By Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez
The breathtaking achievement of Fallout 2
ne of the most quietly effecting details of Fallout 2ís introductory movie is its use of a Louis Armstrong recording of "A Kiss to Build a Dream On." This ghostly music, so strangely reminiscent of empty houses at twilight and wind touched streets haunted by distant wind chimes, is an eerie comment on the universe we are about to enter. The title of the game is the first clue as to its post-apocalyptic nature, a ruined world of echoing memories. Armstrong's heroic trumpet and dark voice play over a speaker system, drifting through the rooms and hallways of an underground complex in which the survivors of atomic horror have waited for years. It sounds almost like a prayer, a song of hope encouraging those left to build on their own imagination. Yet one could hear in that music a mourning cry for an entire civilization which is lost in a dreamless sleep, a gentle mocking laugh from the long dead to the wounded present.
The music continues as a film begins playing in a darkened meeting room. The echoing sound of the song as it moves in the silent corridors is replaced by a more intimate feeling as it continues playing, only now as the soundtrack to the film. Whoever made this film intended for it to be a kind of instruction manual, a quick reference guide and prep talk based on the educational films of the 1940's. Grand slogans and rules march across the screen in elegant and titanic fonts, as if it were a commercial or a filmstrip on how to be a better salesman. Silly little cartoon figures demonstrate the proper procedures, smiling while standing in line and trying on safety goggles. What's so funny about the piece is that it captures the feeling of these old films right down to their jokey moments. One little guy doesn't wear his goggles when returning to the surface of his dead planet, and boy oh boy does he ever get his eyes burned out. Presumably the makers of this film strip knew the horror awaiting the survivors and tried to gloss that over with promises and odd little gags...it's okay Johnny, death isn't forever.
The film ends, and a complex series of mechanisms are set into motion, triggering the opening of the mighty vaults...but a danger is waiting just outside. Creatures that might be men in hightech battle armor prepare to greet the survivors. It's a very creepy moment, the massive doors opening to reveal the backlit figures of the nuclear family, waving and optimistic only seconds before being slaughtered by the remnants of the world they had left behind...the tortured present murdering its own past.
The second half of Fallout 2ís intro film, while retaining the black and white newsreel effect of grainy film, follows a more narrative path. We learn of the events which led to the destruction of the earth and which paved the way for the narrative adventure of the first game. A gravely voiced narrator a la' the Mad Max trilogy tells his sad tale, recounting the horrors which befell the world and establishing the new epic of this damaged universe, it's Iliad. A hero known as the Vault Dweller saved the struggling survivors but only at great cost to himself. He disappeared a shattered man. This is the landscape of Fallout 2, generations removed from the resurrection of the world and yet still caught in the darkness of the great process of rebuilding. The second half is retold through haunting still images, both photographs and drawings that portray a darkly quiet majesty.
The opening film of Fallout 2 is quite beautiful. While the second half may suffer just a bit from the "post-apocalypse eighties film" feel, the first section is brilliant. It's a rather brave attempt at something that subtly moves against the grain. The designers at Black Isle Studios should be proud of their achievement, a work of remarkable grace.
- Josh "Dr.Rouge" Vasquez is a regular contributor to loonygames.
Credits: Pixel Obscura logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pixel Obscura is © 1999 Josh Vasquez. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited...we know where you live.