Well, finally, another Fallout arrives. While Interplay mentioned on several occasions that this isn’t Fallout 3, but is rather a completely separate game, that doesn’t really matter it’s a Fallout title, so that’ll draw quite a bit of attention. It’s also a fairly excellent title but yet, the rating is justified, and it is with a heavy heart that I rate it so. Maybe it’s a sort of bad history that has plagued Fallout ever since the first release, but every game in the series has been buggy. And when I mean buggy, I don’t mean like a glitch here or there occasionally. I mean @$%@$%#!@!$%ING BUGGY!!!!!!!! However, Fallout Tactics has impressed me so far. Why, might you ask? Because I never thought a game could be THIS buggy. I’m certain this has been mentioned in many, many reviews thus far, but I cannot avoid to mention just how buggy this game is. In fact, it renders the game unplayable on several occasions, and you have to have a certain level of dedication to pass those points and move on, scarred, but still willing to play.
But let’s get down to the details. First, the good stuff. This incarnation differs significantly from the two previous games in two important aspects. First of all, this is not an RPG: it’s a squad-level tactical action game. You still have the traditional Fallout stats building, the interface, and the occasional dialogue. You also have the oldschool combats, and so forth. In essence, it’s like Fallout 1 or 2, sans the story (well, there sort of is a story, but it’s fairly simplistic, and is told through mission briefings, rather than through talking to people and putting it together piece by piece). However, I’ll go a little bit into detail there for people who haven’t played Fallout 1/2 (why??? Go buy it now!). Before I do, though, I want to complain about the story and the backdrops a bit. You play as an initiate to the Brotherhood of Steel, and your mission is, in essence, to go around the wasteland spreading the love and affection of the Brotherhood towards all the neighbouring friends and enemies. In essence, you end up playing as the Saviour of the World; but the most annoying thing is that the Brotherhood doesn't seem to give half a care about it. There is a medic on the base and a mechanic. Do they heal you or repair your vehicles? No. They just sell you medikits and toolkits. What's even more annoying is that the medic SAYS he will heal you, but does not! Or how about the ammunition, weapons, and armour? You are the ace squad of the Brotherhood, right? You should be able to get first dibs on Power Armour, and nice weapons? Yeah right, buddy. Good luck scrounging up $26,000 to buy a suit of PA, or about $100,000 to keep up-to-date on weapons and ammo (assuming you don't pick it up from the field, that is -- which is what you end up doing, because coming up with that sort of cash ain't easy out of thin air). Anyway, I am extremely disappointed that the main base never provides you with ANYTHING other than mission briefings and locker storage space to store your looted junk in. Moving on, now.
Since combat is the most important aspect of the game, I’ll look at it first. There are two modes, as I mentioned above. More precisely, two and a half: continuous turn-based (CTB), and true turn-based. True turn-based is split into two modes: squad-level, and individual-level. Basically, the difference is that in STB, your entire squad can make a move at the same time. In ITB, each participant on the battlefield gets a turn, and your people won’t necessarily get to go one after another. Each character has a certain number of action points, which are determined based on several statistics and improvements (called “perks”) of your character, and you can spend them in any way you wish during combat whether to move, fire, reload weapon, change stance, and so forth. Stances are new to Fallout Tactics, and are quite useful at times, if you want to hide from the enemy (but they also result in a very nasty AI dumbness bug, which I discuss below). The second utility of stances is to avoid being hit by the squad mates behind you, which is a welcome addition, since it used to happen waaaay too often in the previous games. Now it happens a tiny bit less (but not that much, so watch the placement of your people).
Speaking of combat, here are two extremely annoying things that I can’t see ANY reason for. First: you never have a 100% chance of hitting someone (okay, that makes sense); but the flipside of it is that if you’re standing in front of a huge supermutant the size of a house and MISS, there is *something* wrong with that picture. Even better, if you miss with a minigun or a rocket launcher. Come on! On that subject, one of the best insults of the game: “How could you miss something as big as me?” a supermutant saying that to one of my characters. Second: why can anybody with anything less than a bigass machine gun or a rocket launcher do damage to vehicles? For God’s sake, even when a supermutant is really, really, REALLY strong, why should he be able to come up to my tank and do damage to it with a knife? Or ghouls punching a tank for damage. Punching! There is something wrong with that picture.
The inventory management system is identical to the way it used to be, whereupon characters can carry a certain amount of items, measured by weight, with a bit of a grace buffer above that where your character becomes Encumbered and is unable to run until he offloads the weight. Again, similar to action points, the maximum carrying weight is determined by your stats and perks.
The way experience levels work is fairly common to most RPG-like games, where every enemy you kill generates a certain number of experience points, which eventually add up to result in level increases. Every certain number of levels (usually 3, but depends on the character) you can choose a “perk”, which, in some way or another, makes your travels along the wasteland easier. It could be an extra action point; or a bonus to your perception, to help you snipe people; or one that allows you to run silently, making it easier for you to sneak around enemy camps and lay mines to trap unsuspecting patrols and so forth. An interesting sidetrack: enemies are incredibly stupid when it comes to damage control and emergency actions. By that I mean, suppose you lay a diagonal strip of 5 mines. 3 people are coming close to the mines. First guy steps onto the closest mine, blows up. Okay, that’s normal. What’s not normal is that the other two people charge ahead like madmen, each blowing up sequentially on the mines. It makes you giggle with glee, but it’s a pretty dumb thing to do As for perks, there is a fairly large array of them, and more get added as you gain levels, because some perks require you to be a certain level before you are able to pick them. On the downside, it’s fairly obvious that the game is so strongly based on the previous RPG elements of Fallout, that some stats come in useless. It’s a pretty serious drawback, since a player may want to increase his Science skill, thinking there are computers ahead, but nope Science does absolutely nothing. (I learned the hard way). The patch, however, is promising to add one important use of Science ability, which I will not discuss for purposes of the story, but, if done, should greatly help progress through the game.
In order to get through the missions, you generally want to have a squad of people. I suppose that it’s theoretically possible to play the game with one superhero character, but it wouldn’t be much fun, and would probably be much too difficult, even for the experienced players. So what you end up doing is using the Recruits Master in the Brotherhood of Steel barracks to hire you some people for your squad. Each new recruit is worth a certain number of points, so you will notice that the higher-ranked recruits are worth more than the lower ones. They will generally also gain levels at a similar rate as you, so that you don’t end up hiring a level 2 recruit when you are at level 12. Interestingly, though, there doesn’t seem to be any penalty or cost for hiring the higher-skilled people. Nothing prevented me from picking the top 5 people, as opposed to the bottom 5 people, so I am not quite clear on what exactly the points rating does.
One thing that has noticeably been improved from the previous Fallouts is the graphics engine. First of all, it now allows the game to be played in resolutions higher than 640x480 (the fact that the fonts become unreadably small at anything over 800x600 is a whole other matter, though). It’s also using 32-bit graphics, which helps a lot, compared to the 8-bit graphics of both Fallout 1 and 2. What doesn’t help, though, is the framerate. For some unknown reason, it drops to approximately zero when you try to scroll; and God forbid you should happen to have the minimap on while scrolling I believe that was the first time in my life I saw a negative framerate. Not only that, but often, scrolling leaves weird artifacts on the screen, such as heads, chopped-off pieces of dialogue, targeting cursors and so forth. A friend of mine had a lot more trouble than I did mine was about acceptable, but his was completely unbearable on both counts. The sound engine has been revamped, too, now allowing 3D positional audio using EAX, A3D and several other codecs. So now, you get to hear the Fallout theme song (i.e. the wind blowing) in full 3D!
Another long-awaited addition, which was sort of done in 2, but is much better in FT, are vehicles. You can finally have a big vehicle that you can drive around a map, shooting from it, and collecting stuff to put inside it to sell it later. It’s great! Or anyway, it would be great, if 14 Degrees East didn’t screw it up. As it stands, two things happen, one of which is logical and makes sense, and the second thing is just a bug, which essentially deprives you of vehicles. The first thing is that a vehicle will not appear for every mission. That is to say, you hop into your shiny APC in the Brotherhood of Steel bunker, drive off to go to a mission area, and when you get there, boom! You’re in the dry, baby. The vehicle just kind of disappears for the mission, and it comes back when you’re back to the bunker. The two obvious problems with this are that (1) if you were careless enough to forget a stimpak or two in the trunk when you started the mission, you’re screwed until the end; and (2) if the map happens to be resource-rich (meaning lots of weapons to pry from cold, dead fingers), you’re SOL it’s just what you can carry, no more. The second thing is much more serious. You see, an APC is a tall vehicle. That makes sense. Now, some buildings are short. That also makes sense. By pure logic, if an APC is too tall and a building is too short, the APC shouldn’t go into the building, because it’ll either break it or get stuck. Still with me? Okay. In the game, every 4 missions or so, you move to a new BOS bunker, consistent with the story. So around mission 12, when you have to move to a new bunker, an unexpected thing happens. You hop into your APC, drive off into the wasteland to get to the new bunker, arrive to it, get a mission briefing, then try to drive out and then you realize that the APC is going nowhere. Now see, for some reason, none of my other vehicles moved to the bunker with me (I had a Hummer and a weird two-seater buggy), so basically, I was without wheels anymore. You know what, though? It gets better. The *next* time I had to switch bunkers, even the APC didn’t come with me! Of course, that meant that all the hard-earned inventory that I stashed in it with the hope of using it at some point was gone, sacrificed to the digital gods of bugs, and I was back to what I started with gun in one hand, stimpak in another, and a hope for the future, one that included the patch. I’m expecting that when I go back to the bunker, I might find the APC there but it’s not much use to me if I can’t get it out. As if that were not enough, what’s up with the Hummer officially being able to handle up to 4 people, but in the game, it is able to house the whole squad?
There are several more bugs and glitches, and I’ll go over them quickly, not in quite as much detail as the APC bug. First off, the path finding sucks. Badly. Your characters will frequently not know how to go around a wall, or how to go somewhere that requires them to make more than two or three turns. Second, sometimes characters will get stuck trying to pass each other in a doorway. Third, characters will sometimes see through walls and/or floors not only that, but even be able to shoot/be shot like that! Conversely, enemies will sometimes not see you when you are shooting them through a wall (which is logical, I suppose after all, how the hell should they know where it’s coming from, it’s a theoretically impossible situation!), but even better, I have experienced that if you’re standing outside a building and shooting into it, enemies will sometimes not see you, either!
Another issue with enemies is, in essence, their stupidity. Picture this situation. You sneak up on a dude. You pop out of your cover, shoot him, then crouch again. Next turn. You hit Q to stand up, fire weapon, hit A to crouch again. Next turn. Repeat. Ad infinitum (or more precisely, ad mortis). Wouldn’t you think that maybe, just maybe, the enemy should do something other than stand there looking pretty? Okay, maybe super mutants are prone to doing that (their intelligence is 1, after all), but how about humans? On the average, they aren’t THAT stupid! Or take a similar situation where you stand beside a doorway, pop in, fire a shot, pop back out. I did that with a garage at one point, in which there were six people! Three wielding Vindicator miniguns, three with energy weapons of all sorts plasma, laser, you name it! Two of those people could’ve taken me on and killed me in one sweep but no, they had to just stand there as I popped in, fired off a burst, popped out. In essence, that completely takes away the tactical aspect of the game, because there are no tactics left pop in, fire off a burst, pop out. There’s your tactic. There is a second tactic, actually. It’s rather cool, but is useless in about 95% of the time, because tactic 1 is more efficient in those cases. You can select several members of your squad, and have them fire at a target simultaneously. That works extremely well for running into a room and having three four people fire at a single target (though you better position your burst-capable individuals in the front, ‘cause otherwise, your people will get slaughtered by friendly fire).
Since this is turning into an extremely long essay, I might as well reflect on other things that drive me nuts about the game. Why is it that when I run someone over with a vehicle, they’re not dead? Excuse me, but my impression is that if I drive over a live body with an armoured, tracked APC, I should, in theory, be able to have it be a dead body by the time I’m done driving over him. Also, why is it that the tiniest little rock generates a “APC has critically hit itself for 4 points of damage”? Considering that there is precisely zero pathfinding for vehicles, the least the designers could do is make the vehicle a little bit more tolerant towards scenery objects. What entertains me even more is when my tank runs into a little desert cactus, and sustains 14 points of damage because of it.
One thing that I did like, though, were some of the one-liners of characters, and some inventory item descriptions. Of the latter, I liked the one for the DakTarg knife thingy (“Weapon constructed for a bunch of obsessive TV fans in the 20 [sic] century. It works like a real weapon which is very sad”); the Flamer pistol (“A poorly designed, misconceived weapon. [ ] Amuse your friends as you set youself and everything around you ablaze.”); of the former, I’ve seen “I love the smell of Napalm in the morning” (Scorched Earth), “Our worship will be rewarded by a long half-life”, “Holy Ohm, help us resist enemy damage”. Some of the death comments and dialogues were also particularly entertaining. In general, a couple of the “races” you encounter in the game are extremely entertaining, and worth listening to for a little while, just because they’re too funny.
So what do I think of the game? I think it’s an excellent game, true to Fallout tradition in all respects. Unfortunately, one of those respects is a cavalcade of bugs and a product rushed to the market. One would think that “third time’s the charm,” but, evidently, it is not. I feel this game is worthy of a Gamers’ Choice but not until it gets properly patched, resolving at least some of the bugs I mentioned (and believe me, those are a minority just check up on any Fallout fansites to see a full bug list: it is quite extensive). Basically, true Fallout aficionados will enjoy this no matter what, like I did, but my experience was so smashed by the extreme bugginess, that I can see most first-timers being completely turned off by the game. So once the patch comes out, slap on an extra 12% onto this review, and judge it from that standpoint.