Last updated on August 8th, 2015
Fallout (Video Game) Review
“War, war never changes.” Fallout is a Post Apocalyptic Retro-Futuristic Turn Based Open World Role Playing Video Game developed by Interplay Entertainment and released in 1997. It is an alternative timeline game inspired heavily by Wasteland to such a degree that Fallout is considered by many to be its spiritual successor. A majority of the game will feature the player wandering the wasteland dealing with such threats as raiders, mutants born of radiation or other means, and the various other groups trying to survive in the wasteland of a barren California. As is standard in any RPG there will be various NPC’s to talk to through text boxes as you go on your depressing and melancholy adventure.
The Intro to Fallout
The Fallout Universe first of all has a different timeline than our own with the schism occurring after World War 2. Over the years rather than having our music and fashion change over time in the Fallout Universe things stayed mostly the same causing a very retro style. In essence much of America still looks like it belongs in the early 1900’s. A major difference is the use of resources such as petroleum and how many countries relied heavily upon it before it became scarce in the 21st century. China and America are eventually thrown into a serious conflict with one another over the needed resources. America has become a different country focusing heavily on patriotism to the point of blindness to its faults with attitudes being heavily xenophobic, as well States as we know them have merged together forming 13 Commonwealth States across America along with the Annexation of Canada. The war escalates and on October 23rd, 2077, the Global Nuclear War begins and ends in only a few hours resulting in the decimation of the entire planet and destruction of most life found on Earth. Fortunately various Vaults had been built that allowed for humanity to survive under the surface where they stayed until they could repopulate the planet. After 84 years, during the year 2161, Vault 13’s water supply has run low after a water chip malfunctioned. Without it filtering and purifying the water they would eventually die out, as such it has come to the leader of Vault 13, its Overseer, to decide what to do. He has chosen to let you, the Vault Dweller, go out into the apocalyptic wasteland in search of a new water chip in a nearby vault. Of course things wouldn’t be as simple as a small trek across a bit of sand and before long the player finds themselves going from corner of the desert to corner, from mountain to mountain, to hidden bases and merchant outposts. Over time you will find out that getting a water chip for your vault isn’t the only thing to worry about and that you must step up to the call and make a choice about who you want to be and what must be done.
Fallout has a quite well written story that stands on its own two feet. In some ways it is indeed simple but not necessarily bad, in fact it can be rather effective with goals set that you must accomplish. Often the player is hearing rumors and doing tasks for people in the hopes of getting information or assistance with people constantly pointing you further on giving a real feeling of worry. That looming note on the Pip-Boy that keeps it in the back of your head that you have a limited time to work with helps set in that dread. Overall the story can be quite dark and depressing with a lot of quests involving solving the issues of people across the land or even mitigating larger issues. It is a quest of discovery though not so much one of the self, instead it is a long archeological dig in which you can learn just what happened to the once vibrant land. A very interesting facet to Fallout is that while there is a canon ending for reference in future games in this game there are various ways to end it. In fact there is in essence an evil option, so unlike in some other games you aren’t forced into a single solution to the Wasteland’s problems.
As a turn-based RPG Fallout is a game that is very methodical and can take a lot of time. It is based upon a hexagon tile system and works in a similar manner to many Pen and Paper style games. While outside of combat the player may click upon tiles to have their player reach the spot, as well it is possible to cycle between movement or interaction via a right click. When in interaction mode which is represented by the mouse cursor becoming an arrow, the player may click and hold down to see a small set of symbols show up. Each of these will represent a different action, a mouth means speak to, and open hand means use, binoculars means inspect, and a lowered hand means drop. This can be used while out in the world or while going through your own inventory and is fairly easy to get used to once you understand what can and can’t be done. There are two inventory slots for quick use, typically this is saved for weapons or healing items. When in these two slots the items can be used on people, objects, etc, within the world. If an item is going to deal no damage to a target it will appear as a yellow crosshair, if it will deal damage it will appear as a red crosshair. During combat the player enters a turn based mode meaning that each step taken will use up a portion of your turn. How many actions can be performed in a turn is based upon the player’s agility along with a few other factors. Each item or action will have its designated amount of action points used, checking the inventory and walking take up action points as well. When attacking the player will strike the target with whatever weapon they’re using(Or their own fists), however it is possible to target body parts of an enemy by right clicking on the method of attack then clicking the target. This increases the action point cost but also increases critical strike chance. Not to mention that weapons can be knocked out of a targets hands, or they can be crippled in a way that hinders them such as breaking a foe’s leg(s).
Combining each of these elements ends up creating a very complicated turn based combat system which takes a bit of time to adjust to. Line of sight is very important in game with projectiles striking whoever is in the way from time to time rather than the intended target. Corners and halls can be used to funnel enemies and it is possible to use knock back based weapons to keep dangerous melee foes at bay. There are times where the game can be a bit unfair in regards to enemy critical attacks. It is possible for a Mother Deathclaw to get four critical strikes in a row on a single turn that can do an upwards of 90(At a fairly high level you might have around 60 health) damage. However using your wits it is very possible to deal with every single combat situation in the game aside from getting some unlucky encounters at low levels. Fallout is a very difficult and unforgiving game, it is advised to save frequently otherwise you can end up being sent quite a ways back due to some unforeseen battle. Placement in combat along with managing action point usage is incredibly important. While some RPG’s may seem like stat battles, Fallout has enough elements to make it possible to survive a fight against a statistically superior foe. In fact towards the end game most enemies will deal so much damage that you can be killed in a single attack so the use of items, enhancements, the environment, and friendly fire will make or break your experience. It can be very enjoyable to overcome the odds but the game comes to a massive crawl when there are a lot of enemies on screen. Each one will get a turn and with over a dozen in a battle it may take minutes of watching sprites walking around before you get your chance to do anything. While you are allowed to kill anyone you want outside of a few essentials, this makes it incredibly tedious to fight enemies within towns. There is also a numbers issue in regards to looting, if enemies die on top of each other you will only be able to loot an enemy that is visible. With how the sprites stack that may mean you will be locked out of useful or essential items, as such kiting enemies around is advised. What few boss fights there are in game are incredibly cruel with so much planning ahead and frankly trial and error needed that it may take multiple attempts to even create a character capable of defeating them. Bosses also rarely drop any good equipment making fighting them feel unrewarding at times aside from simply the satisfaction of defeating a challenging foe. Some of the best engagements in game can be found when dealing with a handful of enemies that can be manipulated by walking around corners or shooting through windows. Fighting in wide open deserts is generally just a matter shooting the other guy more than he shoots you. The combat has aged quite well though it does take time to get used to it so at the start players may find themselves dying frequently until they are accustomed to the combat. All in all it is quite solid with a few issues based around how much damage enemies can do to the player via critical attacks. Some of which hit so hard that with the best armor in the game the player will be hit for 200 damage or more. Another issue to always consider in the game is the time limits that are put on the player in regards to the main story quests. Something which should be mentioned is that allies do not have specific highlights around them, unless you have a certain perk, while using regular NPC models making it frustrating in combat to face some enemies. Ian in particular looks like a regular gang member, but it is possible to inspect each look alike until it states one is Ian. In later games this is addressed but in Fallout it is a constant annoyance in combat.
Frankly the AI in the game is quite lousy, companions that are supposed to be allies can just as easily shoot you while trying to hit an enemy. They may also have to reload a powerful weapon, and rather than just reload it switch to a small knife then never switch back to the gun until you can talk to them after combat. Enemy AI can be just as bad, with simple positioning it is possible to cause enemies to fill each other with holes in some ludicrous ways. This can be used to such great effect that even characters who are supposed to be allies can be forced into combat with one another. If you’ve ever played Doom you know about forcing powerful enemies to kill each other. It can also become a problem in regards to ally AI in that if they are equipped with melee weapons they may block you from shooting the enemy. Since they don’t scale that well damage and health wise and can only use limited items generally it is better to just ditch the AI companions and play the game alone without the fear of stray submachine gun flurries killing you.
The design of levels to play in is generally fairly well done with some that are a bit frustrating while there are those that really stand out. The player is capable of using the environment to their advantage in Fallout, one of the simplest ways is by kiting enemies around corners, but there are more tools than one might realize. Windows can be fired through to hit enemies on the other sides of walls, by learning to how to position yourself you can cause melee enemies to take their time reaching you as you hit them with a barrage from safety. There are even points where enemies that are inhibited by the environment to the point that they cannot move may be attacked out of their range. Traps may be used and the player may also turn hazards around on their foes such as energy fields or floor based explosives. Hallways are very common in the game and set up clear killing zones while wide open spaces are usually only encountered when wandering in the desert. It is possible for players to utilize furniture within a room to give themselves advantages as well, firing from behind a table that an enemy will have to take time walking around comes to mind. While a bit subtle the areas you fight in often have a hidden depth to them that really makes combat enjoyable. Towns are also well put together with only a few that don’t exactly make sense logically. Such as how some places have houses at the entrance with the stores and important buildings being much farther in. While perhaps pointless from a practical point of view they do help in making settlements feel lived in since you will frequently see quite a few unnamed NPC’s wandering around or living in their homes. Be wary though of doorways since NPC’s can block you and in some rare instances stop in a doorway making it impossible to get through without killing them and enraging the entire town. The best way to describe their layouts would be effective simplicity.
The world of Fallout while fun to explore can be a bit badly paced with settlements placed in odd positions. While there are some clusters, at large in the game you will be wandering the map for periods of time with it being mostly empty. Large regions are just nothingness that serve no purpose other than to confuse the player, though by talking to NPC’s it is possible to get waypoints on the map of exact placements. Traveling on the world map time passes constantly which is another issue due to the time restrictions in game. The main quests involve the player having to do specific tasks before time runs out and if the player doesn’t know where to go with it being difficult to get on the right track at times, you can just run out and cause the game to end. It is possible to extend one of the time limits but that can be costly to the player and difficult to find at first. In short the world map is a bit badly designed with clusters of settlements being spread out and a majority of the map simply being a waste of space.
Fallout is an old game that still holds up in many regards. Sprites while simplistic are still mostly clear in depicting what or who a character is. Environments look quite fantastic with some minor issues stemming from the isometric view and walls that the player needs to see behind. With a mostly 2D display the game will continue to look fine for many years as long as you aren’t expecting top notch character models. A good deal of them are reused and mostly you’ll have to recognize names and where to find someone, you can’t rely on their appearance alone. Certain NPC’s in game do have portraits that come across as the “Faces.” These are 3D models based off of masks that were created in development to show how the faces would animate before finishing the real products. They can be a bit ugly to some, or charming to those who enjoy the retro style of the game. Humans looks a bit chunky but mutants often don’t look out of place since their freakish appearance doesn’t require them to look “real.” Menus and options are quite clear cut with the intent of each section being easy to see and understand. The game is well organized visually, even the text boxes have flairs to them that help to remind you that you’re not playing just any RPG but Fallout. Things are clearly dated but outside of the human faces it often will not hurt the experience.
The song Radiation Storm from the Fallout soundtrack.
Fallout’s atmosphere is one of melancholy and an arid hopelessness found only in the wastes. An early way to notice this is through the music used in the game. While there are one or two soundtracks for certain settlements that give an air of life most are merely ambient tracks. Much of the music found within Fallout is foreboding creating a sense of dread or eerie loneliness that can only be found deep underground within the dark. It can be paranoia inducing and definitely preys upon how easily we can be effected by sounds with sharp noises sometimes causing the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on edge believing you’ve found something or rather something has found you. There is definitely a tone set that you are in survival mode and that every second is a fight to just live another day. This is further drilled in by the fact that when not in a settlement the player can be alone for quite a while within nothing but enemies or empty tunnels to explore in the hopes that a friendly face will be seen. Here is a hint, very rarely are there friendly people, you will most often discover others that wish you harm and it definitely puts forth the concept of a desperate constant struggle. Raiders can stop you on the main map, a myriad of foes can do this, always reminding you that this is a hostile world you’re trying to deal with. Visually there are disturbing creatures such as mutants that resemble insects or lumps of flesh more than mortal men. Often you may feel that the world is aggressive and the fact of the matter is that it is, always be on your guard and always be looking over your shoulder.
Despite how dark the game normally is it also likes to throw in bits of humor every now and then. A common place for this is in the dialogue of Super Mutants, giant hulking brutes. While some are highly intelligent a majority of them are drooling simpletons that can be convinced of humorous facts such as that the player is clearly only appears like a human because she is dressed snazzy. Snazzy is a direct quote from the game. There are random encounters with such figures as talking cows, dinosaur footprints, aliens interested in Elvis, and even a singing man who is interested in Celtic folklore. To some this might be a detractor to the overall feel but these are quite sparse meaning that if you dislike such humor it isn’t very common. Within the game are also some references to the game which inspired Fallout, Wasteland.
Fallout has many characters within it but a good amount of them have little to them. Aradesh is the xenophobic but friendly leader of Shady Sands who cares about his daughter, that is pretty much the extent of his character. Many are very one dimensional with little to them, and at times a lot of characters can be unlikable because they are rude to the player character or will frequently threaten the Vault Dweller. Despite that though there are select characters in the game that really stand out like Harold the Ghoul or Scribe Initiate Cabbot of the Brotherhood of Steel. Cabbot in particular is a very enjoyable character since he has a sort of dry wit to him while most characters are very serious or overly friendly. While there are many that are forgettable the game does have a decent enough selection of well written characters that I can say it is passable. Expect to generally care little for those you’re talking to before meeting a character and suddenly wanting to hear more from them. Some are a bit cartoonish in how they act in an exaggerated fashion, but there are those with some excellent voice acting behind them. In general a thing to note is that most characters can be described as tough and gruff, though in a wasteland that maybe should be expected.
Fallout is rated M for Mature by the ESRB ratings system. It contains animated blood and gore which has given it this rating. To get further into it, the game is clearly aimed at adults with mature language being used and very dark tones throughout the game. It is possible to turn down the blood shown in the game though cursing and some mature themes, such as the function of religions, will still be prevalent. Some creatures are disturbing in appearance and while graphically they may not stand out due to how old the game is still children can be frightened by them. There are even sex slaves of sort, though the player cannot use them, within a raider encampment that can be butchered to join the gang. Children may be killed netting the player a title called Childkiller. By taking the Bloody Mess perk death animations for most enemies will become gruesome with bodies exploding or being ripped in half. Even without it certain enemies in the game can melt, be eviscerated, may gag as they die, have their heads explode, while you see them react to their own end. Drugs are frequently used in game and give benefits such as armor improvements, damage resistance, action points, and increased intelligence. However the player character can get addicted and each has its own drawbacks. If you are considering purchasing this game keep this in mind if you have children that may be able to play it using your computer/etc.
At the end of the day it is an old game, as technology advances graphics tend to look better and better. Combat mechanics are improved while methods are developed to make systems more accessible to players. Fallout does have a bit of rust on it showing that it has been some time since its release. Still the game has a lot of character to it and for those who enjoy Turn Based RPG’s it can be an enjoyable, if difficult, experience. This is a mature and depressing world with little hope found in it, and only sparse comedy creating a refrain from the sorrowful landscape. Combat is a bit clunky but over all solid with the player capable of using various tricks and resources to their advantage. Fallout is very well designed for its time and while nostalgia may make some enjoy it far more than others, it’s still a great game that people of newer generations can enjoy. This review was done with a copy of Fallout from GOG.com while on patch 1.2.