Counter Battery: Fallout 3 - A Different Perspective
Lloyd Sabin's review of Fallout 3 gave the game high marks...but not everyone felt that way. Hear a different perspective from someone still looking for an RPG as good as Wasteland.
Author: Lance Larka
Full disclosure. I love Wasteland & Fallout 1. Fallout 2 I can’t get past Klamath. Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel was fun but technically not an RPG. I never played The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall consumed hundreds of hours of my time but in the end frustrated me with the bugs. The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind was stunningly beautiful but bored me after a few hours. The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion is not an RPG and I hated it. There was no story.
Why do I mention games by three distinct companies spanning over 20 years in my opening paragraph? Because Fallout 3 is a direct descendant of them all. This is very important because with the exception of Ultima and a few other game franchises this is one of the longest running and honored games in the history of our passion.
“Vault-Tec engineers have worked around the clock on an interactive reproduction of Wasteland life for you to enjoy from the comfort of your own vault. Included is an expansive world, unique combat, shockingly realistic visuals, tons of player choice, and an incredible cast of dynamic characters.” As seen at Fallout 3’s Bethsoft website.
Oh if only this was true….
Bethesda did two things with Fallout 3. They made a stunningly beautiful sandbox perfectly respectful of the Wasteland/Fallout legacy claiming near infinite re-playability due to hundreds of different outcomes based on how you play (Bethesda’s claim, not mine). They also created a game with a story apparently written by 10 monkeys with typewriters and then thrown into a shredder and put back together by illiterate aspirants to the political machine. Make no mistake that while this thing wears the trappings of the Fallout universe It. Is. Not. A. Fallout. Game. Repeat. I.I.N.A.F.G. I’ll be spending the next pages defending that statement. After all this game has sold huge numbers of copies and by all measures it is a massive financial success with a devoted following.
I’ll start by describing the previous games in the Fallout heritage.
Wasteland was released in 1988 and can arguably claim the title of the best cRPG produced at the time (I would say to date but I don’t relish the hate mail). First and foremost the game has story. Not a script you had to endure to get to the action like The Elder Scroll: Oblivion for example. A real honest to goodness story that had you sitting on the edge of your seat wanting to know what happens next. Michael Stackpole (author of many Battletech novels among others), Alan Pavlish (Wolfenstein 3D, Descent, Shattered Steel, Deer Hunter), Brian Fargo (Bard’s Tale & founder of Interplay) & Ken St. Andre (short fiction writer and “Tunnels & Trolls” designer) wrote and designed the game. Talk about an all-star lineup eh?
One of the striking and novel features of Wasteland is that you could use any attribute, skill, or item on anything in the game whether it makes logical sense or not. It might not do anything but it did give the player the option of thinking outside the box. This gave the writers so much flexibility that they were able to craft a story where the player had maximum flexibility. Want a brawny intellectually challenged guy to break down doors with a crowbar or a dexterous, nimble guy to pick the locks? Your choice. Want to blow it down with that RPG-7? Well that works too. Swim across a river or use a rope? Bingo.
When Wasteland was released piracy was a very big concern given the proliferation of 1200 baud modems (no, I’m not kidding) and the relative ease of copying a 360kb 5.25” floppy disk. Interplay’s response was to give the player some fun. Wasteland came with a printed booklet with paragraphs that are referenced from within the game. At certain points the player is instructed to read paragraph xyz to gain critical information (such as passwords) to continue the game. Interplay went further and included a hidden story in the book to limit cheating on the part of the player while providing an enjoyable story to read. Of course this secret story was close enough to fool the player if they simply read through the book. Wrong passwords had very undesirable consequences. Kudos.
On a side note I loved the cover of the game folio. Are you the solitary figure or the group facing them? Either is possible.
Fallout 1 brought the franchise into the mouse and interactive graphics era. We lost some of the freedom of the Wasteland system but gained variable ammo types. The S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system of abilities was introduced as well as “Tag Skills” (Skills you are naturally gifted at) and “Perks” (minor level up awards such as “Bloody Mess” or “Strong Back”). Tag skills were very special in that during the game when skip points were awarded to them they had twice the punch. This made it a whole new game when you selected different tag skills. Also kept was the great story and expanded it with well scripted side-quests. Fallout 1 introduced actor voiceovers such as Richard Dean Anderson and Richard Moll for conversational scenes. In a brilliant move Ron Perlman was used to set the tone of the game during the intro. His gravely voice managed to convey all the roughness of surviving a nuclear war while telling the story and better than any other intro prepping the player to start right in with all they need to know. In all three of the Fallout games produced by Interplay there were giftedly constructed easter egg type random encounters as you traveled across the map. Nothing that impacted the main story but did hearken back to Wastelands paragraph book’s hidden story.
Fallout 2 was a sequel of Fallout 1 and included branching story line points but didn’t substantially change the franchise. You did get to have a vehicle however. It was unfortunately warez’d extensively and had poor sales. If that was because of the lack of improvements or d’loads has not been established at this point.
Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel
Fallout Tactics :Brotherhood Of Steel brought graphics to modern levels but took the franchise to a more linear story line. While there were limited branch points within scenarios the franchise itself took a step back and should not be considered a true RPG. This is a tactical puzzle solver if there ever was one. It just piggy-backs on the Fallout story. However that story that was there was well told and featured wonderful voiceovers by actors such as R. Lee Ermey (Full Metal Jacket). More weapon choices were paired with changed cover states: standing, crouched, and prone. Also added were free fire settings for real time mode. “Hold fire no matter what” all the way to “spray and pray.”
One of the nicest things about Fallout Tactics is that by switching between turn based and real time I could execute effective ambushes by all my characters after I had set up using turn based moves and stealth. Once my units were set up in prone mode I switched to real time and gave the order to all the characters to stand up and free fire. They blew the bad guys away in concert. A first for the series. This is one of the few games that I re-install every time I have a fresh OS.