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The Fallout franchise has been hanging around like an irradiated ghoul since 1997, but it was Bethesda Game Studios and the memorable Fallout 3 that cemented the series as a mainstream property. Releasing in 2008 on the PlayStation 3, Fallout 3 was essentially a fusion of Bethesda's open world expertise that it had showcased with titles like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and the Fallout franchise's grim, post-apocalyptic setting. Laced with some dark comedy and a heavy atmosphere, Fallout 3 has captured the minds of many a player, as they journey through the desolate Capital Wasteland.

The game's North American setting is both eerily believable and largely ridiculous at the same time, but its overarching, almost oppressive atmosphere is arguably the star of the show. A post-apocalyptic wasteland is never going to be pretty, and much of Fallout 3's map is made up of barren flatlands and deserted spots of civilisation, but it still manages to boast an irresistible charm – an asset that's key to keeping you engaged in such an open world.

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In many ways, it's the smaller details of the Capital Wasteland that make it so intriguing. Take a detour off the beaten path – or in this case, the ruined tarmac – and you never know what you might find. An abandoned roadside diner covered in blood, an old shopping mall that's now home to a group of psychopaths – there's always some sort of horror story just waiting around the next corner. That's not to say that Fallout 3 sits comfortably in the horror genre, but it definitely has its moments of tension – after all, no one likes shuffling through pitch black metro tunnels to the sound of encroaching, howling feral ghouls.

It's a bit of a shame, though, that the game's shooting mechanics fell short. If one of those aforementioned ghouls comes screeching at you from the shadows, trying to bring it down with a well-placed bullet to the head is usually a tall order considering how rigid the aiming is. It all falls to V.A.T.S, then, otherwise known as the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System. Essentially Fallout 3's way of working around its shoddy real-time combat, V.A.T.S transforms the title into something more unique, as you pause time and pick apart enemies based on how many action points you have. Sure, it's a system that takes advantage of a crappy aspect of the release, but it's hard to deny how cool it is when you see your foes burst at the seams in slow motion after pumping them full of shotgun rounds.

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Indeed, Fallout 3's ultra violence is also part of its appeal. Shooting a man in the leg can make his whole body explode with the right character perks, and while that's absolutely ridiculous, it's also downright fun – as long as you're not particularly squeamish. It's not just people that explode, either; giant scorpions, super mutants, and, yes, even dreaded deathclaws can be blown to bits if you happen to deal enough damage. It's arguably video game violence at its stupidly bloody best.

Total annihilation of your enemies plays its part when Fallout 3 has so many despicable characters wandering its wastes. From pillaging, merciless raiders to the power mad Enclave, dishing out the pain to those who thoroughly deserve it is core to the game's role-playing elements. That said, even if you are freeing the Capital Wasteland of scum and villainy, you don't necessarily have to align yourself to the opposite side of the moral spectrum. One of the most engaging parts of the grim adventure is your own freedom of choice, as you can decide whether to be a beacon of hope for humanity, or a complete and utter demon.

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Whichever path you take down morality road, though, there are plenty of opportunities to gouge your name into the history of the Wasteland. Main quests and side quests alike brim with personality, and there are numerous memorable moments and people to discover. As you'd expect of an open world title, Fallout 3 is reasonably large, and it's certainly a game that you can spend hundreds of hours exploring, all while taking in that atmospheric green glow.

Speaking of colour filters, Fallout: New Vegas trades in green for yellow, as it throws you into the Mojave Desert. Instead of wandering around as a bewildered vault dweller, you're plopped into the shoes of a courier, and instead of trudging about looking for your father's whereabouts, you're out to learn exactly why someone stole your delivery and shot you in the head once the robbery was finished. It's almost immediately obvious that New Vegas perhaps takes its narrative duties more seriously, and that's no real surprise when you consider that the game's developer is Obsidian Entertainment – a studio that's made its name through its storytelling prowess.

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New Vegas inherently feels more like a traditional RPG, purely because it gives you so many opportunities to build your character's legacy exactly as you want. Moral choices combine with particular factions that you can join up with all across the Mojave, and the result is a deep sense of belonging. You can throw your lot in with the militaristic New California Republic and their cool looking rangers, or you can ally yourself with the deliciously evil Caesar's Legion – an army that bases itself on the Roman Empire, right down to the fashion sense. The way that the factions are portrayed is great, and their diversity lends itself extremely well to the previously mentioned character building process.

When it comes down to it, both PS3 Fallout games are a blast – pun intended – but not necessarily for the same reasons. Yes, they both run on the same struggling engine, and yes, systems like V.A.T.S largely define their identity, but that just makes it all the more surprising that their respective atmospheres end up feeling so different. Both releases are relatively depressing in their tone, and the hints of dark comedy arguably only serve to exaggerate that notion of post-apocalyptic hopelessness, but the green tint of the Capital Wasteland and the yellow hue of the Mojave Desert showcase two different perspectives of the same ruined world – and what an interesting world it is.

Are you a fan of the Fallout franchise, or would you like to nuke it from existence? Which is your favourite game in the series so far, and are you looking forward to the forthcoming Fallout 4? Bunker down in the comments section below.