Fallout - Retroview

Nuclear War in a Box

By: Red Raven

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 10
   Interface 8
   Music/Sound 5
   Originality 10
   Plot 9
   Localization NA
   Replay Value 7
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Moderate
   Time to Complete

15-50 Hours



   It is quite easy to lose interest in following the releases of PC RPGs. All too often whatever is released is merely a sequel to another dungeon-crawl or some other kind of cookie-cutter RPG. But every once in a while a game comes along that makes the attention worthwhile. Every once in a while a game comes along with the intention of blowing away all of its competitors with something completely different. Fallout is just such a game.

   To understand the genius of Fallout, we must focus on what makes it so different from every other PC game that has been released. A good place to start would be with its plot. The game starts you off as the Vault Dweller, one of the few who survived the 1950s nuclear holocaust hiding in underground bunkers. You have been elected as the best hope to find a replacement Water Chip for your Vault, and you have only 400 days to find it. That's right, you're not facing an evil sorcerer, or some powerful corporation, or some psycho who murdered your family; you're just fighting dehydration. Needless to say, quite a bit more happens as you explore the post-apocalyptic Californian coast, but it is extremely refreshing to finally have a realistic goal in a game.

   Another refreshing aspect of Fallout is its battle system. You explore the blasted landscapes and barter towns in a similar fashion as Baulder's Gate (3rd-person god-view), but once hostilities arise the action freezes as you are thrust into a fully turn-based battle system. Combat is an absolute joy to participate in as you execute strategies like using buildings as cover or the element of surprise to dispatch your foes. And rest assured, there are plenty of ways to dispatch them. While you start the game off with only a knife and your basic kung-fu skills, you quickly acquire a gun and that's when the fun really begins. There are quite a few different guns ranging from the basic pistol to hunting rifles to miniguns to rocket launchers and beyond.

Welcome to the world of Fallout.
Welcome to the world of Fallout.  

   Once you have your weapon ready, you can opt to spend a few more Action Points than normal to aim at particular spots on your foe's body. Being assaulted by a band of raiders? Cut the first guy in half with your minigun, and then bust out the hunting rifle as you shoot the next guy in the groin with an armor piercing shell. Then maybe lob a few grenades and then get the hell out of dodge. The sheer number of options that you can do in combat, at your own turn-based pace, is amazing.

   Something else that is amazing is the non-linearity of Fallout. While the basic quest to get that Water Chip doesn't change, the manner in which you acquire one certainly can. You start off the game by designing your character; you can either choose a pre-designed one or start from scratch. The character generation, though a simplified version of AD&D, still leaves a myriad of option available to you. Once your character is created and your adventure started, you have the freedom to do what you want. Talk to anyone, help anyone, kill anyone.

   Fallout features one of the most entertaining and complex conversation trees I have ever seen outside of Planescape: Torment. Talk to the owner of the casino and you might end up helping him run his rivals and the sheriff out of town. Or just rat him out to that same sheriff and help take down the criminal kingpin. Or ignore both sides, and just walk calmly out of town. The choice is yours to make, and how often does that happen in our genre?

   One of the most "difficult" aspects of this game is overcoming the completely unimpressive music and visuals. While we can simply attribute the music to being atmospheric, there is no denying that you will probably be taking a huge step back from whatever other PC or PS2/GC/XB game you had been previously playing. That's not to say they are terrible, just unimpressive. The characters are all flat sprites, but at least they are very well animated. In fact, if you are willing to give the graphics and sound some time, I'm sure you'll appreciate how much time the designers spent with the other visual and audio tricks, such as the enormous amount of death animations or quality sound effects. Whether it is watching your hapless foe getting ripped limb from limb by a machine gun fire or simply the meaty thumps and screams that accompany it, you won't be disappointed...unless you happen to be squeamish.

Yeah, a rocket to the chest will do that to you.
Yeah, a rocket to the chest will do that to you.  

   Be warned though, this game won't be for you if you do happen to be squeamish. This game earns its Mature rating not only from the violence but the frequent adult language and situations that the player is confronted with. The NPCs in this game pull no punches in telling you exactly how they feel about the wasteland life, and this sort of candid banter adds a layer of realism that would have been too "real" for console release. The dialogue always remains together with razor wit though, and you will often find yourself exploring the various cities and towns looking for new people to talk to, just to see what's on their mind.

As for playing this classic again, Fallout offers quite a few different incentives for the interested. Besides the general curiosity of playing the game again as the opposite sex (which has its own bonuses), a second play-through will allow you to explore new conversation paths and perhaps try some of the evil (or good) sidequests that you might have missed the first time around. While it is a pain working under the 400-day time limit again, at least you'll know which way you're supposed to go this time around.

Quite frankly, Fallout does for PC RPGs what Half-Life did to FPS: it delivered a much-needed boost of pure innovation into a game format that had been festering in a pool of its own mediocrity. It's not everyday that we can roam the Californian post-war wastelands like some New-Age Mad Max, bent on either saving the world or simply saving your ass. My only regret with picking up this game came when I realized I should've played this sooner. A lot sooner. If you're in the mood for something different, something fun, and something edgy, or a combination of all three, you can do no wrong in picking this classic up for a discount price. You will not be disappointed.

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