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Wasteland (Apple II) artwork

Wasteland (Apple II) review

"Vegas is a wild place, so I've heard. If the top-down classic RPG Wasteland is to be believed, not even nuclear war can keep it down. The surrounding towns that survived the blast have panicked, but Vegas's gang bosses still have the upper hand on the invading robots--just--and may even have information on destroying them for good. That's Wasteland: a game which skewers not only fears of nuclear war but also stale RPG conventions----and you, if you try to cheat. "

Vegas is a wild place, so I've heard. If the top-down classic RPG Wasteland is to be believed, not even nuclear war can keep it down. The surrounding towns that survived the blast have panicked, but Vegas's gang bosses still have the upper hand on the invading robots--just--and may even have information on destroying them for good. That's Wasteland: a game which skewers not only fears of nuclear war but also stale RPG conventions----and you, if you try to cheat.

You're goaded before even starting the game. Wasteland provides a paragraph book the game refers you to in lieu of loading text--disk space was precious in the 80s. A paragraph inaccessible from the game tells of secret police that will rip your fingernails out when you least expect it. Others give several different passwords for one area--all but one kill your party. One fake narrative several paragraphs long sends you to Mars. I read through for the laughs, but it didn't spoil too much--I wound up buying the official hint book, which was a riot too.

So's the game--just more subtly. Near Desert Ranger HQ, where you start, Highpool is a town of bratty kids where you can find a rabid dog or even shoot everyone once you've collected a reward for fixing their water pump. They deserve it, but you'll miss their bargain prices. The Agricultural Center's genetically modified super-vegetables are under attack from monstrous rabbits and opossums. Hobos not blocking important passages may be oracles--either way, they require Snake Squeezins, a vile intoxicant. A gangster named Ugly holds Quartz's mayor hostage, and Needles houses the murderous Mushroom Cloud sect. The Guardian Citadel features gun-toting monks and nuns, and an android waits to show you his psychedelic utopia. Vegas is the key, though, as you must cold-call through abandoned houses hoping for human contact--they're the only enemies you can beat up. Until you meet the larger-than-life Fat Freddy and Faran Brygo, rivals for power.

Being futuristic, Wasteland easily avoids the standard clichéd items--its new toys sound, and are, fun. Armor is leather jackets or Kevlar, and weapons include chainsaws, a proton axe, LAW rockets, AK-97 rifles or laser guns. The more powerful the weapon, the more gruesomely an opponent's death is described--left to meet their maker, or turned into a blood sausage. Firing a whole clip from a machine gun even makes a satisfying ack-ack noise that makes up for the clips you need to reload it. Also, instead of levels, your characters achieve military ranks. They start at Private and move to Fire Grenadier or Lance Corporal. At later levels, players still gain attribute and hit points but don't gain rank. It's a clever twist on the usual level grind--you'll play a bit more for your next "real" promotion.

So Wasteland's catchy, but it's also innovative and flexible. After rolling for the usual new-player statistics, you assign skills instead of choosing a class. Only one member needs picklock, but everyone can use climb for various pits and cliffs. Later on, if you improve your intelligence with levels, you'll find advanced libraries offering weird skills like toaster repair. Not that you need everything. A door allows several ways through, for instance: a crowbar, some TNT, strength, or picklock skill. If your party still has gaping weaknesses, don't worry--the game has enough side quests for NPCs (you can add up to three) to cover any omissions.

You can even rig some situations to act as training grounds. Holding the Escape key to pass moves in the lovely purple river lets your party practice swimming, or less crudely, buying heavy armor and hitting a tough enemy with your fists is a no-damage stalemate that doubles as training for brawling. Attributes affect skills, too: luck lets you improve gambling quicker and lose less money, paving the way to make money eventually--making up for the fixed treasures. Medic skill's an even bigger gamble. In combat, a character losing his hit points is unconscious, unless the enemy does major damage. Then conditions go from serious to critical to mortal to comatose, then death, which is final. While medic skill eventually reverses this to unconscious, you may let a character slip away. But do it right and you gain a super-doctor.

This chance baiting extends to combat, too. For some big fights you must rest up (or run into walls--they give amusing comments and the right square gives an Easter egg) to full hit points, but for many, you can sneak by with half your party unconscious. It's like driving a car near empty. You will get stuck in combat loops where monsters, who actually wait if your party's all unconscious, keep knocking you out before you attack. Then, with half your enemies killed, you may have to cross your fingers nobody gets seriously injured. But combat's more than fight-spell-defend-run: you can split a party up to engage different enemy groups on the map, or even hide behind buildings for a break.

Fortunately, though you'll often get suckered into one too many combats, you don't have to smash all the bad guys. Ignoring several towns means you'll just miss treasure or some NPCs. Or you can come back later, clueless of any passwords, and just crush all the gang hideouts' guards and their wimpy pistols. Some ingenuity can let you slip through the tougher fights in the Guardian Citadel to achieve Power Armor early. And while the Vegas sewers and two secret bases must be conquered in order, you can clone your characters in one or even fly onto the roof of one of them, with the right planning. There will be choices, too: helping Brygo or Freddy in Vegas gives very different results.

It's all surprisingly aesthetic for a post-nuclear world, too. Several believably futuristic zigzag patterns mesh between walls and floors. All sorts of chairs and tables and weird machines dot indoor offices, but the most impressive bits are the mug shots of the closest groups in combat: mutants missing their legs, robots with arcane appendages pounding away, many Scary Green Things, skeletons with computer chips. Real people may be most impressive. Smoking gives menace to the beaten-down droopy-eyed foot soldier gangsters and defiance to 1920s suited Faran Brygo with his cigar. Different skin colors are handled surprisingly tastefully given how Wasteland offers you a useless choice of nationalities for your characters, with good and bad of each type. You can believe Mayor Pedros is Hispanic, even with the Apple's limited graphics.

Wasteland stands as one of the first games to give a full story while not forcing you to complete all the puzzles, but imaginative flair makes it more than that. Without a walkthrough, you'll have enough side quests left over for the next time through. This lets you tailor the story drastically the next time through, even botching quests for humor value. Maybe you can figure where to use certain weird skills you didn't know or how to beat a certain tough monster easily, or even how much of the paragraph book is actually valid. Then, for a grand finale, you can try getting killed in the robot base for a different ending, or you can work out a way, honest or not, to finally advance someone to the top rank of Supreme Jerk. If you run out of options, just move into the '90s--Fallout is Wasteland's unofficial spiritual successor, published as WWIII was supposed to start.


aschultz's avatar
Featured community review by aschultz (August 28, 2009)

Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.

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If you enjoyed this Wasteland review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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honestgamer posted September 01, 2009:

I love learning about interesting games like this through screenshots and reviews. Keep 'em coming!
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aschultz posted September 01, 2009:

Thanks for the nice words! I'm running out of games a bit, so I'm actually soliciting suggestions, especially for Apple stuff. You, or anyone out there, let me know.

Meantime, a lot of my GameFAQs reviews at GameFAQs will come over, but they're not ready yet. I mean, they'd get approved, and I'm glad I wrote them, but there's a lot to touch up.

I'm dead serious when I say that when you offered to bring my reviews over a few years ago, my main concern was that there were some I might be really embarrassed about. I didn't tell you that, and I was too busy writing for other games. I guess I'm much more comfortable reading and fixing even the big mistakes in my old writing than I used to be, and I can do it more quickly.

It's been a lot of fun writing up these games and even choosing screenshots (thanks to you and Woodhouse for your patience when I goofed the first few times,) which helps because it forces me to say--what do I remember most? Wasteland was especially tough because of its clever jokes.
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CoarseDragon posted September 04, 2009:

Good review. Good information without giving to much away.

Some of my early favorites (that I can recall right off hand) you could review.

Wizard's Crown and the sequel Eternal Dagger
Dungeon Master
Dragon Wars
Bard's Tale I, II, or III
Last Ninja
Might and Magic I or II
Early Wizardry
Early Ultima
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aschultz posted September 05, 2009:

Dungeon Master and Last Ninja, eh? Never played them. The rest, I have...but I want to polish up my reviews before sending off anything.
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zippdementia posted September 05, 2009:

I've got some old ones for you, Aschultz. Try Think Quick! and Hugo's House of Horrors.

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