Genre: Third-Person Action
Release Date: January 13, 2004
Well, this is probably going to hurt me more than it hurts the rest of you. My entry into the Fallout universe was a late one indeed, with my purchase of the Fallout and Fallout 2 combo box and Fallout: Tactics about a year or two ago. The first three games weren't really like any other; you could play them both as a turn based game or a conventional action game, and though the idea of a post-nuclear war world isn't new (See Mad Max, and dozens of B-movies and comic books), the Fallout universe added a retro feel that could be both silly and serious at the same time. All three games were of the highest quality, "oh-my-god-its-4am?!" style, and continue to be played and replayed by their legions of fans. If you are thinking that this is starting to sound like a eulogy more than a review, you're probably right, though bear with me. Interplays axing of Black Isle Studios has been all over the news web lately, and is a surprising move when you consider that such a great development company could have easily been sold to boost Interplay's deep-red profits instead. Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel has been delayed a few times and is finally set to hit store shelves in mid-January, though it's honestly is not a Fallout game as Fallout fans have come to expect.
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is a very different game from its predecessors; taking to not only a full 3d game world with a fixed top-down perspective (As opposed to Fallout 1 and 2s isometric perspective) but it also shuns the turn-based mode, turning it into a real-time action only game. It is this view that will probably be the first annoyance to gamers, as not only is the camera fixed in the strictest sense (You can't pan it or tilt it, only rotate it) but you also can't see very far at all, forcing the player to venture into hostile territory constantly unaware and potentially unprepared.
Fallout: BoS does retain some of the characteristic whimsy of the previous titles, though not quite the same degree or amount. Things such as the Pipboy computers are forgone entirely, as are the 1960's stylings. Largely, the world is mostly a serious/realistic one, if of course the entire planet underwent a nuclear war. Things such as radscorpions, mutants, and miniguns return from the original Fallout titles to give BoS a little continuity with its PC brethren, but as a whole BoS just doesn't feel the same. One feel that remains from the previous games though, it's the gritty, almost hopeless world. Everything is grungy and dusty, mutated cows and other assorted animals are twisted versions of their pre-war species, weapons and armor are home-made, and no one is concerned about anything other than their own personal survival.
Combat in BoS is decent but could also use a few more coats of polish. At any given time you can equip 3 weapons from your inventory and switch between which one you are using via the black button. For instance, using a ranged weapon to deal some damage to a distant foe, then switching to a spiked baseball bat to bring home the pain to a closer adversary. The problem comes when you realize that you don't have a very high degree of tactical options to outthink your opponents. Crouching in previous Fallout games would give your character increased aim with ranged weapons but decreased defense against melee attacks, however crouching in BoS' sole use seems to be to duck under low pipes and other objects. Holding the R button will lock onto a nearby foe and while held you can use Y to perform dodge moves, which sounds better than it actually plays. If you dodge so that you go behind cover, say from an enemy with a gun, you will lose your lock on them. The only way to reacquire the lock would then be to walk out from cover, manually orient yourself to face the target, and hold R again. You are also limited to a certain distance for lock ons, though an enemy is on screen he still may be out of your lock on range, which is bound to get aggravating for nearly anyone.
The areas that you can explore in Fallout run more or less the same gamut fans of the series are experienced with. Among other places, players will walk around in post-apocalyptic towns and shanties, wander around in the wastelands where mutated creatures roam, and inside various buildings, warehouses, and installations. The interior areas are full of stuff to look at, and don't have the "four walls and a floor" bland look like some third person games have. When not locked on to an enemy the Y key makes your character jump, which can be used to jump on top of boxes to avoid enemy melee attacks or to avoid hazards such as steam or toxic waste. Also unlike other third person games, you can jump, and yet there is nary a jumping puzzle to be seen.
The graphics in BoS are, granted, probably the best in any Fallout game to date, though they don't really compare to the likes of such similar games as Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes and the stellar LotR: Return of the King. The top down view limits what you can see at any given time to that perspective, so you can never really "look around" to get a better view. Character models look pretty good, even up close when you engage in conversation. The think that is annoying though, is the perfectly good side view that is displayed when you talk to people, and yet you can't use that view in actual gameplay. Particle effects such as steam, blood, and irradiated characters all look fairly convincing. Sound in the game seems to take a backseat, as what music there is isn't particularly memorable. Sound effects such as gunfire sound fairly canned, and lack any form of power behind them. The voiceovers are the best part of the audio ensemble, with characters actually sounding true to character. Cursing is fairly prevalent, though lets face it, if your world got nuked and you lived among the rubble you wouldn't be too joyous or polite either.
To sum it up in so many words, Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel feels like one of those games where the developer wanted to "try something different, while keeping it in the same franchise", aka a potentially good idea marred by gameplay that is both flawed to various degrees and alien to the very fans it is targeted towards. The sad part comes when you realize that Black Isle Studios, the masterminds behind the Fallout universe, have been cruelly removed from their trade and craft and that Fallout: BoS is likely to be the last game in the series, and the first to break its mold of top-notch quality. Gamers, friends, and fans of Fallout, light a candle in your window and pray to whatever deity you may that this isn't the end. Fallout: BoS isn't shaping up to be too bad of a game, and there have certainly been worse, but unless some serious buffing and polishing is completed in short order it isn't likely to please not only Fallout fans, but very many people in general.
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