Just this week, we learned that Interplay shut down its Black Isle Studios division, which began in 1997 with the release of the classic PC role-playing game Fallout. Set in a postapocalyptic world and filled with memorable characters, Fallout was a unique and open-ended game that was just the first in a long line of outstanding role-playing games from Interplay's studio. With the closure of Black Isle came the cancellation of Fallout 3, so possibly the last game to bear the name will be Fallout: Brotherhood of Steel, an action RPG similar to 2001's great Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance. We just got the final PS2 and Xbox builds, which are due out a month from today, and though we're still in mourning over the passing of Black Isle, we're comforted by this new game that's playing as expected thus far.
If you've played Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance, you'll quickly notice that Brotherhood of Steel uses the same engine. The menus and all the graphics are different, but the feel and the mechanics of the two games are almost identical. The PS2 and Xbox versions look similar at a glance, though the Xbox version is a little cleaner and sharper. In gameplay terms, the main difference between Fallout and Baldur's Gate is that Fallout features a lot more ranged weapons than Baldur's Gate does (though there are plenty of melee weapons available, too). Also, while there are some special abilities in Fallout, obviously there aren't any magic spells.
You can start either a one-player or two-player game and choose one of three different characters: a young woman named Nadia, a tough-looking bruiser named Cyrus, and a mutated "ghoul" named Cain. These characters basically all play alike and are very similar at first. However, each has access to a few unique abilities, which may be unlocked after you gain enough experience levels from fighting enemies and solving quests. Regardless of which character you choose, you start off in the town of Carbon, which is overrun with raiders and "rad scorpions"--basically, very big scorpions. Fallout fans will quickly recognize these and numerous other references to the series. You might also be put off a bit by the dialogue, which is laced with profanity. As in Dark Alliance, you can speak to certain non-player characters and get quests from them, but for some reason, there always seems to be the option to cuss them out.
At any rate, the combat is the main attraction. The game runs smoothly from an isometric perspective, and you can readily switch between several weapons in real time, such as between the pistol and the iron gloves you start out with. Ranged weapons obviously have an advantage in some respects, but they have limited ammo. Random critical hits are possible, sending their victims flying backward. Stim packs replace healing potions and can instantly be used to regain health. The game actually starts off pretty easy at the default setting, but we're sure it's going to get a lot tougher. The core appeal of Dark Alliance is definitely intact in this game--you can easily battle large groups of enemies, and it's addictive to keep smashing through their ranks, earning more loot and experience. A few new moves are present here that weren't in Dark Alliance. You can target individual foes and execute evasive moves, like lateral rolls or backward flips.
We're looking forward to playing more of Brotherhood of Steel. We know that we'll soon be facing huge enemies like supermutants, rather than the generic scorpions and thugs we've faced thus far. The game definitely captures the style of Fallout, and it has the simple and basically entertaining mechanics of Dark Alliance, so we're hopeful about how this one will pan out. Look for our full review soon.