Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Day the Wasteland Stood Still

For me, what makes Bethesda’s seminal Fallout 3 memorable isn’t the graphics, the voice acting, or even the spectacularly lackluster storyline. No, it’s the plethora of oddities that the denizens of the Wasteland take in stride. Vampire cannibals, an underground town teeming with moss-eating children, hijacking the Declaration of Independence from Button Gwinnett-bot and selling it to an old man for a handful of bottle caps – it’s all just another day in the world of Fallout.

Then there’s the myriad bugs and glitches, which are some most unique I’ve ever seen.

But one of the weirdest things Fallout 3 has to offer comes in the form of the Spaceship Zeta expansion pack. This DLC pits the player character, The Lone Wanderer, against hundreds of aliens with an endless supply of lasers – all of which I stuffed in my backpack and lugged around for hours and hours.

But we’ll get to that.

Back in the day, my mother was a stay-at-home parent. It didn’t make a whole heap of difference to my brother and I when we were in school, but during the summertime, it was a good thing Mom was around to make sure that we didn’t try to melt each other with hairdryers or something. But I guess there’s only so many times you can whip out the Sesame Street toys and amuse your soul-sucking children with half-baked impressions of Big Bird and The Count. Eventually Mom would leave us to our own devices, flip on the TV, and watch whatever adults in 1987 were into at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday.

I must have been six or seven years old when my mother first invited us to watch “Unsolved Mysteries” with her on one of those sticky summer days. For the uninitiated, “Unsolved Mysteries” has the most terrifying theme song known to man, presumably written by a roomful of Satanists and taxmen, and performed by closet-dwelling boogiemen, Jason Voorhees, and demons with yetis for hands. The host, Robert Stack, gave a pants-soilingly freaky performance with his trademark trench coat and restrained demeanor, always popping out from behind a tree to tell you about the time a rabbi shot a werewolf stripper. Despite his unnerving voice, you knew Stack himself wasn’t a threat. But you weren’t entirely sure that if you were attacked by escaped lunatics right in front of him, he wouldn’t just describe what was happening to you in real-time to some invisible cameraman instead of trying to help you.

Robert Stack, presumably on the set of Unsolved Mysteries. Possibly just hanging out.

Most stories were about missing nudists or Midwestern ladies saved from peril by guardian angels/dogs. But then there were the tales of UFOs and otherworldly encounters. We found these segments to be the most alarming – especially the ones that looked like they could have really happened. As the summer wore on, our trips to the video rental store would end more and more with a handful of low-budget UFO documentaries, all of which featured cheap reenactments, blurry evidence, and perpetual old man/credibility fountain Stanton Friedman.

This guy. Yeah, him.
The three of us would huddle in my brother’s room, door closed, and emerge 42 minutes later scared out of our minds in broad daylight. I’m sure I had some kind of alien PTSD that summer, triggered by flashing lights, cheap alien masks, and grey spandex. I’m a lot better now, but watching seemingly credible evidence of ETs at night still sends shivers up my spine.

Thanks, Mom.

Cut to 2016, and Matt is now an old-ass man playing Fallout 3. After watching The Lone Wanderer grow up and bust out of Vault 101, naturally, one of the first things I did was make a b-line towards the alien signal my radio had picked up.

Not long after, I was beamed aboard the most disappointing UFO in history. No unspeakable torture devices dripping with goo, no disorienting lights, and no pulsating anal probes to confuse my fragile sexuality. Nope, just the alien equivalent to the waiting room in a doctor’s office.

To escape, I was forced to ally myself with sketchy fellow earthlings and be lead around by the nose by a sarcastic Punky Brewster imposter. In the first seven seconds, while mowing down those alien bastards, I wound up accidently shooting a “good alien” (which we all know is an oxymoron). So from that point on, nonviolent NPCs would scatter like leaves in the wind whenever I entered a room.

The problem is, when one of them ran past the group’s medic, he freaked out out. Long story short, there were many times I was in desperate need of a health kit, but my medic was jogging around inconsolably, like some kind of Forrest Gump wannabe with in need of an adult. Finally, that jerk hopped through a teleporter and straight out of my campaign.

The prospect of sneaking around with low health was about 100 times scarier than the “little green men” style aliens that poured from all areas of the ship, keen on disintegrating the collective johnsons of me and my useless comrades. I guess those sinister aliens succeeded at least once, because about two hours into the ordeal, I received a message that one of teammates had been murdered. Yet search as I may, there was no body, not even a pile of disintegrated ashes. Scratch a second teammate to bad programming, I guess.

Remember how I was talking about carrying around hundreds of alien weapons, right before I gushed about “Unsolved Mysteries” for 22 paragraphs? Well, every time I wasted an alien, it dropped its weapon, which was about 9,000 times better than anything I had back on Earth. Naturally I began collecting them. All of them. Until this happened:

That’s right, I played though most of the DLC at a snail’s pace. But I wasn’t about to leave all this great, expensive loot floating around in that generic space crate. It was worth it in context of the game I suppose, but not so much in context of getting my beauty rest.

Oh, how I suffer for my art.

After murdering the same two aliens 5,000 times, the DLC culminated in the piolet’s room. The floors wet with gallons and gallons of generic alien blood, I approached the controls. Just then, a rival alien ship appeared in front of us, though the, uh, windshield. So in what must have been the least entertaining space battle of all time, I managed to destroy the threat by ramming buttons.

Heh, heh. What a mess.

I got the feeling that if I stuck around, I was going to pay for shooting up that alien bastard’s ride. So my legs buckling under literally hundreds of pounds of alien standard issue gear, I crawled onto the nearest teleporter and headed back to town.

Fallout 3’s merchants were pretty impressed with all those lasers I guess, because when all was said and done, I walked away with about 15,000 bottle caps lining my pockets. Sure it threw off the game balance and made everything too easy and boring, but, uh… yeah.

You know what? This DLC sucks. If you’re one of the seven remaining people who hasn’t played Fallout 3 yet, skip this garbage expansion and watch a rerun of “Unsolved Mysteries” instead. It’ll save you an afternoon and give you an excuse to call your mother and reconnect over your mutual terror for creatures from beyond the stars. 

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