What's a little fallout, eh? Have a nice day!
When you mention Interplay's Fallout series in a crowded room of geeks, people seem have one of two thoughts. Some remember the game's similarity to the Mad Max world. You've got punks running amok, hardened individuals roaming the land, and a big post-apocalyptic mess everywhere. Others fondly remember their adventures in the first two Fallout games. Awesome character building, non-linearity and a great atmosphere made for some of the best RPGing on the PC.
Yet when a copy of Fallout Tactics arrived in my radioactive mailbox, I could only think of one thing: violence. Lots of it. The off-the-wall brutality of the series conjured disgusting images of mayhem, sort of like this shot of mushy peas. A bloody mess, indeed.
Fallout Tactics shifts the series from the original RPG roots in favor of strategic, tactical squad-based combat. Gone are the days of the lone gunman and gone are the nights of roaming the wasteland. Now, it's all about annihilating extremely large groups of bad guys and taking all of their stuff.
Those familiar with the Fallout series will have no trouble jumping right into Tactics. As always, you'll create a character with a ton of possible trait combinations and set off into the wastes. This time, though, there's a mission to undertake.
You see, instead of being a vault dweller or plain old "survivor," you've become an initiate into the roughest fraternity ever to grace the post-nuclear Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. This time, you are a member of the Brotherhood of Steel. Just don't forget the secret handshake - I hear the hazing is pretty bad.
New to the Fallout style of gameplay is the developers call "Continuous Turn-Based" mode, which for the most part should just be called "Real-Time" mode. You don't really take turns, though you have to repeatedly tell your units what to do (they won't just target and shoot at a guy until he's dead - you have to keep ordering it). I mean, if everyone is taking turns at the same time over and over again, isn't that 'real-time'? The traditional Fallout turn-based battles are still an option, but both methods of play have their ups and downs.
The classic turn-based style of play leads to a game that crawls along slow as can be. Many of the missions take place on large maps and a single excursion can last hours on end. In CTB mode, you'll be able to fly through the map at a much quicker pace. The downside is that controlling six characters at once is a tall order.
Imagine trying to click out unique orders to six different soldiers. You stand here and shoot the guy in the funny hat. You go there and shoot the other guy in the funnier hat. You stand still and look angry. And so on and so forth. It really isn't so bad when you're only facing a small handful of grunts, but anything more spells disaster.
Thank goodness for idiot enemies, though, because if the bad guys were smarter than a box of rocks, this game would be damn near impossible to handle in CTB mode. Enemies often display random acts of stupidity, like standing idly by as their buddies get shot. Occasionally, some will show a glimmer of intelligence and duck behind a crate, but it looks like all of that radiation has done a number on the ol' brain cells.
The terrible AI also impacts your own units due to generally bad pathfinding. After getting caught behind countless objects and running off to the wrong place, players will definitely have to hold everyone's hand to ensure the safety of the class.
At least the wonderful depth of the series is still intact. Even though Tactics is primarily a strategy game, the RPG core of Fallout is very much alive. Each character you control gains character points and can be tweaked to your own satisfaction. With this in mind, you can groom certain characters to specialize in specific methods of destruction. Snipers, heavy weapons experts and even skilled drivers for the vehicles can be acquired. After all, it's all fun and games 'til someone gets run over by a tank.
Thankfully, the humor that many Fallout fans have grown to love is also still here. The game is peppered with plenty of one-liners to keep a smug smile on gamer faces everywhere.
One familiar Fallout aspect that isn't as welcomed is the graphics. While the original looked fine for its time, the same graphics that were found in the second installment felt dated. That was two years ago. Tactics looks basically the same as its predecessors, feeling old and worn in the process.
But the audio side of things scores some points with great voice. From the gruff commander to frightened captives, you'll find that good voice actors really DO exist in video games.
And let's not forget the multiplayer. Take a team online and face off against the world on the net. Two types of game (Skirmish & Assault) will provide more of a challenge should you decide to venture out into the vast wasteland of the information superhighway.
One special thing I need to mention is the inventory bug that may cause items to go missing. A patch has been released, but clocking in at over 70 MB makes me wonder what else is going on. Ouch, that's a big bug to squash.
Yet even with its faults, Tactics still succeeds in bringing a mind-bending strategy game to the table. Missions can often be executed several different ways. It's up to you to decide what's the best for your team. Just make sure to check the intelligence before you begin, otherwise really bad things can happen.
After the bombs have dropped and the dust clears, Tactics remains a tough call. Remember - this is NOT the third installment of Fallout, but a spin-off that takes place between the first two episodes. Anyone expecting otherwise is in for a supreme disappointment. Many strategy fans will appreciate the depth and Fallout groupies will love the continuity, but some things like control in CTB mode or the pace in the classic style may drop bombs in the wrong places. The wise man tries the demo.