Fallout (1997) Review

In 1997, a now dead company called Interplay developed and released the game that spawned a franchise which would go on to cement itself as one of the kings of the RPG genre: Fallout. Initially brain-stormed as a time-travel story about ninja cults, electricity-conducting underpants and human zoo’s run by dinosaurs, Fallout was eventually shaped into the post-apocalyptic game we all know it to be today.

Sort of.

If you’ve only ever played the modern Fallout games, you may be surprised to hear that this game is isometric and that the optional combat option of “VATS” encompasses the entire combat system of this game, given that everything is left up to chance. With that in mind, it’s always worth remembering that if you have a 95% chance to shoot someone in the groin at point-blank range with a double-barrel shotgun, there is probably more that a 5% chance that you’ll miss (Or so it will feel like).

What does this mean for gameplay? Well it means that it’s completely unbalanced from the very start, and continues to be until the very end. Character creation in this game isn’t fair: There are optimal builds that will make the game laughably easy, just as there are suboptimal builds that will make the game entirely unplayable. If you search for this game online, you’ll likely find a lot of users asking for advice on how to build a character that won’t die within the first five minutes of leaving the Vault. So, to save you blessed readers from sharing this experience, I’m going to give you the cliff-notes version of how to build a good character in Fallout:

The amount of fun you have is directly tied to how high your Agility is. This is because combat in this game is entirely turn-based and each level of Agility gives you an additional action-point to spend, which dictates everything you do in combat; Literally everything from shooting, reloading, walking and even entering your inventory costs action points. Resultingly, Agility is the most important skill in the entire game, even if you decide to play as a pacifist, because you’ll need every last action point to run away from those scary mutants.

But what about the world? Is the game actually engaging? Well…

Yes.

Unlike future Fallout games, this game isn’t very silly. No, it doesn’t have five-hundred Monty Python referenced (Fallout 2), a gun that shoots gnomes and teddy-bears (Fallout 3), a bottle-cap collect-a-thon (New Vegas), or a theme park dedicated to a Nuka Cola (Fallout 4). What this game does have, however, is a doctor who sells human flesh to the food-merchant of his neighbouring town, whom you can either report to the law or blackmail to get hella-rich. It has radiation poisoning so brutal and unforgiving that, if you haven’t saved frequently and in multiple save-slots, could well end your entire playthrough despite it’s limited appearance in the game. It’s set in a world where just about no-one is cautiously optimistic; The vast majority of NPC’s won’t be very trusting of you, will probe you for information about yourself and will out-right try to kill you if you disrespect them. By far, this is the tonally darkest Fallout game, with only Fallout New Vegas coming close to achieving a similar tone.

But that’s not to say that the game is a downer to play. Like all Fallout games it does contain humour, but that of a different brand. This humour is always quite dark and often a result of the dire circumstances the world, and what the people within it are experiencing. Perhaps the best moments of levity in this game are the hilariously over-the-top kill animations. One moment you’re watching a man dance around and scream after you spray him with a flamethrower, and the next you’re watching the guts of a man spray all over the place after you fire a rocket launcher at him. If you’ve gone for an optimal build, however, you’ll more likely than not be seeing people’s skin melt into a liquid puddle as you eviscerate them with the turbo-plasma rifle. I find that these animations save the game in a lot of ways because, having been made in 1997, you might have guessed that the gameplay would be incredibly dated… And it is! But being able to shoot someone in the eye with a sniper rifle and watch it blow their arm off instead, makes up for a lot of the other gameplay short-comings from an entertainment perspective.

But not all of them. Some of the most infuriating moments in this game are born from the fact that it is so old: This game was intended to be played with a game manual which, of course, doesn’t appeal to the modern gamer or, admittedly, myself. As a result there will be ample amount of times where you’re like “what the hell am I supposed to be doing?” But fear not, for the wiki will help you. Yes, when playing games of this age, one should not feel ashamed of looking up a walkthrough if they have exhausted all other avenues of thought. That said, however, the main quest is very coherent even without a walkthrough, and I only found myself needing the wiki for some of the side quests.

So, overall, is this a game worth playing in the modern day? Well… it’s certainly annoying at times: Limited character models mean your companions look identical to the enemy, leading to plentiful friendly fire incidents. There is also no mechanic for trading with companions, so you have to pickpocket them to do so, but even then they can’t use all the gear available in the game, and you have no way of knowing this unless you lookup what they can and can’t equip.

Conclusion: This game is very dated.

Secondary conclusion: It’s still hella-fun.

The appeal of all Fallout games has always been the writing and, provided it’s up to a good standard, Fallout fans have always overlooked short-comings in gameplay to experience a great story, which Fallout 1 has in spades. I have intentionally not spoken about the story as to not spoil it, but if you liked Fallout New Vegas, you’ll definetly like Fallout 1 for doing everything that game does to an equally competent degree, if not better in terms of how the story is told and unravels.

So, if you like CRPG’s at all, and like Fallout games at all, then I highly recommend playing the original Fallout.

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