Version tested PlayStation 2
Brotherhood Of Steel is to Fallout what Dark Alliance is to Baldur's Gate - or at least that appeared to be Interplay's intention when it commissioned a "gritty and darkly humorous" (their words not ours...) third-person action-adventure take on its successful PC-derived RPG series from the late 90s. While DA and its recently released sequel are largely entertaining action-adventure approximations with a smattering of RPG, BOS (as it shall be referred to from now on) isn't far off being a travesty for those who enjoyed the post apocalyptic series a few years back.
In BOS, you (and a mate if you fancy some co-op) choose to join the Brotherhood Of Steel as one of three warriors of the post apocalyptic wasteland on a noble mission to prevent a sinister plot to turn the surviving human race into a bunch of slavering bug-eyed mutants. It's a promising template that we were looking forward to getting to grips with, having something of a weakness for the post-nuclear war setting and the Fallout series in general.
Those old wasteland blues
After a promising intro and comical jazz pastiche theme tune, it's hard not be almost instantly disillusioned with what's actually on offer here. It a game that seems to not even bother to hold the player's interest even in the crucial early stages, with the first handful of quests basically setting the tone for the rest of the 10 hour plus game. Essentially BOS goes a bit like this: wander around bland environment, talk to instantly offensive and pathetically stereotypical NPC, endure expletive-ridden "mature" dialogue, go and wander to area instructed and hack mutant enemies/raiders to death, collect booty, power up, rinse, return, repeat until bored.
In generic game style, the only thing BOS can offer the player is the opportunity to play through three increasingly difficult chapters, which essentially offer harder creatures to fight against but balances it up with more powerful weaponry and armour, while offering less health/stimpacks and a paucity of ammo. It's a tired game mechanic that feels woefully out of touch with anything remotely new when you're busy hacking or shooting through yet another bunch of respawning baddies.
BOS tries to keep things interesting by making these encounters count towards RPG-style experience points, which at intervals eventually allow you to level up one of the five main areas: combat skill, armour, bartering, health and fortune. Similarly, it throws you the odd bone in the form of a new projectile or melee weapon or perhaps better armour, but every step of the way the one-dimensional enemies just get proportionally harder, so there's little point to all this levelling up other than to make you feel like you're progressing and to force you to scour every nook and cranny for loot (and believe us, every level is rammed full of it).
Out of ammo
Slightly annoyingly, the game always seems to leave you short of ammo, thus forcing you into tedious button-stabbing melee combat, or worse, entering a tough boss encounter without the firepower to deal with it. If there was more to the combat, then we might be a little more charitable, but it really isn't any different to the kind of basic hackandslash 'stab the fire button' play mechanic Gauntlet offered us nearly 20 years ago.
It's the understatement of the day to point out that the lacklustre visuals don't exactly help draw you in either. Without hesitation they're easily among the least ambitious we've seen in several years, with a set of dull and dreary environments and dreadfully uninspired baddies seen from an isometric pseudo-RPG viewpoint. It most definitely gives you the ideal view of the endless combat, but the bland environments lack character and definition with blurry textures and repetitive drawn out maze-like levels not doing the game any favours. With the exception of the odd giant boss, whoever you face off against also wallows in a murky mire of lazily basic design, poor animation, and predictable attack patterns. Throw in the developer's seeming fascist delight in trying to annoy you with bottomless pits and that old game padding fallback, the respawning enemy, and you have a game that tests your resolve very quickly indeed.
So, with a tired, repetitive hackandslash game mechanic, uninspiring environments and utterly forgettable enemies, you'd perhaps imagine the game would work hard to make the quests more involving and the narrative/dialogue engaging. Foiled again. Most of the objectives consist of little more than collecting a specific object at the end of a long and winding maze, which generally involves killing all the baddies present along the way. Lucky, lucky us. If that was a fun, engaging, challenging and rewarding thing to do and looked good, then you could perhaps put up with it, but you're literally doing the same thing for hours on end for seemingly no purpose other than to just get through the damn thing.
Wince and repeat
Throw in the staggeringly naive attempts to spice up the dialogue with entirely superfluous and childish swearing and character models among some of the most poorly designed in this generation and you'll be literally wincing at the proceedings, sure that something fun and interesting will happen - as soon as you clear out the next section of despicable foe. And then you do, and all it rewards you with is more of the same - only harder and more likely to result in frustrating repetition as you're forced to trudge through a section all over again.
Oddly, BOS gives you so many stimpacks and save points at the start you hardly know what to do with them, and then steadily makes them less frequent to the point where it's not even remotely fun getting involved in a scrap anymore, in the knowledge that the game's basically trying to artificially outstay its welcome. The truth is it was welcome initially. Fallout was a great series, and our fondness for post-apocalyptic adventuring stretches right back to Interplay's seminal Wasteland on the C64 in 1988. To take this immensely rich source material and turn it into a mindlessly repetitive hackandslash slog with weak graphics and dreadful dialogue ought to be a punishable offence.
Even if you're blissfully unaware of Fallout's award-winning heritage, there's every reason to suspect that even casual action gamers (which this has presumably been targeted at in a desperate stab at commerciality) will turn their noses up at this lazy and uninspired piece of action RPG fodder. If you have any respect for the way games should be made then give Interplay a clear message that it simply has to do better than this to compete in the games market. Treat BOS with contempt it deserves and avoid it at all costs - even buying this at a budget price would be irresponsible. For Fallout fans, this is basically a disaster of nuclear meltdown proportions. Duck and cover, if you know what's good for you.
3 / 10