Fall­out 76. Plus, The En­dur­ing Power of Ru­bik’s Cube

The lat­est in the Fall­out fran­chise re­minds us of the threat of mu­tu­ally as­sured de­struc­tion—with plenty of gal­lows hu­mor

Newsweek - - News Week - BY MO MOZUCH @mo­mozuch

what would nu­clear war be like? One way to imag­ine might be to visit the Green­brier, a five-star re­sort in the Al­legheny Moun­tains of West Vir­ginia, which con­tains a once-se­cret un­der­ground bunker meant to house mem­bers of Congress in the event of an at­tack. The bunker is still off-lim­its, but a vir­tual tour of the Green­brier re­sort is now avail­able, cour­tesy of Bethesda Game Stu­dios, in its lat­est video game re­lease, Fall­out 76.

To play Fall­out 76 is to be­come a sur­vivor in a fic­tional postapoc­a­lyp­tic world meant to hint at what life might have been like had the Cold

War turned hot. As in the other five games in the fran­chise, Fall­out

76 fol­lows sur­vivors af­ter they emerge from their shel­ters, known in the game as “vaults,” af­ter global ther­monu­clear war has in­cin­er­ated West­ern civ­i­liza­tion. In a chaotic world bereft of tra­di­tional in­sti­tu­tions, play­ers are forced to fend for them­selves, gath­er­ing clean food and wa­ter, build­ing shel­ters and or­ga­niz­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Atomic-era aes­thet­ics have been lu­cra­tive for Bethesda Game Stu­dios, which has sold mil­lions of these games; no post-apoc­a­lyp­tic movie, TV show or video game has found more com­mer­cial suc­cess than this fran­chise. Fall­out is “this idea of a 1950s, 1940s sen­si­bil­ity, but then it veers off from our own time line and goes nuts,” says Pete Hines, the se­nior vice pres­i­dent of global mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for Bethesda. “What would it be like if Amer­ica held on to that sen­si­bil­ity but with way more nu­clear-pow­ered tech­nol­ogy and ridicu­lous ad­vance­ments like rocket cars and ro­bot maids?”

Un­like the pre­vi­ous games, Fall­out 76 is in­tended for mul­ti­ple play­ers. For the first time in the fran­chise’s his­tory, play­ers must work with, or against, one an­other. The game pays homage to the Green­brier by in­clud­ing a re­sort called the White Springs, a dig­i­tal knock­off named af­ter the real fa­cil­ity’s West Vir­ginia home­town, White Sul­phur Springs. The White Springs is a faith­ful re-cre­ation of the Green­brier, down to the checker­board tile floors and ver­dant flo­ral wall­pa­per de­signed by Dorothy Draper.

Fall­out 76 takes a ca­su­ally ab­surd tone with a forced nor­malcy that height­ens the eerie post-apoc­a­lyp­tic at­mos­phere. For ex­am­ple, a press room in the bunker con­tains tele­vised back­drops of the Capi­tol in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., com­plete with sea­sonal weather ef­fects—as if fake snow on TV would com­fort cit­i­zens liv­ing in a nu­clear win­ter. Vault-tec, a fic­ti­tious com­pany, sells mem­ber­ships to vaults door-to-door and serves as a de facto Big Brother, con­stantly surveilling and com­pil­ing de­tailed re­ports on the be­hav­ior of the in­hab­i­tants. Vault-tec pop­u­lates its shel­ters with car­toon mas­cots and tu­to­ri­als in­spired by the in­fa­mous duck-and-cover school safety drills of the ’50s and ’60s. A hor­ror show with a cheeky vibe.

The Green­brier bunker has long been leg­endary among the staff at

Bethesda, which Hines says al­most held an event at the re­sort for 2008’s Fall­out 3 be­cause it looms so large in the com­pany’s home­town lore. (Trans­porta­tion lo­gis­tics proved oner­ous—the Green­brier is in a re­mote lo­ca­tion for a rea­son). “We’re in D.C., so we’re in or around pol­i­tics all the time,” he says. “We know about Green­brier, and its place in con­tin­u­ing the gov­ern­ment and the fact that there was a ‘vault’ there.”

Turns out nos­tal­gia works even %E6Tʝ/AID P/A16 Scenes from Fall­out 76, which re-cre­ates the real Green­briar Re­sort in West Vir­ginia—home to a on­ces­e­cret un­der­ground bunker meant to house Congress in the event of an at­tack.

“What would it be like if Amer­ica held on to a 1950s sen­si­bil­ity but with ridicu­lous ad­vance­ments, like rocket cars and ro­bot maids?”

for the things we would pre­fer to for­get. The Cold War arms race is now far enough in the past that we can play at nu­clear an­ni­hi­la­tion— even as cur­rent events con­tinue to re­mind us of that the chill­ing pos­si­bil­ity re­mains.

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