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Fallout - Review

 

Of Two-Headed Cows & Mutant Cults...

By: Mike Lemmer


Review Breakdown  
   Battle System 9  
   Interface 7  
   Music/Sound 6  
   Originality 10  
   Plot 9  
   Localization N/A  
   Replay Value 8  
   Visuals 6  
   Difficulty Medium  
   Time to Complete 10-20 hours  
Overall  
number  
Criteria  

Title Screen

   Sure, we all like the old sword-and-sorcery games, but sometimes we just want something a little different. Twelve years ago, old school gamers' craving for something new was satisfied by the classic game Wasteland. Set in the post-apocalyptic future, this game had a somewhat-tactical combat system (you could run up to the enemy or run away), cool weapons (put that gun on burst, baby!), more skills than you could shake a stick at, and one of the coolest environments around. (Who can forget Harry the Evil Bunny Master, or the giant scorpion robot roaming around Las Vegas?) Ten years after Wasteland, the creators of it made an "update" of the game called Fallout, and the classic RPG was back, kickin' butt and takin' names. Take a ride through Scorched California, and don't forget yer SMG.

   Before you get in over your head, though, we should discuss the story. Fallout takes place in what remains of California, 80 years after a nuclear war caused the end of the world as we know it. You are part of a small group of people that locked themselves away in a "Vault" before the nukes hit, living in isolation with no idea how the rest of the world has turned out. When the water purification chip gives up the ghost and there's no way to build a replacement, the leader decides that they have to send someone out into the outside world to get a duplicate chip before the water supply runs out and everyone's forced to drink their own bodily fluids. Guess who gets picked.

   Now that you've been chosen, it's time to create your character. This is the first time you get an inkling of what you're in for. You could always choose one of the premade characters specifically designed for certain paths (the Warrior, the Thief, and the Diplomat), but if you're like me, you'll go straight for the "Create Your Own Character" option. On the Character Creation screen, you're presented with a bewildering display of statistics. First, you got yer Prime Stats, the basic stuff like Strength, Endurance, and Agility that should instantly sound familiar to anyone RPGer. I would recommend choosing your Primes VERY carefully, cause you won't get a chance to increase them until you're almost done with the game. Next up are the Skills. These cover everything from Guns to Lockpicking to Bartering to Science. This is where you make yer character unique. Just about everything has its use (although some are used more than others). Finally, you have the Traits: options you can choose that simutaneously raise some things while lowering others. You want a weak, fast character or a burly, slow one? This is where you pick them. (The award for coolest trait goes to Bloody Mess, which causes everyone around you to die in the most horrible and gory way possible. Neat.) Once that's done, you're ready to head out!

   The world you venture out into is a harsh and foreboding place, but perhaps the scariest part is that it all seems FAMILIAR. Two-headed cows are raised for food, junked cars are sliced in half and used as wagons, bottle caps are used as currency, and gangs roam the streets around movie posters that look like they came from our time. You can even visit what remains of Los Angeles. Of course, your quest evolves into something more important than just finding a water chip while playing. You eventually uncover a plot for world domination (big surprise there), and guess who has to stop it. However, you can actually feel the tension as you try to stop it. Rumors start circulating about an invading army, and if you wait too long, some of the towns you used to go to will be invaded. Things get even spookier if you decide to unearth the mysteries of The Glow. Deep within this abandoned military base, miles from any other living thing, you will discover data disks containing information on how this whole mess got started. It gives you goosebumps.


Silly Little Comment on Screen
 
No Wonder Real Estate Prices Dropped So Much...  

   Besides the main quest, there's dozens of smaller side-quests you could take, such as escorting caravans, wiping out Deathclaws (also known as THOSE DAMN LIZARDS!), and eliminating hardened criminals (or the coppers, if you're feeling evil). Many of them require multiple skills. For example, on one quest you have to get damning evidence of an assassination attempt by an evil casino owner, then give it to the sheriff and help the law take him out. There's two ways you could go about getting the evidence: You could try to act like a mercenary that wants a job and get the owner to spill the beans (all while wearing a hidden microphone), or you could try to (steathily) bug his desk. Then it's time to take out the trash, and you better hope your combat skills are high enough. However, you could ALSO actually take him up on his assassination offer and kill the sheriff that sent you in the first place! Little jobs like this are placed throughout the game, both for the do-gooder and the evil dude. Just be careful what you do, though. The consequences of your actions will be revealed before the final ending credits roll...

   Of course, all the plotlines and subquests in the world can't help if the interface is crummy. I'm glad to say that Fallout has a good interface, although it could use some work. Everything can be accessed from the bottom of the screen, from messages to attacks to special skills. All actual control of the character is performed using the mouse and three different modes: Move, Attack, and Interact. Each mode has a unique cursor, and switching between them is just a matter of right-clicking (or option-clicking). Using the Inventory is also easy. You can have one type of Armor & two Items equpped, and your stats are shown on-screen and updated accordingly when you switch what you're using. Having it give a detailed description of what each item does sure helps, too.

   Combat is also easy-to-use, yet interesting. It's turn-based, with the number of things you can do determined by your AP, or Action Points. You can move around (and run away), attack (duh), get something out of your backpack and use it, reload, etc etc. There's plenty of ways to attack, too: You can do the "normal" attack (just try to hit them), target a specific area (shot to the groin!), or set your gun on burst and empty half a clip at them (the whole purpose of having an SMG). Factor in the variety of weapons you get, from sledgehammers to shotguns to flamethrowers to plain-old brawling, and you can see why combat is so much more enjoyable than the usual "Attack Attack Attack" found in most RPGs today. If you ever wanted to hit someone right between the eyes with a rocket launcher, you'll be in hog heaven.

   The graphics are gritty and dark, but what do you expect from a post-apocalyptic RPG? For this game, they work great. They have that "pre-rendered" look that players of Baldur's Gate will recognize immediately. In a strange turn of events, graphics are actually used when you converse with the more-important NPCs. If they like what you said, they'll smile; if not, they'll frown; and if they want to splatter your organs from here to Timbuktu, they'll scowl at you. The other thing that stands out about the graphics are the death animations. Ways of dying include just falling over, getting chunks of your body blown off by a burst shot, being fried to a crisp, and being sliced in half by a laser. It's enough to make you wince when one of your enemies dies a particularly gruesome death. Definitely not for the squeamish.

   The sound also seems to fit a post-apocalyptic future. Music is very sparse, and is usually limited to ambient sounds, such as howling wind or the soft humming of computers. Nothing to write home about. The sound effects are very good, though. You can hear the bullets richochet or thunk in soft flesh, and listen to the rockets explode. You can even make burly mutants scream like little girlies when you fry 'em with the laser. And yes, it has spoken dialogue, although it's limited to certain pieces said by important NPCs.


Cutesy or Realistic Name
 
Help Him or Waste Him:
Your Choice
 

   The replay value is pretty high. The sheer amount of things you can do and paths you can take, combined with relatively short time it takes to finish the game, makes it easy to go back and give the whole thing one more try. In fact, my only true gripe about the game (besides the hideous amount of game-crashing bugs in the Macintosh port) is how short it is. With a game world this well-made, you want to spend dozens of hours immersed in it. Thankfully, they made a sequel that's a heckuva lot bigger than Fallout. Plus the original Fallout's packaged with it, so you get both games for the price of one!

   Not only is the game a bit too short, but it also gets very easy towards the end, if you do the right things. Once you get the upgraded Laser Rifle & Power Armor and take a few ability-enhancing surgeries, you can even mow through packs of Deathclaws without breaking a sweat. It gets a bit pathetic. Of course, if you want challenging, you could try getting through it without the upgrades. Good luck to you if you try. You're gonna need it.


You know the deal-title it.
 
Yum... Iguana bits with
various "additives".
 

And so, in conclusion, if you haven't already gotten this game, get it. Even five years after its release, its still one of the most unique gaming worlds you'll ever come across, with some of the coolest weaponry, skills, and subquests ever seen in an RPG. Just remember: The SMG is your best friend, especially if you're aiming for their eyes.

THE GOOD STUFF:
-One of the most interesting gaming worlds ever.
-Play as good or evil as you want.
-The weapons rock.
-Plenty of subquests.
-Random encounters that encompass everything from mysterious cow herds (dun dun dunnn!!!) to references to old sci-fi shows (Dr. Who, anyone?)
-Did I mention the weapons?

THE BAD STUFF:
-WAY too short...
-Combat almost gets TOO easy at the end of the game.
-Plenty of save file/cutscene bugs in the Mac version. (Notes for Mac users: Get the patch immediately, save before exiting an area where you completed one of the two major end objectives, and NEVER use the first 5 save slots, EVER.)




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