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Entry updated 26 February 2021. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1997). Black Isle Studios (BIS). Designed by Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, Christopher Taylor. Platforms: DOS, Mac, Win.

Fallout is a Computer Role Playing Game which uses an Isometric three-dimensional perspective, set – as was its most important influence, Wasteland (1998) – in the ruins of a Post-Holocaust USA. The future of Fallout is not that of our own world; instead, it assumes that American history followed the template laid down in the 1950s for another hundred years, with generations living in fear of the atomic war that finally arrived in the mid-twenty-first century. The game's radioactive badlands are littered with the detritus of the 1950s dream, from computers running on vacuum tubes to Godzilla's footprint. The visual design has a strong "retro futurist" style, drawing on influences ranging from Forbidden Planet (1956) to the Flash Gordon film serials. Fallout's tone is often satirical, and on occasion cheerfully brutal.

The game begins in an underground Vault, one of a series of refuges which were supposedly built to protect part of the population from the impending war. In reality, however, they were constructed as social experiments to help their creators design the ideal crew configuration for an interstellar spacecraft. Thus one Vault is saturated with psychoactive drugs, while another was set up with an initial population of 999 women and one man. The player character is a native of Vault 13, which was intended to remain sealed for two centuries after the war. However, the Vault's water purification chip has broken down, and the main character is chosen to find a new one before supplies run out. This mission leads the player into a world of two-headed cows and giant scorpions, where an army of mutants is trying to convert all of humanity into members of their Perfect Unity. The game ends with the player's character deemed to be irrevocably contaminated by the outside world, and exiled from the Vault they have saved.

Fallout was originally intended to use GURPS (1986), but creative differences between Black Isle Studios and Steve Jackson Games led to the use of a similar set of role-playing mechanics created by the game designers. This system allows the player to create and develop a wide range of possible characters, from brave soldier to peaceful scientist to violent sociopath. All of these types can be used effectively within the game; computer-controlled characters will remember the player's previous behaviour and react appropriately. Actual gameplay generally concentrates on exploration, turn-based combat and character interaction, including the ability to recruit new individuals as additional playable characters.

The sequel, Fallout 2 (1998 BIS, Win; 2002 Mac) designed by Feargus Urquhart and Matt Norton, contained a considerably larger world than the original, to which it added a further measure of sex, drugs and violence. The player adopts the role of a descendant of the protagonist of Fallout, who founded an independent village after their exile. After creating a character, the player is sent out into the wilderness to locate a "Garden of Eden Construction Kit" from before the war, which their village needs to overcome a drought. As in the first game, the outside world proves to be varied and complex, with many possible paths to follow. Eventually, the player will encounter the descendants of the shadow government which created the Vaults, trapped on post-apocalypse Earth after their experimental starship was destroyed during the war. They are now attempting to create a virus which will kill any creature with mutated genes, after which they intend to rule a purified, but largely empty, world.

Fallout and Fallout 2 share a Wild West feel reminiscent of a Sergio Leone film; the second game is more savage than the first, including Slavery and dangerously addictive drugs. Each game has a strongly modular story (see Interactive Narrative); players can roam freely in post-apocalypse America, dealing with a wide range of characters and taking part in a variety of sub-plots, while gradually becoming aware of the nature of the game's major threat. Throughout both games, a great deal of emphasis is placed on allowing the player as much freedom of action as possible. In essence, Black Isle's Fallout CRPGs play as a form of moral simulator, allowing players to make meaningful choices in a dark and complex world.

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (2001 Micro Forte, Win) is a mix of CRPG and Computer Wargame created by a different development studio, focusing on a broadly linear story of tactical combat. The player begins the game as a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, a military organization attempting to restore civilization by force. As leader of a squad of new recruits, the player fights through a series of missions against Beastlords (who can Psionically control armies of mutant animals), human raiders who worship ancient technology and a mysterious group of robots, among others. While it lacks the depth and complexity of the first two members of the series, Fallout Tactics is an excellent tactical combat game with an atmospheric background and limited role-playing elements.

Fallout 3 (2008 Bethesda Game Studios [BG], PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Todd Howard, Emil Pagliarulo is another sequel built by different hands, in this case by the creators of the highly flexible if somewhat generic Elder Scrolls sequence of Sword and Sorcery Computer Role Playing Games. The combination of the Fallout series' strong sense of place with Bethesda Game's skill at creating open-ended, explorable worlds was a success; Fallout 3 is a rather more linearly plotted game than its predecessors, and one that places more emphasis on combat and less on moral ambiguity, but it is still an evocative portrayal of a harshly ironic post-nuclear wasteland, and one that offers its players a great deal of freedom. It is also more influenced by First Person Shooters than earlier entries in the series, including an optional first-person perspective view of its fully three-dimensional world and a choice of real-time and turn-based battle systems. The overall effect is of a careful homage to the Black Isle Studio games, combining moral choices and visceral violence with such morbidly humorous inventions as the Fat Man handheld catapult, which launches miniature atomic weapons.

With the announcement of Fallout: New Vegas (2010 Obsidian Entertainment [OE], PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Josh Sawyer, John Gonzalez it might have seemed that the franchise was being passed on to yet another new developer. The reality, however, was that Obsidian was formed by many of the employees of Black Isle after that studio was shut down; the move to Obsidian was thus more of a return than a departure. And if Fallout 3's design suggests a deliberate tribute to its predecessors, New Vegas is a true sequel which restores the freedom of choice experienced by the players of the first two games with its strongly modular and multilinear structure. The setting is the eponymous city and its surrounding badlands, where an undeclared war is being waged for control of the Hoover Dam; participants include the owner of the city, the militaristic New Californian Republic and a brutal post-apocalyptic imitation of Caesar's Rome. As in the spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964), much can be made of the opportunity to play various factions off against one another. The gameplay is generally similar to that of Fallout 3, but this game's fictional world is richer and deeper than that of its predecessor, with a wide variety of excellently, and often wittily, designed missions for the player to undertake. Many iconic B-movie creatures from previous iterations of the series return, from rad-scorpions to supermutants. While there were some technical problems (now largely resolved) with the initial version of the game (an all too common difficulty with complex CRPGs, including several earlier members of the Fallout series), New Vegas is undoubtedly one of the most impressive science-fictional Videogames to be created in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Bethesda took the reins again for Fallout 4 (2015 Bethesda Game Studios, PS4, Win, XBoxOne) with Todd Howard and Emil Pagliarulo returning as designers. It is another sprawling open-world role-playing game, where this time post-nuclear Boston is the backdrop for a quest to discover your missing child. It is the first Fallout game to include a fully voice-acted protagonist. There's fun to be had with companions like a hard-boiled android detective, and players can now build their own settlements, but the level of polish has perhaps smoothed out some of the idiosyncrasies of Fallout's original vision. A virtual reality mode was released in 2017.

Fallout 76 (2018 Bethesda Game Studios, PS4, Win, XBoxOne), designed by Chris Cummings, Jeff Gardiner, Todd Howard, Emil Pagliarulo, is a Massively Multiplayer Online Game that decisively shifted the focus from narrative-driven weirdness to open-world playground. Foregrounding survival elements, crafting and multiplayer battles made popular from other genres, Fallout 76 marked a franchise spinning its wheels in the wasteland. It was poorly received by many fans, and a year after its release Bethesda moved to a monthly subscription fee to pay for its updates of premium content.

Related works: Operation: Anchorage (2009 BG, PS3, Win, XB360) is an expansion pack for Fallout 3 which takes place in a Virtual Reality simulation of one of the conflicts that led to the game's nuclear apocalypse. Further expansions include The Pitt (2009 BG, PS3, Win, XB360), set in the ruins of Pittsburgh, Broken Steel (2009 BG, PS3, Win, XB360), which allows the player to continue beyond the ending of the original game, Point Lookout (2009 BG, PS3, Win, XB360), set in the remains of the eponymous park in the US state of Maryland, and Mothership Zeta (2009 BG, PS3, Win, XB360), in which the player's character is abducted by a UFO (not to be confused with the unrelated magazine Mothership Zeta). New Vegas also received a number of expansion packs. Dead Money (2010 OE, XB360; 2011 PS3, Win) features a quest for the lost treasure of the Sierra Madre Casino, while Honest Hearts (2011 OE, PS3, Win, XB360) deals with tribal warfare in the Zion National Park. In Old World Blues (2011 OE, PS3, Win, XB360) the player character is brought to a prewar research centre, now overrun by mad scientists, while Lonesome Road (2011 OE, PS3, Win, XB360) ties up loose ends from the main game in a linear narrative set in a radioactive wasteland. Gun Runner's Arsenal (2011 OE, PS3, Win, XB360) and Courier's Stash (2011 OE, PS3, Win, XB360) contain various additional weapons and pieces of equipment for use in the game.

Fallout: Warfare (2001 Interplay) designed by Christopher Taylor is a Wargame using miniature paper models, dealing with the same types of battle as Fallout Tactics. It has generally been made available digitally rather than as a boxed game, with printable files showing the board and counters included with various Videogame releases. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (2004 Interplay, PS2, XBox) is a heavily combat-oriented game in which the player adopts the role of an initiate in the Brotherhood of Steel. Notable largely for its extreme violence and repetitive gameplay, Brotherhood of Steel is also frequently inconsistent with the continuity established in the earlier games. [NT/JN]


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