Welcome to the Wasteland: Reviewing Fallout 1

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WORDS Avery Phillips

Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game is one of the best RPGs ever made and a true classic, at least if its induction in the ‘Hall of Fame’ of multiple popular gaming sites is any indication. In the past I’ve never felt much inclined to try it. Just because a game was revolutionary when it was released doesn’t mean it’s going to be fantastic years later, once technology has advanced and derivative games have improved on what it started. It wasn’t until I saw it on sale on Steam that decided to try it, thinking that for $7 dollars it was worth trying, just to see how it compared to recent games. Would the original Fallout have lost its’ shine, or could it actually stand alongside its’ modern progeny?

For those who haven’t heard of the game, Fallout is a role-playing game that takes place 84 years after the world has been destroyed by a nuclear war. The protagonist is the player-created inhabitant of Vault 13, a secluded fallout shelter contracted by the government in the years before the war, who is ordered to venture out into the open world Wasteland to find a replacement for the vaults’ broken water-chip. The game is very non-linear, allowing you to complete tasks at almost any time in almost any way, and has a turn based combat system for dealing with threats ranging from rats to raiders to the famously formidable Deathclaws.

My first attempt at playing Fallout, it was an abysmal failure. The game was originally designed to work on Windows 95 and requires a bit of tweaking in order for it to run properly on Windows 7. This isn’t difficult by any means, but it didn’t do much to help me warm to the game. My feelings improved once I saw the opening intro and character creation screen; a nuclear apocalypse, a barren wasteland and heaps of options for customising your characters strengths, weaknesses, skills and unique traits. Perfect! When it came down to the gameplay though everything just seemed very complicated: why can’t I kill these rats? Is it seriously this slow? How do I use my items? Where the hell am I meant to be going? Within ten minutes I had wandered out into the desert, been killed by a nest of giant scorpions and exited the game in frustration.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that a lot of my problems could have been solved if I just read the bloody manual.

The second time I tried playing Fallout was a couple of weeks later, after I’d acquired some IQ points and acquainted myself with the manual in PDF form. I created a new character, the charismatic and kleptomanic Korrina, and this time round I was able to move past the issue of the confusing controls and actually start enjoying the game. Despite my initial reservations, it wasn’t long before I was completely enthralled. Sure, the graphics are creaky and the interface is cumbersome, but they don’t detract from the games’ greatest feature: the realistic world that has been created.

While the Fallout universe is heavily influenced by 1950s pulp fiction and sci-fi films, if you excuse the more fantastic elements it really does feel as though the post-apocalyptic wasteland could truly exist.  The world is a brutal place, filled with dark humour and grey morality demonstrated through character conversation and the lengths that people are willing to stoop to in order to ensure their own survival. The nature of your character changes how you experience the Wasteland, and the choices that you make have real significance beyond what you may have originally predicted. You can be a guardian of the people, the scourge of the Wasteland or a neutral party who just wants to save their vault, but in the end the only guarantee is that people are going to suffer, no matter what you do.

This game is not perfect and quite clearly shows its’ age in many areas beyond those of the graphics and interface. The town layouts are confusing, the combat can be tedious, many aspects are unbalanced, and I’m convinced the developers are deliberately de-constructing the notion of having a loyal band of friends given the sheer incompetence of all your allies. Nevertheless, the game is still very enjoyable, and I think this is because the central element of the world is so strong. A good story never gets old as long as the modern audience can find elements in it to identify with…and weren’t people talking about the possibility of a nuclear war only a few months ago?

Although I was skeptical at first, ultimately I think it is accurate to say that Fallout is a worthy adversary to many modern games, at least as far as its’ world and story are concerned. If you are able to push past the aged elements and set aside a bit of time for reading the manual then it’s definitely something you should try, if only so you can say that you’ve played a classic. Just do us a favour and stay away from the iguana treats…you don’t know what they could be made of.