The Fallout games have always had a certain charm to them haven’t they? They all take place in a world that’s as devastated as can be, and yet they still manage to keep everything light and even funny. In fact, it does a lot to keep things funny: propaganda-spouting death-robots, dog-powered machine guns, and the forever-smiling mascot of the whole series that is “Vault-Boy” just to name a few. I used to think that’s all there was to it, but after having played around in the Wasteland over the course of three games I have a feeling that there more going on here than just trying to keep the games feeling light and entertaining. There’s definitely more going on here then plain post-apocalyptic silliness, and I think the giveaway is found in the sheer brutality seen in the game’s combat.
Combat in the Fallout games has always been comically over-the-top. In the original games, enemies would often have pieces of themselves hacked-off and would always end up falling over into a big pool of their own blood. In the later games we have limbs getting shot off, heads-exploding from punches, and people melting into piles of goo or ash from energy weapon deaths. Add to that the slow-motion deaths from V.A.T.S. and what you get are enemies that don’t just die, but die outrageously! Beyond the simple comedic value of such deaths, I get the feeling that the sheer nastiness of it all is meant to underscore the Wasteland’s true nature. We’ve all understood the Wasteland as a harsh and dangerous place, but it doesn’t stop there; it can’t. Harsh and dangerous places are hard to live in, but the Wasteland is more than that. It’s absolutely brutal. The wasteland is a place filled with every imaginable danger: raiders, murderers, slavers, drugs, bugs, mutants, genetic monstrosities, greed, corruption, synthetic doppelgangers, genocidal extremists, radioactive waste, and irradiated everything else. It’s a hellish place where people meet grisly ends whether they’re in a protected settlement or not. As a powerful player-character, we of course won’t see that unless it’s put right in front of us. So, that’s exactly what’s done. Every enemy death is made into a big display for us, showing us that the wasteland is a brutal place for even the most brutal of creatures. However, the violence alone isn’t enough to drive that point home; that’s what the comedy is for.
Taken as it is, the comedy in the game is there to help keep us invested and stops us from sinking into the depression such a desolate world should inspire. Taken in context of the Wasteland however, it serves becomes something more akin to cynicism than comedy. The games always open (and end) with the same line: “War, War Never Changes.” It’s a great line, but it can also be put another way: “People Never Change.” The Wasteland is an absolutely brutal place, but it’s not as if the Old World wasn’t. It was full of battles fought over ideologies and resources, and ultimately ended because of those conflicts. The bombs ultimately fell and the world ultimately ended, but no lesson was learned. People in the Wasteland continued to struggle against each other for the exact same reasons, the only difference being the scale of the conflicts. That’s the big joke of Fallout: the worst actually happened, and it changed exactly nothing!
Fallout is a charming game thanks to its lighthearted outer-demeanor. At first glance, it seems to say that everything will be okay even though the world has ended. People did survive the nuclear apocalypse, so how could we not derive a little hope from it? However, closer inspection reveals this as a facade. Fallout isn’t hopeful, but cynical. Its main message is that it’s all one big joke, so it doesn’t matter what you do. Be you a savior of the wastes or one of its worst nightmares, what you do won’t change anything in the long run. All because war never changes, and neither do people.
What’s your take on the Fallout games? Do see something cynical or something else altogether? What inspired that impression?
(Top image captured by Hatm0nster)