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Ahh, the '50s. A time of cool cars, cool tunes, and the omnipresent threat of nuclear annihilation. Of course, when Brian Fargo and his merry men at Interplay were thinking of the '50s, they transported the 1950s to the 2050s, the same happy-go-lucky style, the same inane cheerfulness, the same nuclear threat. Fallout takes place circa 2070, a little over a decade after a nuclear war between the U.S. and China scours North America (and presumably Eastern Asia) with thermonuclear flame. You take the role of a scout for your Vault, a self-contained civilian bomb shelter with a thousand other lives at stake. The mission is simple: find a replacement chip for your Vault's water purification system inside of 150 days, or the inhabitants will die a slow and miserable death from dehydration shortly thereafter. Naturally, such a task is not going to be easy. Between militant mutants, radscorpions, giant mole rats, crooked gang members, and the Brotherhood of Steel, finding one little chip is going to be nothing short of a miracle.


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For a game that was originally released for Win95, the graphic appeal of Fallout remains pretty darned good. Even the pre-rendered NPCs which you speak face-to-face with are still visually appealing and detailed, though some would argue that they still look dated when compared to more recent advances in CG character rendering and animation. The maps which your character moves, interacts, and fights upon are well detailed, appropriately sparse when outdoors, and easy to navigate. The inclusion of a day/night cycle easily helps with the mood of a map when you're walking about town or fighting for your life.


Musically, Fallout is sparse. A lot of your wanderings are going to be without any kind of soundtrack. Towns and special locations do have their own themes, but even in life or death struggles with radscorpions, there's not much in the way of musical accompaniment. However, the sound effects are plentiful and well timed to the actions that your character and 


NPCs perform. The real spotlight goes on the game's excellent voice cast, a collection of veteran voice actors (Charles Adler, Tress MacNeille, Frank Welker) combined with actors who you wouldn't normally associate with voice acting (Richard Dean Anderson, Brad Garrett, Richard Moll). After almost ten years, there's an added joy in recognizing some of these actors before their current level of fame.

Gameplay in Fallout is very much a "point-n-click" affair. The right mouse button cycles through the available actions (look, interact, move), while the left mouse button executes them. You won't find yourself pixel hunting in this game. Objects stand out very clearly and can easily be identified simply by holding the mouse button over them. The use of skills is fairly painless, though it perhaps would have been better if the relevant skill was automatically used when you attempted to interact with an object. As it is, opening the skill list and choose which skill you want to execute is a couple of extra steps that do not detract from the game in a significant fashion.


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Probably the important element that keeps "Fallout" together is the sense of style. It is a humorous, satirical, and thoroughly cohesive sense of time and place. The playfulness and fears of the 1950s are easily moved forward a century without feeling cheesy or mentally insulting. You see it in the conversation screens with the vacuum tubes and speaker cones, the armor and prosthetics on the major NPCs, the cut scenes showing off American life before the bombs fell, even the simple and smiley line art in the character sheet and in the manual. The style ties the game together into a tightly knit whole. Without it, Fallout probably would not be nearly as enjoyable.

The Cold War is long gone and we don't have our children going through bomb drills or watching safety films full of smiling folks who tell them what to do in the event that somebody decides to drop a nuke somewhere in the U.S. Fallout takes us to a time and place where that sort of thing might well happen. Almost a decade later, it remains an excellent example of how to make an RPG with character and soul. Mind the radscorpions.


- Axel Cushing

(August 19, 2006)


P.S. You might also want to check:

Review: Fallout 3 (360)

Review: Rage (360)