The second of Fallout 3’s trio of downloadable content, The Pitt continues Bethesda’s exploratory approach to DLC with another departure from the D.C. ruins. Far removed from the vast sandbox of the Capital Wasteland, The Pitt retains the original formula and avoids, excuse the pun, the pitfalls of it’s DLC predecessor Operation Anchorage. Before I talk about it however, I want to remark on it’s context within Fallout 3, which I loved, and make a comparison with Operation Anchorage, which I did not.
Fallout 3 is a game more concerned with immersing players in the experience than forcefully compelling them through it. It isn’t heavily cinematic or driven by a dramatic urgency. It does not force the story upon the player or even insist that they follow a specific route within it. There is a definite, well constructed narrative but it is a means to an end, and Fallout 3 is about the journey not the destination.
It is an RPG that establishes a few rules and necessary parameters within a massive world then simply fades into the backdrop of it’s vastness, allowing players to experience the living breathing environment as they choose. Disassembled and scrutinized the game has flaws but it’s individual blemishes are only problematic on their own. The game is a brilliant amalgamation of modest genres and mechanics, that could be criticized individually but collectively comprise an incredible, satisfying gameplay experience. It is truly the sum of it’s parts, at it’s best in the sprawling ambiguity of it’s wastes and the cavalier sense of freedom it offers players.
Which brings us to the DLC and their independence from the main world of Fallout 3.
Operation Anchorage eschewed the variety that helped balance the game and offset it’s flaws in favor of a restrictive shooter. It suffered for it’s weakness as such. Fortunately, The Pitt avoids such compromises and returns to the fundamental nuance of Fallout 3’s gameplay. The resulting escapade lives up to the original game as a worthy addition.
Branching story paths and non linear environments liberate players and give them a reason to return to try alternate approaches and experience different outcomes. Unlike O.A., a dehydrated combat scenario which stripped players of their inventory and handicapped their chosen skill set with rigid directives, The Pitt offers far greater variety that capitalizes on the multifaceted virtues of Fallout 3’s gameplay. Players can scavenge once more, the environments are open world, and the quests allow greater freedom in the method and manner of their completion. Once again every aspect of the game is fully functional and the result is a far more robust and ultimately satisfying adventure.
Once downloaded, you can begin The Pitt at any point in an existing save. Shortly after returning to the Wastes, you will pick up a radio transmission, just as with O.A. Tuning in adds the quest, as you are requisitioned to help an out-of-towner with some trouble back in his home city. You travel/access The Pitt via a railway tunnel at the far edge of the Wasteland map. A small hand cart serves as your access point. This also means you can return even after the quest is completed and the game does a good job offering incentives to do so. The replay value is another way it trumps O.A., the lack of variety provided little motivation to repeat the experience.
If you’ve seen the trailer you know the story. The Pitt is set in what was formerly Pittsburgh, now the raider capital. It’s social order is comprised of the “workers” (slaves) who work labor in sweltering forges and the ruling class of Raiders that oversee them. The way this hierarchy is portrayed and the nature of the social establishment, woven into the fabric of the narrative, is impressive. The themes at work are classic.
An outsider, brought in to help free the slaves from raider tyranny, you arrive on the verge of a revolt. Tasked with obtaining a cure for the endemic sickness that plagues the region, you must survive physical peril and negotiate the treacherous political climate in order to reach your objective and get out alive. Accepted into the peasant class, your rise from serfdom into the upper echelons of power is an engaging plot that offers a thrilling perspective and plenty of opportunities to assert your karma.
The Pitt itself is an extraordinary place, an austere industrial world of boiling steel, spiring flames and dark clouds that perfectly evoke the harsh reality that dominates the fate of it’s inhabitants. A giant manufacturing complex, the city is cloaked in the oppressive shroud of pollution and tyranny. The foreboding art design and architecture brilliantly captures the dismal state of a fragile and dangerous ecology. Massive plumes of smoke rise ominously against orange skies above, the stacks that spew them dwarf the city beneath. A clutter of pipes, catwalks and debris weave together above the streets, entangling the buildings and forming labyrinthine passageways about the city. Within this terrible dystopia, there is indeed great beauty.
The game takes place entirely within this repressive metropolis and has players interacting with both slaves and raiders. Here the barbarous outlaws are presented as an organized faction with social and political motivations not hinted at in the capital wasteland. Outcasts referred to as Wild Men fulfill the role of “raider” as the obligatory hostiles. The other predators are the Trogs: humans who, succumbing to disease and madness, have degenerated into wild savages that roam the outlying areas. They are the equivalent to feral ghouls, only, with their elongated limbs, viscous expressions and prostrated, aggressive movement, are more frightening. They are however, just as easy to kill as their irradiated counterparts.
Your course through the game walks the line between the slaves and Raiders and until you alienate one side, both remain allied, though not necessarily friendly. The Pitt lives up to the moral dichotomy that Fallout 3 is built on, allowing players to determine their own allegiances. The writing does a respectable job of balancing both sides and although it’s still a pretty basic good/bad choice at work, I admired the deliberate ambiguity of the characters and narrative. The burden of choice was effectively conflicting at times, adding depth to a fairly compelling story.
During the course of the game you will also access two knew weapons. The Auto Axe, recognizable from the early preview screens, is a brutal set of rotating blades, effective at dispatching Trogs, and not bad at most anything else. I have to admit though that, close combat never seemed like a necessary or advantageous method of confrontation in Fallout 3 and so as cool as it looks, I found the Auto Axe somewhat less exciting in practice. (I’d love to see Insomniac’s take on it).
The Infiltrator is a different story. Essentially an Assault Rifle equipped with a silencer and scope (you can repair it with AR’s), the weapon is an elegant balance of stealth and a relentless hail of death (Yes!). My only gripe is the general inaccuracy of Fallout 3’s automatic weapons. Even in great condition, the unpredictable fire, negates to some degree the advantage of the scope. It’s pointless and a little frustrating to put the cross hairs right at someone’s head only to have the bullet do whatever it wants anyway. Still, it’s good quiet fun.
Overall The Pitt is an enjoyable place to discover and explore and there are enough interesting locations and characters to occupy your time. At around 3-4 hours with incentives to return, you’ll get your 800 pts. worth.
A minor complaint is that as with O.A. since this episode takes place apart from the main world of the Capital Wasteland it lacks it’s immensity and the leisured, exploratory pace it’s size effects. Even with it’s open ended nature it’s difficult to stop and simply partake of the experience of The Pitt without feeling compelled to promptly rush from objective to objective; a side effect of it’s self contained design. The world is smaller in size and conceptually isolated. There aren’t other side quests to distract you and the scope of the game is condensed into a single imperative. This may be one of the only flaws in Bethesda’s approach to the first two DLC installments. It will be interesting to see how the final episode turns out since it is set in the Capital Wasteland.
However, The Pitt stays true to the formula and uses it to tell an interesting chapter in this post apocalyptic tale. It delivers thrilling moments and avoids, excuse the pun, the pitfalls of Operation Anchorage, by not forcing the player to rely on primarily one aspect of gameplay. Unlike it’s predecessor it retains the gameplay variations that make the experience enjoyable and rewarding.