This one of the lines uttered during a meeting between high-ranking American officials, which takes place towards the end of the third chapter of Watchmen. The bigwigs are being shown a projection of what the effects could be if ongoing hostilities between their nation and the Soviet Union were to suddenly erupt into thermonuclear fire.
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With red dots of doom covering almost the entirety of mainland Europe – including Britain – President Nixon says the above. A few seconds later, however, it becomes clear that some of the dots will reach the east coast of the US.
The mood in the room immediately shifts. “Wow, that’s, uh, that’s pretty breathtaking…” stammers one staffer. Suddenly, Nixon isn’t so sure what to do. “I’d always kind of hoped that the big decision would rest with somebody else,” he says.
Whenever I fire up a game in the Fallout series, whether it be Fallout 4, my personal favourite New Vegas, or even one of the original 90s titles, I’m setting foot on foreign soil. The series’ depictions of the devastation caused by a nuclear war to the likes of Washington DC, Boston, and the Mojave desert, all register with me – but they don’t hit home quite as hard as they might. Because they aren’t depictions of my home.
That’s why Fallout: London has my attention.
For the uninitiated, Fallout: London is an ambitious modding project for Fallout 4 that is set to finally release its end product, a DLC-sized expansion set in the English capital, before this year is out. The team behind it is made up of the most prolific Fallout 4 modding talent out there, and has been putting out regular teases, standalone mods, and progress updates over the past few years. The most recent dropped just a few weeks ago and offered (among other things) a look at the mod’s Peaky Blinders-inspired faction, The Vagabonds.
In truth, when I first heard about the mod and its premise, I was a bit sceptical as to whether it’d end up appealing to me as much as the established games in the series do. I’ve gone back and forth a lot over the past few years with regards to whether I think the idea of a Fallout game, or even a big Fallout mod, set outside of the US is actually something I’d like to play… or just one of those things that sounds fun in theory.
After all, while the unfamiliar and unexplored will always have a draw to it. So much of what makes Fallout feel like Fallout, at least when it comes to the series’ most recent entries, feels a bit inseparable from its roots in the nation that was the first to drop a nuclear bomb in the real world. From the gutted 50s’ dreamhomes whose downed picket fences you trample over as you wander deserted streets listening to the likes of The Ink Spots and Dean Martin, to the unmistakable iconography that’s come to symbolise the series in the form of the Vault Boy and the unblinking visage of a power-armoured soldier, drip with Atomic Americana.
The post-apocalyptic world of Fallout should, by all rights, feel unshakably depressing and unnerving to all who step into it. It offers a vision – albeit one that isn’t entirely focused on sobering accuracy – of the broken, horrifying world we could have (and arguably still could) so easily ended up living in had things happened just a little differently. It’s the fact that this vision is juxtaposed at every turn with the cheesy corporate optimism of a pre-war America so deeply enamoured by its own status as a uranium-fuelled world superpower that it couldn’t help letting this seep into every facet of its culture which imbues the games with a distinct sense of irony.
At many points, the Fallout experience becomes less about subjecting the player to the terrifying realities of humanity’s ultimate destructive potential, and more about giving us a chance to appreciate the almost comical hubris of a nation that once worshipped atomic power having since ended up being utterly decimated by it.
It’s all an elaborate joke, and one that the self-anointed comedian depicted in Watchmen, Eddie Blake, would surely appreciate.
And, for a good while I feared that without it, a Fallout game set outside the US would only be left with the dark side. Can that grim comedy translate across the Atlantic? Sure, there’d be some great stuff to play with in the culture of any other nation that were to host a Fallout game, something that original Fallout co-creator Tim Cain has recently alluded to.
Based on what we’ve seen of and heard about Fallout: London so far, the mod looks to tap into and take influence from a massive array of elements of British culture. There’s a bit of the ‘keep calm and carry on’/stiff upper lip-style ethos exhibited by the generation that lived through the First and Second World Wars (with one faction known as The Tommies even dressing like their namesakes from the trenches of The Somme). There’s a wave of posh, sneering energy radiating from The Gentry and the mysterious Mr Smythe, from whom I expect to regale me with tales of their time at Eton in perfect British Pathé voices. There’s even a bit of our more distant past via some post-apocalyptic Knights of the Round Table.
Subbing in for the absent vaults and Pip-Boys are Pindar Stations and the wonderfully-named Atta-Boy, while iconic FEV-infused enemies like the Super Mutant and the Deathclaw have tagged out to a cast of creatures headlined by everything from plant-like dryads to irradiated shrews and badgers.
There’s also a healthy dose of inspiration taken from our 70s and 80s public information campaigns and films about the potential consequences of being caught in the deadly crossfire of a nuclear war, which are generally a bit more sobering than their American counterparts. From Protect and Survive to The War Game, and the genuinely terrifying Threads, you won’t find quite as much material in them ideally suited to constructing an atmosphere that isn’t overwhelmed by the sheer horror of life in the literal shadow of the bomb as you will a Vault Boy cartoon.
I recently watched Threads for the first time alongside my dad, who lived through the era himself. He’d only seen the film in full once before, when it was originally broadcast on TV (something which hasn’t happened a lot since for reasons that’ll become obvious if you watch it) and could still remember exactly how it ended. I came out of the experience bewildered that whichever of my grandparents he’d watched it with back in the 80s hadn’t turned it off halfway through, to ease their own psyche as much as his.
I think how heavily the mod ends up thematically leaning into these aspects of our culture will come to shape how I feel about it in comparison to its American cousins. That said, rather than being put off by the idea of how different the world it depicts could feel, at this point I’d say I’m more intrigued by the prospect.
A Fallout game, or in this case mod, set in my home country feels like something I need to experience. Even if, like the one illustrated in that meeting from Watchmen, there’s been a bit of a tonal shift.