By Paul Semel
Updated October 30, 2008 at 04:00 AM EDT

(Bethesda; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC; Mature)

Here’s the premise to this long-awaited action-RPG: Having lived your entire life in a ’50s-style underground bunker, you finally step out of Vault 101 and into the post-atomic rubble that used to be Washington, D.C. Not that you have time to sightsee — your father (who sounds curiously like Liam Neeson) has gone missing, and you have to find him. Which, in this action-packed adventure game, involves exploring this vast world, meeting its interesting people, and killing them.

Or, if you prefer, running errands for them: The game has such a rich and vast (albeit, spartan and dour) open world that you’ll probably spend more time getting into random shootouts, scavenging for supplies, and helping other people than you will looking for dear ol’ dad. Which isn’t surprising, when you consider that the game was made by the same people behind the equally-epic-in-scope fantasy adventure The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The similarities end there: Fallout 3 employs a first-person point of view (yes, there is a third-person option — but don’t bother) and has lotsa guns.

Of course, some first-person-shooter purists are bound to think that all the wandering around and chatting with people would kill the momentum, and that the role-playing elements (having to eat, improving your skills, etc.) make things overly complicated. Others might also feel that the optional Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System — which lets you pinpoint specific body parts and fire automatically (though not always effectively) — is a bit of a cheat. But for fans of such trigger-happy action-adventure titles as Mass Effect — or anyone who wished Oblivion IV lacked any adrenaline rush — Fallout 3 offers an epic and engaging adventure that would even bring a smile to Mad Max?s face.

– Has a really desolate post-apocalyptic vibe.
– Lots to see and do (and shoot) in Washington, D.C.
– Fire ants, giant scorpions, and rad roaches ? them?s good eatin’.
– Qui-Gon Jinn is our father? Cool!

– All the walking and talking won’t make shooter fans happy.
– Neither will the auto-targeting system.GRADE: A