Why Fallout 3’s visual design makes it one of the best in the series?

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My thoughts on why Fallout 3 is the most aesthetically integral part of the series, and its visual component is in perfect harmony with the overall philosophy and message of the game, complementing and reinforcing each other.

Where did it all start? Palp and “Hardboiled”

The Fallout series needs no further introduction: we all know about the war that never changes, and about the terrible army of the Super Mutant Master, and how some savage managed to blow up a giant underwater city full of innocent civilians. But few people seriously think about the purely aesthetic side of the games in the series. And very much in vain, because the developers themselves did not seem to attach much importance to this. except for one single game, which, for some reason, it has become fashionable to hate.

Let’s start from afar: it’s no secret that (almost) every game in the franchise has a retro-futuristic style that mimics visions of the future sixty or seventy years ago, with a pinch of Mad Max thrown in and a bunch of low-budget imitators.

Fallout 1 went a little further in this regard, clearly focusing on mid-20th century fiction in general. It would seem that everything is on the surface: there is promo art and loading screens, clearly imitating the covers of palpable sci-fi magazines of those times, and an overall style that refers to Frank Frazetta, but … what if I tell you that it is not so simple ?

In the early 90s, the notorious Frank Miller, in collaboration with artist Geof Darrow, released a comic book called Hardboiled. And, although this work is curious in itself, we are primarily interested in its visual component. And she, in addition to the fact that the comic is drawn with simply maniacal attention to detail, is notable for a number of very “strange” choices.

 Los Angeles of the future here is full of the most amazing anachronisms. Skyscrapers in the art deco style, studded with cooling pipes of nuclear reactors and cars that suspiciously resemble the American auto industry of the beginning and middle of the last century in their design, are combined here with quite modern (at that time), and even quite futuristic technologies, weapons, fashion , and just a bunch of different cultural moments that belong to the 90s rather than the 50s.

“So what?” you might ask. “After all, this isn’t the first instance of such an eclectic approach to the setting!” “Well,” I reply, “not only are the parallels obvious, but the first Fallout itself is full of direct references to Hardboiled.” Probably the most obvious and famous of them is the protagonist’s pistol, which was transferred to the game without any changes at all. But there are many other little things, such as the design of some cars and architecture, and the overall color scheme, that cannot but evoke appropriate associations. Also, if my memory serves me, Avellone mentioned this comic as one of the inspirations for The Fallout Bible.

However, if this approach was good for a frankly hooligan comic that gave exactly zero context about its setting, then in the case of a role-playing game with a moderately developed world, in my opinion, it works a little worse. In addition, in the sequel, according to Avellone himself, the general tone and art direction took a wrong turn. And in the Bible itself, Chris writes the following:

The world of Fallout is similar to Torg (a board game in which players choose archetypes from different adventure genres instead of ordinary classes, and the gameplay itself is aimed at the maximum “cinematic” of what is happening. Among more modern systems, Savage Worlds is similar in that the laws of physics and logic are somewhat different from our universe. It’s all based on 50s worldviews and Palp era comics.

Simply put, Fallout is how people from the 50s saw the future (which they then dropped a bunch of nuclear warheads on). As a result, we have an endlessly stretching desert, radiation that can create terrible mutants, and blasters and brains in jars are everyday things. At every step, there are either giant evil tentacles with plans to take over the world, or clumsy robots with glass-domed heads and lots of flashing lights. And science as a whole is not only heavily atomic and optimist, but also outrageously simple to implement, allowing humans to create ultrasonic guns, death rays, and lasers, usually in the shortest possible time (especially when there is an invasion from space).

Most modern concepts regarding artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and so on, are not part of the Fallout universe, since people in the 50s did not know anything about them (well, except for the terminology regarding artificial intelligence, which was officially used at the Dartmouth summer conference in 1956, if I don’t confuse anything).

Chris Avellone, Fallout Bible.

As you can see, this contradicts some aspects of the aforementioned comic book, which, while replete with retro aesthetics, did not focus on “representing the past about the future,” as well as the series of games themselves, which, the further they departed from the original Fallout, the fewer elements described by Chris remained in it.And Brotherhood of Steel (not the Tactics version, but the one that reskins Dark Alliance from consoles), in general, was a million miles away from this.

To be honest, at the beginning of the 2000s, the Fallout franchise was in the deepest creative crisis, and neither the developers nor the publishers knew what to do with the series, and many of the Van Buren developments we know only confirm this. She needed a shake-up, a reboot, a rethink.

Rethinking. Adam Adamovich and Terry Gilliam.

For better or worse, that’s exactly what happened. And if I have questions about a lot of elements of what Bethesda ended up with, then the atmosphere and art direction turned out to be not only at their best, but, as you can see now, the best in the entire series of games. Why is that? Let’s figure it out!

Adam Adamovich

First of all, it is worth highlighting the “elephant in the room”, whose name is Adam Adamovich. He worked at Bethesda Softworks as an artist and designer from 2005 until his death from cancer in 2012. Over the years, he worked on the Shivering Isles expansion for TES4: Oblivion, and on Fallout 3 with expansions, and on TES5: Skyrim, and even barely managed to make a tiny contribution to the development of Fallout 4.

And, of course, I don’t know everything about the internal kitchen of this studio and about many of its employees, but from what I saw with my own eyes, it seems that Adamovich is the best thing that happened to Bethesda in terms of approach to generation and visualizing their ideas since the days of the Kirkbride-Rolston duo. Or even ever.

In his sketches for Shivering Isles, we see some absolutely fantastic fractal castles with abstract interiors, evoking associations either with the work of Giovanni Piranesi or with the drawings of Gerard Trignac; grotesque ugly creatures and the gloomy atmosphere of a bad sick dream, strikingly contrasting with the bright, flooded with life original “Oblivion” (as it should be for places with the names of Mania and Dementia). Unfortunately, most of them remained unrealized, and looking at these drawings, it becomes clear why. It will take another 5 years before the game graphics reach the required level to be able to draw something like this.

But let’s get down to business, namely, Fallout 3, during the development of which Adamovich was the main (and, perhaps, not the only) artist. Actually, this fact alone distinguishes Fallout 3 from its predecessors (and followers too), because all of its aesthetic components are the brainchild of one person who not only had a clear vision and awareness of what needed to be done, but also a considerable amount of talent .

At the same time, the talent was clearly channeled in the right direction, as so many elements of the new design were a direct transfer and rethinking of their counterparts from the first two games and a logical development of what was described in the “Bible”.

However, instead of vague and sloppy eclecticism with elements of retrofuturism, as was the case in Fallout 1 and 2, or complete immersion in the “caramel 50s,” a la Jetsons and Norman Rockwell’s work, as was the case in New Vegas 4, and, to a lesser extent, 76, a third path was chosen: what if the naive future according to the patterns of the middle of the last century, as Avellone bequeathed, nevertheless

However, it does not dare call him naive. If you are at least familiar with the world of the Fallout universe, then you know that even before the Great War, it was, to put it mildly, not very good. For decades, America has been economically and culturally stagnant, and the life of an ordinary person in this country was more akin to a typical dystopia with a police state, ration cards, and other horrors than a vision of a bright future where robots will mow lawns and walk dogs.

In this regard, the third part always reminds me of the third part of the movie “Brazil” in 1985. However, the world is not stuck in the 50s but rather in the post-war 40s. The main point, however, is not retrofuturism itself, but how it is presented and what goal it seeks in the work.In the case of “Brazil,” you get the impression that living in this world would be hell.And not so much because of the authoritarian government, terrorists, dead ecology, rampant poverty, cannibalistic capitalism, and bureaucracy brought to the point of absurdity (by the way, all these things could be said about pre-war America from Fallout), but because even everyday actions are simply inconvenient.

Technologies here do not make a person’s life easier; they are not his friends; they are some kind of wild product of a man-made hell that has long gone out of control and is developing on its own. Everything is cumbersome, inconvenient, and non-intuitive to use, and most importantly, it never works as it should and breaks at one sideways glance. And, as we will see later, Fallout 3 follows a similar idea, with only one difference: if in the Terry Gilliam movie, you will break another complex device by handling it carelessly, then in Fallout 3 the device will break you.

And so, we have before us a terrible-looking picture in which the world is rolling into the abyss, completely dependent on machines that hardly make life better, and humanity, actually taken hostage by them, is slowly going crazy. Idyll!

Sam Lowry climbing out of a Messerschmitt KR200 in Brazil
Sam Lowry, climbing out of a Messerschmitt KR200 in Brazil (1985).

Culture, stagnation, and imagined utopia

The first two games did not go into details about pre-war life, either preferring to concentrate on what is happening here and now or referring to how quickly the past is forgotten (after all, the descendants of the Exodus went wild to the level of the Bronze Age in two generations ). That’s not bad in itself, because the games were made and written in such a way that we didn’t really care about the affairs of the past. At least until the bearers of the ideas of Great Pre-War America wanted to arrange a real genocide on the west coast.

Let’s stop there. In Fallout 2, the Enclave is the closest thing to the old USA in the brave new world of a scorched post-apocalyptic wasteland. For a century and a half, they lived in complete isolation, trying to preserve their ideology and culture as much as possible in order to restore “the same” America after a nuclear war. In second place can be put the City of Refuge, whose inhabitants not only spent relatively little time underground but also, having got out to the surface, preferred to remain isolated from the outside world, mired in xenophobia. Unlike the NCR, which, in fact, reinvented the American nation anew, the Enclave and the Vault City are the remnants of the tei, the direct heirs of the same system that died out with the war.

And against the background of such things, I want to ask: was it really so bad before the war? Fallout 3 gives the answer: yes. and sometimes even worse.

But then what exactly is this game so remarkable against the background of, for example, the fourth part, where similar topics were raised in the same way? Or in general, any work on the topic? The answer is simple: here, the contrast between the imaginary “great America” and the harsh reality is greater than ever. We are told about amazing pre-war technologies, about almighty science, robots, and computers that made life easier for people. But in reality, all that we see is cold gray metal, replete with gratings, toggle switches, and coils of wires. Remember the intro to the movie “Child of Man”, where the main character watches a propaganda video while riding the bus, and then we are shown what is really happening around him? There is a similar situation here.

If in New Vegas and 4 we see the remnants of the past, playing with all the colors of the rainbow, the world, with bright signs, multi-colored skyscrapers and, familiar to us, light and airy architecture, the greatness of which survived a nuclear war and 250 years of decay, then in Fallout 3, the pre-war world that appears before us is a gray, grotesque and hostile nightmare. It is hard to imagine that it once had bright colors, the sun shone, and people were happy.

Fallout 3

Or, at least, that the happiness of these people was sincere and did not manifest itself in spite of everything that surrounded them. After all, even without a direct image of pre-war society, in an already destroyed world, there are a lot of unambiguous hints that something was wrong with these people: the books “Atlas Shrugged” lying in piles of decayed rubbish, a very strange and even decadent advertisement for Walt-Tek, the capitalization of the fear of nuclear war, expressed not only in underground bunkers, which were supposedly even built with taxpayer money, but also in the so-called “Pulovsky shelters” that would help someone during the war a little more than a refrigerator, more reminiscent of Shekley suicide booths than nuclear defenses.

At the same time, people not only lived in the midst of this horror but also sought mass self-deception, trying to cover the depressing reality with a layer of naive optimism. Even if they didn’t do it very well, the remnants of the pre-war world almost scream that the Americans tried to put a good face on a bad game, even if they knew it wouldn’t end well.Is this a hymn to human optimism? Or maybe references to the hypocritical mores of society from the 50s and 60s? Looking at the whole picture, it seems to me that the latter.

Unfortunately, for one reason or another, the topic of American xenophobia (not to be confused with American exceptionalism, which is a wagon and a small cart in the game) is hardly touched upon in Fallout 3, although the soil for it is more than fertile. Especially considering that the game gives a bunch of hints at the numerous fifth columns that operated in the US shortly before the war and included, among other things, defectors from the Chinese diaspora.

However, the Enclave stands apart, which, although it is a rather rough carbon copy of its counterpart from Fallout 2, manages to show the conservative American society stuck in the past to the point of absurdity even a little better. This is still a group of grotesque vaudeville villains who want to commit genocide under the auspices of helping the disadvantaged and, moreover, much more grotesque and vaudeville than before … But the Enclave from Fallout 3 has one great detail: “president” John Henry Eden.

A fairly common trope, moreover, copying the Chinese Emperor from Fallout 2, which can’t even be called a plot twist (anyone who knows the legend of the “steel man” John Henry figured it out when he first listened to the radio) actually adds quite a lot to this iteration of the Enclave a curious detail: their leader is not even an AI, smart enough to be a president, or a machine specially designed to run the state. He is nothing more than a randomly self-realized (and truly self-conscious?) tin can, whose entire personality, philosophy, and principles are a mishmash of biographies, speeches, and actions of American presidents. Nothing more than a set of algorithms that act without understanding the essence, like a neural network that draws a picture based on its database and combines the finished results from there, but does not understand the rules for constructing composition, proportions, color theory, and the like.

Caricature enclaves become tragic characters as a result of this. They believe in their ideals of the pre-war world so much that they want to “return everything back” so much that they are ready to go anywhere for a strange voice from a loudspeaker, as long as it tells them what they want to hear. Like pre-war society in America, many citizens of the enclave chose to turn a blind eye to all the strange, or even frightening, moments, continuing to blindly believe in the correctness of their actions and the greatness of their country.

Technology. Man-made hell is like a cancerous tumor on the body of the Earth.

Other robots that we meet in the game are not much better than Eden: they are all the same clumsy blanks, barely able to realize what is happening around them, but they create the illusion of meaningful speech and even the presence of some rudiments of personality quite well. In some places, like the McClellans’ home, it even evokes a kind of uncanny valley effect.

However, the man-made horrors of the world of Fallout 3 are actually much more obvious and numerous. Great examples are waiting for us at the very beginning, in the shelter, or rather, at the birthday party of the protagonist. In addition to the things that are standard for a child’s birthday, such as children dragged to it from all over the neighborhood, strange and not really needed gifts, and spoiled mood, natural questions begin to arise in our heads: why does the butler robot cut the cake with a circular saw? Why does a butler robot even have a built-in circular saw? Why, in addition to a circular saw, does it have a flamethrower built into it? What does OSHA, or its equivalent in this world, think about this?

But the highlight of the program is a security guard who gives us a real personal PipBoy-3000: a bulky, heavy, metal unit with dubious functionality, with which it is quite possible to beat someone to death … and which is now with us until the end of our fucking life, because you can only remove it with your hand. And most importantly—not so long ago, he was clearly on someone’s corpse. And after that, they still ask if I will eat my sweet roll.


And how do you like the fact that stowaways in the subway are shot with lasers by automatic security systems? very humane. as well as the cars so often criticized by the players, which explode with atomic mushrooms even 200 years after the war. On the one hand, it seems to be unrealistic, but on the other hand, this strange detail also helps us to assemble a complete picture of the pre-war world, where people, having received atomic energy at their disposal, simply do not know how to use it, and the terrible units created by them do more harm than good. Cars in Fallout 3 are a combination of all the worst sins from the book “Dangerous at any speed”, with bulging sharp bumpers, wide track, low stance, and a bunch of decorative elements on the body, multiplied by the threat of a reactor explosion or radiation leakage from even a small accident.

Speaking of explosions, or more precisely about weapons as such, in Fallout 3, there are a lot of them, but they can be divided into two categories: fully or partially based on real samples, and fantastic. Moreover, unlike some frankly inappropriate and “modern” guns from 2 and New Vegas and Tactics, like the Bozar, AR-15, and other P90s, non-fiction weapons here are limited mainly to the period of the early Cold War, and the equipment the soldier uses is not far from the famous photo of the Future Soldier of the Pentomic period. But the further progress moved away from the FN-FAL known to us (or, to be meticulous, its counterpart in the form of the R91) and the standard type of revolvers with hunting rifles, the more strange the weapon became.

Furthermore, strangeness and unusualness are expressed in an explosive mixture of primitive rudeness of stamped riveted steel and intricate impractical design, rather than in a futuristic appearance as such. In a word, the firearm here repeats the basic postulates of the design of the rest of the world.

Submachine gun 10mm
Submachine gun 10mm

Most energy weapons follow a similar philosophy: for example, laser rifles are just a battery with a set of lenses attached to a crude metal handle and butt, and the only barrel that even somewhat resembles a real weapon is a gauss rifle.

Against the backdrop of all this, the equipment of the Enclave stands out, which, instead of industrial clumsiness and simplicity, appears before us in the form of a terrible heap of what are usually called greebles. Of course, Adamovich was a big fan of small details in general, but the obvious contrast is obvious.

And this approach, which was noticeable even in the sketches, in my opinion, is not only a product of attempts to make the factions different from each other but also serves the narrative a little. It’s easy to see that many things used by the Enclave simply look like something from another world, or even from another game. And, it seems to me, this is what the game shows us what a world could look like in which there was no war and which continued to develop all these two centuries.

Enclave power armor
Enclave power armor, apparently inspired by Fallout Tactics.

The architecture is even weirder: instead of the “streamlined” modern and googie typical of mid-20th century America, we have a strange mixture of structuralism, art deco, and, suddenly, functionalism. In some places, even hints of brutalism are visible.

By the way, the art deco in the game is straight from the 1920s, with straight lines, stylized metal sculptures, and the maximum simplicity of forms. The same can’t be said about the so-called revival of this style that occurred in the 1960s, as a result of which it underwent many changes, mixing with American modern, and which, at first glance, would have been much more appropriate for Fallout games.

Dunwich Building
Dunwich Building

But the architectural delights of the US in 2077 are not limited to this: both historical and newer buildings here were rebuilt and completed, dressing them in metal frames that, like cancerous tumors, cover half of the city. If, in general, the game encourages us to think that humanity in the game world has corrupted and perverted nature, then this is an excellent illustration of how humanity has perverted itself, its culture, and history. And the infamous Jefferson Memorial, which was converted into a cleaner even before the war, was clearly studded with metal stairs and pipes even before the war: a group of Rivet City scientists would hardly have mastered such a large-scale construction.

And you know what this reminds me of? The way the FEV in the game affects living beings, covering them with the same unnatural growths, edema, and tumors, mixes some creatures with others and causes uncontrolled growth.

Ecology. Gray earth and a green sky

I will not reveal a secret to anyone if I say that Fallout 3 is not only anti-war but also environmentalist. Moreover, in the plot, ideas about protecting the environment and the consequences of a man-made disaster are often presented at the level of cartoons like Fern Valley. And this is especially disappointing because no other game in the series has had such harmony between the theme, plot philosophy, and world design.

Everything shown and described in the game can be fit into a single quote:

I have a question for you, my dear listeners, boys and girls! Have you ever seen a tree?

Boris Repetur about the ecology of Washington

And it’s no surprise: the game depicts a dead world in which nothing grows, there are almost no normal animals left, and most people have turned into wild cannibals, not unlike the brutals from the Zardoz film.The story revolves around fixing the wrongs of the past and opportunities to make the D.C. area a little more livable, which is expressed not only through the water purifier mainquest but also through a bunch of side actions, like helping Moira write her book or deciding the fate of Harold and Oasis.

The wasteland here is so wasteland that almost nothing grows in it except for half-dead, yellowed grass, and all the water is infected. Cities are completely destroyed; forests have long since disappeared; the sun only occasionally comes out from behind leaden clouds; and the air itself has a sickly brownish-green hue. Yes, the same green color filter that many people like to complain about, in fact, creates the lion’s share of the atmosphere.

Even the first impression that the game makes on the player immediately after leaving the vault is deliberately designed to make the “brave new world” look as grim and oppressive as possible. The panorama (in combination with low LODs) is built in such a way that we do not see other settlements except for this, almost razed to the ground, the town, some kind of indistinct heap of scrap behind the neighboring hill and the destroyed Washington on the very horizon. We will, with a high degree of probability, go to Megaton through Springsdale, and see that there is almost nothing left of the town, except for the concrete monster of the local school, which is also half collapsed.

Every detail here is made for a reason, but to show or tell something about the world while not really disclosing any information, and the design of the locations very competently encourages certain actions while not leading the player by the hand and not pointing to the commission’s specific actions. No wonder Todd Howard loved this moment so much that now it seems he intends to insert it into every game.

A storyboard for an early version of Vault 101’s journey to Megaton, which would be far more effective and efficient than what we have in the game…if she could afford to have huge empty spaces that contain nothing but glassy earth.

But, of course, The Pitt addon takes the lead in demonstrating the horrors of a man-made disaster. The mere mention of Pittsburgh and the things that go on there by the paladins of the Brotherhood of Steel in the Citadel gives goosebumps. But when we finally make the trip there, the reality is far worse. Perhaps this addon, along with some details from Fallout 1, is the darkest thing in the entire series of games. Here, everything I wrote above can be safely multiplied by two, or even three. It’s just a pity that they don’t let the baby eat.

However, in the most controversial addon, Mothership Zeta, there is a thing that not only changes the context of what is happening in the games but makes you think about what this world that survived a nuclear war really is. The fact is that from there we can see the Earth from space, and … in general, take a look for yourself:

Earth, 2277.

A brown dead world with ulcers in the places of cities; dried up oceans, on which hurricanes now walk; and a huge luminous crater somewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, which is visible even from space. Do you feel the hopelessness creeping in? I do too. Such an Earth can no longer be saved; there will be no revival; and the only way for humanity to survive is for it to wither slowly, alongside the remnants of their own planet.

And it is all the more offensive that in subsequent games, this almost ingenious idea was decided to be ignored. Not only is Fallout 4 stuck in the past, attempting to strike a balance between the new and old visions of New Vegas, but it has also completely abandoned and retconned itself.

However, even in such a much less pessimistic context, Fallout 3 remains depressing: while the first quasi-states appear on the West Coast, there are not only states, not even normal cities; only a trading outpost in a crater that survives due to caravans and a source of at least some clean water; crowds of former military and scientists on an aircraft carrier; and a skyscraper hotel inhabited by former (slave) traders, bandits, and just marauders who have amassed relative wealth, who were lucky enough to snatch more booty. The rest are either small family farms, or a dozen people somehow huddled together, settled somewhere in a secluded place, or a slave market.

And, characteristically, none of the large settlements can fully provide for themselves, so they are still intact solely thanks to the caravaners. Only here, unlike the others (Megaton has an artesian well, vegetables and fruits are grown in Rivet City, Canterberry is a trading hub from where routes are organized, and even Arefu and the Republic of Dave have their own small farms with brahmins or something like wheat for exchange), does Tempenny Tower lead a purely parasitic way of life, only buying up the means of subsistence but not providing anything to society in return.

And the space outside the settlements is teeming with raiders, who, on the one hand, were reduced from organized gangs to barely able to speak savages, which fits perfectly into the setting, but on the other hand, they lost all their individuality, and in the game their “savagery” is almost not perceived in any way. They are spoken of as some kind of faceless force of nature rather than as people, and almost all interactions with them are arranged in an extremely primitive and one-sided way: in the form of a bullet in the forehead.

But there are creatures in the Capital Wasteland worse than humans. Mutants in Fallout 3 look, perhaps, as mutants are supposed to look like: they are ugly, covered with tumors, burns, and obviously sick with something. Even in the graphics of 2008, which could not fully realize all the subtleties of the author’s idea, they look at least repulsive. Cronenberg himself would have envied such a body horror.

The same can be said about super mutants. From the simple blue-green giants of the 1st and 2nd parts, they turned into accelerators with hypertrophied torn muscles and peeling skin, barely holding on to the body skin, which they fastened to themselves with leather straps. Something appears in their image that makes you think, at least for a second, that every second of their life is agony.

At the bottom line, we have a dead world that we, throughout the game, are trying to make at least a little bit better. A world in which almost all elements are unnatural and mutilated: flora and fauna suffered from FEV, and architecture and technology from humans. And even the main antagonist here is a semi-intelligent machine that, in its rush to do “the best,” destroys what little is left of humanity, thereby opposing itself to nature.

Followers. Vegas and all.

Fallout 3 was followed by Fallout: New Vegas, which is rightfully considered not only the best game in the series, but almost the best part of the entire franchise. And to argue with this, perhaps, one is either a fool or a person with very specific and subjective tastes. Even being cut to pieces, with a bunch of quests that are primitive from a gameplay point of view, a lack of normal balance, and a frankly poorly made game world, New Vegas does not only Fallout 3, but also 4, and perhaps 1 out of 2. But, alas, we are here. We are not talking about the gameplay and not even about the role-playing element, but about the visuals and design. And that’s bad for Vegas.

Because let’s face it: New Vegas is ugly. The lighting model is not very suitable for a sunny, cloudless desert. The yellow color filter, instead of giving the surrounding world an atmosphere, rewards some elements of the game with too bright, or even simply poisonous colors, including terrible purple nights. The world is full of empty spaces that are simply not interesting to travel through, and invisible walls, which in some places infuriate even more than the rubble-littered streets of Washington. This list can be continued for a very, very long time. But this is a purely technical part, so what about the design?

And things are disappointing because New Vegas is not only a step back to the uneven and mediocre art direction of Fallout 2, but also mixes it with the balanced and solid Fallout 3. And it was while playing FNV that I realized something wasn’t quite right: architecture is almost always limited to the same googies and modernity; cars are simple carbon copies of real ones (hello, an incorrectly scaled 1948 Ford-F pickup truck with a cooling turbine simply added to the hood); and where clanging and hissing reigned before a metallic nightmare, the previously mentioned minimalist retro high-tech appeared. It even reached the point of absurdity when ghoul cultists flew into space on giant children’s toys.

Here you have a “peep-boy”, which, suddenly, is removed from the hand without a saw and a bucket of sulfuric acid, and plastic machine guns with Picatinny rails, and much smoother-skinned super mutants that migrated straight from the first two parts with their stylized cartoonish talking heads. Not the biggest omissions in the world, but, as they say, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

However, the detail that at one time prompted me down the slippery path of the thoughts outlined above is clothing. No, in New Vegas, she is not bad in itself, but everything is known in comparison.

Fallout 3 is notable for the fact that the lion’s share of the costumes and armor in it are made as if they were intended for a unique character, even if they are standard items scattered throughout the game world. They have a personality and even some kind of storytelling through design. Many of them are full of details that even the next Mad Max would envy, since in the second film the work of the costumers was on top. And when there are no details, the clothes simply look memorable, even if it’s just a T-shirt with army pants, yellowed from time to time.

And while Adam Adamovich and company made even a simple dirty business suit look moderately unique, New Vegas offers us clothes that are much closer to reality, but much drier and more boring. The problem is that the Mojave Desert is filled with both, which creates a fairly strong contrast between the old and new assets, thereby making the old ones stand out even more, and the new ones, against their background, even more unremarkable.

In Fallout 4, the situation is not much better: the game looks good for its time, more or less adjusted in style and tone, but now it is almost completely relegated to the bright, streamlined, and simple forms of the futuristic 50s. Both pre-war and post-war America began to appear much brighter and more optimistic, and the world appears colorful and almost ideal in the introduction. True, when we walk around the neighborhood of our former home 200 years later, it suddenly turns out that our neighbors either spied on each other or traded drugs. But, as for me, a great opportunity to show pre-war life in all its beauty, so to speak, was not realized even by one tenth.

The storyboard Fallout 4
The storyboard for the prologue from Fallout 4 shows, among other things, an angry mob dispersed by water cannons.

Many things, like robots, weapons, and cars, while maintaining the general idea, have been redesigned, having lost their grotesqueness and rudeness. Where the technology of 2016 could better show all these small antennas, pipes, and wiring, they were removed altogether. The world has completely ceased to look like an industrial purgatory; now it is a simple retro future.

The mutants also changed, turning from freaks covered with scabs and tumors into … in general, also freaks, but much more attractive, from the look of which you no longer want to go to wash. Wild ghouls from living skeletons with muzzles that have lost any human features and blind, swollen eyes became simply dry mummies that came to life, and super mutants grown at the Institute are much closer to the verified creations of the Lord than to uncontrolled mutations from the FEV in the shelter under Little Lamplight.

No, Fallout 4 has its own pleasant gray-dry autumn atmosphere. The picture in it gives off old, faded photos and postcards, and the modified design, although less expressive, also has the right to exist. However, this is an obvious step backwards from the last major release made by Bethesda.

But you know what’s the most annoying thing? If not for the sudden death, Adamovich could have become the main artist in this game. The Art of Fallout 4 book contains several pages of his sketches that were made during the early stages of development, and some of them, even in the form of rough sketches, look more interesting than much of what is included in the game.

Fallout 76 took it even further. I have nothing against the transfer of Soviet fire trucks and buses to retrofuturistic America (however, it would not hurt to change them at least a little), but this is where strange and inappropriate eclecticism begins to return to the world of Fallout. Mostly in the form of paid skins or promotional materials, but the trends are quite unpleasant. In addition, Fallout 76 as a whole messed up firewood, both in the form of a mediocre retcon of the plots of past games in the series, and in the form of general flanderization of everything and everything. Fortunately, at least the game world itself is beautiful.

Conclusion: Love and hatred

What do I want to say with all this? You see, lately Fallout 3 has been stigmatized as one of the worst games in the franchise, and many of its conscious and witty features are downvoted.

I’m by no means saying that the game is perfect. However, behind the blind hatred, many people forget or simply don’t want to see that Fallout 3 is a product of Bethesda’s love for the series, which is both a blessing and a curse for this game. This is a fanfic made by professionals with money that combines a great presentation and a bunch of great finds … with a rather mediocre central plot and constant self-repetition.

Even so, this slew of flaws doesn’t detract from the game’s many bright spots. The title doesn’t lie: Fallout 3’s visuals make it at least the most atmospheric game in the franchise and definitely worth playing. And one artist with a Polish surname is worth thanking for this.

Fallout 4's Easter Egg Room
Fallout 4’s Easter Egg Room is made in memory of Adam Adamovich.

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