Fallout Rewind Review
Welcome to a new series of reviews where I (and maybe the others) go trawling the bargain bins of my local games stores to see what kind of entertainment can be had for $20 or less. We’re going to be calling these “Rewind Reviews”, reviews of games that may have previously passed you by but warrant a second look.
First in the series is a doozy – Fallout, the post-apocalyptic RPG originally released by Interplay in 1997. For some reason I never got to play it then but it sure got a lot of positive attention from others. It’s featured near the top of numerous “best games ever made” lists and it’s been highly rated by pretty much every reviewer that’s ever played it.
But how does it hold up some 12 years down the track?
I’ll get a couple of practical matters out of the way first. The version I bought (for $15) also came with Fallout 2 and the spin-off RTS game Fallout Tactics on the same disc. I won’t get into those games in this review, but suffice to say that’s some pretty sweet value. The game installs in a couple of minutes flat, it loads fast and it hasn’t had any problems running on the two XP machines I tested it on. So far so good.
Character creation is straightforward. You can either choose one of the pre-configured characters or make your own from scratch. If you go for the latter option (as I did) you’re given handy prompts explaining exactly what consequences your selections will have and you’ll have to make some careful tradeoffs (less overall damage but more critical hits, for example).
Then the game starts. It’s set in the year 2161, there’s been a nuclear war and many humans have survived by retreating to the “vaults” – giant underground fallout shelters. You play a resident of Vault 13 and as the game starts your vault’s water recycling plant has broken. You’re sent forth with just a pair of blue overalls, a pistol and a knife to find the parts needed to fix the system and save your vault.
This means the first part of the game is timed – you have only 150 days to find the water chip needed to save your vault. The story develops from there and I won’t spoil it for anyone that hasn’t played it. The time constraint means you’ll have to be fairly focused on your task early in the game but there’ll be time for exploring later. The game world is fairly large and travelling between locations can take quite a bit of time.
There are plenty of side quests along the way, opportunities to double cross people, lots of fights with animals and bandits and mutants, and of course there are people who will join you on your quest.
There’s a good variety of weapons available and a reasonable amount of blood and gore too. I laughed out loud the first time I literally cut someone in half with a burst from a sub-machine gun*. I favoured the sniper rifle for most of the game but later you can get yourself some pretty sweet rocket launchers and energy weapons too. You need to have a pretty good idea from the start what kind of weapons you want your character to use though because if you haven’t developed the necessary skills the big guns will be nigh on useless to you.
Combat actually stays challenging throughout the game – the strength of the majority of the enemies you’ll face at each point in the story very closely matches your own and often they’re a damn sight more powerful than you. This definitely isn’t like other games where once you get past a certain level only the biggest and baddest of bosses will give you a run for your money. There were quite a few points where I had to reload my game multiple times to try to clear an area. Whether this is a good or a bad thing really depends on how patient / masochistic you are.
And so the frustrations kick in. Those who have played before, for example, probably remember the shame and humiliation of a fully grown human losing a fist fight with a rodent. Those who haven’t will soon learn it. There are also numerous ways in which you can piss off important NPCs and put yourself at a severe disadvantage. Sometimes it’s as simple as not holstering your weapon.
Other frustrations center around your party members. While you level up on a regular basis, they don’t. You can outfit them with new weapons and armour but their stats stay the same so by the end of the game they can get their arses whooped fairly severely. I actually got them to wait outside on many of the final missions. They’re also not very clever – many, many times I got stuck in a building because they’d decided to stand in the doorway and sometimes it can even be game breaking.
The inventory system is frustrating as well. Trying to offload large amounts of loot to a merchant will almost certainly cause RSI and you can’t access your companions’ inventories. Instead, you have to pickpocket them, plant the items you want to give them and then in a conversation suggest to them that they equip what you’ve just given them. Irritating.
One last negative – the game’s visual and audio aren’t very pretty. In fact even by 1997 standards they’re pretty bad. Remember this game was released nine months after the much better looking and sounding Diablo.
I know this sounds like I found a lot of bad points in the game, and I guess I did. But it still had me hooked all the way to the end. The good points, the story and the world design, they’re really that good.
One final thing to cover, for those so inclined, is the game (the entire series, actually) has a fairly healthy modding community. Like KOTOR II there’s a mod that restores content cut from the original game, one that addresses a problem mentioned above by letting your party members level up, one that increases the game’s resolution and others that among other things fix some of the inventory bugs.
I tested the resolution mod and to be honest I could take it or leave it – yes the game looks slightly better but it’s also slightly harder to read. The others I only came across after my play through but if you’re starting for the first time I’d definitely look into them.
Pros: Great story and if you can get past what the game lacks in visual and audio punch it still stacks up pretty well against the latest RPGs.
Cons: The visuals and audio – they haven’t aged well. It has some frustrating game play elements too (some of which are addressed by the mods discussed above).
Overall: Fallout will almost certainly frustrate you and it was never the prettiest game to look at. But the things that made it great and placed it near the top of so many “OMG best games evar!!11!” lists remain. The story is engrossing, combat is challenging and the world design is fantastic. Those who never played it the first time around should definitely give it a look. 4 out of 5!
Fallout is currently available on GOG, for anyone interested in giving it a go!
*It goes without saying, of course, that I also cursed and swore the first time it happened to me.
Leave a Reply
Email Address: (required)