Jun 24, 2011

Retro Review: Fallout

This review is written for Fallout running on a mid-line Windows 7 laptop.

            Speaking of 90’s sci-fi isometric turn-based games that feature a high degree of player choice, I recently decided to buckle down and play through the original Fallout. I came to the series with Fallout 3, which is obviously a completely different style of game, but I liked the universe enough that I desperately wanted to consume as much Fallout content as I possibly could. That said, I started and stopped playing the original multiple times due to both technical and design issues. However, once I truly declared that I was going to beat the 1997 classic, I was able to push through the old-school-ness of it and recognize what a great game it actually is.

In motion, the game still looks great
            I don’t want to just compare Fallout to X-COM, because on the whole they have little more than genre conventions in common. Nevertheless, the combat that takes up probably half of the game is similar enough to point out. As I said above, the game is presented in an isometric fashion, and aspects like line-of-sight and distance to target are integral to outgunning your opponents. You are given a certain number of “action points” per turn that allow movement or attacks with various weapons. Also like X-COM is the ability to choose how to attack, with options like a normal attack, a targeted attack that can cripple various limbs of your enemies, or burst attacks that are inaccurate but very damaging. Where the similarities between the two games begin is in the deep RPG nature of Fallout. Without going into the history of the development, a business deal gone sour forced those making the game to create their own skill system instead of adapting the norm at the time. The result is the SPECIAL system, which grants seven core disciplines including Strength, which determines melee damage and carry weight, Intelligence, which boosts certain skills and allows more conversation options, and Luck, which determines critical chance, gambling skill and more. On top of these disciplines are the skills, which are 18 different specific abilities ranging from multiple different gun stats to lockpicking, medical training and more. These can be improved when leveling up, at which point you can also sometimes pick a Perk, a permanent addition that can have drastic effects, such as dramatically improved critical chance, more APs or the ability to recruit more companions to your party. All of these different stats can increase in different ways during the game, and I have to give the developers props for making every minor improvement to the stats feel significant to your character’s abilities both in combat and out.

Captain Awesome lived up to his name
            While the combat is surprisingly fun to this day, even for a kid raised on FPSs and the like, the real draw to Fallout is the atmosphere and story. If you played Fallout 3 or New Vegas, you should have a basic grasp of the alternate-history, 50’s-esque aesthetic of which the Fallout universe is comprised. The original game is clearly where this began, but even more memorable is how goofy it can get, in a good way. Don’t get me wrong, the game has some serious gore and dark aspects, both in story and character design, but little touches here and there keep Fallout from being a horrible post-apocalyptic nightmare like most other media in the genre. One bit that stuck out is when conversing with a character over the laws of a town, you are given typical options like “Sounds fair” or “We’ll see”, alongside the bottommost choice which is, in all caps, “SHUT UP, I DO WHAT I WANT”, which immediately turns the entire town hostile and forces you to fight or die. It’s a minor touch that is largely inconsequential in the grand scheme, but still it allows Fallout to tell an interesting story without becoming overly serious about the side aspects. 

This guy is sort of a jerk
            The story itself in Fallout is fairly boilerplate, but is interesting in how it is presented. Your characters begins as a Vault Dweller, born is a sealed Vault that has been protected from the nuclear apocalypse for the last hundred-odd years. When the water filtration system breaks down, you are tasked with leaving the Vault to find a new one. This typical fish-out-of-water scenario isn’t anything new, but the fact that you are sent out with little to no instruction, just a pistol, knife and jumpsuit and a vague idea of where a new water chip might be is pretty cool. The game gives you dozens of ways to locate the objective, so whether you’re good or evil you are rarely ever truly out of luck. On top of that is the fact that, if you already know where you’re going, you can totally skip ahead and go anywhere you want at any time. It’s an interesting game design that you don’t really see nowadays, and it’s impressive just how many ways you can succeed, and how organically the narrative and backstory of this world is explained through both environments and conversations that are completely optional.

            It’s important to note that Fallout not for the faint of heart. That statement certainly applies to the game itself, but even more so just to get it running. If you’re on Windows 7, make sure that you either get the game from GOG or Steam, as these versions are pre-patched in a way that cannot be done on a 64-bit machine. On top of that, there can be numerous display issues, including a major problem getting colors to work. I was able to fix that with this utility, although your results may vary. Finally, there are a huge number of mods for the game, many of which can dramatically improve the experience; it’s worth it to shop around and apply some of the most popular ones. I’ll specifically shout out the High-Resolution Patch, which can essential for large, modern displays, but wouldn’t recommend the Restoration Project, which, while good in concept, reinstates a time limit in game that was patched out. It’s more faithful to the original release that way, but the game is just more fun without it in my experience. If you can get through these hurdles, I highly recommend Fallout. It’s largely unlike any other game, including the modern Fallout games, and if you like turn based strategy or great atmosphere, you should check it out.

Images captured by author


  1. I tried it once but couldn't get into it

  2. High-res patch actually makes the game playable.

  3. I'm going to try this game out right now. Thanks

  4. Fallout is just as epic as it's sequels, and while it can't stand up to the games of today, it's still one of the best out there.

    If anyone is playing/played the newer fallouts, I'd suggest giving fallout 1 and 2 a try, they rock.

    Loving the blog, followed.

    Take a look at mine sometime if you get the chance:

  5. I said it before, I say it again, Fallout is a great RPG :) followed

  6. Great Review, Great game. I love the entire fallout series. followed

  7. One of my all time favorite games. Really, the entire franchise has been great.

  8. i love fallout, great game!!

  9. another one of my favorites and that guy is a BIG jerk, you can kill him at the end tho

  10. Bought this on the cheap during a steam sale, glad to know i didnt waste my money :]