The largely forgotten Fallout demo, which features completely unique content not found in the main game, is a free must-play for any Fallout fan

Fallout demo showing Vault Dweller speaking to Queen
(Image credit: Future)

Back in 1997, when I was simply an avid reader of PC Gamer magazine each month and not its editor, I picked up the July issue and, checking out the CD Gamer demo disc that was supplied with it, I immediately spotted the name 'Fallout' on the cover. It sounded super cool to my teenage ear, so I installed the demo, saw the now iconic key art of the power armor helmet for the first time, and the rest is history.

On the strength of the Fallout demo I bought the full game, and then proceeded to buy Fallout 2, Fallout Tactics, and every 3D Fallout game since (Fallout New Vegas is my favorite of those). And that's interesting because, as once noted by Fallout lead designer Chris Taylor, he '​​didn't think the demo did a very good job of portraying the actual game' and that for him 'the most memorable part about the demo was when Brian Fargo played it for the first time he was killed by a hernia (critical failure on a Strength check) in the first area trying to open the manhole cover to the sewers.'

Fallout demo showing gang combat.

Things get violent quickly in the Fallout demo. (Image credit: Future)

For me, though, the Fallout demo was a key part in why I picked up the game. The demo is not long by any means, and like the original main Fallout release, it's a bit unfinished/janky here and there, but it's an interesting window into how the original game was marketed. It's also heavily combat orientated and even lets you get your mitts on a minigun! Indeed, I'd recommend any PC gamer who is a fan of Fallout to play it at least once, and the really cool thing about the Fallout demo is that you can easily download it and play it today in 2024.

Fallout demo showing character inventory screen.

You can accrue quite an arsenal in the Fallout demo. (Image credit: Future)

How to grab and play the original Fallout demo today

It's really simple to get the Fallout demo up and running on a modern system, as detailed by one of the few resources online today that still records information about the demo, the Fallout Fandom Wiki. Here's what you need to do:

Stage 1: Download the demo from the Internet Archive. It's just 20mb, so you'll have it in seconds.

Stage 2: Extract the contents of the zip archive to anywhere (even just your desktop). You'll be left with a folder called 'falldemo'.

Stage 3: Inside the falldemo folder you'll find a Falldemo.exe, but don't click it straight away. First, we need to sort compatibility. So, right click on the Falldemo.exe and go to the Compatibility tab. Within that tab, under the Compatibility mode section, select the option to run the .exe in Windows 95 mode.

Stage 4: Finally, in the same Compatibility tab under the 'Display settings' section, tick the boxes to run the .exe in 256 colors and 640 x 480 screen resolution. You're now set to double click the Falldemo.exe and play the Fallout demo.

Fallout demo start showing character outside of Junktown.

That's what the barkeep says to me in the PC Gamer Towers bar each month after deadline. (Image credit: Future)

What do you do in the Fallout demo?

The Fallout demo is interesting as, unlike most videogame demos that just offer a small segment of the full main game, this demo technically delivers stand-alone content that is not available in the full Fallout game. This is despite the fact that the full game's Junktown location and a few characters are reused, at least in part.

The demo drops the Vault Dweller outside of Junktown and rapidly introduces them to the situation that the location is currently controlled by two rival gangs, the Crypts and the Fools, who are warring over control of the town's power generator. There's a few other things to do in the demo, too, but it largely involves the player siding with one of these gangs and then besting the other in combat. And, it's quite obvious when you play the demo, that it is the combat that Interplay wanted to promote with it, rather than Fallout's more RPG elements.

Fallout demo showing man complaining about dog.

It ain't my dog! (Image credit: Future)

Seasoned Fallout 1 and 2 players will notice that there are a few differences in how the demo plays compared to the main games, including changes to camera activity in combat, the lack of AP spend to reload your weapon, armour and weapon stats and more besides. The demo also features unique weapon sounds that were not used in the main games, too. And, you know what, I think some of them sound better than what they were replaced with. Guns sound a lot more like proper hand cannons. 

Fallout demo showing Queen exploding

Ouch! That gotta hurt. (Image credit: Future)

There are very strict limitations to the demo as well. For example, while you can technically create and spec out a custom character in the character selection menu, you cannot use it in the demo, instead being forced to play as the pre-built 'Max Stone' (who, I have to say, is not an ideal build for a demo that's largely about gun fighting). You can't even go into the options menu to tweak display settings, and saving and loading games is out of the question, too. Luckily, a single playthrough of the demo is like 10-15 minutes max, so being able to save progress isn't really an issue.

Fallout demo showing original menu screen with date released in corner

Advertising the new Fallout experience. Note the date: April 22, 1997. (Image credit: Future)

All said, though, two to three playthroughs of this demo act together as an interesting curio and glimpse back into the, depressingly for me, very distant PC gaming past. Well worth a small diversion I'd say as we all wait for news on Fallout 5.

Print Editor

Rob is editor of PC Gamer magazine and has been PC gaming since the early 1990s, an experience that has left him with a life-long passion for first person shooters, isometric RPGs and point and click adventures. Professionally Rob has written about games, gaming hardware and consumer technology for almost twenty years, and before joining the PC Gamer team was deputy editor of, where he oversaw the website's gaming and tech content as well its news and ecommerce teams. You can also find Rob's words in a series of other gaming magazines and books such as Future Publishing's own Retro Gamer magazine and numerous titles from Bitmap Books. In addition, he is the author of Super Red Green Blue, a semi-autobiographical novel about games and gaming culture. Recreationally, Rob loves motorbikes, skiing and snowboarding, as well as team sports such as football and cricket.