Fallout: A Retrospective
"Up yours and have a bullet breakfast, asshole!" barks a kidnapper with irate gusto. Fallout's inhabitants rarely converse in ways considered reasonable, but that's probably because they're living in a world where nuclear war has devastated the entire planet and the remaining guns are of such impossibly high calibre a few shots can reduce a torso to mush. While Fallout 1 and 2 are two of the few games in the world where it's possible to be diplomatic without a weapon, the NPC's you'll encounter along the way are all too ready to reach for their arsenal.
After their releases in 1997 and 1998, Fallout 1 and 2 became two of the most revered games of the nineties. Despite the adulation, both games were commercial failures, and saw misguided attempts at sequels in 2001's disappointing Fallout Tactics and 2004's alright-but-not-Fallout Brotherhood of Steel. For years it seemed unlikely that a true third game in the series would ever see the light of day, and the retiring of Black Isle (the original developer) as a development studio in 2003 seemed like the final nail in the coffin. That was, of course, until Bethesda picked up the license in 2004. With Fallout 3, the series is finally starting to achieve sales recognition: the game shifted more in its first week than the lifetime sales of all other Fallout games combined.
Back in Fallout 2, potential sidekick Cassidy makes remarks about how he could use a limit break, providing an unwelcome contrast between the struggles of surviving Fallout's ruined landscape with the pompous flair of then-contemporary Final Fantasy VII's gratuitous win-button attacks. It's an unashamedly bleak adventure every step of the way, down to the gritty browns, washed-out yellows and damp green palettes of the massive isometric areas you'll routinely scavenge your way through.
And scavenge you certainly shall. In a manner befitting the dystopian environment, most of your inventory will be found by searching through the nooks and crannies of the aptly-titled Wasteland. Shops do exist, and are run by a variety of ethically dubious traders, but the best gear is always found elsewhere; usually by pickpocketing it from unsuspecting victims or, failing that, just lifting it off their corpse. Whilst this heavy reliance on scavenging is a key part of all three Fallout games, it's a facet most evident in Fallout 2's initial hours, which plunge you through the aptly-titled Temple of Trials and demand exhaustive looting and evasive gameplay before you're suitably equipped to turn your enemies into a mushy, red paste.
The ruined tapestry granted the world of Fallout an immense richness. Few games manage to carry the same kind of atmosphere, from the recognisably visceral hostility of the superb combat system to the affable Vault Boy himself, the perky, stylised mascot of the series. Twelve years after the original, the game's fantastic tongue-in-cheek use of 1950s style art still feels pioneering. It's as unique in the videogaming world as it is captivating and, whilst post-apocalyptic environments have become all the rage lately, remains just as fascinating in 2009 as it was in 1997.
Reinstalling the original pair, then, is a nostalgic delight. You can pick up both of them for little more than the cost of a single DLC expansion for Fallout 3 - about 6 GBP for the disc-based Fallout Collection (which includes Fallout Tactics) from an online retailer or a roughly 3.60 GBP (5.99 GBP) apiece on GoG.com if you're after digital copies. Whatever you do, however, you'll want to hop on over to No Mutants Allowed and get your mitts on the latest unofficial patches for both games. Various censorship and publishing issues have caused the two games - Fallout 2 especially - to be extremely buggy and problematic without the aid of unofficial patches crafted, lovingly, by an incredibly dedicated fan community that still thrives to this day. It's not hard to see why.
The core of the game lay in the SPECIAL - Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck - character creation system. There was also a plethora of trainable skills, learnable perks and inherent traits to choose alongside the core attributes lovingly summarised by the acronym. The extensive character customisation options allow you to traverse the Wastelands in numerous ways: the original intention of Fallout was to mimic a table-top RPG adventure in videogame form. You could just as easily create a quick-talking, confrontation-avoiding trickster as a gun-toting, dim-witted meathead, or a hacking boffin with a serious penchant for lasers. When coupled with the multi-directional quests, plenitude of NPCs, and expansive world map, the freedom of the character creation resulted in a game that was, and still is, capable of providing a slightly different experience to everyone who played it.