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The GoodIt's the end of the world as we know it and I for one have always wondered about life after World War 3. So, finally, Interplay has given us a chance to explore that world and, of course, become the last, best hope for humanity. And having played Fallout, I can hardly think it could have been done better.
At the moment the opening movie begins to play, Fallout is all about atmosphere. The 1950's/future tech/post-apocalypse styling of the game is well thought out and well implemented with the great graphics and sound. Elements such as wasted cars, burned-out buildings, and the cute 1950's-kitsch "Pip-Boy" character who appears throughout your option screens all bring Fallout a solid sense of its own flavor. And, of course, there are the bits of dark humour thrown in for good measure. Upon entering the game world one feels that this is something which hasn't been experienced before in a computer RPG. In my experience with RPG's, only Planescape: Torment has so engulfed me in its world.
Another of the key points in favor of the game is combat. The wastelands are tough and you must defend yourself or eat radiated dust. If there was one word I would use to describe Fallout's combat it would be "Visceral". The guns sound great, particularly the crack-clink of the assault rifle, and the animations are very well done, making the action almost cinematic. Not to mention the fact that the weapons themselves pack serious punch. From advanced destruction like combat shotguns and plasma weapons to old school stuff like brass knuckles and desert eagle pistols, Fallout has a heavy duty arsenal.
Beyond just the look and feel of the combat, there is the challenging tactical gameplay available. Management of action points between shots and movement is an art essential to victory, as are the choice of weapons, armor, and even what enhancing drugs you take. And while in classic RPG's, you have virtually unlimited usage of your Sword Of Much Head-Busting, most of the useful weapons in Fallout are limited by ammunition. Keep good track of your ammo because, while that minigun may mow down most enemies, it won't last long if you use it for hunting down cave rats. The combat is a game within itself (and, in fact, an expanded version of it will be a game in itself fairly soon in the upcoming "Fallout Tactics").
Most RPG's place a prime importance upon character development and Fallout does as well. Developing my skills in different fields kept me constantly looking for ways to gain experience to bring up my abilities. And of further interest are your reputation, which changes how people will react to you, and "perks", extra-special abilities which are bestowed every 3 or 4 Skill Levels.
There's also the constant management of your inventory to do, of course. I mean, you can only carry 250lbs or so. So you can't carry everything you find. Just mostly everything.
The "music" in Fallout is really more like ambient sound effects combined with various drumbeats or sitar-pluckings that wander into the background. It mimicks the barrenness of the wastes themselves, stirring in the sparks of surviving humanity, which is really the essence of the Fallout story. The only real traditional music is in the opening sequence, in which a crackly old 40's ballad sets an eerie contrast to the devastation.
All in all, with the above mentioned facets as well as the good storyline and good puzzles, Fallout rules.
The BadAaaaaaagh! Bugs! Giant, radiated ones. Geez. You think they could have QA'd this a bit more, but I guess not. Bugs run rampant throughout the program and range from silly to frustrating. I have had problems with unplayable saved games (don't wait very long between saves, friends), untimely game crashes, and a couple other bugs that oughtn't to have been in a complete game. One I haven't encountered, but have heard much about, is the multiplying Ian effect. This is when your party-member Ian is suddenly multiplied several times or more and the duplicates won't go until you kill them.
Then there is AI. The AI is fine for most of the time. But then it can get just plain stupid. I don't mind if the enemy gets stupid on occasion. But I simply won't have my own party-member shooting me in the back of the head with an uzi. It just shouldn't happen. Further, the NPC's of your party seem to have no sense of self-preservation. I don't know how many times I've had to reload the game because Dogmeat bravely jumped at a minigun-wielding super-mutant and got turned to kibbles n' bits. Grrrrrrr. But maybe the worst NPC fault is when they follow you into a tight place and then you can't turn around because they block your way. That really ought to have been fixed. It should be noted that most of these AI bugs were fixed for the equally excellent Fallout 2.