War, war never changes: Fallout review
Fallout (1997) is a landmark title which marks an important turning point in the history of Western RPGs; it ushered in the era of the single character RPG. While in many prior RPGs the player created an entire party at the start of the game, in Fallout you only directly control a single character, but to compensate the game boasts a very robust character creation system that gives it exceptional replay value.
The system stresses the concept of choices and consequences: your character’s attributes and sex determine how (s)he talks, is received and so on. As attributes scale from 1 to 10, a single increase feels meaningful and excelling in something inevitably means being awful in something else. Fallout doesn’t mollycoddle players; every choice has a consequence, and not every action you perform is supposed to result in a positive outcome.
The game takes place in a retro-futuristic world obliterated by nuclear war, where the iconography of 1950s future optimism is juxtaposed with the grim realities of post-apocalyptic living to an ironic effect. You play as a blank slate protagonist hailing from an underground vault that’s about to run out of water. You’re given the mission to find a new water purification chip for your home vault within a set amount of days. Should you fail to do so, the game will end. Beyond that simple premise, you’ve nothing to else to go on as you’re sent into the barren wasteland.
One of the strongpoints of Fallout is the mood it established through its bleak aesthetic, wry writing and ambient soundtrack. Whereas the later games in the series expanded and improved in many regards, the original game has an unmatched charm when it comes to ambiance.
If you’ve never played an older computer RPG before, Fallout will feel clunky to play. Even at the time the interface was nothing to write home about, and the game suffers from a host of issues. For instance, combat is plodding and dull. Normally turn based combat meshes with probability driven RPGs better than real time action does. However in Fallout’s case, the single character control and grounded setting remove the party dynamic and varied spell selections that made the combat of fantasy themed, turn based RPGs such as AD&D: Pool of Radiance (1988) nuanced. Simply put, combat that is this shallow should not be so slow and arduous!
While those shortcomings alone can turn many people off from this game, those that truly love RPGs for what they are should get a kick out of Fallout. The SPECIAL ruleset the game employs facilitates roleplaying of different types of characters very well, so players who love planning different strategies will get a lot of mileage from it. There’s a lot of clever design in Fallout that was transformative during its release, such as the ending slides which were a cost-effective way to give player closure on the long-term consequences of their choices.
Developer: Interplay Productions
Publisher: Interplay Productions
Release: September 30, 1997
PEGI Rating: 16