Fallout Shack: Tactical Arguments
On your travels in Fallout 3, you may have spoken to a member of The Brotherhood of Steel who mentioned a BOS element in Chicago that went rogue. Some players will have disregarded this innocuous aside whilst others knew the character was referring to events depicted in Fallout: Tactics, the third game in the Fallout series. This was noteworthy, as many Fallout fans didn’t consider Tactics to be of the proper Fallout canon, so it was a surprise to see it mentioned in the game that reinvigorated the series. Developed by Micro Forte and published by 14 Degrees East, Tactics is a squad-based tactical action game with RPG elements that was released in 2001. The game is set in the Fallout universe and uses an improved engine, but it can be argued that it’s not truly a Fallout game per se.
Tactics’ intro described the background whereby near the end of the first game’s timeline, a rift was caused in the BOS by a faction that wanted to let local tribals join. The majority won and cast the outsider faction out, forcing them to travel via airship across the wastes to take on the remnants of the embattled super mutant army. A freak lightning storm took down the ships. One crashed near Chicago, where its survivors where free to pursue their intention of recruiting locals to replenish their ranks. With the scene set, you took on the role of a new BOS recruit, receiving orders from the rugged General Barnakay (voiced by the legitimately typecast R. Lee Ermey) and were tasked with undertaking various missions in the wasteland areas surrounding a slew of BOS bases.
You used the bases to recruit additional members to your squad, trade goods with quartermasters, acquire medical supplies and communicate with BOS officers. The missions were quite varied in concept but could be boiled down to a handful of tasks such as killing enemy forces, retrieving specific items, defending key areas and rescuing BOS squads and allies. Although the completion of missions did advance the game’s plot, your actions didn’t appear to have much of an effect on the rest of the wasteland in the same way they did in the previous games. For instance, if you prevented harm from coming to a population of ghouls, you’d be able to recruit new ghouls at the BOS base afterward. However, if you dealt a supposed killer-blow to the ranks of a certain enemy force, you’d still be hounded by hordes of them in random encounters. There were some new(ish) enemies to overcome and the raiders, super mutants, and hostile fauna from the previous games were also encountered. Some of these foes, especially the super mutants, had a sleek makeover.
Only small aspects of the previous games’ RPG elements were retained in Tactics: you were given a similar character creation setup and collected experience to gain levels throughout the missions. Some of the stats for S.P.E.C.I.A.L such as charisma and intelligence seemed relatively pointless, as there was far less interaction and much more gun-action than in the previous games. Conversations were sadly one-sided as you didn’t have access to any dialogue options and were merely the recipient of the NPC’s verbal dexterity, or lack thereof. Certain redundant skills and perks were omitted whilst new ones, more relevant to Tactics’ style, were introduced. A handful of missions feature drivable vehicles, so keeping a high pilot skill and taking the gunner trait were practical decisions. Unfortunately, no matter what your actual pilot skill level was, the vehicles all pretty much handled the same way: terribly. These sentient transports took your directions, mulled them over for a second and then flung them out of the damn window and under tyre.
The game was hefty, containing 21 missions (plus a bonus one set in Springfield). Each mission could take around 45 minutes to a couple of hours to complete, depending on how deeply you explored the locations and whether you engaged in objectives that weren’t essential to the missions’ completion. You were given the option to play in either a turn-based sequence, in real time or using a hybrid of the two. The option for a turn-based mode harked back to the original games, but adds a significant amount of time to missions. Also, another time-increasing factor lies in the emotional attachment you developed for your squad through the hours of play and situations bested with them. It would take a particularly hard heart to have allowed them to be killed and not reload the game from an earlier, less mortifying, point.
As for the squad itself, it was highly customisable. You had a maximum of six slots to fill with a variety of pre-determined character types like medics, heavies, melee experts, drivers and snipers. As the game progressed, you were offered recruits across different races with superior stats and skill-sets. It was great to collate a squad made up of humans, a ghoul, a super mutant and a deathclaw for instance, and the sight conjured up images of the good old interspecies camaraderie from Fallout 2.
Unfortunately, as with many squad-based combat games, your squad-mates often spelled your own demise. The positioning of your crew was vital as squad-mates would wantonly spray SMG fire into their comrades’ easily-damaged faces to kill a foe and then shrug their shoulders like an innocent mistake had been made. Another gripe with squad members’ virtual brain-matter is that they often took the most dangerous, enemy-alerting route in any given situation. This meant you usually had to control their movements with painstaking detail unless you wanted them running amok like a bunch of crazies hopped up on goofballs; setting off alarms, waving to CCTV or diving onto mines like they were elixir-injecting trampolines.
Tactics was a decent game, its plot drew you in, the action was intense (setting up a shooter outside a doorway then waiting for an enemy to walk through and get blasted never gets old) and it was set in the familiar Fallout world. It bared the series’ title but it lacked the essence of the games that came before it and therefore cannot be considered a true Fallout game proper. There is no doubt that this essence can only truly be gained through the previous games’ RPG elements, and Tactics lacked the darkly humorous dialogue, standout characters, unique locations, memorable objectives, intertextuality and the fact that your actions didn’t really alter the game’s world. Still, official series narrator Ron Perlman leant his excellent voice to the game (which has to count for something), and it’s certainly worth a play-through by any gamers interested in experiencing the series’ back catalogue.