If you ever meet anyone who says "I've done it all" when it comes to Fallout 3, feel free to slap him hard across the face for being a liar. The game is so massive and there are so many treats and nuggets hidden in every nook and cranny that one could easily play the game for years and still not exhaust the possibilities. This scale has only been made grander by the copious amounts of DLC that have been released, and those longing to explore new realms beyond the Capital Wasteland have been able to check out Alaska (Operation Anchorage), Pittsburg (The Pitt) and even rural Maryland (Point Lookout). Now Bethesda is set to take us into the final frontier with Mothership Zeta, and while I can appreciate the tour of space, I'll be much happier once my feet are back on solid ground.
One of the more intriguing mechanics of Fallout 3 is your ability to utilize the various radio towers located in the Wasteland to triangulate the locations of new items and landmarks. Those who have already thoroughly explored the wastes no doubt know that one such radio beacon leads you to a crashed spaceship with its lone alien pilot lying dead on the ground. If you've been here before, then you know this is the place where you can pick up the alien blaster weapon. If you return once more, you'll find that the little green man's distress signal has finally been picked up by his allies, and no sooner do you return to the crash site then you get beamed aboard an alien craft. Any questions about whether these are the nice, peaceful aliens or the mean, proby kind are answered immediately, when you briefly regain consciousness on an operating table just as they are about to jab you with various needles and other sundry unpleasantness. From here on, your mission is simple: get to the bridge, confront the alien captain and find a way of this tin can of doom.
Mothership Zeta introduces a few new enemies, all of whom are a substantial departure from the norm. Mostly you'll be fighting a few variants of the alien species that captured you, all the way from lowly workers who flee whenever they see you to shielded alien soldiers armed to the teeth with nasty blasters. In addition, the aliens also have a fair number of mechanical drones working the ship, all of which pack particularly brutal cannons that can drain your health in a hurry. Of course, once you dismantle a bot, you can steal the gun and make it your own, thus evening the odds substantially.
All of the new weapons in this expansion are quite impressive, and this is one of those packs worth downloading simply so you can snatch up all the new toys to play with. There are a couple more guns that rival or surpass anything you've found back on Earth, and since all the aliens use this advanced weaponry, there's ammo aplenty. For the melee fighters out there, you can also grab the baddies' shock batons and deliver a serious jolt to anyone who gets too close. There is also plenty of alien epoxy lying around, which greatly boosts your repair abilities, as well as a biogel which, once you find a way to adapt it, has massive healing qualities. Best of all, thanks to what I can only assume is alien know-how, all of these items are totally weightless, so you can loot the ship from top to bottom and be set for life once you get back to the ol' home planet. One of Mothership Zeta's strongest points is that it's definitely a treasure hunter's dream come true.
There is also a specific side-quest in the expansion that deserves mention simply due to all of the entertaining moments it provides. Scattered around the ship are audio recordings of the various humans who have been captured over the years. Some of them are terrifying, with subjects being awoken to find that they've been hacked to pieces but haven't yet died, while others are just downright hilarious. One log in particular features a housewife who thinks she's talking to her friend on the "space phone" and just goes on and on about what a wonderful time she's sure she's going to have with these alien visitors. I like to fill in the blanks myself and assume that within 10 minutes after her "call" ended, her brain was removed and the rest of her was scattered around different locales in the lab. There's also the alien "interview" with a cow, which goes about as well as you'd expect. The logs are critical, however, as they're about the only snippets of story you're going to find in Mothership Zeta.
Weak storytelling in a game with such great narrative is one of the expansion's biggest flaws, and this particular batch of DLC is far less compelling than most of the others. Since you can't understand the aliens, there's really no way of ever truly understanding what they're up to, and in the morally complex world of Fallout 3, I have to assume they're more than just little spacemen who cut up humans for the sheer fun of it. Also, while the expansion's finale is quite epic, it's not all that fulfilling. The game has spent months drilling into our heads that there's no such thing as black-and-white, absolute good and evil, but rather many shades of grey. Unfortunately that complexity isn't present here, and the lack of any emotional moments whatsoever really kills the soul of what the Fallout experience is all about.
The game also suffers from poor level design, with a layout that stands almost entirely at odds with what you've come to expect. While the rest of the game is as open-ended as it gets, Mothership Zeta is an extremely linear corridor shooter where all you can ever really do is press forward and blast whatever crosses your path. The aesthetic and design of the alien craft are very cool, and there are some moments when you get a glimpse of Earth or the stars in the sky that will leave you breathless, but far too much time is spent running down symmetrical hallways and fighting the same enemies by utilizing the same mechanics over and over again. Whereas Operation Anchorage took the game in a direction reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid, Mothership Zeta feels a lot like Doom. I suppose you could argue that the linear nature of the expansion is meant to play off your character's captivity and the desperate race to escape, but any shortcoming can be explained away if you look hard enough. In the end, the game just plays very differently than we've come to expect, and that serves to diminish the experience.
Since Mothership Zeta is, in all likelihood, Fallout 3's last hurrah, I was really hoping it would go out with a bang. I was expecting an epic quest in space with plenty of twists and turns in the plot rivaling any of the great sci-fi movies. Perhaps I simply set the bar too high in my mind because while this is an entertaining and unique new mission, it really feels like it's lost the heart that made the rest of the game so great. Yes, the new weapons and items are very cool and the audio diaries of abductees are intriguing, but all this comes at the cost of a fundamental shift in how the game is played. Ultimately, I'm glad I played Mothership Zeta, and you likely will be too, but it just doesn't have that special something that would make this a fitting end to the Fallout 3 saga. This expansion is good, but it's far from out of this world.Score: 8.0/10
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