Post-Apocalyptic Games: Fallout

In this rather informal series I’ve talked about television shows, comics and books. But I neglected video games. Post-apocalyptic video games, and decent ones at that, are nothing new. As far back as 1988, with the game Wasteland (for the Apple II and Commodore 64!), game players have been exploring post-apocalyptic digital worlds.

Wasteland is actually credited with giving rise to what’s probably the most well-known post-apocalyptic game series, Fallout. In 1997, Interplay released the original Fallout, a top-down, isometric roleplaying game. The game takes place in the future, after a war for resources (fossil fuels) between the US and China ends in a global nuclear attack. Many people have taken shelter underground in places called Vaults, though there are remnants of civilization above ground.

In the game, you take on the role of a person from one of these Vaults tasked with finding a replacement water chip to help fix the Vault’s water recycling abilities. You venture out into the post-apocalyptic landscape to find the chip and begin a series of adventures that ultimately lead you to it. In typical RPG fashion, you can have conversations with people, go on plenty of side quests and travel between locations collecting objects. You can also recruit other non-player characters to help you with your quests. By the end of the game, the stakes have changed from the safety of the Vault to the safety of all humanity.

Like many RPGs, characters were created with points going into basic attributes (strength, perception, etc), skills (small guns, first aid, speech) and a selection of traits and perks (like Mr. Fixit which gives a bonus to the Repair and Science skills). Characters also had a stat called Karma, which would increase with good actions and decrease with evil actions. Fallout used a turn-based combat system based on action points with simple actions requiring less points than more complex actions. Actions could be performed until the points were expended.

What really made Fallout great, though, was the flavor and atmosphere of the world. It was post-apocalyptic, yes, drawing on popular influences like Mad Max, but it portrayed a future post-nuclear world as seen through a lens of the 1950s. The future that people anticipated in the 1950s—from the shapes of the cars to robots and strange vacuum-tube based science, not to mention the nuclear war paranoia—is real in the world of Fallout and that helps it to stand apart from its fellows.

Additionally, the designers put a few easter eggs into the game with references to post-apocalyptic films (including a one-armed leather jacket like Mel Gibson wears in The Road Warrior) and a random encounter with the TARDIS.

Fallout was popular enough to spawn a sequel in 1998, Fallout 2. Virtually identical in gameplay to the first game (isometric, top-down), Fallout 2 took place 80 years after the first game and featured a different protagonist, The Chosen One, who once again ventured out into the post-apocalyptic landscape to help his people by finding a technological device called the G.E.C.K. (Garden of Eden Creation Kit).

Following years resulted in Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, a tactical game set in the Fallout universe and Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, a top-down action game which was the first game in the series designed for consoles. Both games focused on action more than roleplaying and the latter actually contradicted things from the first two games. Neither provided a similar experience to Fallouts 1 or 2.

It wouldn’t be until 2008 that a true sequel arrived, but more on that in Part Two…


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