Sunday, 5 January 2014

Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel (PC)

Fallout Tactics title logo
Today I'm looking at 2001 PC strategy game Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, not to be confused with 2004 console action RPG Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel. No seriously, you probably don't want to get those two confused.

They're both combat driven spin-offs that break with tradition and take the series into a new genre, but one is focused on refining the battle system to be more tactical and involving to the exclusion of everything else, while the other has a Slipknot song on the soundtrack.

Uh, this is the tactical one by the way.

(Clicking screenshots may re-inflate them to their full 800x600 majesty.)

Hey it's a rare (and perhaps unprecedented) shot of a pre-war city looking all futuristic and intact. It's weird seeing seeing the skyscrapers looking so advanced considering that the Fallout universe has always appeared to be culturally frozen in the 50s, the nukes actually fell during 2077 so it does makes sense.

Alas it was only the picture on the front of an old guide book, lying in a ruined service station on the road to post-apocalyptic Chicago. Maybe in Fallout 4 we'll get a proper look at how things were before the nuclear war, but for now this is all we're going to get. And the camera slowly pulls back.

Still pulling back. I can confirm that the abandoned ruined shop is indeed abandoned and ruined.

The camera is continuing to pull back. I'm still looking through a shattered window at a book, sitting on a broken rack. Still.

Yeah, this isn't actually as interesting as the developers apparently thought it was. I realise they were trying to set a mood but there's no point in slowly moving the camera backwards like this if it's not going to reveal anything new about the scene.

Oh hang on, here comes a car!

Come on cameraman, do you think you could get the whole Hum-Vee in shot for just one frame? You're making my screenshots look like ass here. It would've been nice if I could've at least gotten a picture showing off the Brotherhood of Steel logo on the door.

This is the first game in the series that wasn't made by a division of Interplay; instead an Australian developer called Micro Forté was handed the reigns of the most American of RPG franchises and straight away I can tell that they've taken a slightly different approach with it. It's traditional to start a Fallout game with a song by 40s vocal group The Ink Spots, but this is playing some bluesy rock tune instead.

Though they haven't completely hacked out Fallout's soul; war, war still hasn't changed, and neither has the narrator. Ron Perlman once again reprises the role and it's definitely nice to hear his voice again as he once again tells us a story about how the human race narrowly survived nuclear obliteration.

In the mid 21st century the United States was growing paranoid over the increasingly likely possibility that they'd get nuked right off the map, and built a network of massive underground bunkers called Vaults. Decades later, the descendants of those that had taken sanctuary in the Vaults found themselves facing a new life outside in an inhospitable wasteland.

Some survivors formed communities, others figured they'd raid those communities and steal all of their shit, but a few decided that their new mission in life was going to be to strut around in powered armour suits, hoarding all the pre-war tech they could get their hands on in their fortified bunkers while generally behaving like a smug elitist cult of quasi-religious jerks. Those people called themselves the Brotherhood of Steel and after showing up in the last two games as a minor guest star, this time around they've been given the leading role.

After the events of the first Fallout game, a fleet of Brotherhood airships was sent out across America on a mission to wrap up some unfinished business. But their intrepid journey was cut short by a touch of bad weather.

With their airship shredded by a storm, the Brotherhood force found themselves stranded near the ruins of Chicago and forced to accept outsiders from the local tribes into their ranks for the first time. Which is where I come in.

Fallout Tactics character selection screen
This guy isn't me though. Well I suppose he could be, seeing as he's one of the five preset characters here to choose from. But I'd rather make my own character from scratch.

I had an option to play through a few tutorials first, but I decided to throw caution and common sense to the radioactive wind and jump right into the first mission. 

This is all suspiciously similar to Fallout 1 and 2 so far, though hey I've been given a face for once! The Skills and Traits lists are very familiar as well, though there is one concession to the more combat focused gameplay, as the Speech skill has been replaced with a new Pilot skill. Plus they've put in a tiny little 'Tough Guy' checkbox which activates Ironman mode and disables saving during levels.

You might be looking at this thinking "Hang on, this looks like a 640x480 window of character stats surrounded by a bit of wasted space to pad it out... they've just straight reused Fallout 1's menu artwork again like the last game haven't they?" But nope this is actually all new artwork this time around; it just looks really similar.

It's possible you've also noticed there's a 'Human' button at the top there. Well it doesn't actually do a damn thing. You can only ever play as a human character in the game...

...unless you're playing the multiplayer mode. Then you can play as whatever you want, from a super mutant to a dog.

Okay I'm going to put all my points into Intelligence (for extra skill points), Agility (for extra action points) and maybe an extra point into Luck (for luck). Then I'll tag 'Small Guns' because I want to be able to kill things, 'Sneak' because I don't want the things to know I'm coming to kill 'em, and 'First Aid' because I live in hope that it'll actually help in some way this time.

Well none of these are me, so I'm not sure why I'm being shown these people. The bloke in the middle seems to be struggling to decide what emotion he wants to express, so he's running through his whole range as the camera slowly pulls back. Always pulling back.

Anyway their commander (played by a potato with a fake eye) informs them that as new recruits their first job will be to go out into the wasteland and get more recruits. Many recruits apparently die during these missions, so it's important to send them out with as little training and experience as possible to draft their replacements ASAP.

Okay there's a whole wall of text coming up next, but don't whatever you do actually read any of it... unless you want to. I'm just putting it here because I'd like to mention something about it.

See all that, that's my mission briefing... read out in its entirety by Full Metal Jacket star R. Lee Emery! If I'm going to get a briefing like that from him in front of every level, then that's a serious amount of Ermey. Thankfully he's not started shouting at me though... yet.

It's funny how similar this interface is to the one in Fallout 1 and 2, despite being a different genre. I wouldn't have imagined it'd be a good fit for a strategy game, but I guess I'll find out.

Well that's interesting, I can still walk up and talk to some people, though there's no dialogue choices this time. In fact it seems like he's just talking at me, with my sole ability to influence this one sided conversation being that I can click the 'Done' button to skip past it when I'm done reading.

Right, I can actually select and command everyone in my party directly for once in the series, so I'm going to round up my crew and move them eastward into the tribe's stolen village. I clicked their names on the HUD panel, then clicked where I wanted them to go and off they went walking up there in real-time.

Oh crap, I didn't expect to be facing enemies this soon. By the time I'd noticed the red dots on the minimap I was already getting shot at and I'm finding it enough of a struggle just to get my units behind cover. You'd think someone called Farsight would do better than 53% accuracy from less than 10 meters away in a crouched position, but nope.

The gameplay seems straightforward enough. I click on the floor to make my selected character walk there and I click on enemies to shoot them. To reload I click the picture of the gun and if I want to stab someone instead I click the picture of the knife to swap my active weapon. It's almost exactly like the last two Fallouts, but just different enough to throw me off. For one thing, events occur in real-time.

I've figured out how to get my squad to keep their heads down (using the new stance buttons added to the interface) but I'm still working on getting this switched to over to turn-based combat instead so that I have a second to think.

The inventory's back again as well? I'm starting to wonder if this was supposed to be an actual RPG at some point, because there's certainly enough buttons here to support it.

Also I've got Stimpaks in here! Glorious life-restoring Stimpaks! Suddenly I think I'm in with a chance here after all.

You know, I think I will take Fallout Tactics up on its offer of a tutorial after all before starting another new game. I'm just hoping that the tutorial levels are a little more helpful than the Tedious Temple of Trials in Fallout 2.

 
Hey tutorial in this game is actually pretty well made, running through the basics like stabbing dudes and picking locks, while also introducing more advanced concepts like setting up ambushes and using stealth.

Though, uh, I'm having a bit of trouble with this lock here. Maybe I blinked and missed some instructions but it doesn't seem like my tutorial character has the skill needed to open the tutorial door. You know, I think he actually did unlock the door, but then immediately re-locked it again in a way that he can never open. Man, I suck at tutorials!

Nope, the bloody thing just won't budge. Well I've done enough of the training course to get the gist of it now anyway. Back to the first mission.

I can save the game at any time so I can continue playing as Cate if I want, but I think I'll create a new character this time around. A new character with almost exactly the same stats, save for an additional point in Agility to get me an extra action point during turn-based combat.


BACK AT THE START OF LEVEL 1, JUST OUTSIDE OF THE TRIBAL VILLAGE.


Alright you bastards, let's see how you like it when I split up my team, sneak around this wall, and flank you. I've set Stitch and Farsight to wait down by the bridge just left of this screen, where I was in the last screenshot (they're the white dots on the minimap). This time though I've used all of Stitch's action points to activate his overwatch mode. He's only got a shotgun, which is useless at a distance, but it should be enough of a distraction to let me slip behind the enemy and take the kill.

Or Stitch could just blow the enemies away himself automatically, I guess. Damn man, you took out that dog with one hit!

The overwatch can be set to different accuracy thresholds, so if I set it so that he only pulls the trigger when he's pretty much certain not to miss... well, it makes for an excellent ambush that's for sure.


SOON.


They've even kept the Skilldex from the first two games? They really have just taken the entire framework of Fallout, ripped out the RPG and shoved a strategy game in there instead. I mean yeah Fallout does have tactical combat already, but this is on a whole other level.

Alright my second attempt is working out a lot better than the first one. I haven't got my lead character killed for one thing and the rest of my team is in good health. Or at least they will be when I get this First Aid skill to work. Dammit man, you're a doctor! Physician heal thyself already.

Turn-based mode turned itself off once the enemies were dead, so it took no time at all to loot all of the corpses and dart across to the next bit of cover. Fortunately I'll be able to load up on a whole lot of baseball bats, broken bottles and 9mm ball bullets before my invisible backpack ends up overloaded.

Right I'm around where the #2 is on the map right now, with the white number #1 being the place where was trying to sneak around the guy and his dog earlier, and the green circle being the village elder I was talking with at the start. So the level is actually fairly bloody huge.


A FEW KILLS LATER, ALL THE WAY UP AT CIRCLE #4.


I was worried when I saw these three dots appearing on my minimap, but it turns out they were all sleeping. Sorry guys, but I can't take the chance you'll wake up and bite me in the ass.

Oh shit, there's like seven of them in here? I can barely take on two right now and that's when I have the cover. At least I have an idea of where they're standing, thanks to Farsight's high Perception stat. They should've called her X-Ray really.

Oh crap, most of them are actually tribal prisoners? You'd think this would be a relief, but with my crappy accuracy I'll likely end up catching them in the crossfire.

Thankfully the game doesn't share the previous games' problem of nearby civilians slowing down combat by taking their own turns one by one. In fact there are two turn-based modes in the game: sequence based, where individual units take turns in order of their speed, and squad based, where each side gets to move all their pieces at once. Which is amazing really, I've never seen another game do this.

I decided to switch it to squad based combat though. It's less realistic, but it lets me coordinate my attacks easier. Not that it's a big deal what mode I go with, as I can switch between them AT ANY TIME I WANT. Fallout Tactics, you have impressed me sir.


LATER, JUST AFTER CIRCLE #6.


How did he know...

I would go through the play by play of how each of these encounters is going down, but this level is dragging on so damn long that I have to keep it brief or else I'll never see the rest of the game. I shouldn't even say that they're 'dragging' as I am enjoying it so far; I just find it uncomfortable to concentrate on a game for so long.

Basically what I've been doing at each encounter is try to get my people out from behind the walls and onto the ground in a position to open fire at the enemies while they're still a fair distance away. A sniper that's lying down and using all of their points to take single accurate shots is going to destroy a guy still on his feet, spraying his submachine gun around on burst fire, and they get even more deadly the closer the enemies get.


EVENTUALLY AT CIRCLE #7.... THE FINAL CIRCLE.


Hey, I've found someone with a voice! Man, I have a special hate for characters who use the word 'dogs' like that; it's such a cheesy clichéd expression.

I had a plan to send Rockatanski to climb the ladder out on the left side of the building and rain down righteous gunfire upon them from above, but that plan kind of failed when I discovered that from up their he was mostly just seeing a whole lot of roof. I can't find a button to switch the floor I'm looking at, and even if I could switch, the enemies only appear on screen if my character has noticed them.

Anyway I went with plan B instead, and just sent Flashlight in through the front door to snipe them all from behind a pillar. Probably not the most strategically sensible option I admit, but she got the job done regardless and it even earned her a level up! Level ups for everyone in fact as it appears that the experience is shared between the group (+500 points to the game for an admirable display of common sense).

Each character gets a few skill points (based on their intelligence) to distribute between skills, with the ones I tagged earlier getting double value per point. Stitch started off a level above the others, so he's already gotten to choose his first Perk as well. Perks were one of the most innovative and interesting things about levelling in the first two Fallouts and it's nice to see them making a return.

And then after my epic victory at circle #7, I had to go and backtrack all the way out to the start of the level again to reach the exit grid. Overall it took me about an hour I reckon to clear out the whole map. To put that into perspective, it takes around 15 minutes maybe to clear the first proper level of Final Fantasy Tactics. Though on the other hand it'll take you around three hours to finish reading through this whole article, so I guess it's not actually so bad.


SOON.


Turns out that the game has Fallout's map screen as well. I don't know why I'm surprised by this, but I kinda am.

I probably could go off on an adventure into the wilderness, fighting random encounters and stumbling into places I'm not supposed to be yet, but I'm tired and I just want to get back to base and take a break already.

I've finally made it inside a Brotherhood of Steel base, for the first time in three games! I found one of their bunkers in Fallout 2 but didn't make it inside and I didn't even come across the Brotherhood at all in the first game.

In a shocking turn of events it turns out that the barter screen is more or less exactly the same as in the last two games as well. Oh hang on, not quite... I don't have to manually type in the amount of cash needed to balance the deal any more! I'm saved from having to perform basic mental arithmetic.

I was going to load up on Stimpaks with the cash I'd made from trading broken bottles, but they ain't cheap so I'll just grab a few shells instead. I'll be giving each character a scavenged double barrel shotgun in their second slot to bring out if anyone gets too close.

Oh cool, I wasn't expecting to be able to fill up my whole squad so soon. This lets me view each recruit's stats, but it doesn't let me compare them annoyingly, so I'm going to have to take a minute to study the numbers carefully. Then I'll just pick the three with the most Agility points instead and start sharing out the shotguns. More agility equals more action points, meaning more shots per round, meaning that I'm basically getting extra turns.


MUCH MUCH LATER ON LEVEL 3.


Mission 2 was a lot like mission 1, so I've skipped ahead a bit to show off these fantastic new things I've discovered growing in a field. They're small grey frisbees of death, primed to go off if anyone in my team so much as breathes on them. Considering the way my team tends to zigzag across the ground wheneven I send them anywhere I'm not feeling overly safe right now.

Fortunately I already know the secret to efficient bomb disposal: shoot them until they blow.

Or maybe that's the secret to making body parts rain from the sky.

Right, I've got a new plan here: I'm going to very carefully walk around the land mines and then I'm never coming back this way again.

Crap, the door's locked. Okay, I'm changing the plan slightly: I'm going to carefully walk back around the land mines, then I'm going to shoot a whole lot of people and get this key, and then I'm going to carefully walk back over here. And then I'm never coming back this way again.


SOON.


No luck finding the key yet, though I have shot a fair few people at least. Now I'm free to take part in the Fallout tradition of searching bookcases and looting corpses. Then I'll find that my guy's hit the weight limit, send him shuffling over to another character, dump half his stuff onto them, and get right back to the looting. Can't equip an army of new tribal recruits without a few hundred rifles and Uzis after all (incidentally the weapons all have real world names in this, which I appreciate).

I just wish that I was getting any better at breaching houses. No matter what I do or who I bring, someone on my team always gets blasted coming in through the door. A flashbang, that's what I need.

Speaking of walking in through a door and getting blasted...

I thought this was just an empty store room! I sent my squad leader in here looking for more shelves to loot, not a bloody boss fight! If he ends up dying here it's all over and I have to load a save. Not a great hardship I know, but I didn't quick save after doing all that tedious inventory management.

What's with these boss characters on this level anyway? They're all trying to turn my squad into sex slaves or yelling that they're going to stuff them down their pants.

No thanks mate, I've seen what you keep down there. Uh, I mean he kept pulling grenades out and lobbing them at me. It was gross.

The boss fight wasn't actually so tough in the end, once I'd stumbled across a decent strategy. In fact it was very similar to my plan on level 1: I brought Flashlight in, stuck her behind a chest-high wall, and told her to shoot everyone dead. She's definitely become my star character over the last few levels, consistently sniping raiders from a screen away.

I suppose I should free this guy while I'm here. I know General R. Lee Ermey's probably going to shout at me for throwing away potentially valuable intel again, but the poor prisoner seems like he's been through hell.

Fallout Fear is the mind-killer
And so the idiot immediately runs out of the front door, straight into an ambush that even I was smart enough to creep around and avoid earlier. I wonder if he even realises that his last words are a quote from Dune.

Fallout 2 liked to joke around for sure, but this seems to have turned things up to 11. Every other line coming of a character's mouth is either a joke or a reference to something and they're not overly concerned about keeping the fourth wall intact.

I'm definitely getting a lot of mileage out of giving each of my crew an AK and a shotgun each. AKs are fine at a distance, but the shotgun just obliterates anyone stupid enough to try approaching me when I'm on overwatch. Them and their friend behind them too.

Anyway I've got this key now, so I can go all the way back around, across the minefield, and finally get that massive door open.


EVENTUALLY.



Alright, this is the final boss enemy on the level. Once he's down it's all over and I can go home.

I've sent my squad leader around the walls to the bottom corner to draw their attention and keep them focused, while Flashlight and Brian creep in from above using the sneak skill. I'm sick of having drawn out gunfights with rifles now, this map's dragging on WAY too long, so I'm going to pop up behind them on the next turn and take them all out in one glorious close range surprise shotgun assault.

Oh bollocks. This is what I get for putting all my points into Small Guns instead of Sneak. Poor Farsight is especially screwed here as I tried to heal her earlier with the First Aid skill and kind of accidentally gave her a concussion. She ain't at her best to put it mildly.

Oh shit, Brian gets them both in one shot! Now who's a fuckin' clown you... fuckin' clown! And the mission is compl... no wait, what? I have to go get an artefact now?

What about that Casio keyboard there, does that count as an artefact? No? I guess I'm going back through that minefield again then.

Before I turn the game off, I should mention that it comes with all kinds of tools for map creation and other such things. I can't say how well they work though because I can't figure out a bloody thing here. I just finished fighting my way through three huge levels, I'm too tired for brain thinking now.


I can't imagine many Fallout fans back in 2001 were crying out for a tactical spin-off of their series, especially when it'd been three years since the last Fallout RPG with no successor in development. I know companies occasionally like to go crazy and switch genres, but it still seems weird to me.

The weirdest thing about Fallout Tactics though, is how a game exclusively focused on what's been the weakest part of the series so far could've turned out so good. I don't feel like I understand the combat well enough to judge it properly yet, but signs point to it being pretty well implemented. It's definitely way closer to the classic X-COM/UFO style of combat that inspired Fallout 1's action point driven gameplay in the first place, in a good way. For one thing it helps a great deal that you can control your entire party this time, allowing you to use some actual strategy instead of just bringing up the called shot screen and clicking on the enemies' eyes over and over.

It's definitely not a flawless game and the interface in particular is very dated now, but my main complaint with the game is actually that the levels are just too huge. They're uncomfortably massive for me, at least in turn-based mode. I imagine they're more bearable playing it in real time, but they're also a whole lot less survival so I've found it hard to test that. I really need to figure out how to bait enemies into coming out into my ambushes for a change.

I gotta admit, out of the three Fallouts I've played so far, this is the one that's grabbed my attention and made me want to keep going with it. The other two have their charms for sure, but I was left waiting for the good bit to start and for the awesome story and characters I'd heard about to show up, but they never really did for me. This on the other hand gets right to the point.


I'm too tired to think up much to say here so... leave a comment maybe if you feel like it.

2 comments:

  1. Nice review, friend!
    Are you going to show us the other fallout games? I wanna try one, and I'm taking your judgment to help me choose one from the list

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    Replies
    1. Thanks!

      If everything goes to plan I will have shown off ALL the PC Fallout games by the end of the month. I'd like to play the console exclusive Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel as well, but not enough to actually pay money for it, so that one's going to have to wait until I stumble across it lying in the street by sheer happenstance.

      From what I hear the PC Fallouts are all pretty decent games (in their own ways), but everyone has their favourites to play and their favourites to hate on, and no one seems to like the whole set. I try to show off how each of them play and what I like about them, but it's probably wise not to put too much stock in which of them I personally end up preferring.

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