Video Game Review: Fallout 3's Operation Anchorage Expansion

by Phil Kehres

Fallout 3 – Operation: Anchorage expansion (rated M for mature, available for download on Xbox Live Arcade, PC)
Release date: January 27, 2009.

Fallout 3 was undoubtedly one of the best games of 2008. It’s no surprise then, that the first downloadable expansion for the game was so highly anticipated. Unfortunately, Operation: Anchorage falls short of expectations. The episode plays just as well as the main game, but the experience is too short, linear and repetitive to justify the 800 Microsoft Point (MS points: 800 = $10) price tag.

I won’t spend too much time discussing the mechanics of the game — we know Fallout 3 is excellent on many levels. The expansion is disappointing in comparison to the core game because it lacks some of the game’s standout features, like the compelling narrative and difficult moral choices. The graphics remain excellent, but the environments are almost entirely unchanged — the dingy browns and beiges of the Capital Wasteland are swapped for dingy grays and whites. All-too-familiar cliffs and mountains are now snow-capped, and interior environments are largely unchanged and uninspired in design.

The storyline is there, but it’s paper thin. When you download the expansion and load up a saved game (you’ll have to load an old save because you can’t continue after you’ve beaten the game), you’ll get a distress signal and a new map marker will be added. Upon reaching the new destination, you’ll come across a band of Brotherhood of Steel Outcasts (soldiers disenfranchised by one of the game’s friendly military factions, the Brotherhood of Steel). After helping them defeat some Super Mutants, their leader will take you into an underground base. The Outcasts are trying to access a weapons cache, but lack the technology to engage in the virtual reality simulation that will unlock the secret armory. Of course, your character is the only person with the technology capable of accessing the simulation, so you’re asked to enter on the Outcast’s behalf.

The simulation takes you back to the Chinese invasion of Anchorage, where you’ll fight alongside American soldiers as they try to liberate the city. This simulation takes place before the nuclear war that turned the U.S. into a vast wasteland. The liberation of Anchorage is a significant event in Fallout canon, and the background given here doesn’t do it justice. As such, the expansion plays like a mediocre first-person shooter.

You have the option to play using stealth or guns blazing. I chose the latter option, and because my character level was maxed out (and the level cap won’t be increased until the third downloadable episode), the whole thing was surprisingly easy and disappointingly short. You move from area to area killing identical Chinese soldiers (except for the soldiers that look exactly like the cyborg Ninja from Metal Gear Solid) until you reach a strategic objective. Gone is the exploring from the main game — your path is straightforward and there’s little worth finding, save the ten briefcases of “intelligence,” which unlock a new character perk if you find them all. Since it is a simulation, bodies disappear and can’t be searched for ammo or loot. Health and ammo are restored at pre-designated spots. The weapons don’t degrade and thus don’t need to be repaired. In fact, the expansion detracts from the main game experience by placing the burden on Fallout’s combat system. With combat as the sole focus, the system’s flaws are exposed — Halo this is not.

The simulation is divided into two parts, but the whole thing can be completed in less than five hours. Upon completion of the simulation, you’re kicked back into the “real world” and given access to the weapons cache. There is a small plot twist, but it’s over before you can figure out what’s going on or why. The loot you earn — and there is some nifty stuff here — can be used in the main game, which is a nice touch that adds some minimal replay value. However, you can’t replay the simulation unless you load a save from prior to entering, which seems like a total waste.

Operation: Anchorage will leave you wanting more — not because it’s a shining example of downloadable content, but because you were expecting something much deeper for what you paid. In the end, you’ll feel like you plunked down $10 for a few extra weapons, a perk and some achievement points. Developers at Bethesda Softworks did just enough here to tide over the hardcore Fallout 3 fans, but for those on the fence, I’d recommend spending those MS points elsewhere.

Final verdict: 2.5/5

(Phil Kehres also is the co-author of Excuse Me, Is This Your Blog?)

(Promotional screenshot of Operation: Anchorage provided by Bethesda Softworks. To see a trailer for Operation: Anchorage, please check below.)

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