Why I Love... Fallout
20th May 2012 | 14:00
"War. War never changes..." Ron 'Beast' Perlman is a bona fide B-movie hero, but of all his bizarre roles he'll never, ever top that iconic line - four words that'll forever send a shiver down my spine. Maybe I'm biased.
See, Fallout's my Mario, my Zelda and my Sonic all rolled into one - the ultimate gaming Lazarus of sorts, and a fitting testament to just how ruddy brilliant - and criminally underrated - hardcore PC gaming was back in the late '90s. In one sense, it's been rather emotional watching an Oblivion-buoyed Bethesda listen to their audience and latterly restore this diamond of a franchise from rusted relic to its former, gleaming glory. It was personal, see.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Back, back to the beginning...
In 1998 Baldur's Gate changed my gaming life. Never before had an RPG - not even PSone system-shifter FFVII - resonated so deeply. Maybe it was the whole Western thang - Black Isle's preference for realism and dialogue driven cause-and-effect trumping what I saw as Japanese developers' playschool morality and tunnel vision narratives. Ibeat Baldur's in a week at Warwick Uni and started to hunger for fresh quests. The game that sated me? Fallout.
Key to its success was that uniquely dark, fatalistic sense of humour. Consider its stark,anti- Hollywood ending. After slaving through the wastes, remedying the Vault's water supply and annihilating the mutant Master, the heroic Vault Dweller gets his final reward... banishment into the wastes by his bastard Overseer. Ouch. Mass Effect 3 climax whingers, take note.
The infinitely funnier Fallout 2 was even better, whether it was the daft conversations with your stoned village shaman, the shotgun wedding after some hanky panky with Farmer Grisham's daughter in Modoc, or your brief-but-glorious career in New Reno as a porn star... Granted, both of these older instalments have some icky barriers to entry now - namely the turgid grid-based, turn-based isometric scraps and crusty visuals - but when it comes
to belly laughs, cracking conversation trees and properly tangible moral consequences... well, they remain peerless. If you're still an original Fallout virgin, pop your cherry by visiting GoG before hitting up the Fallout Update/Restoration projects for some tasty mods.
The series' bastard children are barely worth a mention - curio value aside. Neither Tactics nor Brotherhood of Steel are bad games - in fact, they're both rather moreish and were certainly harshly treated both critically and commercially. On PC, Tactics was subject to a notable backlash as fans grieved that the R & P had been ripped, screaming, out of the G. Brotherhood, meanwhile, simply didn't have the console heritage to make anything more than the dampest of squibs on either Xbox or PS2.
Did we have to wait a while for Fallout 3 or what? Yet I knew from the start it'd all be okay - Oblivion attesting that Bethesda would be the perfect new custodians for the franchise. So itcame to pass, and from that iconic moment where your character is actually born and that unforgettable scene when your eyes painfully adjusted to the sunlight after a life spent beneath terra firma, through to the sacking of Megaton, the tragic death of your dada, the carnage in the Grisly Diner, Liberty Prime's laser beam catharsis, all while the dulcet tones of The Ink Spots, Danny Kaye and their pals warbled on in the background, you knew all was fine with the world. And let's not forget VATs, surely the king of all combat systems?
New Vegas, in my eyes, continued the upward trend. Many gamers still cite crippling bugs as botching their entire experience. I can honestly say I dodged 'em all on both 360 and PC, racking up way over 100 hours of glorious playtime in the process. Truth was, the much-maligned dev Obsidian's dialogue was - is - up there with the absolute best the gaming medium has to offer. A deliciously deep main quest transformed humble beginnings (courier plugged by heavies) into a complex, faction-heavy power struggle over the very future of Sin City. That Obsidian managed to mix brutal slaver crucifixions with Elvis-tribute gangs; transvestite Super Mutants with cannibalism; the Bloody Mess perk with patricide and matricide shows New Vegas is a remarkable tribute to their manifold talents.
The passionate fans are also due a belated pat on the back(pack); they not only ensured that Fallout remained - just about - in the spotlight during those dark days in the early/mid noughties, but actively improved each and every instalment with a succession of terrific mods and patches. Focusing on everything from improved dialogue, bug-fixes and high-res textures, to fresh traits, companions and more - they've undoubtedly helped make one of gaming's most striking universes an even richer place to explore...
There's a convincing argument that, with these belated reboots, Bethesda have gone all corporate on us (BioWare, with their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series, can be held similarly accountable) and sacrificed their traditional RPG values - stellar dialogue, turn-based strategic combat - at the altar of wider commercial success (console as lead development platform, dumbing down of inventory mechanic). All probably true, but consider: isn't that a small price to pay for the resurrection of the Best RPG Ever? I'd say so.
The even better news is that, with Skyrim being the final fling of the reliable-but-unsightly Gamebryo engine, the inevitable Fallout 4 will almost certainly debut as Bethesda's first next-gen role player. Joy! War never changes folks... well, apart fromgetting better and better and better. Cheers Interplay, cheers Bethesda.
Click to the next page for Rob's five favourite Fallout moments...
1. NUKING MEGATON
Possibly up there in the Top Five moments of any RPG, even good karma-inclined wastelanders found it hard to resist the temptation to chill on the balcony of Tenpenny Tower and watch Sheriff Simms' precious townstead burn in nuclear fire.
2. MEETING THE MASTER
Radioactivity plays a central theme in Fallout, but its most gruesome side-effects manifest in the original's big baddy, the Master. A heinous mash up of gelatinous gloop and melded mutant/machine parts, he envisaged an army of super mutants ruling the world. Instead, we nuked his cathedral real good.
3. TRANQUILITY LANE
Bethesda/Obsidian missed a trick with most of the vaults in Fallout 3/New Vegas - they typically degenerated into irksome dungeon crawls. Not so this eerie virtual killing spree, which saw the wanderer bumping off innocent suburban residents at the bequest of cute - psychotic - 'child' Betty. Then the Chinese army invade...
4. GOLDEN GLOBES PORN
Assuming the Chosen One passes his audition to become a porn star (high Agility and Endurance are a must) our bonking hero becomes something of a New Reno celebrity. If you fail? Don't fret - you can always earn a little extra cash... as a fluffer.
5. MALEFIC MAUD
Fallout: New Vegas
New Vegas's irreverent Wild Wasteland perk rocked, and this particular random event saw the Courier set upon by a posse of rolling pin/switchblade-wielding OAPs sporting names like Rancorous Ruth and Irate Ida. Heck, and all because we activated the sexbot Fisto!