Advanced Media Network : : : Anime | DS | GameCube | PSP | RPGamer | Xbox

   Fallout - Review  

I Critically Hit the Sheriff
by Karlinn

15-20 hours
Rating definitions 

   Pity the PC RPG'er, for theirs is a market either flooded with fantasy-themed games, or short on titles period. Truly memorable PC RPGs are few and far between, and those memorable for good reasons are even less frequent. Whether it's the solid play mechanics, the flexible and innovative story, or the style of an apocalyptic retro-future, Fallout earns its stay among those few, but cherished titles. As the spiritual descendent of the classic Wasteland, Fallout takes you into a nightmarish future where World War III has come and gone, and an isolated pocket of surviving humans is poking its head outside for the first time in eighty years.

   The interface isn't simple, but it's far from difficult and works well. Left clicking either moves your character to that spot or has you pick up, use or talk to the selected object, with the right mouse button switching between movement and interaction. Combat is handled similarly, except that pure turn-based action is the order of the day; all on-screen movement freezes when you move to attack or are seen by a hostile, and turns are sequenced according to each character's stats. Movement, fighting and other actions all cost set amounts of Action Points, which are replenished at the beginning of each turn. There's a wealth of factors that influence combat - targeted shots, light and darkness, range penalties, ammo types and damage resistances - giving the system a reasonable amount of depth without forcing you to carefully consider each and every attack, though the option is certainly there and it's generally a good idea to think before you pull the trigger.

   Graphically, Fallout has aged considerably, but its looks are still serviceable. Character models are detailed and animated well, and despite the somewhat small number of models there's a fair variety of people - and things - out there to interact with, and likely kill. Slain enemies gather special attention, as death animations range from the mundane (falling over and dying) to the truly gory (being riddled with bullets or burned in half with a laser). The visual style of each locale is distinct, though - for obvious reasons - there's an overall theme of desolation and darkness. Villages are sparsely populated, featuring farms and adobe houses, while larger ares are built out of junk or on top of the ruins of old cities. Decrepit vaults, caves, sewers and military bases all bear the scars of time, and all hide things better left undiscovered. The graphics may not be a feast for th eyes, but they certainly get the job done. Cutscenes are sparse, but well-crafted and used effectively.

The music is somewhat subdued at times, often consisting of background industrial noise, howling wind or obscure chanting, but it tends to fit the overall theme of the area. Villages and smaller areas have slower, more sedate tunes, whereas the larger cities are more rhythmic, and almost upbeat; by contrast, subterranean dungeons and other dangerous locales have darker, more ominous tunes, often punctuated by eerie wailing or other background noises. It's employed subtly, to be sure, but it adds considerably to the atmosphere. Of particular note is the song "Maybe," by the Ink Spots, which is employed very well in the opening and closing movies. Sounds fit the bill just as well, sometimes on the quiet side but fitting nonetheless; guns have satisfyingly weighty booms, explosions are noisy, and death screams are nice and loud. Voice acting, in paricular, is way above par; Ron Perlman does a superb job as the narrator, uttering the now-famous "War never changes" line during the game's introduction, and there are a handful of veteran actors on the scene - Richard Dean Anderson, Tony Shalhoub, Keith David and Tress MacNeille, to name a few - that lend necessary credence to the game's characters.

I said I'd be back. I said I'd be back.

   Fallout has a somewhat steep learning curve at first, but the overall difficulty is fairly moderate. Depending somewhat on how you develop your character, you'll likely be a match for any one or two opponents, though - for a while - groups of them will tear you to ribbons. Monster AI is usually limited to 'attack' or 'retreat', and is simple-minded in getting up close and hacking you to bits. Human opponents are more challenging, largely because they employ weapons, though they will still make good use of inventory; on occasion, they'll also pick up weapons or ammo from fallen comrades, and they tend to be better at spotting your character from a distance. Playtime is much more variable, and while it can take a good 20 or so hours to see and do everything, repeat playthroughs will cut that number in half; part of the blame lies in the time limit, as you are limited from the start in how long you can explore the wastes before you must complete your quest.

   The true genius of Fallout comes from two places in particular: character development and story. Unlike console-style RPGs, Fallout gives you plenty of leeway to develop your character as you see fit, with a robust character creation system; you set the vital stats (Strength, Perception, Agility, et cetera), pick the dominant skills (weapons, speech, picking locks, survival skills, and so on), and pick special traits that offer bonuses in the form of trade-offs (Fast Shot, for instance, reduces the number of Action Points needed to fire a gun, but strips you of the ability to make targeted shots). As you level up throughout the game, you build your skills incrementally, and every so often you gain access to special abilities called Perks, which help you further specialize your character. The vast combination of skills, stats, traits and perks lends to the loose game structure, meaning that different characters can approach a problem in different ways, typically either through fighting, stealth or diplomacy. One could conceivably go through the game as a babbling moron who shoots really well, and people will treat your character accordingly. Things like this help boost the replay value of the game, giving it life beyond the time limit.

Miniguns and armor?!  Where do I sign up?? Miniguns and armor?! Where do I sign up??

   As for the story, as mentioned before it takes place about 80 years after World War III. Nuclear warfare has destroyed much of Earth and taken with it a good chunk of humanity. Most of the survivors sought shelter in large, underground vaults, and yours - Vault 13 - has just suffered the destruction of their water purification systems. Repairing the system requires a new controller chip, and you're the lucky lad (or lady) they're sending topside to go look for another one. Along the way you'll encounter village chiefs, crime bosses, hideous mutations and religious zealots, all of whom might be able to help you in your search, provided you do something for them - or to them, if you're feeling particularly evil. Yes, it's not exactly required for you to save the world. You could conceivably exterminate every single living thing in the game and depopulate entire towns, so long as you find yourself a water chip in the process, and later on you'll find even that's not exactly written in stone either. Put down an uprising or help the rebels retake the town. Off a local merchant or report the assassination attempt to the police. Help the chief rescue his daughter or blow his head off and loot the corpse. It's your call. The core plot is simple, but its execution is both solid and fluid, and at times it's downright phenomenal.

   That Fallout was critically acclaimed at the time is a matter of fact, and not without reason. The question is, does it still deserve those accolades, years after its release? You better believe it does. It's by no means perfect, and certainly not without its faults, but Fallout is a classic in every sense of the word, and has few equals in the realm of quality RPGs. Anyone at all interested in role-playing owes it to themselves to give it a try.

Review Archives

© 1998-2005 RPGamer All Rights Reserved
Privacy Policy