It’s only a few months now until Fallout New Vegas is released, and personally I just can’t wait! In great anticipation and as a huge fan of everything Fallout, I thought it could be fun to revisit my own story of how I found Fallout, and the path it has taken since the very first game by Black Isle Studios in 1997, right up to the brightly-lit release due out this Autumn.
I never owned the original Fallout game when it was first released in ’97, but I always had this vague memory of playing a demo for a game that I thought was really cool. I remembered it being the only turn based game I had ever played that let you specifically target individual limbs and other body parts, and then watch them explode into a bloody pixelated mess. The worst part is I didn’t remember all these details until about 9 years later when I was browsing in the PC section at HMV and found a familiar looking set of games, with a distinctively memorable futuristic metal helmet on the cover. After years of trying to remember what that old game was, and my inexplicable stupidity in not being able to find it online anywhere, I had completely forgotten all about it. But then on this fateful day there I was, holding a box with three different Fallout games in my hand – Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout: Tactics.
I had to know if this was the game I had been searching for years earlier, so needless to say I immediately purchased it and went home to give it a blast. I installed all three games one after the other in my excitement to try them all right away, and finally loaded up the first one. After getting over the shock of seeing such a low-res game on my screen, I hit play, created myself a character, and then began. Right away I was watching an old school cut-scene animation, where I was told by an old, greying man – known as the Overseer – that the supply of water in the Vault was only months away from running out, and that I would have to go out into the big wide world to find a new source, so that they wouldn’t all die of thirst and starvation.
Rather soon after a cool cut-scene showing a huge metal vault door opening, I was in control. I was presented with a retro isometric view of my character, standing outside the entrance to an underground nuclear shelter in a dark cave. I could click my mouse in places and he would walk around and do stuff; that was good enough for me! Within seconds, I stumbled into the path of an evil, killer, mutant rat, and was forced into combat with the wretched thing. I pulled out my pistol, selected the advanced targeting mode, and selected the rat’s head – was warned by the 12% probability label that it was a rather small and difficult target to aim for, but I was confident with my decision and told my character to pull the trigger.
Oh no! I was one minute into my game and because of my near-fatal mistake a giant, hungry, freak of a rat was practically chewing my character’s legs off! OK, so maybe I was a little stupid taking a 12% chance to hit the target, but seeing as the rat was right in front of me this time – and the chance to hit its head was now 76% – which, might I add, seemed a surprisingly low chance of hitting something that was currently devouring my character – I took another shot.
Yeah! That’s the way to do it! One dead mutant rat with an exploded head, only another few hundred-or-so similar scenarios with various animals and people to go before I would later finish the game.
The great mix of weaponry was enjoyable, as I was given choices between weapons like mini-guns, plasma cannons, and of course, a combat knife. What great fun to stand in front of an enemy and use the advanced targeting system to target their eyes and watch their head rather comically explode after I take a few swipes.
Apart from the bartering system and inventory insisting on being quite a pain in my arse, I remember the game itself being really great. There was an open world, and loads of decent conversational sections when you spoke to the NPCs and were expected to make decisions and ask certain questions, much like some of today’s very best RPGs.
Once I completed Fallout, I moved on to its sequel – the aptly named Fallout 2. It was really much of the same in terms of gameplay, with a few minor improvements, and a similar sort of goal to achieve throughout the game. Your character – a member of a post apocalyptic tribe – is tasked with finding the ancient G.E.C.K (Garden of Eden Creation Kit) to restore the infertile land that was ravaged by the harsh weather conditions of the wastes. After completing this game too, I loaded up Fallout: Tactics – this was not considered the original Fallout 3, as it was more a sort of extra game with a more squad-based-tactics-and-combat spin on it than that of the original lone-wanderer games.
Around 10 years after the original game, Fallout 3 was announced. I couldn’t believe it! While playing the first games, I sometimes day dreamed about the possibility of a third installment created with modern graphics and improved gameplay. The last thing I expected, however, was for it to be a first person shooter. It was actually more intriguing than anything else, and I was really interested to see how they could make something that was originally an isometric, turn-based RPG into an FPS experience.
The changes were heavily frowned upon by many of the original Fallout fans, and there was a lot of commotion about the developers ‘not listening to the fans’ about how they felt the game could or should be. The general interpretation of why the gameplay was so incredibly different to the original games is that Bethesda Softworks (the company behind The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion) wanted to make the game more accessible to the general gaming community, rather than only to the existing fans.
Now, on one hand, as someone who loved the original games before it was publically known there was a sequel on its way, I agree that it kind of sucks how they changed so many of the gameplay mechanics by putting you in a first person shooter – instead of the the way it was in the original games – because part of the identity of the game really was the entire look of it, as well as the way you had to play it.
On the other hand, however, it felt quite refreshing to see someone take the plunge by breaking the mold and presenting new possibilities for how we could be allowed to explore the world of Fallout. I was less worried about the changes and more excited to dive right into it in HD graphics on my 360. The moment I stepped out of the Vault, watching the bright light slowly fade out and the vast Capital Wasteland fade into view, I was awe stricken. As awesome as the original games really were, they had never quite pulled off having something as amazing to look at as this. I realize that they still could have made this a fully 3D clone of the original games, which could have had the potential to have the same impressive visuals, but being able to play Fallout in a first-person perspective just feels way more immersive than it would have been as another isometric game.
A rather disappointing story for many Fallout fans was that the original developers of Fallout – Black Isle Studios – already attempted a more 3D Fallout game. The project, code-named ‘Van Buren‘, had the same classic recipe and style to it, but sadly it ended prematurely, and to the dismay of the fans it never saw a release.
I admit that some parts Bethesda’s Fallout 3, like the “VATS” (Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System) – which was great fun to use when targeting specific body parts of enemies in full 3D – were slightly flawed. The VATS did sort of take away from the potential action and excitement a little, as well as making the game a tad bit easy. But in all fairness, the targeting system was made intentionally similar to Fallout 1 & 2, other than the fact that you can actually run around and fight without the targeting system if you choose to, which makes the game feel a bit more ‘actiony’.
You could argue day and night about how FO3 sucks or how its just awesome, but at the end of it all I still found myself playing an FPRPG (first-person-role-playing-game) that I found incredibly enjoyable, with a TON of stuff to do and places to go, a really great choice of weaponry to shoot/explode/disintegrate enemy heads/arms/legs with, an entire city and wasteland of entertainment, and not to mention all the DLC that managed to keep me playing right up to every last achievement.
Now, with FO: New Vegas on the production line, I simply can’t wait to get my hands on it! As much as I loved Fallout 3 in the end, there were of course some slight issues with it, such as it being too easy and the voice acting being quite dry – and frankly rubbish – in many places, with the exception of Liam Neeson as Dad, of course. New Vegas promises a lot more than I had initially hoped for, with apparently twice as many awesome weapons (including remotely detonated C4), a much more inventive weapon upgrade and modification system, and the ability to work with the opposing factions of your choice, to whatever end they might have in store for the player depending on our decisions, and not to mention the incredibly necessary inclusion of casino games like blackjack, roulette, and more!
To me though, the best part could well be the new ‘hardcore’ mode that they have introduced to the game, which will force the player to make their character sleep when tired, drink water when thirsty, have a limit to the amount of carriable ammunition, and heal gradually rather than instantly with medical kits and doctor visits. Sure, this could get annoying if it was TOO hard, but this could bring the game to the right level of difficulty again, where you may actually have to put a lot more thought into your plans of attack and what you should or shouldn’t take with you on quests. No more hoarding ammo and never running out – you’re actually going to have to think carefully about what you might face, and exactly which kinds of grenades you would prefer to blow people’s legs off with.
As a huge (but not stubbornly hardcore) fan of Fallout, New Vegas is the game I am most anticipating this year, and with Fallout 3 as a template for the whole game, the improvements could well make this another of my favourite games.
I just hope the hardcore fans give Fallout another chance, maybe even the benefit of the doubt. Whether you like the new gameplay of FO3 or not, these games are still part of the Fallout universe, and to me I see them as a huge step in a controversially different – but still great – direction.
I’m going all in on this one.