There’s an explosion at the climax of Mothership Zeta’s third and final level; the fifth in a line of impressive episodes of DLC for the acclaimed Fallout 3. Obviously I’m not going to tell you why there’s an explosion, or detail what explodes, when, where, or even why (though a couple of those are surely obvious). But I will say that it’s by far and large one of the most spectacular visual accomplishments in the entire game, DLC included.
So to speak, Mothership Zeta goes out with a colossal bang. However that doesn’t extend beyond the metaphor and what should have been a swansong of blockbuster proportions is, in brutal reality, a feeble and derivative five closing hours. Five of the most uninspiring, least enjoyable hours Bethesda have offered gamers in a long long time.
It begins differently though. As per the norm, a radio broadcast directs you to one of the Wastelands many landmarks, this time a crashed UFO. Once you’re at the site its hands in the air as a perplexed yet silent avatar is drawn upward in the proverbial bright light of a gigantic spaceship. Fading between consciousness and blackout you eventually wake up in a cell with another Wastelander. The customary one-way conversation begins and a few minutes later you’ve escaped, although void of the by-now insane inventory of weapons and armour, the first few encounters are a laughable reminder of just how bad the melee combat is.
But it doesn’t matter because these are some of the best moments of the three levels. Without your custom inventory you’re forced to utilise the aliens own melee weaponry. The encounters are neither too difficult nor too easy and the metallic holding cells, a number of which are filled with unusual characters, provide a few moments exploration and banter. But as you’d probably expect the game is all to inclined to hand back your one-man army in a backpack…backpack.
And that’s the root of Zeta’s many problems. During the rest of the time spent prisoner on this floating vessel, the game rarely deviates from a room-to-room firefights formula; entering VATS armed with the gun most capable of igniting a shower of limbs then rinse and repeat. Just like everywhere else. There are scarce few set pieces akin to Operation Anchorage’s large battles; the few that do intersperse the otherwise formulaic first person gameplay are strung out replicas of the small-scale battles, which, by now, even the prestigious VATS system struggles to keep entertaining. They also suffer from horrific frame-rate issues.
There’s plenty more blocking Mothership Zeta from ascending to anywhere near the height of the other expansions. Bethesda haven’t thought to incorporate new enemies, the aliens may appear contrary to the Super Mutants and Raiders of DC, as far as to have their own language, but they’re indistinguishable in their actions. Gunfights fought above earth feel, look and play identically to those on earth and with no new perks those who have been sauntering at the heights of level 30 will once again be left wondering why bother.
The Pitt gave players the Mauler, inarguably one of the cruellest and sadistic weapons in the game. Broken Steel the dropship-dropping Tesla Cannon, and Point Lookout had a number of fierce weapons to return triumphant to the Wasteland with but Mothership Zeta’s hands are lamentably empty. A couple of alien weapons have all the charm you’d expect but fail to match the vindictive brutality of the Fat Man or the Mauler. They’ll find their way into your inventory and likely stay there till the end for keepsakes, but you’ll be hard pressed to find more use for them once the novelty value of new toys has washed away. There’s a set of armour available if you’re willing to kill one of the few humans alive on the spaceship, but it serves little purpose if you already have one of the many high-powered outfits.
Similarly there’s little found aboard the spaceship, the RPG elements have again been almost entirely removed and what was a risky and slightly detrimental move in Operation Anchorage is almost blasphemy twice. It doesn’t take a room of scientists to know Fallout’s an RPG before an FPS. So returning are health-replenishing mechanisms (this time arches) and although you can loot corpses and pick up a limited number of items scattered about the ship, few serve a purpose there isn’t already an item fit to do the same job. So why explore?
Frankly there’s little reason too. The ship has a great alien ambience but the golden-hued rooms are all too familiar after an hour, and the metallic corridors that link levels from beginning to end aren’t worth taking at less than sprint pace. The substantially vaster cape of Point Lookout was an amiable memento to why Fallout 3 was so well regarded, promoting exploration and searching for subtle stories or valuable treasures. The best of Fallout 3 refined and placed under the sentry of a foreboding mood. But here, like in the Wasteland’s many subway tunnels, it’s all too familiar far too soon.
While there are no concessions to be made regarding the gameplay, this is Bethesda at its scripting best. Audio logs detailing the capturing of other humans philander with stereotypes, crafting some of the most comical moments in the game. And an unlikely encounter with three characters from the passed (a Japanese samurai and cowboy the best of a solid trio) brings with it some of the best dialogue yet. These logs and meets punctuate the otherwise unimaginative voyage from familiar room to familiar room and are Mothership Zeta’s saving grace.
But that doesn’t begin to make up for the ineptitude on display otherwise. A linear, lonely, and uninspired token to the worst Fallout 3 could offer. Five was always a lot to ask for, and it’s clear from this final chapter that three episodes would have been better, even if it meant a slightly higher asking price. Few people could reasonably argue Point Lookout wasn’t worth a £10 price tag, with Lost & Damned retailing at £15.
It’s a crying shame such a well crafted and stunning game has been graced with such a discouraging finale, particularly after the strengths of the former downloadable packages. Undeserved but after the quality of Point Lookout and The Pitt there are no excuses. Generously then, this is for the completionist. Be warned though, Mothership Zeta is far more likely to spit you out with nothing but a bitter permanent taste to savour. The equivalent of kicking your first born child out of a soaring plane with nothing but a lifejacket.