Replay 1998: FALLOUT 2
Question, and humor me on this one: you ever play a game that really makes you feel something? I’m talking about the severe, nearly chemical addiction that takes over your soul when you pick up that controller, boot up your system, and get lost in a world more decadent and satisfying than anything else found in your waking life. Bills? Alcoholism? The crushing loneliness of adulthood? Barely an afterthought when you’re in the hot seat, collaborating with people who don’t exist to save a world that isn’t actually real. It’s been a long while since the last time I fell in passionate, tumultuous love like that, much to the relief of my parents and my shrink. We’re not here to talk about them right now, though. We’re here to talk about something much more important: FALLOUT 2.
Fallout. Light of my life, fire of my loins; there is no word in the human language so sweet to me as this one. My first foray into the series was, like many other millennials born too late to enjoy the golden age of isometric PC gaming, FALLOUT 3, which is, without question, the greatest game ever put on this Earth by mortal man. Bethesda took what was already a visionary concept trapped within an outdated, frill-less shell and make it accessible to simpletons with the attention span of a gnat, myself very much included.
A beloved snapshot of yours truly, relaxing in scenic, post-apocalyptic Southern California. The memories will last a lifetime
Don’t get me wrong; this is not me ripping on either of FALLOUT 3’s predecessors. The stories of both are engaging and poignant, and the writing and character development are beyond stellar—it’s just a bit hard for those of us spoiled by the advent of modern graphics and game design to appreciate some of the more . . . traditional aspects of the UI and mechanics. The guys who came up with the first two games were, without a doubt, actual geniuses, and I stand by that. You can read more about their ambitions when creating the first one here.
For those not in the loop, The Fallout series takes place in an alternate timeline where the transistor was never invented and nuclear physics industrialized the world in its stead, leading humanity to world war and eventually atomic ruin. A few privileged humans were invited to take refuge in one of many fallout shelters, known as Vaults. The majority of your time in this world is spent exploring the uninhabitable wasteland, smashing baddies, and cutting sweet deals with travelling merchants above ground while racing against the clock in desperate search of Vault 13 to find the GECK and save your people from starvation. What the heck is a GECK? The acronym stands for “Garden of Eden Creation Kit”; basically, it’s a magic suitcase that terraforms barren, dead dirt into fields fertile enough to sustain life once more—all a would-be savior has to do is add water.
How? Hell if I know. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a face like this down
As a 20-year-old RPG developed for the PC, FALLOUT 2 has a love for cluttered UI and countless menus that will make even the hardiest of today’s gamers tremble in fear at first. Once you get your sea legs, though, you’ll find an incredibly tangible element of playability that even somebody as completely clueless as me can appreciate; despite my utter lack of natural talent when it came to actually getting anything useful accomplished in the game, there was something so inherently charismatic and appealing about every part of this world—that factor alone compelled me to trudge onward despite incredible difficulty and near-constant failure.
So it’s fun, but why does FALLOUT 2 matter? Admittedly, the game can be easily described as “more FALLOUT”—the original didn’t need fixing, and even at release most critics realized one of the most revolutionary things the original FALLOUT brought to the table way back when was their proprietary character-creation system; SPECIAL gameplay allotted each player a finite number of points to divvy out across several characteristics: Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and, most enigmatically, Luck. I never put any of my fucking points into Luck. It always struck me as a fool’s bet.
More than just a clever way of divvying up experience points, SPECIAL gave the player unprecedented leeway in how they wanted to define their avatar. FALLOUT 2 expanded on this with reputations, which could change from community to community. Actions that are frowned upon by wholesome dirt farmers (murder, enslaving innocents) is rewarded in the mob, for example. More than the simple good/bad dynamics peddled by so many RPGs, your character can make a name for themselves across the Wasteland depending on their specific exploits, and the peons they encounter will react dynamically to them (although everyone will hate you if you earn the “Childkiller” title). As a die-hard fan of THE SIMS since day one, any game that offers me the ability to develop and flourish within its digital world will generally be a real winner in my eyes. FALLOUT 2 allows me to live vicariously through an idealized version of myself and briefly escape the cold ennui of modern living, and that is what elevates it in my book.
Here are the ladies. Their hides will sustain us long into the bitter winter
Of course, you can’t talk about a Fallout game without also mentioning the ultraviolence that comes with it. I love the gore, unashamedly; perhaps it’s because of the elaborate, pre-rendered animations, but FALLOUT 2 feels even more comically graphic than its modern cousins. There really isn’t anything quite like the feeling of spraying down the walls of each temple and dungeon with the guts of my enemies. I don’t know if it’s the ridiculous way that many of these deaths pan out, but experimenting with all of FALLOUT 2’s many killing machines gives me that same sensation of catharsis as I get looting abandoned shantytowns for fabulous treasure, or discovering all of the genuinely funny little bits of dialogue that can only be read by taking the time to converse deeply with the local strange.
As somebody tragically out of touch with the world of video games ever since taking on the unfortunate task of getting off of my ass and becoming an adult with responsibilities, delving back into it for the sake of this thinkpiece was a breath of fresh air, bringing me back to my roots and reminding me why I used to love playing them in the first place. I found myself clocking out from my very normal nine-to-five, getting home, yanking off my workin’ boots for the evening, and losing myself sincerely in this selection’s abundant and expansive universe. Sure, I ate shit and died pretty much every day, but even then, I was having an authentically good time. Not only that; I was thinking about stuff. World politics, the folly of man, the fate of the world should greed and power get the best of those responsible for the well-being of humanity globally. I was so busy decapitating two-headed cattle twice and loving every second of it that I wasn’t even worried about getting smashed on two-dollar wine and ruining my diet for the night, as per usual.
FALLOUT 2 is an absolute delight; despite its limitations, the plot excites me in the same way a great novel would. It’s a very different sort of enjoyment than the visceral, carnal gratification to be derived from its modern-day reincarnation, granted; to compare the two would akin to asking a 13-year-old boy whether he would prefer to read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE quietly at the library or watch FAST FIVE for the hundredth time. But to say that the message this game offers has not withstood the test of time would be a disservice to its creators and an injustice to the intellectual gamer of the present, and for that reason, FALLOUT 2, I salute you.