Beam Me Up, Scotty
Any normal person would have probably stopped playing Fallout 3 a long time ago. After spending dozens upon dozens of hours in the Capitol Wasteland, an absurd amount of elusively hidden nooks and crannies littered throughout the game are still waiting to be uncovered in the devastated murky brown and gray terrain. Bethesda managed to stretch the already impressively deep core game, and our attention spans, nearly to their breaking point with the previous four expansions. It seems fitting that the fifth and final Fallout 3 DLC installment doesn’t even take place on the planet.
While some of the DLC expansions are far more successful than others, Bethesda has at least done an impressive job of keeping up a fair amount of variety in each excursion. In some ways Mothership Zeta is wildly different from the downloadable vignettes that have come before it. The blend of old-school sci-fi flair, X-files creepiness, and subtle humor it features makes the trip a memorable one, even if you’re bound to encounter intermittent moments of repetition and boredom along the way. Is it the best of the bunch? Not hardly. But dismantling giant death rays, brawling with alien-human hybrids, and chatting up cowboys and samurai is worth the hassle of being probed and prodded.
An unintelligible but “ominous” radio signal draws you to a UFO crash site located in the northernmost region of the wastes. Before you get a chance to thoroughly inspect the wreckage and the deceased alien that fell out of it, you’re caught in a tractor beam and sucked skyward. You wake up dazed and on the chopping block surrounded by aliens with big, sharp pokers. Fortunately, you’re momentarily spared and imprisoned rather than being completely dissected. You’ll have to figure out a way to escape and battle your way through the ship, if you ever want to set foot on terra firma again.
Stripped of your clothing and gear, it immediately becomes apparent you’re not the only abductee onboard the spacecraft. In fact, the aliens seem to have spent quite a bit of time cataloguing and collecting human specimens from different eras, forcing them to make short voice recordings before permanently preserving them in cryofreeze. Stumbling on these audio recordings found around the ship offers moments of humor and snippets of story to add greater depth to the fact you’ll spend most of your time blasting through high-tech corridors crawling with little green men and automated robotic drones.
Mothership Zeta’s aliens are well-designed and come in a few different varieties. Early on, you’ll encounter feeble scientists who run for cover when you approach and armed aliens in cool spacesuits. Popping through the round helmets of the latter with some expertly-placed laser jolts is particularly satisfying. Tougher aliens with better weaponry and portable energy shields eventually begin to pop-up and are usually accompanied by various robotic drones and turrets. The best new foes by far are the beastly alien-human hybrids that screech demonically and point a clawed finger in your direction before charging at you with destructive might. Aside from the turrets, it’s great to battle enemies that are substantially different in design from what you’ll find elsewhere in the main game.
Earthbound weaponry is not as effective in fending off your new opponents as the newfangled high-tech damage-dealing blasters you’ll steal from them. There’s nothing really outstandingly new about most of the weapons you’ll encounter (an array of batons, alien laser pistols, and energy rifles), except for the awkward robotic exploding drill shooter that are best left alone. Without stimpaks, you’ll have to improvise when it comes to restoring health. Consuming vile alien worms and other nastiness restores a meager amount of health, but hacking various healing gateways littered throughout the ship is the best means of staying alive. Loot hounds will be disappointed by the lack of goods to procure, though there are a few items (like traditional samurai armor) worth scavenging for.
The alien ship itself is tremendously large, and there are many different areas to explore, including the vacuum of space on the vessel’s exterior. Mothership Zeta is possibly one of the best looking DLC installments out of the five. There are tons of intricately detailed control panels, robotic assembly arrays, scientific lab areas, teleporters, and steam-filled tunnels to check out. Every so often you’ll also be able to peek outside and catch a stunning view of the planet below and deep space beyond. There are numerous moments when it feels like you’re playing a completely different game. The highly thematic setting and polished visuals lend an appealing freshness to the expansion, and sci-fi fans will certainly appreciate the frequent and often funny nods to long-time classic alien abduction tales.
Most of the time, the gameplay is anything but fresh. You’ll often wind up navigating tight, mazelike corridors in a mostly linear fashion, stopping all-too-frequently to pump energy beams into the noggins of aliens and droids that pop up at nearly every turn. The action-heavy element is enjoyable at times, though there are several points in the middle of the adventure that it feels like you’re just shooting the same creatures while crawling around in the same corridors. There are opportunities to branch off and explore a bit, but you’re really only required to do so at one point further along in the relatively brief quest. However, the repetitiveness subsides during intermittent shining moments that really make all the effort seem worthwhile – like giving a young kid a high-powered grenade to play with, unfreezing and chatting up some of the ships human cargo, engaging in a crazy Star Trek-like ship-to-ship death ray battle.
Hefty chunks of Mothership Zeta feel formulaic and repetitive, yet the sting of the expansion’s low points is countered somewhat by the impeccable presentation, smartly-implemented sci-fi vibe, and a few entertaining twists. It’s a short jaunt to be sure, and there’s not a ton to be gained aside from overall experience of being abducted by aliens and then blowing them to hell as retribution. Those with a strong appreciation for science fiction, robots, and space battles will appreciate Bethesda’s final addition to Fallout 3.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
This is possibly the sharpest-looking Fallout 3 DLC expansion. 3.8 Control
Everything is still fine and in working order here. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The hilarious alien abduction recordings complete with gibberish are fun to listen to. 3.9 Play Value
Blasting aliens grows tiresome after awhile, but other surprises keep the brief adventure fun. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.