'Fallout' review: Something truly S.P.E.C.I.A.L. indeed


'I know what you're thinking. Did I fire one shot, or maybe none? But I'd ask myself a question: What's your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Luck stat, punk?' Photos: Handout

Time is the fire in which we all burn, said the fella who killed James Tiberius Kirk, quoting a 20th-century poet. And after the fire has burned us all, the only enemy left to defeat will be time – or so goes a key premise of Fallout, Prime Video's brilliant adaptation of the (also brilliant) videogame series of the same name.

You can't have swum up through the murky evolutionary waters of computer role-playing games (CRPGs) without encountering Fallout in one of its many incarnations.

I was lucky to have played the very first one from Interplay in 1997, and remember sitting there gobsmacked at the bitter end – reflecting on the disposability of humankind (individually and collectively) while The Ink Spots' poignant Maybe played over the end credits – as the storytelling in a videogame transcended the medium and gameplay (kudos, Tim Cain).

Subsequent entries may have upped the stakes in terms of immersiveness and gameplay, but IMHO, none really recaptured the emotional heft of the original.

Now, after countless hours of playing one form or another of Fallout over the years, I had the chance to just sit back and watch for eight hours straight – and I'm pleased to report that the series gets so many things right on the (big red) button.

Thumbs way, way up to series creators Graham Wagner and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, working under Westworld creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy's Kilter Films shingle, for making this more than just visually and aurally faithful to the games.

'In keeping with the 1950s vibe, I have to admit right here that I Was A Teenage Maleficent.''In keeping with the 1950s vibe, I have to admit right here that I Was A Teenage Maleficent.'

This adaptation is also wickedly funny, pointedly satirical without needing to wink at the viewer (while delivering some equally pointed truths about the human condition), occasionally NSFW in dialogue and situations, and doesn't hold back on the bloodshed (it's like everyone in there has the Bloody Mess perk).

It also offers solid character arcs for its three principals, with actual character growth and even the occasional Huge Error in Judgment (a staple of CRPGs, but more so their dice-paper-and-pencil counterparts).

So what's Fallout all about, the unfortunate uninitiated may ask. As the title suggests, it's set in the aftermath of nuclear war (and darn if the series' release isn't frighteningly topical).

The pre-war world, however, is slightly different from our own. Its United States of America remained culturally stuck in the 1950s/early Atomic Age while the years wore on, with the bombs finally dropping in 2077.

Selected individuals were sent to live underground in sprawling, secure Vaults as war loomed, while those on the surface (now the Wasteland) were left to their own devices.

The intent was for the Vault Dwellers to endure, and ultimately return to the surface to repopulate it and spread their "doctrine" to the survivors, if any.

But, as the fella who warned against oohing and aahing at resurrected dinosaurs said, life finds a way – and no one told the rest of humanity it had to wait for the re-emergence of Vault Dwellers to get on with its business. Certainly not for the 200+ years between Armageddon and the events of this series.

'Tradition dictates that you are not truly a knight's squire until you trot behind me clapping two coconut shells together.''Tradition dictates that you are not truly a knight's squire until you trot behind me clapping two coconut shells together.'

So it is that the three principals mentioned above find themselves drawn together on a quest for a most macabre MacGuffin: Vault Dweller Lucy (Ella Purnell, Yellowjackets, Army Of The Dead); the Ghoul (Walton Goggins, enough said!), a resilient, irradiated and now undead bounty hunter; and Maximus (a goofily earnest Aaron Moten, Disjointed), an aspirant in the Brotherhood of Steel – a widespread but splintered military order whose senior members stomp around in bulky suits of power armour.

Each of them has specific reasons for seeking the object, and frequently find themselves at odds with one another (though mostly, this clash involves Lucy and the Ghoul).

In the course of their (main) quest, little diversions pop up just like the side quests in the games, accompanied by a self-aware nod from the Ghoul.

There is, of course, a deeper-rooted and older agenda at work here, one that we unearth in flashbacks to the Ghoul's more human moments – glimpses that seem like mere backstory at first, but soon prove to be tightly woven into the sinister machinations that ended the world.

Speaking of the world, if it ever needed any more reason to hail Goggins as the MVP of everything he appears in, consider this more fuel for the (nuclear) fire.

He is equally matched in his world-weary cynicism by Purnell's literal wide-eyed eagerness and enthusiasm, with the light in those eyes noticeably fading as the harsh truths of the Wasteland and the lies told by her closest circle of trust snuff it out slowly over the course of this first season's eight episodes.

And what a season it is, with big revelations coming fast and furious towards its close and the inevitable utterance of "War... war never changes" having greater significance here than if it had just been used as a preamble, like in the games.

Every fanboy fibre in my being is screaming for a second season to hurry up and get here, already. And to think, we haven't even had a whiff of Deathclaws and Super Mutants.

The rules in the Fallout games are built around the acronym S.P.E.C.I.A.L., for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility and Luck. Think of Fallout the series, then, as something that embodies all those in abundance, as qualities and not mere statistics, merged in effective unison. Something truly SPECIAL indeed.


All eight episodes of Fallout Season One are available on Prime Video.

9 10

Summary:

How to get a head in the Wasteland.

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