Fallout Becomes The Oldest Game I Have Beaten
Lets see, so Fallout from Black Isle Studio and publisher Interplay was released way back in 1997. I think that it now holds the new record of “Oldest Game I Just Finished." That's right folks, a person who plays games as much as me has just recently finished what is considered one of the greatest RPGs of all time. Now its not without reason that I missed Fallout upon its release. You see I was still completely consumed by RTSs at that time, specifically another title that is set in an alternate past, Westwood Studios' awesome Command & Conquer: Red Alert. I played the crap out of that game including on ladders and on Westwood's matchmaking service. Still couldn't beat my brother consistently though. That's my excuse and unfortunately I have to make another excuse because I can't get screen capturing to work with Fallout so this review will mimic a console review, in that it will lack screen shots.
One of my buddies and the impending release of Fallout 3 are the main reasons that I decided to play the game after Dark Messiah of Might & Magic. He spoke so highly of the game, and annoyed me so much that I eventually imported the Fallout Collection pack thats available in the UK from GSP. Only through meticulous Internet research (lunch break) I managed to get it for only $10, which is a pretty good steal for three titles, let alone two highly regarded titles.
Retro Review Ahead
Seeing as this is a highly retro game I certainly can't compare the visuals fairly to current things, or most aspects of the game for that matter. Needless to say this review will be a bit different than your standard fare but hopefully it'll help someone besides me with a purchase or just something to read that really is FAIR & BALANCED. I will lead things off with a quick over view of the obvious. The graphics are dated as to be expected but its not going to make your eyes bleed with sharp-edged polygons or anything like that, one the upside we aren't listening to MIDI sound effects. All three of the titles were ported to work under Windows XP and it seems like it was done pretty well, although since it is the European version Fallout has the v1.02 patch applied which removes children from the title. I did have some issues with alt-tabbing while playing the game, once you come back in the screen will go completely black until you force it to refresh by moving the scenery or mouse over objects. Annoying but nothing to really freak out about. Also I assume that the lack of Print Screen working correctly has something to do with porting issues. Even the various third party screen capturing programs I tried failed at capturing full color, full resolution screens, but aside from wanted to have a fancy pants review with screens, this problem doesn't really matter. Hell it may have not even been tested by QA.
Stupidly, I also missed Knights of the Old Republic so I have fallen pretty far behind on titles with morality and branching NPC paths. That said this is still the only title I can remember since I became mature enough to write a half decent review that has these features. Sadly that means that since 1997 not much progress has been made with these aspects. Black & White played a lot with morality and good/evil aspects as did Peter Molyneux's later title Fable. While I enjoyed Black & White a lot, the same can't be said for the latter of the two. My point is that Fallout managed to make such an amazing NPC chat system, based around various aspects of your character including intelligence, charisma and previous game choices, that few games in the past TEN YEARS have managed to surpass its defining gameplay mechanic; morality or less abstractly, the ability to make choices that have a lasting impact on your play experience.
While playing through the title I tried to go through all the chat system's options I could to get the different responses, this of course required countless reloads since some characters won't even talk to you a second time if you made an offensive response. Seeing as some NPCs may not even speak to you again a player can really feel that their decisions are affecting their gameplay. One example found early on in the game is when I walked into a house full of mutants and was approached by them. Initially I was forced into battle with the one that confronted me, only to have about 8 of his buddies join the party. After getting rolled by them I tried a new approach and was able to talk my way out of the firefight but still got what I wanted, thats some solid design. But being the XP whore that I am, I just reloaded again and killed everyone in the vicinity to farm all their XP. The fact that I didn't have to kill to continue the mission was very, very appealing but as far as the core gameplay goes the only thing I would have liked to see is for them to track such negotiations and award XP for avoiding conflict. This would give players a viable way to continue leveling without having to cause the massive amounts of gore that the game can deliver and I mean, everyone loves them some diplomat. Aside from that major aspect, which would no doubtfully be difficult to implement, I felt that some of your fellow NPC players that grouped with you tended to be very underpowered compared to you. I can see some of them being weaker than expected, like the much loved Dogmeat, but all of them shouldn't suck. Lastly is a very common gripe people have with FPSs or RPGs, a little more weapon diversification would have been nice. There are tons of TYPES of weapons, but not many weapons of any given type.
Story & Chat System
The overall story arc is what really impressed me the most. The branching dialog trees, a staple of the title, are done so well that they truly come off as common dialog that could be repeated anywhere. Not once was their an option for “All your base are belong to us" like sentences, although seeing as this was developed in an English speaking country, that isn't to shocking. The fact that the dialog had true flow wasn't the only thing that Black Isle got right regarding the English language. The story arc itself had to be fresh, because 10 years later it still didn't come off as cliché in any capacity. Even the pacing is fantastic, like a good story should be told. You are originally hit with tons of information as you are shown the world and then set off on a seemingly simple mission of utter importance. Upon pursuing your original goal, numerous other missions pop up to distract you. The side-quests keep the story moving and add additional details, while offering something else to do besides searching for the some stupid water chip. As with many great titles, Fallout comes complete with multiple endings, all which are rendered in 1997's cutscene glory. Of the three that I managed to see, they were all well done, and all made sense, but I won't go into any details on them so I don't spoil the title for the other person who hasn't finished Fallout.
Make Sure You Played This Game
If you haven't figured it out by now, this is a glowing review, which shouldn't be a shock to anyone. Even though its 10 years later, the title is still worth playing if you haven't already and if you have, you can always make a completely different character than before and get a different play experience. Fallout is just so damned good that even a decade later things still stick out, still make you think “that's really good design" or “why can't games do THAT now?" It shouldn't be hard to believe that my next PC game on my list is Fallout 2 once I finish with the Half-Life 2 universe. Its like I really enjoyed the title or something, man the 1997 version of iTZKooPA missed out on some gaming gold...