Back in good ol’1997, when men were men and game developers still had a drop of daring left, came out a post-apocalyptic RPG called Fallout. A spiritual successor to the earlier Wasteland, it was a gosh darn good game, with a unique atmosphere and awesome voice acting. It had an interesting plot, and I will hiss at anyone who says that its graphics have aged poorly.
“War. War never changes” sayeth Ron Pearlman, and thus the greatest phrase to ever begin a game, was born. In an Earth a bit different from ours, wars over the last remaining oil deposits sparked a nuclear holocaust. Some of the citizens of the US fled to the relative safety of the great underground Vaults (a nuclear bunker, by any other name, protects from nuclear winter all the same). After some time had passed, some of the people ventured outside to rebuild the civilization. Of course, they weren’t alone: some people have survived by other means and formed their own communities, while the wasteland was also full of mutants and other dangers. The protagonist, called the Vault dweller, emerged from Vault 13 with a mission; to find a replacement for the Vault’s failing water purification chip, before the water supplies run out. Hilarity, high adventures and gratuitous violence ensues.
Commanding the protagonist from isometric perspective, you will guide him through fights, travels, dialogues and other miscellaneous stuff. Your success will very much depend on your SPECIAL and skill scores. SPECIAL reflects the physical build up of the character – Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Awareness, and Luck. You don’t really get to change them during the game, so you have to choose wisely at the beginning. Skills, however, can and will be improved. They range from the pretty obvious, like Small Guns to the tad esoteric, like Science. Most of them are useful in one way or the other (though I consider making an Unarmed character a fancy kind of suicide).
A lesson in post-nuclear procreation
Combat is turn-based, with action points deciding how much can you do (that is also influenced by various traits and perks). Mostly it’s firing off a few shots and hoping they land (hovering the cursor over the enemy helpfully shows the likelihood of hitting). Sometimes you might even have friendly combatants, though Fallout isn’t as chock full of companion NPCs as Fallout 2. Then again, some big battles will feel big, unlike in some newer games. With the right weapons, the combat is a blast, though it offers little in the way of tactics (and switching equipment can be a pain). And getting Power Armor will inspire a fitting feeling of God-hood.
The game has a decent range of weapons and other assorted loot. The most infuriating thing is that there is no “Take All Button” and of all the improvements in Fallout 2, I think this one is the most important one. Anyway, good loot is not that hard to come by, and stimpacks (local health packs) are quite ubiquitous. And while the player sprite doesn’t have that many skins, the armor does look pretty snazzy (getting combat armor in Fallout 3 was a huge letdown). All in all, it doesn’t have that rapid advancement of your gear, that would leave the standard wasteland gear so far behind that it’s not even funny.
Then again, “grind them into pulp via liberal application of combat shotgun” is not the only way to deal with people around here. You can talk too! Some exceptional characters will even have voice acting and a nicely animated talking head too. While the game doesn’t put that much emphasis on your skills when determining dialogue choices, they are still varied and fun. A weird feature is the ability to input a topic you want to talk about yourself. So while a character might not talk about something in the regular dialogue tree, you can always ask for his opinion on a town, or a person. Heck, he might even say something useful! An interesting thing is that if you make a character with a low Intelligence score, you will have a wasteland idiot, that won’t really get that much response from the NPCs, and will miss out on most of the game.
The NPCs are many and varied. Of course, there are the wasteland critters who are there to soak up your ammo. And deathclaws aren’t nearly as irritating as in the new games. Then there are the humanoids that will fight just like you do, and provide you with loot. Sometimes you might even encounter robots, though they are very rare.
Hello there pretty boy
Since Fallout wasn’t made by the Caves-r-Us people of Bethesda Entertainment, there are significantly less places to visit and loot. But, as such, they almost always offer a special treat, with their own atmosphere, people and quests. Surprisingly enough you won’t get bored of the burned out cityscapes, and you will visit levels that put skills other than shooting to the test. Fallout was one of those games that really gave you various choices, to deal with most of the important situations.
Nowadays, the graphics aren’t anything to write home about, but 2D still ages better than 3D does (another case in point: Starl Control II, also known as Ur-Quan Masters). The level of detail is pleasant to the eye, and somehow the game feels more atmospheric than the 3D counterparts. Maybe it’s because there’s less of it, so it doesn’t get diluted. Maybe it’s the soundtrack, some of which was brought back in Fallout: New Vegas. And both the graphics and the sounds work towards making combat pleasurable. The death animations are pleasantly gruesome: the sight and sound of firing a burst of combat shotgun rounds at a raider and seeing him burst in blooms of blood, before falling down, is definitely something.
If I could criticize something – besides the lack of a “Take All” button – it would be the companion NPCs. There’re only a few of them, and they aren’t as memorable as some people that you just meet in your journeys. And, if you have a kind heart, you will be forced to leave them behind near the end of the game, because they will just be too weak to survive encounters with high end enemies.
Fallout kicked off one of the most atmospheric series of RPGs ever, and gave us a unique fix of post-apocalyptic adventures. It’s fun and it’s interesting and I do feel that it’s better than the newer games in most fields.