Fallout: A Post Nuclear Role Playing Game
http://www.interplay.com/games/product.asp?gameid=315 [dual edition]
reviewed by RC666
With influences ranging from Mad Max and 1950s B-movies to the Chrysalids to the old video-game "Wasteland," the Fallout series takes place in the 22nd century, decades after a nuclear war has all but exterminated humanity.
Inter-imperialist rivalry for oil and uranium leads to massive thermonuclear war in 2077, demonstrating to the player the dangers of militarism. U.S. conservatism is peaking at the time of the apocalypse, with a 1950s "retro" craze emphasizing not only the aspects of 1950s design style and technology but also social conservatism in areas such as the "nuclear family."
In Fallout 1's introduction, we see a news-reel on a B&W TV (in an interesting contradiction, some year-2077 Americans are smartly beginning to buy primitive, low-energy 1950s-style electronics that are also more resistant to ElectroMagneticPulse). The newsreel shows "Our boys keeping the peace in newly annexed Canada." Americans are killing Canadian soldiers in the streets in a scene reminiscent of Vietnam. The camera zooms out to show the the TV is the only object functioning in a nuked, burned out U.S. city, before the TV itself goes on the fritz. The introduction, brilliantly narrated against black and white photographs of war in the 20th century, is as follows:
"WAR, war never changes.
"The Romans waged war to gather slaves and wealth.
Spain built an empire from its lust for gold and territory.
Hitler shaped a battered Germany into an economic superpower.
"But war never changes.....
"In the 21st Century war was still waged over the resources that could be acquired. Only this time, the spoils of war were also its weapons: Petroleum and Uranium.
"For these resources China would invade Alaska.
The U.S. would annex Canada.
And the European Commonwealth would dissolve into quarreling, bickering, nation states bent on controling the last remaining resources on Earth.
"In 2077, the storm of World War had come again.
In two brief hours most of the planet was reduced to cinders.
And from the ashes of nuclear devistation a new civilization would struggle to arise.
"A few were able to reach the relative safety of the large underground vaults.
Your family was part of that group that entered Vault 13.
Imprisoned safely behind a large vault door, under a mountain of stone, a generation has lived without knowledge of the outside world.
"Life in the vault is about to change........."
In the introduction, the game's authors recognize both the Marxist concept of the economic nature of warfare throughout history and the Maoist idea of where militarism and capitalism are leading humanity.
In Fallout 1, the player must leave Vault 13 and find a replacement for the broken water purification chip before the supply runs out. Naturally, this entails an adventure in post-Apocalypic U.S. Southwest [mainly the former California.] The player has considerable leeway in what happens during this adventure.
The advanced character creation and development options offers the player a wide range of playing styles, suited towards the unique character one can create.
Problem solving in Fallout is very open-ended. There are many ways to solve a problem. Violence, trade, rhetoric, services, and sneaky means are all avaliable methods to the player and each method of solving a problem can lead to different results. This differentiates Fallout from Role-Playing Games such as Myst. Instead of the many divergent paths and plot options for the player that lead to different results and levels of success for the Fallout player, there is only one correct path that the player must follow in games such as Myst.
Most interestingly, though the game is set in extremely violent circumstances with all sorts of Mad-Max-type criminal gangs roving the Wastes, a "pacifist" character can win the game without individually killing many or any hymyns. However, for the best results, with the most successful liberation of slaves and towns, at least some anti-oppressor violence is necessary.
Also excellent is the fact that the player can be either a male or female character aged 16 to middle-aged. Playing as either sex can dramatically affect the outcome of the game. In some ways, the female character is better. However, gender discrimination still heavily exists as the Player Character will discover. Prostitution and sex-slavery, for example, are rampant.
In this way, in the opinion of this reviewer, Fallout is more of a Maoist Role Playing Game than "linear" RPGs such as Myst. Just like there are many roads to socialism, where some are better than others and some are false turns, the player in Fallout will discover ways to do much better or play the game from an entirely different perspective the second, third, and further times through the game.
A greater amount of social commentary is found in Fallout II, a larger and more complex game which contains more characters, items, quests, and towns.
"Vault City," for example, is an example of a 'successful' Vault. The doors opened after the preset amount of time after the bomb, and the settlers used their "Garden of Eden Creation Kit" to terraform the desert. However, Vault City government becomes based on ancient Greek slavery, with educated and enlightened "citizens" running the city while slaves work as "servants" inside the city and as agricultural workers outside the city proper. Even in the future, old patterns repeat themselves. Interestingly, the mayor of Vault City is a black wymmyn. She probably doesn't realize the irony of supporting a system of slavery. (Slavery in Fallout is widespread, and people of all races and genders are enslaved by the rich. In particular, however, "Tribals" are the most highly enslaved population as these aboriginal-types are comparitively primitive and easily exploited by the city dwellers.)
In "Broken Hills," mutants, "ghouls," and humans co-exist peacefully. [In Fallout, mutants and ghouls take the place of the black population in the 1880s "Wild West." Signs in human stores or storeowners state "No Mutants Allowed" and ghouls are used by Vault City to maintain a leaky nuclear power plant.] The Sheriff of Broken Hills is a mutant and sometimes has to lock people in jail to prevent inter-species strife.
The New California Republic [based on Shady Sands from FO1] is a prototype police state and the player can judge whether its existence is a good thing compared to the elitist Vault City and loosely-run Broken Hills. Given the post-nuclear survival situation, NCR guarantees survival rights bettar than other areas and the level of repression may be justified. In NCR, police patrol the streets to prevent any violent acts from occuring. The locals are relatively friendly to mutants, tribals, etc... compared to other cities. A Maoist state might be able to form here given some social progression amongst the locals.
Other towns include Redding, a classic mining town, New Reno, a gangster-run post-apocalypic Vegas, your tribal home village, and the small town of Klamath. San Franciso is recovering as well, and is populated mainly by Asians who find Europeans look funny. San Francisco is also home to a religious cult based on Scientology, which heavily exploits its members.
Later in the game, the player can learn that the underground vaults are actually a massive psychological experiment. The company that created the Vaults, Vault-Tec, was working in conjunction with psychologists who now had captive populations on which to test their social experiments. Pessimistically, the game's creators state that Vault City/Vault 8 was a group of normal humans unsubjected to any special tests, and yet the sad situation in VC was the result. Experiments were malicious and included a Vault without any entertainment tapes and another one with only tapes from a single bad comedian. The psychologists postulated that the people in the vault with the tapes from the bad comedian would go insane first. Such sick experiments on captive populations demonstrate the moral bankruptcy of psychology under capitalism.
Amazingly, the player learns in Fallout 2 that elements of the U.$. government are intact. The positions of President, VP, etc... as well as the command structure of the U.S. military are still in limited existence. The generational remnants of the entire U.$. government [with politicans that comically resemble certain individuals from the Reagan and Clinton administrations]are appropriately situated on an offshore oil rig. They are planning to infect the world with a modification of the FEV virus. In Fallout 1 we learn that the FEV virus was a military experiment that turned humans into mutants. Now, in FO2, the U.$. gov modifies it to kill every human on Earth. This is because the U.$. scientists and politicans believe that the humans on the continents are mutated beyond original stock, even if this is barely apparent. Once the "mutant" humans are killed off, the U.$ government plans to resettle the continent with the humans that have been living on the rig unaffected by radiation and changing environmental conditions for decades. This echoes how Europeans slaughtered the native American population to resettle it with their own stock.
On the downside, the game is too individualistic. In theory, your single character can be responsible for great changes without too much observable mass action. At best, you can have a team, or more accurately, "posse" that travels with you. Fortunately, this team can include senior citizens, a tribal, a mutant, a ghoul, a "deathclaw" and other varied and unusual characters, making it rather "multicultural."
Another criticism is that the game's charaters do not require real survival skills. The game assumes your character knows how to hunt and find food, drink safe water, avoid most contaminated areas, etc... The closest thing the PC has to real survival skills in the game is the needlessly gender-specifc "Outdoorsman" skill that allows the PC to find (or avoid!) interesting things in the wasteland. This unseen, implicit basic survival skill set places the game's emphasis on human/species relations and combat rather than the basic needs a regular person would encounter. Granted, your character, the "Chosen One," does demonstrate the highest survival traits of the Player Character's home, meaning that living in the wastes isn't such a huge problem. But the survival of this above-average human distracts from the everyday challenges regular humans must endure in such an environment.
Maoists won't like the extreme (however adjustable) amount of violence that exists in this depressing and decayed post-capitalist world. [Sadly, the violence is even a selling-point of the game: "Victims don't just perish--they get out in half, melt into a pile of goo, and explode into chunks of flesh. Yuck!!" reads the promotional webpage.] But there is a great deal of interest to a Maoist in this game, once she knows where to look:
-War and militarism
-Resources and modes of production
-Religion as a scam
-Bourgeois psychology and human experimentation
-Prison and slavery
-The U.$ government
At low discount prices today, and requiring only low-end system specs by today's standards, this game is certainly worth a look at.