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Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood Of Steel
Author: Drew Lanclos
Date Posted: June 12th, 2001
URL: http://www.slcentral.com/reviews/software/games/interplay/fallouttactics

Introduction

It took me a while to get this review up and online. Yes, I had other media and materials that were coming down the pipe, but also, I just had trouble trying to stop playing Fallout Tactics. I'd load it up, intending to take screenshots, and then, two hours later, I'd forgotten I even had HyperSnap DX loaded! So, in advance, I apologize for the delays.

Fallout, as a series, is set in a post-apocalyptic landscape of war-torn America of the late 22nd century. Mankind is not thriving, but hashing together a brutal lifestyle that takes a page out of Mad Max. After enduring the total destruction wrought in World War III, humanity has taken to living as refugees and camps of survivors fighting to live from day to day. Radiation and exposure to a forced-evolution virus has also caused some to turn into veritable freaks of nature, spawning Super Mutants, incredibly strong and resilient warriors, as well as Ghouls, intelligent but with rotting flesh.

Background

Fallout Tactics takes place between the events of the first two smash-hit RPGs. You fill the role of a fresh new recruit in the Brotherhood of Steel. Internal strife and conflicting interests have caused the Brotherhood to split off, and your faction has moved into the Midwest after flying over the Rockies in salvaged zeppelins. With the privilege of selecting amongst available recruits, you are tasked by the Brotherhood to perform assigned campaigns to quell fighting, obtain recruits, and recover technology to be salvaged by the Brotherhood.

The storyline doesn't quite matter as much as it did in other Fallout games. Basically, it's there to set the background scene and give the Brotherhood purpose. Your purpose, on the other hand, is simply to serve the brotherhood and earn its glory. Your actions and missions, however, will influence the future of the Brotherhood as you strive to earn your place among its ranks.

If you're familiar with Fallout, then the game plays just like Fallout, except you always have control of your allies. You can easily exchange inventory and ammunition with them, and move them singly or in groups. Fighting is managed similarly, depending on what fighting mode you use. Fallout Tactics allows you to play the game in one of three action modes: Independent Turn Based, Squad Turn Based, and Continuous. Continuous plays like real time. Characters can perform any action any time as long as they have the action points to do so. Squad Turn Based is turn-based combat, where all of your teammates expend their full action points, and then the enemy does so. Independent Turn Based gives each fighter sequence based on his statistics and allows him to expend all of his action points before yielding to the next individual.


Roachor - a remarkable example of a pathetic species.

Each gameplay mode has its advantages and disadvantages. Continuous is cumbersome to manage because the computer always has an inherent advantage in speed of issuing orders. To combat this, the game allows you to assign Sentry Mode to each of your fighters. Depending on the level of sentry set, your characters will ignore all actions, fire defensively, or actively pursue attackers. This helps you to keep your teammates from being sitting ducks due to lack of instruction. On the other hand, Continuous time affords you a better chance to land surprise attacks. With turn-based modes, if you fire on an attacker that does not notice you, he gets to return fire before anyone else can take an action. With Continuous time, you can lure the enemy into ambush traps and situations without having to use action points. In Continuous time, your action points are not used as you run - They simply stop recharging while you move. Continuous time doesn't get paused for you to stop and think, however, so you MUST know your hotkeys.

On the other hand, turn-based is often easier to manage since you don't have to worry as much about hitting the wrong key in battle. You can plan out your strategy more easily and take the time to check hit percentages and such. This is the mode I used during the majority of the game, since, while I normally enjoy real-time gaming, this game is complex enough to warrant using turn-based play. That's not to say that I dislike it - On the contrary, I enjoy it immensely. The only improvement I would make would be to give characters an AT sequence similar to what is shown in Final Fantasy Tactics, where some characters are faster than others and thus earn more turns than slower characters.

Gameplay

The armament and weaponry is standard fare for most Fallout games. I enjoy and appreciate the wide range of pistols and small arms used by the game, as well as some of the more imaginative weaponry. For instance, there's a chainsaw-like hand-knife called "The Ripper", and also squirt guns which can be filled with acid. Just as in the previous games, weapons fall into five classes: Small Guns, Large Guns, Energy Weapons, Melee Weapons, and Throwing Weapons.

Managing a squad of soldiers requires a lot of money, of course. Thankfully, I managed to clear up plenty of loot in each battle. In several battles, I found myself bringing home an armful of guns, ranging from 25 SAW automatic gunpods to 46 AK-47s. Of course, ammunition can sometimes be in short supply. I never really had a problem running out of rounds for weapons like the hunting rifle, but with some of my more powerful guns, like the M1-Garand rifle, I always hovered on the low end of ammunition. No other rifle I've encountered before uses their .303 rounds, and I've always bought as many as I could find at the BOS command bunkers. Still, with the sheer variety in weaponry I had recovered and what I had available, I just switched arms to the MK-14 and kept plodding along.


Meet the brat pack of the future.

One of the neatest aspects of Fallout Tactics is the use of perks and skill points. Characters are allotted a specific amount of skill points when they reach each new level of experience, which can be allocated as the captain sees fit. This allows you a great deal of customization of your party members. The only problem with the system is that I found myself torn between building my current party and just trading up members. The concept of the recruits is nice, because if you don't already have someone to fit a particular role in battle, you can just swap out party members and go find a BOS warrior that fits your needs. Due to the work I had put into my brat pack, though, I found myself hesitant to swap out any of my characters. You'll probably notice this in the screenshots - Only twice did I ever use anyone other than the party I started with. Once, I was using some Deathclaws as brute strength to carry loot; the other time I needed someone with excellent Repair skills to keep my Armored Personnel Carrier in working order. This brings us to another nifty new aspect of Fallout Tactics.

In this game, the Brotherhood of Steel allows you to commandeer or salvage vehicles and then use them during your missions. A variety of different vehicles is available, from a Hummer to a tank to the earlier-mentioned APC. A nice convenience is to be able to use these vehicles on the world map, greatly speeding travel from one location to another. Furthermore, some of the vehicles can even have weapons mounted onto them. I didn't really see too much of a need for this, though, since I usually had my party members just shoot through the windows. (They can fire in any direction without worrying about where they're sitting.)

New perks have been added to the mix as well. Perks are earned at a fixed rate as characters level up. Ghouls, for example, earn a perk every four levels. The new perks in particular are primarily designed for the new races which are playable, such as "Way of the Fruit" for Ghouls and "Deathsense" for Deathclaws. Other perks new to the series include "Lead Foot" and "Gunner", both of which are vehicle-oriented, and "Bend the Rules" and "Break the Rules", both of which allow you to…well…cheat. Another perk, "Brown Noser", gives you an immediate promotion of rank, though this seemed worthless. The game doesn't do a very good job of highlighting the importance of rank. From what I could tell, rank determines what characters are available for recruiting, and maybe affects prices of wares purchased from the Quarter Master in BOS bunkers. Also, only my team leader gained any serious rank. Four of my teammates gained one promotion or two, but Stitch never got any promotion at all, even though he was always fighting with everyone else.


The retooled PIP-Boy now offers reconnaissance data and mapping for your missions

This brings me to another point. I really appreciated the wide variety of characters available for recruiting for the Brotherhood, and also the way the plotline introduces new species to recruit. The only drawback to the recruits system is that the same recruits are always used. It was fun being able to discuss my situations with a friend and talk about what characters he used and how he used them. However, the game's replayability could have been enhanced quite a bit if a larger character pool was available, and the game randomly selected which ones would be made available in a game. Also, maybe it was just my play style, but I seemed to always stick with my original recruits because the new ones just didn't give me enough reason to trade out. They would have a really desirable characteristic or two, but then one which would totally turn me off from them. Also, practically every single one of the recruits had either the Unarmed or Melee skill tagged, which I found to be a waste since I only use ranged weapons.

The gameplay was very addictive. I especially enjoyed playing a battle where most of my party members are long-range snipers that can take out the enemy without getting hit once. The only exception I would ever have was with Stitch. Stitch has a low Perception stat, which affects his accuracy with ranged weapons. To counteract this, I kept Stitch equipped with shotguns. All I ever had to do was point him in the right direction! I hardly ever had to use him as a doctor since he was so useful as a killing machine!

Graphics/Sound

The graphics were very nice. Fallout Tactics features 3D rendering capabilities similar to that of Diablo II, with the ability to use colored lighting effects and anti-aliasing. Running the game in 1024x768 was very pleasant, and I got a great amount of field view, but setting it to 800x600 afterward didn't feel very constrictive either. Using the higher resolution didn't seem to invoke a performance hit at all on my systems, so if you have a larger monitor (17"), or you don't care about your eyes, then using the higher resolution is probably a preferred option.


How many free tacos do we get since this thing landed in Milwaukee?

Occasionally I would see instances of a body or other element on the map being improperly lit, but this didn't seem to happen too often, and it didn't really bother me. Also present was the occasional redraw bug, where a prior screen element (Like text or the mouse cursor) would not get erased after being moved. This went away easily whenever I just scrolled it off the screen, though. And while this isn't directly related to graphics, some of the death animations seem kind of silly. Granted, a shotgun could very well rip someone in half, but if they're lying on the ground when you kill them, they shouldn't leap up into the air to fall back down first!

Sound was really good, typical Fallout fare. Just like the prior two games, the audio tracks leave a haunting sense of the wasteland lingering in your mind, enhancing the game experience. The music also changes dynamically, picking up the pace if you get into a battle, for instance, and drilling into something much more empowering. Even better, the audio engine uses MP3s for background audio, so the game's soundtrack is right there on your hard drive to be listened to. As a final capstone measure, the engine allows you to put your own MP3s in a custom folder to be played during the game. This is the first time I've ever seen such a feature implemented.

The voice acting was standard-fare military forcefulness with the Brotherhood, and civilianish with the other peoples. One element I do miss from the prior fallout games was the interactive conversation, where you would sometimes be able to watch video of the listener's reaction, and communicate back and forth by selecting questions and responses. I feel it would have added extra depth to this game, and could have been used in missions where, for instance, you are sent out to pursue a certain target or locate an objective, but you don't know where it is. You would have to go to a nearby city and inquire of its whereabouts among the locals.

Performance

As much as I'm raving about this game up until now, it greatly disappoints me to write the next part of this review. One severe problem hampers this game's abundant merits: poor bug-testing. The original Fallout came virtually bug-free. The sequel was riddled with problems. Fallout Tactics chooses to follow the path of the latter. I've encountered crash bugs, game logic bugs, and gameplay bugs all over the place. Following the game's release by at least two weeks was the first patch which fixed a rare inventory issue - This patch was over 80 MB to install and barely fixed anything! The second patch, following over a week later, corrected (estimated from my memory) over 100 bugs and gameplay issues. Thankfully, the patch addressed a lot of crash bugs that were stopping me from playing the game frequently. I could only imagine how frustrating it would be for those players who were playing the game using "Tough Guy" (which doubles your experience earnings but only allows you to save at BOS bunkers)…

Some of the bugs this patch fixed, however, were only fixed as a preventative measure. For instance, some traits, such as Swift Learner, were not adding the proper amount of skill points on levels up, but instead just adding 1. The fix was made, but no retroactive character modifications were made, meaning that all my characters who had gained Swift Learner at level 3 and were now at level 10 had missed out on potentially 40 or 50 skill points each! Other perks didn't even show up in the perk list at all until this patch was released. Didn't anyone ever test to see if the perk *worked*? I wouldn't be altogether sure that it did after this patch came out.

Another bug I encountered frequently in the Macomb mission is probably restricted to gameplay in the Squad Turn-Based mode. After giving a character the command to walk or perform some action that would slowly drain his AP, I would then manually select another character to start issuing orders. As soon as character #1 completes his turn, however, the game immediately makes active the next available character. So if I've directed Party Member #1 to move 9 spaces and then Party Member #6 is selected, once #1 completes his move, the game will automatically add #2 to the command list, meaning I'm now issuing orders to #2 and #6. This wouldn't have been *nearly* so annoying if it weren't for the fact that it caused me to trip a few mines I was carefully sidestepping because another character assumed it was his turn.

Furthermore, this game bug also caused me to frequently select a character that was driving a vehicle. I'd not notice, and issue move orders. The driver, who is on the other side of the map right now, does her very best to plow right through a building to reach the destination, but fails. This wouldn't have ordinarily been a problem, but I didn't find out until two gameplay hours later (Not counting crash bugs, mind you!) that the vehicle was now stuck in a wall. It wasn't "in" the wall, per se, but just stuck in front of it, refusing to move. Compounding the situation is that this vehicle is a mission-critical objective, so I can't just leave it there. Needless to say, I was fuming over this one. And this bug was *not* fixed by the patch.


What's Barney's Bowlarama doing in Macomb? I thought it was supposed to be in Springfield!

I would report issues like these to the staff at Interplay and Micro Forte, but after visiting the support messageboards and seeing the vast amount of problems other people were having, it pretty much seemed like my report would be drowned in cries of woe. Furthermore, the messageboard was incredibly clumsy and fussy, so I even had a hard time reading what other people wrote. Reading these responses after the first major bugfixes were released, it seems that many other people still have problems that should have been ironed out in standard quality assurance practices. For instance, lots of people reported not being able to barter with a particular individual in a special encounter that was intended for bartering. Didn't anyone in the testing group try to see if it worked? I've always been of the mindset that while a game may be very complex, it shouldn't take two or three individuals very long to verify the game's features and at least certify that the game is winnable. One of my favorite games I've ever played on the PC was non-winnable in its released state. While this doesn't detract the image of the gameplay in my mind, it severely tarnishes that company's reputation in my mind.

Conclusion

All said and done, the game is fabulous. I can complain all day long about poor corporate quality assurance practices, but even with the game in its buggy state, I still can't stop playing it. It's an immense amount of fun, and I look forward to seeing fan missions completed for this game (The game editor and scripting tools should be released by the time you read this). The game takes the innovation and, more importantly, the style of the Fallout series, and continues the great legacy. This game serves as both a great example of what to do, and what not to do.

Many people were unsure of the chances of Fallout Tactics' success when Black Isle Studios, the original staff behind Fallout and Fallout 2, were moved to other projects (Baldur's saga and Interplay's other RPG titles) and Micro Forte was hired to create this spin-off title. I chide Micro Forte for the game's bugginess, but doubly applaud their staff for filling such very big shoes.

Story: 7
Graphics & Sound: 9
Gameplay: 8
Fun Factor: 10
Lasting Appeal: 8
Final Score: 8.5

Rating: 8.5/10 SystemLogistics

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