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volume 1, issue 26

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Off the Shelf:

By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman


If you’ve never seen the game at all, the whole thing is done from an isometric perspective, where walls will disappear if you walk behind them (a smart move on the developers’ part, as this happens all over the game). I’m not a fan of isometric engines, and it was definitely a challenge for me to get by Fallout’s reliance on it. What do I have against games that use this perspective? Well, to be honest…the little people hurt my eyes. I’m serious! Little people means little text when they talk (in Fallout, people either talk in a separate screen that lets you choose responses, or in text that appears over their heads) and after a while, my eyes start to really hurt from squinting at the screen. I used to blame this on my crappy 15-inch monitor, but since I’m using a nice beefy 19-incher now, that explanation has gone the way of the dodo. I guess my eyes just don’t dig little people (although, I never had this problem with Warcraft or Total Annihilation…just Fallout, Diablo, and other isometric RPG games).

This prevents me from playing the Fallout games for too long in one sitting, although believe me…it’s tough to pull myself away. If my eyes weren’t totally burning, I’m sure I would have been able to go much longer. Expect to put in about 40 hours (at least!) for each Fallout game. While the original title has quite a few side-quests for your gaming enjoyment, the sequel goes completely over the top, and offers more side quests than you’re likely ever to want to take on all at once. This was an odd experience for me, since in most RPGs, any time someone asks you to do something, you pretty much drop everything to do it, since there really aren’t many optional things to do. In the Fallout games, you’ll need to prioritize your quests. Is it really worth helping some punks kill some other punks for some extra cash, or should you get on with your main quest? Fun decisions like this can have a major effect on how much you enjoy Fallout.

It’s also a relief to be playing a character who isn’t a goodie two shoes. I love the Ultima series to death and all, but jeez…sometimes you just get sick and tired of being so damn virtuous all the time (well…at least I did…but hey…I rooted for the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, so what do I know). In Fallout, you can be nice and snotty, if you want, and tell some of those annoying NPCs where they can stick their damn bottlecaps (the currency in this post-apocalyptic land is good old-fashioned bottlecaps.).

Your character’s creation is very significant in Fallout, like it is in any computer RPG, and while it’s not as complex a system as the one used in Baldur’s Gate, it is a nicely complex system that deserves a close study. When creating a character, you define the usual stuff like strength, endurance, and agility, but you also can choose two character traits which make for some fun changes in gameplay. You can choose useful traits like, "heavy handed" which makes you do more damage in melee combat, or…less useful ones like, "bloody mess" which means you’ll always die in the goriest way possible (if you’re not sure of which traits to choose, I’d suggest this…it can be quite amusing). Other skills include, "sex appeal" (only present in Fallout 2) which makes you more attractive to the opposite sex (although members of your own sex will get jealous) and, "finesse" which increases your chances of doing a critical hit at the expense of the total amount of damage you do.

Like any major RPG, the Fallouts are not without their flaws, and many of them (in my opinion, of course) stem from the fighting system. Fallout is a turn based fighting game (I can already hear some readers groaning) but it is a much more pure turn based system than other games I’ve played. Enemies will not simply attack you, but instead they’ll take their time and plot out their method of attack. As combat happens exactly where you’re standing, your character’s position on screen is extremely important. An enemy might keep moving, making it very frustrating to get a critical hit in. You can determine how likely you are to hit your target by moving your cursor over him, and a little number shows up displaying the likelihood of a successful attack. Where all of this gets a bit clumsy is in its system for determining turns. Each character has a number of "action points." When you’ve used up all your points, you have to end your turn. Points range from one point per hexagonal mark, to six points for a targeted attack. What can be annoying is when your current weapon uses up a large chunk of your action points, but doesn’t leave you enough to reload. The next turn you’ll reload (which will take away two action points if you’ve got the ammo handy…if you need to change weapons, it’ll be 4 just to open your inventory) which may or may not leave you with enough points to do anything else in that particular round. Also irritating, is that sometimes you’ll hit a button by accident, and cost yourself a turn. As I mentioned, opening your inventory screen will suck away 4 action points, and if you don’t get what you need, you’ll have to wait until the next turn before you can do that. Fortunately all of this becomes a moot point as the game progresses…but it can be a major hurdle to pass over at first. And considering that the first game in particular makes it very hard at first to gain experience points…this can be a big issue indeed for new players. The second game doesn’t have the same problem (at least not to the same extent) but I still grew tired of worrying about how many "points" I had during a particularly intense encounter.

Regardless of their flaws, both games are highly recommended for anyone interested in PC role playing games, especially if you’re tired of fantasy-themed games and looking for a nice change of pace. With Fallout and its sequel, you’ll get a great sci-fi story with a twisted sense of humor, and a target age that’s not afraid to aim high. So the question arises…is it worth picking up the first Fallout, or should you go straight into the sequel? I’d suggest starting with the first one. It might have its problems, but it is definitely a solid game, and considering that it’s selling below $30 in most places these days, it’s a great bargain as well. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a place that’s selling both games in a "buy one get one" offer. That’s a lot of game for your buck…over 100 hours of gameplay, and even if you don’t find that, they’re both worth picking up individually.


- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He's scared of zombies. Yeah, zombies. That a problem?


Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. This edition of Top Shelf is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is a majorly hostile gesture.