and murderous bands of super mutants (I suppose you do at least get a single cowboy and a pretty cool samurai)? You know, Bethesda, expand the core game a bit? But no, instead we've got to be content with this damp squib of an add-on. If you really must complete your Fallout collection then by all means get this - just prepare to be hugely disappointed. Anyone less compulsive about their Fallout experience can avoid this one.