On My Shelves: The Fallout Series



During the Cold War, many people in the USA worried that one day the USSR would decide it was time for the long-fated final war and send the nukes raining down. (Undoubtedly, many people in the Soviet Union worried that the USA would make the same decision). This fear made its way into our literature for a couple of decades, spawning its own subgenre of postapocalyptic fiction which included such classics and less-classics as The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham, The Magic City by Nelson S. Bond, the later Mad Max movies, and TSR's Gamma World RPG.


     With the ending of the Cold War the fear of a wholesale nuclear holocaust has lessened, and our knowledge of the consequences of such an exchange – and the effect of radiation on the world – has changed to the extent that the old stories are at best quaint. But sometimes the old can be made new again.


     So it is with Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas (I'd presume with the original Fallout games but I never played them). The world of Fallout is one in which the 1950s never ended until about a hundred years later when the Big One finally happened (with, apparently, the Chinese commies being the main enemy). This is the postnuclear world as imagined by comic books and B-movies, with roving Mad-Maxian raiders, giant ants, mutated monstrosities, people wearing strange assortments of armor and clothing scrounged from a dozen different houses, a world where the world tends to gray and brown because things don't grow well near nuclear craters. Here is a world where the last wars were fought not just with nukes but with lasers, plasma weapons, and even capable intelligent robots.


     Into this world you enter; in Fallout 3 you emerge into the world from a Vault, a sealed shelter that's kept people alive for over a hundred years since the bombs fell; in Fallout New Vegas, you somehow survive being shot in the head and are nursed back to healt and given a chance to find out what happened and why. In both cases you wander the Wastelands, choosing what you do and how – and making yourself a legend of hope or fear as you want.


     Many of the same people are involved with the making of the Fallout games as the Elder Scrolls games, so there is significant overlap of gameplay – both in advantages and shortcomings. There are few opportunities for really personal interaction; this is a world of adventure but not of relationships. One mechanic that is very nice in the Fallout games but isn't present in the Elder Scrolls games is the VATS mode – an automated targeting and striking mode that allows you to do pretty well in combat without having the actual reflexes and skills to do it in the manual mode. And the imagery involved is quite cool.


     The Fallout games are by their nature somewhat dark and gritty, but a lot of that depends on choices. One of the elements the Fallout series shares with its source material is that the Wastelands are in desperate need of a Hero, and you can choose to be exactly what they need. You can go from a rookie afraid of a few mutant rats to the legendary Wanderer of the Wastes, someone that Deathclaws fear and that no one in a hundred miles hasn't heard of. Alternatively, you can become a mercenary monster who hasn't a bit of pity in his veins. The game doesn’t shove you into any particular path.


     They are fun games, though, if the core imagery is tolerable. Much of the fun is in the bizarrely exaggerated 1950s material that emerges from the background as you wander the Wastes, starting with your "Pip-Boy" combination PDA and sensing data unit. Imagery from old recruiting posters, the sound of old recordings, even the design of the robots you may encounter, the old-tyme music played by the static-filled radio stations you hear along the way, all of these echo the era they are both parody of and tribute to. The America described in the background is TVTropes' "Eagleland" – the shining perfect family of patriots – just a hair off. And it covers every trope of the 1950s future, from laser rifles to flying saucers, mad scientists, powered armor, and giant robots, in addition to the nuclear war tropes of mutations, wastelands, and civilizations of scroungers atop the ruins.


     And sometimes it's just fun to be able to take high-powered firearms and blow your troubles away.


     Fallout, ladies and gentlemen. Never has the end of the world as we know it looked so… entertaining.





  1. Xander Opal says:

    Fallout 3 surprised me, in a good way. The plot and open world is wonderful and terrific, in the Pratchett-esque definition of the words. I have to admit, I also nearly fell out of my chair when playing Skyrim after Fallout 3, at one of the guards’ lines.

    The most frustrating thing I have with both games is the intro sequence. Unless one installs a mod to do so, one cannot skip the intro, an issue when I am starting a new game for the nth time and want to try a few different choices later on.

  2. I enjoyed the new Fallout games, particularly Fallout New Vegas, but I’m a rabid fan of the original Fallout and Fallout 2. The plot, storytelling, and gameplay of these titles was outstanding and if the graphics are a bit outdated, they are still extemely playable today. I strongly recommend you take look at them. Also, the precurser to all these titles, Wasteland, has a sequel that is currently in the process of being made. Brian Fargo, the creator, ran a Kickstarter campaign this spring raising almost 3 million and will hopefully deliver a worthy successor.

  3. Yep, they are all PC but should run fine on whatever PC you use now as the graphics do not tax modern systems. They are available on Steam if you are familiar with that service.

    • I use a Mac — specifically, a Mac 13″ laptop — so PC-based games aren’t of any use to me. Even Mac games, not so much — with the tiny screen I have limited ability to use graphics. I’m pretty much limited to my console, which means PS/PS2/PS3.

  4. Ah, understood. Too bad though. Lot’s more choice and flexibility on the PC though I do like some console titles. I’ve been PC gaming since my old Commodore 128 and Amigas. If you decide to take the plunge let me know, I can certainly give you some recommendations:). I did a quick check and you can get Fallout and Fallout 2 for Mac on Amazon. Not real cheap though but they are probably available elsewhere as well.

    • Well, its also a matter of helping my self-control. If something’s on my computer, I can play it ANYWHERE — since I bring … My Preciousss… everywhere, pretty much. But if it’s on my console, I can’t play it unless I have the time to spare to go into the room where it is and play for some hours.

      So by only doing console games, I protect myself from wasting too much time.

  5. Excellent point:).

Your comments or questions welcomed!