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Written by  :  prymusferal (25)
Written on  :  Jun 21, 2007
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars4.6 Stars

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Roam the wastes, save the world... what's left of it, at least

The Good

Fallout is routinely considered one of the finest RPGs ever produced, and has garnered a rabid cult following since its release in late 1997. It should come as no surprise, then, that there are a great many good qualities to detail.

The world of Fallout is a beautifully-done satire of 1950s-era fears of nuclear holocaust. It is a bleak, harsh vision of what the people of that time thought that the future would be like, and what would happen when the bombs fell and ruined civilization. As such, the style of the game is heavily influenced by 1950s art and architecture. Computers are massive terminals running on tape and vacuum tubes. Cars have the distinct look of 1950s models. Magazine ads, public service announcements, and so on all have the distinct '50s-Americana flavor. Yet, there is a healthy dose of dark humor and irony running through the setting, not the least of which being that the player, obviously playing the game well after the 1950s, can smile at an extrapolation of the legitimate fears of a generation.

Perhaps the key characteristic of Fallout, though, is that, unlike a large number of RPGs, it remembers that the “R” and “P” stand for role-playing. To that end, Fallout provides ample opportunity for the player to not only create a role for himself/herself in the game world, but to make meaningful choices in the context of that world. The SPECIAL system -- a fortunate byproduct of the loss of the GURPS license due to Steven Jackson Games' issues with the game's violent content – stands as one of the most versatile and useful character creation systems ever devised. Players assign points to each of the seven core abilities (such as Strength, Intelligence, etc.), which affect how the character interacts with the world in accordance with standard RPG conventions. The scores also affect different skills (such as Lockpick, Doctor, and so on), three of which the player can choose to “tag,” or specialize in. The player also has the ability to choose two “traits,” special characteristics that bestow some advantage upon the character with a trade-off. For example, “Fast Shot” allows the character to attack more quickly, but at the expense of being unable to make targeted shots. The character creation system, then, allows the player to truly create a character suited to their style of play, whether that be “quick, glib sniper” or “big brawler with the IQ of a four-year-old.”

Of course, several RPGs allow for intricate character creation, then fail to actually make any of that hard work on the part of the player significant in any way. Fortunately, Fallout does not suffer from such a problem, as not only the style of character but also the player's actions in the world affect the way that NPCs react to him. Did you off the leader of one wasteland town? Then the criminal element in the next town over will have heard of you and wish to employ your services. Is your character so stupid that he can barely form coherent sentences? The sheriff that was so eager to ask for your help in bringing that criminal element to justice will no longer even speak with you. Do you get some sort of perverse enjoyment out of bashing orphaned children in the groin with a sledgehammer? The town will turn on you and try to drive your twisted self out of town. There are myriad instances of being able to play the game and complete it in many different ways. Pretty much any type of character can complete the game in its own way, providing a different play experience each time.

The combat system is, in this reviewer's opinion, one of the finest ever crafted in any RPG, period. The decision to go with a purely turn-based system in the days when games such as Diablo were all the rage was, quite frankly, a great decision. Combat feels more strategic and unfolds at a slower pace (but this is not a bad thing; quite the contrary, in fact). Combat takes place on a hex-grid on the game map. Every combatant has a number of Action Points with which to perform actions during his or her turn. Every action has an AP cost, and once the character's AP are depleted, their turn is over. Moving, for example, costs one AP per hex moved, while firing a Desert Eagle pistol costs five AP for a single shot. Perks (special abilities gained through raising experience levels) can modify these AP costs. Furthermore, characters can make “targeted shots” for one AP more, choosing to try to attack an opponent's head, legs, and even groin (who didn't at least smile in juvenile glee the first time they realized that you could target an opponent's groin?). These attacks have a lower likelihood of connecting, but with a payoff: higher potential for critical damage or injury, such as blindness or crippled limbs. The system feels very tactical, and builds off of the abilities of the character and the player's decisions instead of proficiency in twitch gaming.

The Bad

Despite its numerous good qualities, however, Fallout does have its blemishes. By far the most irritating thing about Fallout is the way NPC party members are handled. The system for managing NPC companions -- or rather the lack thereof -- is extremely poor. The player can only instruct companions in very basic ways, such as “draw your best weapon in the next fight” or “stay close to me.” Though party members can technically carry equipment, they must be bartered with in order for the player to actually get the item back. (Well, you could always steal the item back from them, but if you get caught they will turn on you and try to kill you.) The NPCs themselves are pretty much useless, especially in the latter half of the game when the player has good enough equipment to take out an army. They do not grow in power, and they will often do stupid things such as shoot the PC more often than the enemy or block movement by obliviously standing in a doorway for five minutes. They effectively become little more than cannon fodder for randomly-encountered squads of super mutants. (Most of these problems with companions were remedied in Fallout 2, however.)

The only other negative of which to speak is the “unfinished” nature of the game. There are numerous quests that are either broken or unimplemented, though characters in-game will still mention them or even give them to you. This is, again, especially problematic in the later stages of the game. Additionally, some of the elements of the game that were included are glitchy or do not work as they are supposed to.

These problems, however, are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, and do not seriously detract from the overall experience.

A note: Fallout can be very finicky on newer machines running Windows XP or Vista. Any problems encountered are usually pretty easy to remedy, but are still annoying nonetheless.

The Bottom Line

Atmosphere, gameplay, and above all else, freedom to play however you want. There are a scant few games that can readily claim that they have all of these things in abundance, but Fallout is part of that echelon of games. Despite its relatively minor flaws, Fallout delivers a unique role-playing experience that truly justifies its status as a classic and cult favorite.