War... War never changes... and we as people for some reason study it, and practice it, even in our hobbies. While most 'war games' are on the grand strategic scale, there have been a few good tactical-scale games, focusing on one or two squads and their role in the greater scope of things. Fallout Tactics is just such a game, and it pulls it off in spectacular fashion, harking back to the old-school days of X-Com, and the more recent Commandos titles.
FT is a spinoff of the popular Fallout series of RPG games, set in the same postapocalyptic world, with all the retro-techno feel and dry, quiet humor of the original. The world has ended, some eighty to a hundred years ago, and nearly all life on Earth was wiped out in a nuclear holocaust. Rather than following the adventures of one of the Vault-Dwellers this time however, you instead guide the career of a newly inducted soldier in the Brotherhood of Steel, a pseudo-religious order that came about from remnants of the United States military, dedicated to the preservation of technology and the reunification of mankind.
Alone in a godless nuclear wasteland and out of Rad-Away, you are given a series of missions by the Brotherhood to further their goals and advance the storyline, which is presented in typical Fallout slide-show fashion. In between missions at the Brotherhood Bunker, you can select up to five extra teammates for your squad, and equip them as you see fit, even to the point of assigning their skills as characters advance, then head out into the Wastes to yea verily stomp some righteous booty, whether it be on foot, or in one of the vehicles your squad has a chance to acquire during the course of the game. Just don't drink the Yellow Nuka-Cola. Trust me on this.
The game itself is easy enough to learn, with a set of tutorial missions to help you on your way and several pregenerated characters to choose from if you don't feel like making your own. Borrowing heavily from the style of the original Fallout games, your characters can move freely until they enter combat, at which point you wind up in one of two modes, depending on your options settings: TB, or Turn-Based, which is just what it sounds like with each individual squad member or team taking its turn and expending Action Points for movement or actions, or CTB aka Continuous Turn-Based, in which characters can move freely, but taking any action such as firing, healing, or reloading eats away at your Action Points, which automatically regenerate over time.
Character advancement is fairly simple as well, with characters gaining experience through combat, or using their own particular skills. Once they level up, you can assign the points they gain per level to whatever skills you wish, and every so often depending on race and other factors, characters will gain 'Perks' or special abilities to help flesh them out even further. There are a wide variety of killing implements to outfit your characters with, ranging from modern day weapons such as AK47s and UZIs to futuristic toys like laser rifles and plasma cannons. If you really feel sadistic, you can even beat people with a plunger. The sense of humor in the series is also present in the game's inventory, with a dagger called a 'Dak'Targ' that bears a strong resemblance to a Klingon knife, and a 'Fantasy Ball' that seems to have come straight out of a certain classic horror series, along with several other items ranging from the nostalgic to the mildly disgusting. (*shudder* Uhhh... Yellow Nuka-Cola...)
The interface is likewise fairly simple, with buttons representing your characters and what they're carrying at the time, an automap/message window, and function buttons for character sheets, options menus, and the like. The game is played using an isometric overhead view, much like the other Fallout-series titles, and is still multi-dimensional. Characters can run up and down stairs, climb ladders, and sneak across rooftops, with the roof of a given building fading away to transparency if your focus is on a character inside it, then returning once your view shifts elsewhere.
The enemy AI is reasonably competent on the normal skill level, managing to score hits every now and then, and using cover and concealment to duck your incoming fire, taking full advantage of the engine's true line-of-sight calculations... a feature that adds a whole new layer of strategy to the game. You'll meet raiders, Tribesmen, Beast Lords (who use the critters of the wasteland to do their raiding), Radscorpions, and the ever-popular and always deadly DeathClaw, which makes an Aliens Xenomorph look like a cute little puppy.
The game's music is involving without being terribly annoying, changing sometimes, if unreliably, from combat to non-combat and so on. If you get really tired of it, you can drop your own MP3 files into the /core/music/custom/ directory and turn on 'Custom Music' in the options to have your own postapocalyptic jukebox.
As good and addictively satisfying as the game is, FT does have a few faults and quirks. It will occasionally crash to the desktop, so saving often is a wise idea. Other things include some texture tearing and video flicker around moving characters, and the odd 'hanging text' from an item you examine. One rather annoying in-game problem is the fact that your base medic won't heal you -- he'll just sell you the things you need to do it (at a steep price), and your squad medic has to do all the work. Likewise with the Bunker mechanic, who'll sell you the tools you need to fix your vehicles, but make you do all the gruntwork.
Multiplayer, while present, has one major shortcoming in this reviewer's humble opinion: Lack of an AI skirmish mode. There are several different modes to choose from, but nowhere could I see an option to add in a computer-generated enemy, which will be a deterrent to those who can't find anyone to play against. Fortunately, there's a bit of replayability in the single-player game to make up for this in that you can select different team members and go through the missions in an entirely different manner, but it's still a problem, one they will hopefully correct in a patch.
Overall, the game is still quite solid. A few oversights and bugs are enough to be an annoyance, but not to detract from the overall quality of the game. While there's only 20 single-player missions, each one takes several hours to complete properly unless you're some sort of tactical god, so it should provide quite a bit of entertainment. It's been far too long since we had a good turn-based squad game... hopefully this title signals a future return.