Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel Review
There sure has been a big mess of drama revolving around Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, as many gamers feel that Interplay is sacrificing a possibly great game for what they are sure will wind up being a mediocre title. As you may have heard Interplay has cancelled Fallout 3 and laid off the developers of the series, Black Isle Studios. This was at least partly, if not wholly, caused because Interplay couldn't afford to develop that as well as F:BOS at the same time. So now that it's here, is Brotherhood of Steel good enough to make it worth the loss of one of the best development teams PC gaming had? The sad answer is: "not really".
This game does for the Fallout series what Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance did for the Baldur's Gate series - and it's no coincidence that those games were published by Interplay as well. It serves up an action/RPG style of gameplay that focuses more on the action than anything else - it's a little like the Diablo games but with better graphics and a more console-friendly interface.
F:BOS is controlled almost the exact same way as BG:DA, but with a few changes. Many of the buttons are the same, and the left analog stick will control your character while the right stick rotates the camera as before. There is no mana bar in this game, though, and the right trigger instead allows you to lock on to enemies with any guns you might have equipped. This is pretty important here, as the game has a bigger focus on ranged weapons than BG:DA.
The controls are nice and solid, and though just about every button on the controller is used, the game's surprisingly easy to get into. It's this accessibility that made BG:DA so easy to pick up and get hooked on, and that same quality is present here. The inclusion of crouching is pretty useless, and having to move your thumb to the d-pad to toggle ducking is a hassle. Either way, it's only actually required once in a while.
The lack of a block button affects combat quite a bit more than what I first expected. This turns the game into a festival of mashed buttons, and even though the targeting system helps mitigate this a tad, it still feels like there aren't many tactics you can use to win. All you can do is pick the best weapon and pummel the A button until you've killed all the monsters in a blind rage. It was fun for a while, but not long.
Few can deny the interesting style of art present in the Fallout series, and most of the spirit of that style made it into this title. The post-apocalypse wasteland is crawling with mutant people and animals, various bandits and vagabonds, and plenty of deserted homes, warehouses, and other nastier areas.
The real problem is simply that one can only do so much with this kind of environment. It's difficult to create art that looks good but depicts something that's intentionally ugly - F:BOS only really pulls this effect off in a certain few areas. Even though there are a decent number of special effects in this game, including the good-looking water from BG:DA, it just doesn't have that much of an impact here. On top of this, the game engine is now more than a couple of years old, and with no obvious enhancements, it hasn't kept up well with the competition.
The characters and monsters generally look good, although you'll notice that you can't ever really get close up to many of them. The player characters and NPCs that you converse with are the only ones that are shown close-up, and the characters have a touch of a comic style to them. It really doesn't match that well with the rest of the game in this reviewer's opinion.
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel start out just like one might expect, and many of the standard RPG and action game stereotypes are here. You start off with a small fight, then get sent on a quest to kill mutated bugs and rats. From there, you will get access to a bit of cash and loot as well as a new quest that really kicks off the game's storyline. It's not the most original, but the formula does work. We also get to play in a two-player cooperative mode, although I'd love to see something other than D&D Heroes that supports four players at once - even if that many people all trying to play at once on a single screen turns into a huge mess of yelling and fighting.
The actual storyline in F:BOS isn't bad, but there's something about its delivery and the voice acting that feels a bit rushed. In fact, there are many things about F:BOS that feel rushed, but they're not so obvious at the start. Some of the animations look a bit unfinished, and even some of the interface text was pulled directly from BG:DA. For a game that should be completely different from a medieval action/RPG, this all looks entirely too familiar. This sort of thing has caused people to call this game Fallout: Dark Alliance, and I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment.
The most major change in gameplay we see here is a new focus on switching between melee and ranged weaponry. The encounter with the game's first boss makes a point of requiring you to do this, and as you go on, you will need to switch out more and more often. It's set up so that the black button on the Xbox controller will swap out any of the weapons you have equipped, even multiple melee or ranged weapons. It's nice and convenient.
F:BOS includes a level-up system very similar to what's seen in BG:DA, where you get an increasing amount of points every time you level up. These can be spent on a wide variety of skills, most of which can be powered up multiple times. Many of these skills are analogous to those seen in previous games of this type, and overall they're there's a large selection of some pretty useful stuff. The problem is that even though the three characters look unique, they just aren't that different when you play them. Each character only has a small handful of skills unique to him or her, as well; most skills are available to all of the characters. Going back through the game with a different character just isn't much fun here, as the experience winds up being largely the same.
You'll also pick up plenty of weapons and armor, as well as bullets - yep, this game has the annoyance of requiring you to pick up and buy multiple types of ammo depending on what gun you're using. For what's supposed to be a simplified hack and slash game, this is just a nuisance. But it's more than just that, though; the action, when we get right down to it, is just not satisfying to experience. The combat feels a bit disjointed, and without a block button, it's all button mashing and only a little finesse. For this reason, the game winds up being a bore rather than a joy to play. Even though it shares so much in common with BG:DA, it lacks the most important thing: fun.
The real problem comes when we realize that people who enjoyed Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance aren't going to play this game. They're going to play BG:DA2, which Interplay has unwisely decided to ship less than a week after this game's release date. It just doesn't seem to me like the Fallout atmosphere works too well with this style of action, and I think Interplay might wind up regretting the decision to kill off Black Isle Studios for the sake of more console action games.
Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel has a sometimes inspiring mix of music that includes a couple of tracks by the pop-rock band Slipknot. There are some areas where the music is barely audible, and others where it's simply too loud. It does fit the atmosphere, but none of it really stands out. To see a bigger list of the bands that contributed to the soundtrack, check out Interplay's press release about the soundtrack.
This is also one of the few games (although the number is growing, mainly because of a couple of high-profile games like Grand Theft Auto) that has a good amount of profanity in it. I've never understood why previously rated M games with over-the-top violence and gore would have literally no profanity at all, or why parents have a problem when otherwise violent games have a few bad words. So many other aspects of life include profanity, including music and movies, so why shouldn't a game rated for a mature audience?. Anyway, this game does have plenty of cuss words, and I for one am not complaining - it does fit the atmosphere.
The voice acting is full of mildly amusing wit and sarcasm. It's still tough to find a game nowadays that even tries to tell a few jokes regularly, so I do applaud Interplay for keeping that original Fallout tradition going. Otherwise, the voice acting isn't so hot; it's another piece of this game that doesn't jive too well with the look and feel of everything else. It's hard to put my finger on it, but it seems like the actors got all the wrong tone and inflection when they laid the voice work down.
Interplay's Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel is an action/RPG title that seems like it's less than the sum of its parts. Not only is the action disjointed, but it's just a bit too much of a chore to bash your way through it. While the Fallout atmosphere is hit-and-miss, the voice acting really hurts the feel of the game. It's just not worth your gaming dollar, especially when the similar but superior Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 2 is already out in stores.