Early on, Operation Anchorage establishes itself as a departure from typical Fallout 3 missions. It takes place in an old military training facility, where a group of outcasts are trying to access some pre-apocalypse tech. The problem: they’re locked out of the armory until they complete an on-site training simulation. To make matters more complicated, they need someone with a Pip-Boy, an old-world PDA you happen to be wearing when they find you. The simulation takes you to Anchorage, Alaska, where a key battle was waged between Chinese and American forces before the end of the world.
Standard Fallout gameplay involves long-winded chats, non-linear exploration and strategic ammo conservation. Anchorage is a welcome change of pace – as a simulation of historical Fallout events, it doesn’t have to play by the rules. Ammo and health are available in near-infinite supply, enemies blink away after being killed, and areas are surrounded by transparent walls, ferrying you down a linear path. This simplified scenario strips away RPG elements in favor of balls-to-the-wall Call of Duty-esque action.
The problem is that it sets expectations too high. The Fallout 3 engine isn’t designed for epic war scenes, and it shows. A seemingly large battle in the distance acts as your eventual goal, and the events leading up to it play closer to Doom than Call of Duty. You’ll hope the conflict opens up before the end, and while it does, it’s too little, too late. The final scenario is one of the largest battles I’ve seen in Fallout 3, but you’re on the winning side. With more good guys than bad guys, there isn’t much to do. Rushing into that last epic fight, hoping to get your share of the action, you’ll find your teammates have already cleaned house.
While the action never reaches the boiling point you expect, it’s not entirely disappointing. The four or five hours you spend in Anchorage feel like a vacation. When the simulation is over, the return to the wasteland is appropriately jarring. This game-within-a-game magnifies the despair of the post-apocalyptic D.C. area. That, and you get some cool souvenirs for your troubles.