Fallout 1: First Impressions
I hope you like retro reviews!
I’ve been retro-gaming a lot ever since I got my own laptop a year ago. Deus Ex, System Shock 2, Half-Life and both its expansions, Duke Nukem 3D, Counter-Strike, and probably more that I’m forgetting. Lots of games that I’ve heard a lot about but didn’t get a chance to play when they were big. Some I loved, and some I thought were “meh.”
Next up on the list is Fallout, since my brother has one of those fancy-dancy compliation CDs of Fallout 1, 2 and Tactics. I liked Fallout 3 and New Vegas a lot, but it’s come to my attention that a great big mass of people on the Internet very strongly believe that Fallout is apparently the holy grail of RPGs and that Fallout 3 was a disgrace to the franchise.
So I figure, what the hell? Might as well give it a shot.
First up is the character creation screen.
You know, one thing I like about Oblivion and Fallout 3 is that they don’t demand you choose all your character’s traits and abilities and whatnot until after you’ve had a taste for the gameplay. This isn’t like Baldur’s Gate or Planescape, where all the character building is based directly off of D&D. Fallout’s system is entirely original. Meaning if this is your first time playing it, you’re going to have to either consult GameFAQs or just guess which abilities are best, because they aren’t exactly balanced.
Some people consider that standard for an RPG. I consider it bad design.
Onto the opening cinematic. Apparently I’m from Vault 13, and the overseer of said vault is telling me I need to get some chip that will make water for the people. I guess sending one person is a much more hopeful prospect than sending a whole team, but hey, it’s a video game, right?
As a MacGuffin to drive the plot, I guess it does alright. I didn’t find it very interesting, but whatever, let’s get on with the game.
Now, one thing I always hear old-school Fallout fans complain about in Fallout 3 is the color scheme; i.e. everything is brown, there’s not enough color and contrast in the world. So presumably Fallout 1 would have lots of lovely color variety, right?
Well here’s the first environment you’re set into:
I know this is the very first scene in the game and it’s probably too early for me to be making judgments about the game as a whole, but I still couldn’t help but laugh when I saw this environment. Are all these people hypocrites, or do they all just think gray is way cooler than brown?
So now onto the combat. You encounter a bunch of rats in the cave and you can either shoot them with a pistol or smack them with a knife. It feels very tedious and there isn’t really any strategy involved, but it’s only the beginning of the game, I’m sure all that strategy and intrigue will come later.
I get to the exit and it brings me to the world map. Sadly I couldn’t find an image for this, so I’ll just describe it. I’m sitting inside one brown square surrounded by black squares. On the right it has a list of two locations, one of which is where I’m at now and the other of which is where the overseer told me to go. I click on that one. Suddenly I start moving right, and slowly I travel through the squares until I get to my destination, Vault 15.
Here’s the entrance…
Okay, so I go inside and find myself in the vault.
So after killing a few more rats, I try to go into the elevator shaft and it tells me I need a rope. Okay, there’s probably a rope around here somewhere. Right?
I search the entire area, and no, there is not a rope anywhere. I try using all my skills in the “skilldex,” and none of them seem to give me the ability to travel down that damn elevator shaft.
After searching through the room several more times I got fed up and quit. Then later I decided to commit the cardinal sin of consulting GameFAQs. Apparently while I was traveling through all that empty wilderness on the world map I was supposed to stop at one patch of brown that had a green circle around it, because that was a town, and it’s the only place to get a rope so you can descend into the vault.
Okay, everything I’ve been saying up until now has pretty much been little nitpicks, but that really pissed me off. Isn’t this supposed to be an open world game? I figured since it didn’t have any tutorial or whatever, that meant I could go about things my own way. And my approach was to go right into the vault. But no, apparently Fallout wants you to do things its way, and you’d better step in line or get out.
And this is the game people say Fallout 3 is a disgrace to?
Anyway, so I go into the town of Shady Sands, where a bunch of NPCs are standing around. I chat with all of them. A lot of them have nothing to say, and some have the standard RPG Q&A routine: “So what’s your story?” “What can you tell me about this town?” “Do you like bean burritos?” Et cetera.
None of the characters seem interesting me to me in the slightest, but maybe I’m just too annoyed by the rest of the game to care at this point. I search every bookcase because apparently the rope was in one of them, and finally I find it and leave to continue my venture into the vault.
I use the rope on the shaft in your typical point-&-click-adventure style and proceed to the next level. More of the same, dull scenery and dull combat with dull rats. This floor has lockers, one of which has a rope. Gee, that would have been helpful a few minutes ago.
Oh wait, there’s another elevator shaft to lead me to another floor this time. Guess that’s what this rope is for. Rinse and repeat!
Now I’m on the third floor. Don’t see any elevator shafts this time. I go through all the rooms and kill all the monsters and… Nothing happens. I examine everything in the room and walk around several times to make sure I didn’t miss anything, and there’s nothing around.
Sigh. Guess it’s back to GameFAQs again. I’m definitely going to gaming Hell.
Okay, so apparently a text prompt appears when you enter one of the rooms, and it tells you that you found nothing and have to search elsewhere. This must have appeared while I was fighting the rats, and I missed it. Wow.
Okay, I know people complain about the tutorial prompts that interrupt game flow in Fallout: New Vegas, but there’s a reason they take up the entire screen and stop the game: It’s kind of important that you notice it on your first go. Since this text prompt was miniscule and quickly got drained in all the combat text telling me how much damage I did to Rat B, I completely missed it.
Anyway, so I’m supposed to go back to Shady Sands and find out more information there. What the hell was the point of Vault 15 then?! Wouldn’t it have made more sense from a design perspective for the overseer to just say “Hey, you should go to Shady Sands and ask around ’cause we don’t have any clues as to where to find blah blah blah”?! Then I could have gone there, gotten to know the NPCs, get any side quests, and all that business without dealing with the confusion about finding ropes and the like.
What makes this really confusing to me is that the reason old-school Fallout fans love the first one and hate the third one so much is because of the writing. Fallout 3 had very awful writing, but from the way people described the first game, I was expecting its writing to be spectacular. From what I’ve seen so far, it seems to be on par with most video games; i.e. bad. Not as bad as Fallout 3’s, probably, but certainly not good enough for me to feel emotionally invested.
I think it’s safe to say that Fallout has failed to endear itself to me. I had to consult GameFAQs twice to get myself unstuck and I’m only, what, like 30 minutes into the game?
I’m not about to say that Fallout 3 is better (though I certainly enjoyed it more) because whenever I try to compare the two this is what comes to mind:
Yeah, the games have a sort of similar visual style, and they have similar themes, and the leveling system is practically the same, but the two games feel completely different, and I think it boils down to personal taste more than anything else.
But hey, that doesn’t stop elitist oldbies from saying that Fallout 3 was a pile of garbage and that Fallout 1 was the digital manifestation of Christ, so you can say whatever the hell you’d like, I guess.
Incidentally: If you can think of other “must-play” retro games, feel free to let me know of them. It’s very fun to check these games out and see if they still hold up by today’s standards. Deus Ex ended up being my favorite game, and I had more fun with Half-Life than I’ve had with a lot of modern day shooters lately.