Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel (F:BOS), a Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance clone that delivers a decent enough game play experience, gets its otherwise well-rendered post-nuclear setting dragged down by that reach for the oft-catered-to “guy” demographic. This is a shame because even with its layer of cheese, F:BOS does a good job of evoking the gritty atmosphere and humor that made the Fallout setting immortal in the minds of RPG fans. As for the game play itself, it lags behind the other action RPG games currently available, but is certainly capable of holding one’s attention.
F:BOS casts the player as one of three initiates to the Brotherhood of Steel (with three more unlockable characters available). The order consists of warriors who roam the post-apocalyptic wasteland keeping order and fighting for humanity’s survival. Starting in a classic burned-out Fallout town populated by grimy survivors, the player journeys in search of some Brotherhood knights sent to the area. The journey leads them through three chapters of action that take them to key areas of the Fallout world, including an underground vault.
The Fallout vibe of being present in a dirty, cynical, harsh world comes through right at the game’s title screen along with the warped humor personified by the ever-smiling Pip Boy. Seeing this, I thought that F:BOS would represent the setting as well as the Fallout RPGs.
However, as soon as the game actually starts, a huge-breasted, scantily-clad villainess marches through town. I’m not really one to question why she would be dressed like that in a world of hot sun and radiation because we all know the answer: because rendered video game women can. But after that, the cursing began. There’s a lot of cursing in F:BOS, mostly in the dialogue choices for the characters. Some of it is actually pretty funny and snappy, but other times it comes off as cursing for its own sake, which does little to endear one to their character.
The rest of the story pretty much follows that pattern: an intelligent and well-written plot branch undercut by immature humor; or an interesting, likeable character followed by an action game cliché. For example, one event has the player facing a character that quotes poet William Blake; later, a mutant really really needs to go to the bathroom. These dips into lowbrow are not bad enough to ruin the overall story, but I figured without them, F:BOS would have had an excellent dumb action story instead of a typical dumb action story.
Designed with a modified engine that powered the first Dark Alliance, F:BOS is essentially the same game with guns. The originality rests in its setting, and it does a good job of presenting that setting in the graphics, areas and monsters.
F:BOS plays similarly to Dark Alliance except it has guns and grenades instead of arrows and spells. Players are sent on quests that send them through post-nuclear style dungeons (abandoned warehouses, craters, etc.) to slaughter wave after wave of monsters. Characters can use ranged or melee weapons against the hordes.
As they bash or gun their way through the monsters, characters earn experience levels which they can use to acquire skills, most of which increase weapon damage. There is no mana meter in F:BOS, and the only special moves involve powering up a weapon by holding down the attack button. The game play difference among the characters rests in a choice of certain unique skills (one of these allows human characters to recruit a canine companion). Different game play styles revolve pretty much around the choice between melee or ranged weapons. The game could have used more skill options to develop or special moves to differentiate the characters. Instead, this lack is one of several areas where F:BOS seems underdone or perhaps rushed before ready.
While most of the missions are straightforward dungeon bashes, there are several curves thrown in, including some puzzles to solve, optional areas such as an arena to fight in, even an intense level that prevents a player from running or using two-handed weapons. Mostly though, it’s chop-chop, bang-bang, and heal-heal through the hordes, with some fairly challenging boss fights thrown in. The levels are designed well enough so that even though there’s no quick way to return to a shop (e.g. a recall potion), players will usually have a quick route to one when they need it. Shop visits need not be as common since the characters have no encumbrance limit – provided of course that they primarily use melee weapons, something that I imagine will be common since there’s rarely much reason to use ammo when the various melee weapons will serve for 100% less money.
The addition of guns really doesn’t add much to the game play. While there’s a fine lock-on system that allows acrobatic dodging, there’s little reason to get fancy as the enemies are often too quick or too accurate to avoid getting hit. It’s usually easier to just blast away, running and/or healing if necessary. The thrown weapon system works very well though, providing a visual aid to see how far the character will chuck a grenade – useful for enemy groups behind cover.
Like the first Dark Alliance, side quests are few, mostly consisting of fetching something within the main plot area. Ultimately, the game is pretty linear, and I was particularly disappointed with a lack of different dialogue options for the characters. Still, I got hooked on developing the character into a wasteland warrior of tremendous firepower. Not much to criticize about this type of game play, it’s pretty fun in and of itself (wasn’t there this game called Diablo awhile back?) The two-player cooperative mode can make it even more fun. The problem is that the other action RPGs available do this type of game better – more depth, better graphics, less obnoxious stories, and more options. Thus, F:BOS is better suited as a rental to see if the player becomes captivated by the dark, survival-of-the-fittest Fallout world.
The character models, animations, and settings in the game’s action sequences all look great, especially the monsters. The settings in particular, from the dark ghoul city glowing with green puddles to the ultra-sanitized looking Vault area, portray the brokedown, scarred atmosphere well enough to make me pine for a Fallout 3 RPG rendered with today’s graphic technology. Yet the graphics show another evidence of uneven design: character models are pretty poor during the dialogue sequences, hardly animated at all. Effects for guns and explosions are alright though, except that memorable Fallout death animations are replaced by familiar Dark Alliance-style collapses or your basic bloody explosion.
Considering F:BOS has a lot of touted heavy and nu-metal bands on its soundtrack, among them the ever-luvin’ Slipknot, and Skinlab (who have an unlockable video on the disc), it surprised me how much excellent ambient music and off-the-wall acoustic tunes were present. The metal comes and goes briefly in portions of the game, such that I wondered why it wasn’t played more prominently – most levels rely on the quieter tunes. Whether likeable or obnoxious, all the characters in the game have fine voice-acting talent behind them. Sound effects may need to be lowered a bit in the options, but they add to the intensity in combat.
First jaunt through the main plot lasted about 20 hours, with enough challenge and character development options to keep it interesting. Four difficulty levels, including a nearly impossible one, give the game some lasting value, as do the unlockable characters, videos, and slideshows. What F:BOS really needed was more variety in the different characters though, whether more unique skill sets, different dialogue options, or story paths.
Overall Score: 72%