Post-apocolyptia has never been so much fun since Fallout 3 came out last year. The title was a massive cross-platform hit and apart from some niggling bugs (more so on the PS3) it was and still is immensely enjoyable to play. I was a happy man when those nice people at Bethesda Studios announced it was extending its shelf life by giving us three further downloadable instalments (only for the Xbox360 and PC, sorry Sony boys). The first of which, Operation Anchorage, is out now.
Being a fan of the series I waited excitedly as the content downloaded wondering what visceral delights awaited me. Once I had booted the game up and bought up my Pip-Boy map, initially no new marker showed up. I wandered around a bit, then fast moved to Vault 101 where I picked up a new radio signal which kicks off the first of four quests in the DLC: Aiding the Outcasts. The premise is simple, a bunch of Outcasts are holed up in an old base, being harassed by a large group of mutants. Once you come to their aid the real meat and potatoes of the game becomes apparent. There is a large stash of ammo and other goodies behind a locked door that no one can access unless they complete a training simulation of the Chinese invasion of Alaska. The snag is, though, they need someone with a Pip-Boy to do it. That’s where you come in with your trusty Pip-Boy; if you complete the simulation they will happily share the goodies with you. So you don your neural interface suit, hop into the simulation pod and are whisked to pre-apocalyptic Anchorage.
The first thing you will notice is that the muted palette of the desolate Fallout 3 landscapes has been replaced by one of frozen whites, blues and grey. That is not to say that the initial impact of Anchorage is a bad one, however; the opening vistas and traversing of cliff sides is really quite spectacular. However, the linearity of the levels soon becomes apparent and it’s is one of the major letdowns of the game. This is compounded by the fact that when you bring your Pip-Boy map up the new area seems very big, but in reality you only get to see a very small section of it.
Gameplay-wise the mechanics stay the same – I still haven’t tired of seeing someone’s head explode in a mess of gore and eyeballs and there are quite a few enemies to deal with in Operation Anchorage. Unfortunately, the range of enemies is not particularly diverse. There are your standard goggle wearing Chinese grunts, the rather nifty looking Predator-camouflaged Crimson Dragoon elite troops and a tank, with the latter being the most disappointing. I was expecting a large-scale brawl with the tanks but after a damp squib of a set piece they were never to be seen again. Bah!
If the People’s Republic of China had their collective one billion noses put out of joint over Guns ‘n’ Roses Chinese Democracy, then they sure are going to have a field day with this. The dialogue is an often hilarious over-the-top collection of China-bashing sentiment that would make John Wayne blush. But hey I guess the Chinese did invade Alaska after all, what more would you expect from a bunch of over zealous flag waving U.S. troops?
Whilst Operation Anchorage does not expand on the main plotline in Fallout 3, it is an enjoyable romp. Although this is Fallout ‘lite’, the entire four missions only took two and half-hours to breeze through. There is no real opportunity to explore the frozen landscape, and perhaps more disheartening is the mission design; it’s all very linear as you are constantly funnelled from point A to point B. This left me with a rather empty feeling – I was really was enjoying the anti-communist sentiment and combat-driven game play, when suddenly General Chase turned up on the battlefield to inform me the mission was a success and the simulation was over. Reward-wise you do get some new T-51b and Dragoon armour and the Gauss gun to play with (basically a juiced up one-shot sniper rifle, which is pretty sweet). Whether or not it warrants your hard earned cash (the game is 800 Microsoft Points) really depends on how much you loved Fallout 3. Fans of the series should go and get it now because America needs you to kick commie arse. Others should perhaps wait until the more meaty second and third instalments arrive.