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Still haven't fallen out

Think back to 1950's America. A booming economy, beautifully streamlined cars and trains, sanitized Norman Rockwell portrayals of the ideal family and a conformist society where feminists, non white people, homosexuals and immigrants did not exist. Now think of the typical 50s' vision of the future - Robby the Robot, vacuum tube based technology, cheesy special effects, streamlined rockets with fins and gender/racial portrayals exactly the same, but set about a century in the future. Mix in a bit of the political atmosphere of the time - a healthy dose of McCarthyist paranoia, aggressive Cold War posturing and an exaggeration of the Red Threat. Include the 'duck and cover' instructions of various civil defense and 'what to do in case of nuclear attack' literature.

Finally, throw in nuclear Armageddon and comic book physics. Welcome to the world of Fallout. The cult RPG that started in 1997, and spawned a handful of sequels. The first game begins in 2141, 64 years after nuclear war wipes out the future world depicted above. Some people survived the apocalypse in massive underground vaults, and in the first game you as the protagonist are a descendant of one of these groups and have lived all your life in such a vault.

Now you have to venture out into the wasteland to fix a problem with the vault's water supply. You emerge into a strange new world, a desert like wasteland. Nuclear radiation follows comic book conventions, so you face off against hilariously large mutated versions of scorpions, geckos and other critters. Human beings exposed to the radiation don't die of cancer - they turn into ghouls, who continue living for centuries and are the only ones left who still remember prewar society. The second game, launched in 1998, has you playing as the descendant of the previous game's protagonist. This time, there are various groups and factions in the post war wasteland - slavers, ex military types who covet prewar technology, and your actions affect your standing with each one.
Both these games feature classing role playing elements - you can customize your character's initial attributes and skills. So you can build up as an aggressive gun slinging type, or a silent stealthy type with a high pickpocketing skill, or one with high charisma, intelligence and speech, who can resolve situations without resorting to violence. The gender of your character also influences gameplay and dialogue choices in interacting with people encountered in the world, and you can recruit some of them to follow you and assist you during combat.

The first 2 games had hand painted backgrounds and lovingly paid homage to 50's appearances and conventions. You carry a huge bulky PDA known as a Pip Boy- it has a big cathode ray display and chunky knobs and dials. Computers are bulky and use a commandline interface. Laser and plasma weapons seem inspired by Flash Gordon comics. The jumpsuits worn look straight out of 'Lost in Space'. People use bottlecaps as currency, and there are bottles of Nuka Cola lying around from before the war in abandoned buildings that you can still drink. Everything in this alternate timeline appears to run on portable nuclear power, so you often find computer terminals, robots and other prewar equipment still functioning after a century. And all this set to a haunting ambient music score by Mark Morgan, and an introduction(in every major game of the series) narrated by Ron Perlman!

But I've saved the best for last. Below the fold is the introduction to Fallout 3, launched a decade later in 2008.


This has a full blown first person shooter engine, while still supporting the turn based combat of traditional RPGs. Set around the ravaged outskirts of Washington DC in the year 2277 - 200 years after the nuclear apocalypse. The game has jaw dropping detail of a war torn DC, with ruins of famous landmarks like the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial(which has ironically become a camp for a band of slavers) and the entire underground metro network. Outside the city proper, you see a bleak wasteland of ruined houses and streets littered with the rusting husks of nuclear powered cars that explode with a small mushroom cloud if shot. The area is dangerous, filled with mutated critters ranging from radscorpions to the fearsome deathclaws, feral ghouls and bands of armed raiders.
In addition, there is a radio station in the wasteland that plays old music from the 50's, and the DJ comments on major events triggered by the player. (Why 1950's music was still popular in 2077 when the bombs went off, don't ask me). But it's not any of these that hold me captivated. It all boils down to epic storytelling. 2 skeletons lying holding hands in bed, amid the ruins of their house. An abandoned computer terminal showing the desperate attempts of a relief worker during the early days after the nuclear war.
And awesome backstories involving the enemy during the war - China, not Soviet Russia (which continued to exist in the game's alternate timeline). In the ruins of Washington, one comes across a food processing plant that had been infiltrated by Chinese spies before the war, and they continue to haunt the premises after being ghoulified by radiation. Computer terminals show emails coordinating a massive spy operation. In one of the game's addons, you get to replay the battle of Alaska, fought between American and Chinese troops in 2077. In another one, you retrace the path of a Chinese agent sent to destroy a sunken Chinese mini submarine off the coast.

The next game in the series, Fallout:New Vegas, takes the storytelling up several further notches. This game is set in the Mojave desert and parts of Las Vegas, which survived the bombing, and is not a direct sequel. You play as a courier who got shot in the head, miraculously nursed back to health and is now looking for his would be assassins against the backdrop of an upcoming battle to take control of Hoover Dam, where again one has to choose between different factions. Here, there's a whole side adventure on the genetic experiments done by mad scientists before the war - that resulted in mutated insects and other creatures roaming the wastes. The most haunting of all was Dead Money, where you travel to a hidden casino that was apparently built as a fortress and a monument for one woman who the owner loved. You see the whole sad story play out through recordings, emails and finally, a hologram of the woman herself, walking through empty rooms like a ghost and calling out with mounting panic to be rescued.
The best of the lot was Lonesome Road, which explores your character's back story, and leads to a confrontation with another courier you knew before. Again, your conversation choices determine how the story plays out and accordingly affects your karma with other in game factions.

Games of this sort are extremely difficult to make. And yet you can see how much work has gone into making them, how much research into 50's style architecture and design, music and fashions. Not to mention the fabulous voice cast - starring Liam Neeson, Malcolm McDowell, Danny Trejo, Felicia Day and of course, Ron Perlman!

Of the most memorable in game experiences, nothing beats walking across a realistically rendered Mojave desert at night, listening to Peggy Lee singing Johnny Guitar on the in game radio.

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( 1 comment ^^ — I can has comment? )
sashdude
Mar. 15th, 2013 04:48 am (UTC)
have you
played the new Crysis - 3 or Tombraider. both are pretty awesome. i finished about a quart of Tombraider, Crysis 3 struggles on my GPU, your 560ti should do better.
( 1 comment ^^ — I can has comment? )