GAME REVIEW – Fallout (1997)

By Marty Mulrooney

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Having recently played Fallout 3 on my Playstation 3, I decided I wanted to go back to where the series first started on PC. Fallout is a game that was perhaps before my time (I was only 9 when it came out!) but that I still knew of in my early gaming days regardless. It is truly a cult classic of 90’s gaming.

Revisiting it today, it is amazing in retrospect how the basic blueprint of Fallout 3 follows the original so closely! (Especially since the original was made by Black Isle Studios and the latest instalment was made by Bethesda Softworks…) Obviously, much of what worked then still works now. But just how well has the original aged?

I am pleased to say, very well. Upon loading up the game, the intro cutscenes are undoubtedly retro in their compression and design (they don’t even fill the screen anymore!) yet still reek of high production values and quality. Ron Perlman’s dulcet tones, updating us on the end of the world as we know it, equals exposition nirvana.

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The game wastes no time setting the scene. You are a vault-dweller, part of the surviving human race who  fled underground to safety after nuclear war. We are now in the 22nd century, although everything has the flavour of World War 2 era 1950’s (a time of heavy nuclear paranoia) particularly with regards to the technology on display. This is of course an implied alternate reality. It followed our own history… then deviated somewhere along the way.

You are being sent out by the Vault Overseer to try and find a new Water Chip… Vault 13’s is broken and without it, all of the other vault dwellers will perish. The game offers 150 game days (time passes with every action) for the player to complete their mission, yet you can extend this time limit by completing certain objectives as you play. Fallout offers plenty of time if you plan carefully and once the main objective is completed, there is still a lot more to see and do.

The story works well, although I sometimes felt slightly detached from the events that were unravelling on my monitor. It would have perhaps been nice to feel more involved at times, even if this would have meant solidifying the protagonist’s backstory rather than just leaving it as ambiguous. (Fallout 3’s story of a separated father and son wasn’t Shakespeare, but at least it was involving!)

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When starting a new game, you can chose from three pre-made characters with varying attributes, or make you own character. Of course, most people will want to make their own! You don’t get the vast selection process seen in the recent Fallout 3 (no choosing specific appearance attributes) but having your own name and choosing skills etc allows for some nice variety and customisation.

I wanted a good shooter as my player character, so I added points to the small guns skill and also made myself a fairly lucky individual. You can also assign perks which are brilliant. (Two to start of with and then an extra one every third time you level up.) I chose Bloody Mess as one of mine… doesn’t do much to help really, but does splatter enemies everywhere when they die. Cool! 😀

Other perks can really shape the player in many different ways, allowing for a fair amount of freedom as you progress. You can even read books off shelves to increase stats, allowing some players to play it stealthily, whilst others can charge in guns blazing if they have read enough firearm magazines!

You can also swap items with nearly all non-player characters, either for other items, or using the game’s currency, caps. This means you can build your character and their equipment to your own liking relatively easily with enough time and patience invested.

At first, I found the game’s mechanics painfully archaic (slow and cumbersome) but after a while, I got the hang of things. You right click to change between walking and interacting. Holding shift allows you to run. If you go near an enemy, the game changes to combat mode automatically.

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This is where the real meat of the game lies. You can equip various weapons, and then draw them for combat (some people won’t speak to you with your gun out so it is best holstering it until you need it!) You can either shoot generally at enemies, or use the VATS system to target body parts (my preferred method!) such as the head and torso.

One thing about this game that players should note: it’s hard. Whereas many games today lead you by the hand… Fallout doesn’t. You must save. A lot. You must experiment constantly. You must die and reload and try things differently all the time. But above all, you MUST fight and level up. My character was constantly getting his arse handed to him on a plate for the first couple of hours I played until I got myself in the right mindset and read over the instruction book properly.

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I was getting annoyed, when suddenly things clicked into place. I levelled up some more, added a new perk, got a leather jacket, paid another character to fight alongside me and got a bigger, meaner gun… this game offers a real, tangible sense of satisfaction as you progress.

This is further emphasised when you access the world map. Reaching towns gives a great sense of discovery, whilst travelling to them via the map can almost always mean bumping into enemies or friends, whilst time passes constantly. (There is even a day and night cycle.)

Sadly, character models are reused throughout the different locations so this definitely shows the age of the game and breaks the immersion somewhat, especially in large areas such as towns.

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As well, most characters only reply with text responses. Luckily, this is counteracted with main characters (story relevant/ side quest relevant) being fully voice acted, and shown close up! The lip syncing used here is good and the effect overall still looks sweet even in 2009.

The graphics have held up well and you can even apply a patch to make the game play in a higher resolution if you feel the need to. I didn’t bother with this myself; this is an old game and is meant to be enjoyed in the way it was originally presented, warts and all. The sound is brilliant, offering some very good voice acting (something many games can’t get right even today!) and also providing some great 50’s style tunes.

Overall, Fallout is still a really good game. It is undoubtedly quite slow and has definitely dated in some areas (especially the combat), but the story telling and great quests still shine through. If you enjoyed Fallout 3, I think it is a great idea to revisit where it all started! I really enjoyed seeing where the franchise began.

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The PipBoy 2000 is a brilliant way of integrating all current quests and game info as well and I loved Vault Boy too! The art style is brilliant and you really get a feeling that this is a real living, breathing world. There is a lot of stuff to do and you could really get amazing value for money if you tried to see/ do everything possible.

The way every player’s gaming experience will end up being different still rings true today as well, although it is a shame that the difficulty level starts off hard and then never lets up. You will undoubtedly notice that Fallout has aged, but it is still a pleasure to revisit overall.

There is a great feeling of despair present in the game’s world and you often get a true sense that the rag-attired people living in this post-nuclear world are going through a constant struggle, even if the protagonist becoming fleshed out is largely left up to the player’s imagination. The atmosphere is top notch as a result: proof that you don’t need cutting edge graphics to affect the player’s impressions during play, just good game design. Fallout delivers on this front with loud aplomb; the game world feels realistic and dangerous.

Many older games deserve to be rediscovered and replayed by all gamers. Fallout is a part of gaming history and a perfect example of a game that was ahead of its time. Flawed by today’s standards then… but still a classic that paved the way for a whole franchise nonetheless. Upon release this would have easily been a 9 or a 10. But by today’s standards, (due to high difficultly, slow pacing and dated combat mechanics) I give it a solid….

7.5 OUT OF 10

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Special thanks to our friends at GOG.com for helping us with our review. Their updated downloadable version of the game ran perfectly on our Windows 7 PC, and can be purchased here!

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