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Fallout (PC) artwork

Fallout (PC) review

"CRPGs are all alike. You make a character then you fight some monsters. This makes your character tougher, although nothing actually changes since the monsters you now fight have increased in toughness as well. Eventually, your character becomes so tough, that there is only one monster left that can challenge you. You defeat this monster. You win the game. "

CRPGs are all alike. You make a character then you fight some monsters. This makes your character tougher, although nothing actually changes since the monsters you now fight have increased in toughness as well. Eventually, your character becomes so tough, that there is only one monster left that can challenge you. You defeat this monster. You win the game.

Once upon a time, I feet like CRPGs are like Nascar: you just go round and round the track. If you were really lucky, you might see a crash. If you were playing Final Fantasy, you get to see a beautifully animated crash. If you were playing Xeno Saga, you get to hear Kantian philosophy contrasted with Nietzsche while you watch the cars go round and round. If you were playing Baldurís Gate, you get to listen to recycled fantasy clichťs while the cars refuel. The more I played CRPGs, the more I disliked them. Until I played Fallout.

One day, while idly watching my generic character grind generic monsters in a generic fantasy world, I decided to try Fallout. A friend had recently lent it to me and I had been avoiding playing it because the cover looked ridiculous.

I still havenít given it back to him.

Fallout came out in 1997. From an Isometric, Third-Person perspective, you guide one of the few survivors of a catastrophic war out of an immense fallout shelter and into the radiated wastelands of what used to be California. The plot is much the same as it is in ninety-eight percent of all RPGs. You leave your sheltered community to find a magical and rare MacGuffin and, while fetching it, you discover a nasty plot to conquer and/or destroy the world which you decide to stop. It generated great praise upon its release for its sandbox style of play, retro-futuristic post-apocolyptic setting, and intense, if unoriginal, plot while attracting criticism for being buggy as all hell, having NPCs that couldnít outsmart a mentally handicapped toddler, and ripping off Mad Max in a cute, yet annoying way.

Ten years and a patch later, my ire has cooled. The searing hatred I once possessed for being blasted in the ass by machine gun burst fire at the hands of my dunce cap sporting team mates is now soundly covered in several layers of nostalgia. Unfortunatly for you, while I may find being torn apart by indiscriminate violence amusing and Ďolde-timeyí, it will piss you off immensely the first three times you play the game. And yet, you will play the game three times.

Fallout, bugs and all, is just that good.

CRPGs in general have three problems: the Grind, Complexity, and Simplicity. Fallout found ways around all of them. Yes, I know it seems silly to have complexity and simplicity on the same list. Iíll get around it, but we should really go in order, neh?

--The Grind--
The first time I played Fallout, I played it much the way I would play any other RPG. Presented with the chance to create my character (incidentally Character creation is made so simple and enjoyable that you may find yourself doing it just for kicks) I created a gun toting, fist fighting Rambo surrogate. I shot the shit out of giant rats, then giant scorpions, then gangsters, and finally super mutant killing machines. As I ground my way to the end boss, I found the experience satisfying, if not particularly amazing.

However, the obviously freeform and branching plot induced me to give the game a second try, where upon I decided to create a fast talking, gambling man instead. Unlike some games ( Elder Scrolls ) talking to NPCs is actually enjoyable in Fallout. Iíd rather chat it up with wasteland bandits then perform the point, click, kill combat queue of most RPGs. Half way through the game I began to role play (yes, itís possible to roleplayed in a CRPG. Isnít that weird?) a pacifist, and it was here I found something interesting. Itís possible to not just avoid conflict, but to actually solve the gameís quests with conversation in the same way you can solve them with violence. Now, I know this is something that every game these days claims to be capable of, but we all know thatís bullshit. Not so in Fallout:

You can actually talk the end boss to death.

Think about that for a moment. Using only your intelligence and rhetorical skills, you can convince the Big Bad to give up his mad quest for world domination.

Of course, you can also take a shotgun to his testes (or whatís left of them post-mutation) or drop a nuke on him. But hey, different pokes for different folks, right?

By creating a system wherein having a conversation with an NPC is just a rewarding as sledge hammering said NPCís kneecaps, Fallout manages to evade the Grind but subtly substituting role playing for roll playing.


Non-Linearity is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot. Iíd go as far as to say that Non-Linearity is to modern games what ĎEdgeí was to the nineties. But if you look at games that purport to be non-linear, (Iím looking at you Grand Theft Auto) itís basically just a way of saying that itís easier to get lost in between starting the linear progression of missions. Maybe you can choose to do one of a pair first. Maybe. If youíve been good.

Too many games on the market suffer from over simplicity. By constraining player actions to preconceived paths envisioned by the designers, you force the player along a sort of rail road track that brooks no deviance. Donít get me wrong, itís wonderful to take a scenic train ride through beautiful scenery every now and then, but when I want to play a game, I want to play. This should include allowing me to traipse gaily into whichever horizon I damn well please.

Fallout has one linear quest with a time limit. Past that, youíre on your own. Want to fuck around the desert for three hundred days while your hometown slowly dies of thirst? So did I. Join a group of bandits, run a mafia boss out of town, save a civilization of irradiated zombies, join a cult of technology fetishists, shoot the sheriff, kick a toddler in the mouth, or teach a village the sweet wonders of crop rotation. The non-linearity is so pervasive that, if youíre not averse to playing using knowledge you shouldnít have, you can beat the game in five minutes by running to the end bossís base and nuking his ass.

Admittedly, there are less linear games out there. But their names are respectively Fallout 2 andÖ Fallout 2. Where other games (ie Oblivion) substitute a variety of quest lines for non-linearity, Fallout manages to make everything a choice. There is no possible way that you can do or see everything in one or plays through. The plot is a complex web of cause and effect, and the hunt for better (or worse, when youíre in the mood) alternative endings makes the game worth more replays than almost any other game out there.

So many RPGs out there try way too hard to emulate AD&D. An avalanche of numbers and statistics can over whelm eve the most dedicated of nubs leaving most casual gamers completely out in the cold. This is one of the prime criticisms of the RPG genre as a whole. Donít get me wrong, table top RPGs will always have a place in my heart, but lets be honest: if I wanted to do advanced calculus, I would have taken a degree in the sciences. Too many numbers, too many charts, too many options get in the way of what role playing games should be about. Like, you know, role playing.

Fallout provides a character creation system that is at once beautiful and elegant in its simplicity and revolutionary in the depth of customization it offers the player. Even the greenest of gamers will find that the game easily accommodates whatever kind of character build they wish to create.

In addition to a basic attribute and skill point system, the fallout devs neatly tacked on a system of Perks and Traits, allowing even greater customization. Although the traits range from deeply useful to combat (ie fast shot) to largely role play based (ie Chem Reliant aka Drug Addiction) to the simply amusing (ie Bloody Mess and Jinxed), they each bring something new to a character. Combined with the flexible nature of the story, Fallout makes variation and complexity in your replays as simple as a Super Mario Brotherís 3 speed run.

Concordantly, the combat system offers similar elegance. Although the combat uses an intuitive point and click style of targeting, the addition of tactical hexagonal movement, called shots, and variable attack modes offer the complexity in conflict one expects from tactical strategy game while avoiding the complexity that makes such games so daunting the novice gamer.

For those of you out there who actually posses the number and formula fetishes that fed AD&D, the Fallout Engine very clearly lays all the formulas and mathematics on the table. By showing you what youíre paying for when you spend your skill points, it neatly erases that little problem possessed by most CRPGs. Namely realizing that the skills you picked are completely useless. Fallout is not one of those games that will leave you slapping your forehead, wondering where the hell to go next. It manages complexity far beyond its competitors while reveling in a simplicity so comprehendible that even a Bethesda Development Team could figure it out.

--The Straight Shit--
Fallout is easily one of the best CRPGs ever made, and likely one of the greatest games ever written. It seamlessly blends intelligent combat with compelling story in a setting composed of retro-optimism juxtaposed with post-apocolyptic pessimism all varnished in a sheen of pulp action. Sure, it has its fair share of bugs, ranging from occasional freezing to having NPC AI that makes Tom Cruise look like a calm, collected and intelligent man of taste and honour, but thatís besides the point. Once you get into the practice of luring your NPCs into the desert, murdering them, and stealing their stuff, you wonít even notice their idiotic attempts to backstab you with a sub machine gun. If you liked Mad Max, play this game. If you liked Baldurís Gate, play this game. If you liked acting or role playing at any point in your life, play this game. If you like breathing, play this game.

Cause if you donít, Iíll find you.

FeralErudite's avatar
Community review by FeralErudite (February 28, 2008)

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