Those of you who read most of my posts here are probably well-aware of my love/possibly unhealthy obsession with the Fallout series. How did this rich, retro-futuristic hellscape become my preferred locale to relax in? Let’s go back to the beginning to find out.
The world of Fallout is rife with the optimism for the future found in 1950/60’s sci-fi movies, but it comes to the audience extra-crispy due to a nuclear holocaust that wiped the slate clean. In the Fallout universe, the promise of atomic power was never besmirched by accidents and meltdowns, and vacuum tubes were never replaced by microprocessors. These artistic choices afforded the games a chance to not only tell a story of rebuilding civilization, but gave the designers several influences to work off of when creating their world. The tech and aesthetic of Fallout is uniquely its own. The Art Deco construction designs are imposing and remind the player of the former grandeur of this version of America.
The broken down robots and laser weaponry are testaments to humanity’s hubris in thinking that techonology alone would be its savior. Each touch the designers added provided another layer to the rich universe they created and another reason for players to dive back in and explore.
Fallout took the aforementioned optimism for technological progress and American superiority and exaggerated it to the level of propaganda, parodying the Red Scare and sense of exceptionalism that permeated the mid-twentieth century. A great example of this is the intro movie for the game, where a scene that recreates the live execution of a Vietcong prisoner, but in the context of a Canadian dissident being killed without a second thought.
Once the deed is done and the body stops twitching, the soldiers look inquisitively into the camera which has documented all of the carnage, and then one gives a friendly wave to the audience, not acknowledging that something morally heinous has been committed by their very own hands just a few seconds ago. As the camera dollies out, we see a scorched and bombed out skyline. It begs the question: If that was a recording of the past when things were less horrible, what nightmares are there now for us to find? It sets the stage for you explore the relics and ruins of the past so you can decide the fate of the world. Will it be just another murderous existence from before the Great War, or will you forge a new path of cooperation and peace?
You’re not limited to just these two choices, though. Outside of designing your character to be a small guns specialist, a stealthy assassin, melee master, laser weapon beast, etc., you can use your intelligence (or lack thereof) to get you out of combat or even talk your way into a seemingly impossible option. When you finally meet The Master, the being controlling the Super Mutants who’ve been tearing up the Wasteland, you can go in guns blazing or you can have a pleasant chat with it.
I had never encountered a game that allowed a player the opportunity to make the main villain stop itself. To be fair, I didn’t play tabletop RPGs until I became an adult, so options like this were unheard of to me. You could settle a scenario your way, not just the way the game wanted you to do, and I’m forever grateful for getting the chance play something that gave its audience that kind of latitude in gameplay. It may be an unforgiving, barren hellhole, but Fallout showed that you can shape it as you please (so as long as you have the necessary prerequisites). It is a unique world that was once filled with the promise of a better tomorrow, but is now living in that promise’s ashes. Hopefully, we won’t suffer a similar fate.