A Taste of the Pre-Apocalypse Makes Fallout 4's Intro Work

A Taste of the Pre-Apocalypse Makes Fallout 4's Intro Work

We've seen video game prologues like this before, but a trip to a world free of nuclear horror makes Fallout 4's worthwhile.

No matter how much technology changes, one thing definitely hasn't: If you're playing a big, beefy, triple-A game, more often than not, it'll open with a prologue mostly patterned after what's found in 1998's Half-Life.

And it's not hard to see why this has become the de facto video game opening for nearly 20 years. Going for an intro similar to Gordon Freeman's exploration of the Black Mesa Research Facility allows developers a chance to develop a world, atmosphere, and characters before mechanics, systems, and challenges can distract players from the narrative's intent. I'll agree this style of opening is used way too often, but that doesn't mean it can't be done effectively: The first 20 minutes of BioShock Infinite, for instance, stood out as the only time I was really having fun during my stay in Ken Levine's Columbia.

Fallout 4, like 3 before it, also opts for this style of gently easing you into its world. But the big difference here—something that hasn't happened in any Fallout to date—is that you begin the game before the post-apocalypse, which feels pretty monumental for a series that leans heavily on the contradiction of post-war, picket-fence consumerism set against a desolate and hopeless wasteland. Though your window into this version of Fallout's world is limited to a simple cul-de-sac, I didn't want to leave until I'd absorbed every last piece of flavor text. Since so much of Fallout is comprised of sifting through the pieces and determining how people really lived before things got bad, it's a real treat to pore over possessions that will soon (for the player, anyway) be the remnants of a ruined civilization.

The one real downside, though, is that Fallout 4's intro slightly diminishes the whole "RPG" aspect of the experience—and I mean that in the most traditional sense of the term. With every Fallout game, you typically enter the game as a clean slate: Part 3 gives you the role of an Important Guy's kid, while New Vegas casts you as a courier with bullet-based amnesia. Thanks to the tighter narrative focus of Fallout 4's opening, though, you have no choice but to be a middle-class family man or woman, and with a job that may belie the traits you choose. Even if I want to play, say, a female character who's strong as heck (or simply dumb as heck) and takes no prisoners, I'll have to accept the fact that she also apparently has a law degree—I guess a few days in the Wasteland can really change people.

But, above all, what I like most about Fallout 4's intro can be found in how much mystery it adds to the narrative. Now, it's been a good four years since I last touched a game from the series, and while I'm sure plenty of online resources exist to show me the Fallout timeline as a whole, it's been awfully interesting to take the role of a newcomer to the post-apocalypse. And it's not just the mystery of how the world ended, but also, who killed my partner and stole my child, and why. I'm still incredibly early in the game, so I still have no idea if I'll be satisfied by the answers I find, but so far, I've been enjoying the fact that unending misery isn't a fact of life for my character... yet.

Now, I'll fully agree that our old buddy ludonarrative dissonance pops up shortly after the intro to make things just a bit jarring. Left to your own devices after a 200-year nap, it only takes a few minutes before you transition from coddled suburbanite to a radroach-punching, molerat-shooting video game protagonist. But it's a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, seeing as I'll likely spend the next 50 to 100 hours knee-deep in a rotting brown-and-green hellscape. If anything, that brief, 20-minute taste of a better world only underlines the tragedy of Fallout 4's world; and it's safe to say that, as people who play video games, the post-apocalypse is so common a setting that we often forget its significance. Fallout 4 shows us things were once better, and could be once again—if you make the right choices.

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