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by Interplay

I love the future of past decades.  The seventies’ future manifested itself in silver jumpsuits, sleek, metallic rockets, and large hair la various James Bond movies, most notably Moonraker.  The eighties imagined day glow and floating skateboards.  My favorite future is from the 1950’s, when social engineering had a fascist edge and didn’t bother to hide its onwards-and-upwards ideal of self-driving cars, homogenous white suburbs, and bubble-n-plastic skyscrapers.  That’s why I like the post-apocalyptic-wasteland of Fallout, where the future of the fifties has gone terribly, terribly wrong.  And while Fallout: Tactics is an impressive addition to the Fallout story, it disappoints in a few minor but important ways. 

FOT takes place between the years of Fallout 1 and 2 and follows a splinter faction of the Brotherhood of Steel – a paramilitary organization believing it can save humanity through technology – that has left California to search for the hub of a pre-war vault network, which preserved parts of America after World War III, as well as escape some of the more disturbing “racial purity” rhetoric of the group.  These brave adventures set up shop near the ruins of Chicago, and you are a new recruit.  The Brotherhood, in addition to finding the master vault, wants to fashion a new empire, uniting the scattered remains of Illinois and Kansas in its velvet fist.  Few have dreamed bigger. 

As FOT is a tactical combat game built around a six-man team, it’s a departure from the role-playing structure of previous Fallout titles.   It retains the rich character creation capabilities of earlier games with an elaborate attribute, skill, and perk system, but the game itself operates in a series of missions, playable only in a certain order.  Also, interacting with non-player characters is limited to set-piece speeches without dialogue options. 

After creating a character – deciding if he or she will be a sniper, hand-to-hand bruiser, heavy weapons expert, thief, medic or some combination of the same – and filling out your squad with other characters from the Brotherhood pool of recruits, you are turned loose on the wasteland with the job of pounding anybody who happens to cross your path.  The combat system is elaborate and full of options, either allowing a high degree of customization or presenting a confusing array of settings depending upon your outlook.  Fallout 1 and 2 ran in real-time with combat working off of a top-down isometric view and turn-based system similar to XCOM.  FOT allows you to do the same, with squad members and enemies allowed to move according to initiative, or fight in a squad-based turn in which your entire squad acts followed by the enemy, or in something called Continuous Turn Based.   CTB mimics real time with different actions – firing a weapon, going prone – using action points that gradually renew themselves.  Each type of play had different advantages and disadvantages – Turn Based combat give a greater degree of individual control but makes missions incredibly long; CTB makes the game run faster but turns your squad members into more autonomous killers with sometimes unfortunate effects – and I like the ability to move among each depending on the difficulty of various fights. 

If this game had a fantasy setting, I’d say those fights and the missions in general were dungeon crawls.  Most are set up on a maze-like map of crumbling buildings and bunkers in which you navigate your team from one side to the other.  While some of the missions have a defend the fort or capture the flag-like objective, most of the time you’re waltzing through a post-apocalyptic labyrinth with a few goals – rescuing people or blowing something up – and not much in the way of puzzle-solving.  Combat itself is tough and full of moving snipers into position, sneaking machine gunners, observing patrol routines and planting mines, but, really, each mission is a different maze with tougher opponents – escalating from raiders, to beast lords, to mutants, to robots, etc.   Most mission-style games are like this, and FOT doesn’t innovate in this area. 

here FOT does stand out is in sound.  From the buzz of a mini-gun, the pop of a .45, or the staccato chunks of an AK-47, FOT is full of great effects.  The wind blows over blasted dunes and almost every character is accompanied with excellent voice acting.   (The actor who plays Red Foreman, the dad on That 70’s Show, speaks as one the Brotherhood generals.)  The graphics have changed in a few important ways from the Fallout 1 and 2, and while FOT ought to stand on it’s own, I can’t help but compare the artwork of its progenitors.  Here, FOT disappoints in that some of the bulky 50’s look of various characters and pieces of armor have been replaced with sleeker versions.  Super mutants look like puffed-up bodybuilders instead of shambling menaces and deathclaws have becomes odd, devilish things.  I respect the impulse on the part of the designers to remake FOT, but some of the distinctiveness of the Fallout universe have been lost, as well as a great deal of the humor, resulting in a more generic Roadwarriorishness. 

Finally, the most troubling aspects of FOT are the bugs.  Seemingly, all Fallout games are released and must be followed with a patch to make them fully playable.   For many gamers, their copy of FOT had a corrupted third disk, which wasn’t the fault of the developers but presaged the technical problems of the game itself.  FOT has some real crushers, and if you don’t pay attention to the Fallout message boards, you might end up having to restart the game several times at several different points.  As of this writing, a patch is expected soon.  Soon is a word everyone who buys a just-gone-gold version of any games gets to know pretty well.  I contacted Microforte about the testing process, how debilitating bugs get by, but, as of yet, have not heard back. 

FOT is a good game and a fine addition to the Fallout mythology.  As a successor to XCOM or a competitor with games like Jagged Alliance, I think it works well.  Once the bugs are repaired, it’ll work even better.  However, the lack of innovation in the genre, a hallmark of Fallout 1 and 2, some disappointing design decisions, and playability issues preclude a perfect review.  It’s worth the time of anybody into squad-based tactics or fans of Fallout in general.  Just wait for it to be fixed before purchase. 

Matt Blackburn


Ups: Engaging gameplay and great sound

Downs: Bugs; not quite as innovative as the Fallout RPGs

System Reqs: PII 300, 64 MB RAM, 700 MB of Hard Drive, 4 MB Video Card


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