Reinstall: Fallout 2
Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, Richard Cobbett returns to the post-nuclear isometric wonderland of Fallout 2.
Let me tell you the story of a town called New Reno. Isolated and protected from the worst of the Great War by its mountains, it rose from the wasteland like a phoenix addicted to a deadly drug. Folks called it the capital of sin and whores, safe for tourists only while their pockets jangled with precious bottle caps. At least, that’s how it was before you arrived.
While I enjoyed Fallout: New Vegas, the actual town of New Vegas—to be more exact, the Strip—was a bitter disappointment. You spend a good third of the game waiting to get into this fabled gambling utopia, only for the gates to finally open and reveal four deserted casinos squatting amongst post-apocalyptic debris. No texture, no threat, no soul. Not so in New Reno.
The New Reno of Fallout 2 is one of the most hideous, squalid hives you’ll ever visit, but in the best possible way. Its corruption feels appropriate, and in true Fallout style, it’s something you can exploit as easily as you can resist. You can join any of the four crime families, quickly work your way up through the ranks, and become a Made Man: at the expense of being shot at if you wander into other families’ turf. And those are just some of your options. What matters is that if you can make it in New Reno, you can make it anywhere in the Wasteland, and all you have to lose is your soul. Fair trade, right?
Fallout 2 remains a divisive RPG, even among the series’ notoriously rabid fans. It’s much sillier than its predecessor, with references to everything from Monty Python to Star
Trek largely dropped at random. Its handling of things like sex is either more mature or more “mature,” depending on your sense of humor. If you’re a female character for instance, your first encounter with one potential party member—a kid named Myron—involves him trying to slip you a mickey. And then, most likely, you kicking his scabby balls up through his mouth.
The part most people remember though (if only because there can’t be a single player who didn’t try it) is the sleazy porn studio in bad old New Reno—the place where you can temporarily put aside your quest and (cough)make your star rise. You don’t get to see any low-resolution hanky-panky, but you do get a special Reputation bonus, as well as a porn name that will haunt you for the rest of your quest. Dick Mountenjoy? Rodd Rokks? How about Ebineezer Screws or Arnold Swollenmember? All are actual choices that people in the street will start shouting at you—as are Lucy Loose, Pokeahotass, and Dominatrish for less-than-ladylike ladies.
It’s actually a relatively small area, but that doesn’t matter. Not only is there a lot to do and see, it’s an incredibly reactive little piece of design. As a female character for instance, expect to take lots of “sugar boobs” and “hey baby” crap. Do a porn movie and most guys love you, but the hookers sniff and spit—as opposed to salivating over a male stud. Become a Made Man as either gender, though, and the guards who previously gave you trouble suddenly can’t wait to suck up. Little, dynamic details like these do more for making a world feel “real” than a thousand carefully coded AI routines.
F2’s real genius, though, is that there’s no assumption that you have to win every fight or see every possibility. Sure, if you come to New Reno sporting stolen power armor, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with. More likely, however, you’ll arrive as just another schlub, easily put down if you go around starting fights with the wrong people. Not being the ultimate badass changes everything. What little power and influence you accumulate in New Reno is earned, and it’s more meaningful because of it. And that’s just the start.
You see, as a wanderer, you can never find home. You don’t have to set foot in New Reno to finish Fallout 2, but if you do, you’ll eventually have to leave. As with all the other towns you visit, however, your decisions have power. Who controls the streets? What happens to the drug trade? War may never change, but the world of Fallout 2 definitely does, and the one thing you can guarantee as the final credits roll is that however low New Reno sinks into depravity, nobody there will ever forget you—the hero or villain they only knew as Arnold Swollenmember.