Sixteen years ago, in a pair of unrelated events, I joined the U.S. Navy while Interplay Entertainment launched the original Fallout. Instead of exploring the wasteland and collecting bottle caps, I sat on the beach in Guam and sipped Zombie cocktails. Military life was rough. So, in the successive years between then and now, it's come to my attention that I’ve missed an important game or two; something I plan to remedy in our new Saved Game series.
Fallout takes place in the year 2161, but looks like it froze in time just after World War II. The music and architecture all point toward the United States built by America’s Greatest Generation. While rooted in tabletop role-playing games, Fallout hops back and forth between real-time exploration and turn-based combat. It’s universally considered one of the best computer RPGs of all time.
But until now, I've never played it. John Yan, owner of Gaming Nexus, claims he doesn't even know me anymore.
So let’s watch as I blindly stumble through Fallout, ignoring instruction manuals, YouTube Let’s Plays, and billions of online walkthroughs. This may not end well.
* * * * *
For exactly seven seconds I stare at the character creation screen before I think, Ehhhh never mind. When I was a year out of high school – when Fallout first launched – I had the patience and mental fortitude to drill down into character sheets and carve characters from carefully min/maxed standards. It was nothing to spend hours shaving off inconsequential points here and buffing critical gains there. But it’s 2014. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m already 16 years late to the party on this one. Time’s a-wastin’.
I grab a premade bruiser named Max Stone. I want to punch my way through the wasteland. I want to eat a pound of Karma between two slices of knuckle sandwich, and Max Stone looks just dumb enough to actually survive this wild goose chase of a suicide mission.
The Vault Overseer of Vault 13 finds me suitable for a life-saving mission. The Water Chip in our computers is broke, he says. Go get a replacement Water Chip, he says. So here I am, not 10 steps outside of Vault 13 before I’m swinging at cave rats because our water recycling program is going to dry up and fail in 150 days.
First thing I see, after the Vault 13 door rolls shut behind me, is a pile of bones laying facedown in the black cave. Bones is wearing a backpack stuffed with a knife, a gun and ammunition. I take all of it. Pretty sure Bones won’t need it.
It’s easy to lose enemies behind cavern walls from this isometric viewpoint. Even when these cave rats aren’t going all aggro on me, they still blend in nicely to the bland cavern’s rock piles and stalactites. Or is it stalagmites? My fifth grade science teacher once said, “You know they’re stalactites because you pull your tights up.” But that doesn’t help me now because I can’t remember if that means stalactites are up on the cavern’s roof, or if stalactites point up from the cavern floor. Thanks a mil, public education.
These rats have nothing on them. Not even any kind of rat meat on their bones. I readjust the brass knuckles on my right hand, however, and chalk up the experience points. At least I got to punch a rat in the groin. And punch another rat in the eyes. I also punch a rat in his left paw, then his right paw. Here is where I misfire trying to recount the "I'm looking for the feller that shot my pa" joke.
I make my way toward the cavern entrance. I can still hear the PA from inside Vault 13 bouncing a muffled echo down the dark, rat-infested cave. Well, it's merely a rat-strewn cave after I turned them all into tiny little punching bags. I swear I can hear whispers, too, though that may be the soundtrack playing backwards sometimes.
The game jumps to an overhead map. I wasn’t expecting that. In Fallout 3, you deal with each and every step of the way as you hoof it across the wasteland. Here, in the original Fallout, I'm suddenly at the 10,000-foot view, so I click Vault 15 in the sidebar, where I’m supposed to pick up the spare Water Chip. I'm apparently hightailing it with no layovers across the desert toward my destination. Sweet, I say to myself. Only 10 minutes in and I’m about to beat the game already. Pshhhh, Fallout is easy!
Hm. I skipped right through some other settlement on my way to Vault 15. That might've been an accident. Once my GPS tracker had shown I was running across the wasteland I had no idea how to stop myself. Oh well. I’m at Vault 15 now. A radscorpion three times my size paces between me and the door, then it clatters up to me. I try to punch it in the brain and miss twice. The radscorpion drops me on my backside. I finally pummel its carapace to death and cut off its tail as a trophy, I guess, because I have no idea what else to do with a radscorpian tail.
The shack-covered entrance to Vault 15 has a long ladder leading down into it. I’d say the shack looks rustic, but it’s more just rusted. (Tiiiiiin roof, rusted, in fact.) (That will likely be the only B-52's reference I make.) Also, I’m still getting used to hexagonal movement across very rectangular screens.
Never mind. Don’t roll credits yet. I'm in, but Vault 15 ain’t looking so hot. As soon as I step into the long-since abandoned vault, a cave rat the size of a grizzly bear runs at me. Actually, it turns out to be a "lesser mole rat." I’m not good at math, but "lesser" indicates to me that there must be "greater" mole rats running around Fallout, too. I kick and punch and kick until its lesser-than mole rat body keels over. Hunched over dead, it now looks more like a small person inside a Rats of Unusual Size costume. (It's quite possible I'll be making more Princess Bride references in the future.)
My progress into Vault 15 stops at a broken elevator shaft that I can’t descend without a rope. The place is rife with broken computers, broken monitors, broken chairs, and beds in bad shape. I scrounge medical supplies from a locker – the one useful thing I find here – then prepare to head back west to the town I mistakenly breezed through. Hope someone’s got rope. Or a working elevator. Either will do.
[Stay tuned as I continue on my blind run through the original Fallout, trying to regain some gaming credibility despite the fact that I'll probably suck at this a little bit.]