I had an embarrassing revelation while playing the first level of Fallout Tactics. I've never before finished the first level of Fallout Tactics. It's especially embarrassing because this is one of my first PC games. A decade ago, I bought a two disc set with Fallout and Fallout 2, played them, loved them, and wanted more. So when I saw Fallout Tactics, it was like "score! more Fallout! yoink!" But then I got it home, installed it, and apparently only played the first level.
It's funny the tricks memory plays on you. I knew, going in, that I had not finished the game, but I think I assumed that I'd gotten farther than I had. If I were inclined to search for deeper meaning in this anecdote (and I think, by now, my regular readers will realize that I am), I might speculate that this is part of a larger overall pattern. Clearly, my buying video games for flimsy reasons and then not playing them habit was not, in fact, the novel innovation I thought it was, but in fact something that was part of my gaming makeup from the very beginning. So maybe I shouldn't be so hard on myself (or perhaps I should be harder on my younger self).
However, an alternate explanation presents itself. It could be that Fallout Tactics simply does not put its best foot forward when presenting a new player with the opening level. The story of the game, as told in the intro cinematic, is that the Brotherhood of Steel recently had an ideological dispute between those who wanted to recruit new blood from outside the order and those who wanted to keep the order pure. The purists won, and sent the dissenters out on a shit assignment to the American mid-west to chase down the remnants of the Master's army (though one would think that after a factional dispute regarding the Brotherhood's limited number, the conservative side would be less than eager to sacrifice personnel its own policies made irreplaceable). During the expedition, disaster struck (because of course it did) and the renegades were cut off from communication with the main order, forced to survive on their own, but free to pursue their own vision for the Brotherhood's future.
You, the player, control a squad of new recruits, tribal conscripts straight out of basic training with no particularly special equipment. Your first mission is to take down a bandit leader who has taken over a small village. The hope is that by liberating the villagers, they will come to see the benefits of the Brotherhood's protection, and supply the order with resources and recruits.
However, the village you have to protect is just this huge, mostly empty map. None of the villagers say anything particularly fun or memorable, and the actual combat is slow, yet unpredictable. I was mostly able to cut through the enemy troops with little difficulty, but like the other Fallout games, a single critical hit was enough to ruin my day. So, you have Fallout with none of its characteristic humor or freedom to explore, with a group of blandly generic characters, taking on a deep but swingy combat system that is not exactly newb-friendly. Not an auspicious start to the game.
Yet I'm not willing to simply write off the game after one level. It is possible that after some time customizing my squat (which is modeled with a truncated, by still quite detailed version of the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. system) and acquiring high-tech brotherhood weapons that I may come to view them with a proprietary fondness. It's also possible that future missions will be less generic, and that the game's story may have twists and turns that will come to captivate me (the first boss, Horus, seemed to view the Brotherhood as just another wasteland gang, so maybe the game will be a deeply ambiguous meditation on the morality of war, and the useful lies we tell ourselves to be able to countenance the most inhuman violence - or maybe it was just one of those bullshit lines that rpg villains occasionally spew out - only time will tell).
Though I'm a bit miffed at this game (seriously, that opening level was distressingly long), I also feel a kind of sympathy with it. It's the forgotten middle child of the Fallout series. Not as brilliantly ambitious as its predecessors, nor as polished and charismatic as the games to follow. It's just a weird little turn-based strategy game that tries to explore the limits of the Fallout engine (I'm still undecided on the merits of its continuous turn mode - I'll comment more about it in a later post) without (apparently) the same world-building and storytelling as its rpg siblings. Its unfair of me to view it as a roadblock standing in the way of Fallout 3. It is its own thing, and I should treat it accordingly.
(I just worry that I may not like this thing very much).