"War. War never changes."
The opening line of Fallout is one of the most iconic aspects of the series. It sets the scene for the game to come as well as the subsequent chapters. The Fallout series has influenced many RPG's and the games can still stand up as absolute classics. With Bethesda taking the series in a new direction with the upcoming Fallout 3, it seems like an excellent time to revisit this iconic franchise.
Fallout was released in 1997 after being developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay. The situation was interesting and moved away from most conventional RPG territory. The setting was unflinching in its depiction of the aftermath of a nuclear conflict taking place in a savage post-apocalyptic United States. The plot now is worryingly more plausible than ever, with a series of resource conflicts leading to a full scale nuclear skirmish between the US and China in 2077.
In anticipation of the seemingly inevitable atomic exchange the US Government constructed a series of vaults. Essentially a bunker safe from the initial blasts as well as the radiation, these were the havens that would keep the population protected. However all was not as it seemed. These bunkers were actually designed for scientific experimentation on the people trapped inside them. Some contained a single woman whilst the rest were men, others only children and one was even designed never to be opened. This was dark subject matter.
The plot of the game follows one vault, whose water chip has broken. The player is tasked with recovering a replacement else the population of the vault will perish. However as the game progressed new plot strands emerged and a dangerous new threat appeared which needed defeating. Fallout had a strong story that was littered with smaller sub plots that rewarded exploration.
The style of the game was iconic and helped to create a unique ambience. Using 1950's retro styling on a game set almost 200 years later was a masterstroke and the design of your PIPBoy 2000 (a device to manage stats) is still brilliant today.
The character creation system of Fallout was something SPECIAL. Using a series of criteria (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck) you could tailor your character to your own playing style. These fundamental statistics affected your skills and perks which determined what you could and couldn't do effectively. The skills your character had were represented by a percentage score (from 0 to 200%) ranging from melee combat and lock picking to first aid and speech. There were 18 different ones to choose from.
There were also traits and perks which affected your player. Traits were more complex as you had to weigh up the positive effects they brought alongside their negatives. You could select two which would have an impact upon your skills. Perks were acquired after leveling up a certain number of levels and were generally always beneficial. The depth of character creation meant that replaying the game using different playing styles was rewarding.
The Karma system awarded points for positive actions and subtracted them for negative ones, meaning you could be good, evil or a morally ambiguous mixture. Having a good character made the game somewhat easier, an evil one usually meant more opposition adding an extra challenge.
The gameplay itself was something different. The game world was large and there was a large variety of side quests on offer though inevitably combat would arise. This was turn based and based upon action points. Each turn you had a set number of points available and multiple attacks could be performed until you ran out. Combat could either be melee based or the player could utilise one of the many weapons. The violence was over the top and almost cartoon like in style with a vein of jet-black humour running through it.
Fallout was an incredible achievement, was warmly received critically and commercially and still regularly features in lists of the greatest games ever. A follow up was inevitable.
The sequel was released in 1998 and takes place 80 years after the original. Refining the gameplay of the original and offering a new story, Fallout 2 was another hit. With a story that was different and followed the descendant of the Vault Dweller, Fallout 2 explored some new themes and locations whilst largely maintaining the atmosphere of the original.
The gameplay remained more or less the same with new additions. The recruitable characters were expanded on with more control over them as well as the ability to manage their items and armour. Weapons, items and armour were also expanded upon making combat more complex than in the previous game. Skills were improved and could now be improved up to 300% also making more use of the previously underused ones (such as Doctor and Traps).
Reputation was implemented to complement the Karma system meaning you could be a slightly different character from either good or evil. Reputation was awarded for bigger deeds and completing sub-quests. Because of the environment and more complex quests a drivable vehicle was introduced called The Higwayman.
Fallout 2 was slightly different to its predecessor. The game had a different tone and was less gritty than the original, which tended to split opinion. The more adult content occasionally felt too forced and this worked to undo the mature environment by turning it into a caricature. Others complained that the game had many problems including several frustrating bugs. However it was still a distinct Fallout title. Many feel that gameplay wise, Fallout 2 is the definitive title in the series.
In 2001, Fallout Tactics was added to the series with a very mixed reception. Considered non-canon the game was a strange hybrid of strategy games. The player assumed the role of a member of the Brotherhood of Steel and followed their campaign to help preserve humanity's interests and to fight against the mutants.
The game was an interesting departure for the series, introducing different gameplay styles, different races (including super mutants, ghouls and even dogs) and new settings. Whilst the combat was still similar to that of previous titles it was presented in a more strategic manner and the focus was on small squads of individuals rather than a single player character creating a different experience.
The change in style from the previous games was not immediately popular. Fans were disappointed. They were hoping for a direct sequel and were annoyed at the inconsistencies in the storyline. However, in more recent years Tactics has found a new lease of life and is now appreciated as a respectable game with influences of the series.
When Fallout 3 was announced fans quickly grew excited. A new installment sticking to the original top down view, now in full 3D was an exciting prospect. Yet all was not well at Black Isle Studios. In 2003 the project was cancelled and the game disappeared. It was a disappointing outcome, as the game was largely complete with 95% of the engine complete and a significant proportion of dialogue and maps finished. The initial plot concerned a prisoner who escapes when his penitentiary is attacked. Sadly the game was never completed and was cast aside when the studio was closed.
The series seemed to be in trouble and when Interplay released Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel exclusively for the consoles things went from bad to worse. Turning the game into a completely different style was a serious mistake which managed to alienate the series' fans. Giving the game semi-naked females, guns and blood were all designed to try and make it popular which was clearly a mistake. Very little of the Fallout atmosphere was captured and the game managed to go against most of the previous conventions. The game performed incredibly badly and only managed to sell 17,000 copies.
In 2004, Bethesda acquired the rights to Fallout 3 and began creating their own version of the game, choosing to reinvent the series. Using the same engine as Oblivion and aiming to keep in the same style as the original games, Fallout 3 is choosing a different path. Whilst there is some negativity from original fans regarding the changes in style and gameplay the latest installment looks set to deliver something original and fresh whilst respecting the Fallout roots.
The Fallout series has experienced highs and lows over the years with the originals regarded as some of the greatest games ever created. With Bethesda's latest entry being released on the 31st October it remains to be seen what sort of reception the game will receive but initial gameplay appears to be highly promising (for a more detailed preview of the game see elsewhere in this issue).
The series began with a nuclear war and it seems unlikely that people will stop playing these games until fiction becomes reality...