3 Things Fallout Gets Right About Video Game Adaptations

3 Things Fallout Gets Right About Video Game Adaptations

The Fallout TV series has been out on Amazon Prime Video for less than a week, and it seems like it’s all anyone can talk about right now. And for good reason – the adaptation of the much-loved video game franchise has managed to stick the landing in ways many gaming fans didn’t expect. We’re seeing more and more great video game adaptations hitting both small and big screens lately. However, fans are understandably a bit gun-shy after decades of some pretty horrific reimaginings of iconic games. Yes, I’m looking at examples like the Assassin’s Creed movie and Monster Hunter when I say that. But what exactly is it that makes a good video game adaptation, or a bad one?

1. Fallout successfully navigates the trap of staying ‘true’ to the source material

There are plenty of ways Hollywood gets it right (and so, so wrong) when it comes to adaptations. More often than not, the games being ported over to series and movies are somewhat sacred to very dedicated fans. There’s a lot riding on them feeling true to the source material, and there are so many ways to stumble at this very first hurdle. 

Let’s look at Fallout as the most recent example. The franchise has a multi-decade legacy, easily recognisable iconography, and a pretty consistent tone that frequently slaps you in the face. The Fallout TV series manages to stick to this tone and the core ideas in a way that feels true to the games, while simultaneously not skimping on the overall look of the world in which it’s set. There’s Vault-Boys a-plenty, that sense of lingering 50s Americana, and of course the banging soundtrack that feels right out of an in-game jukebox. There’s also plenty of violence, gallows humour, and references to game lore (like Shady Sands in the NCR, for example) to retain that overall Fallout feel.

Image: Prime Video

Where Fallout differs from other video game adaptations that have been well-received is the way in which it tackles the actual story at hand. Sure, the bombs still dropped in 2077, major game factions still exist, and Vault-Tec’s meddling is a given, but the tale of the TV show isn’t just a retelling of one of the games. Instead, we’re led into a totally different Vault for a very different tale, all while remaining true to the Fallout that fans love. Going off-track for a storyline in an adaptation is a risky move, but one that’s paid off.

This is in opposition to other adaptations like HBO’s The Last of Us, another highly successful bash at bringing a video game to life. TLOU sticks to the main story beats of the first game, however rather than feeling like a flat 1:1 copy (which can get boring), shines a light into the metaphorical dark corners the game didn’t get to explore – such as Bill and Frank’s love story, which was one of the first season’s highlights.

Both shows approach their source material very differently, but where they succeed is bringing the world of the video games they adapt to life in ways that are recognisable to fans without alienating an audience that may have never picked up the games to begin with. They bring something new to the story but do so in ways that are authentic to the games – I’d even suggest they blend these new additions in so seamlessly that they almost feel like they were in the games to begin with. It’s these key factors that seem to be part of why both Fallout and The Last of Us serve as the modern ‘gold standard’ for video game adaptations.

2. But neither does Fallout indulge in reinvention for reinvention’s sake

On the flip side, what makes an adaptation bad? There are fewer and fewer poorly-received reimaginings of games these days as streaming giants like Netflix, HBO, and Amazon seem to be getting a grasp on what audiences want and expect. However, there are still poorly done examples that are equally as modern, such as the divisive Halo series. Some love it, some hate it, and again it comes down to the way the story and tone are handled. While making Master Chief more human to present a gripping story for television makes sense, fans have derided it as wholly inauthentic to the Halo story. Characters and concepts from the games are used but recontextualised in ways that don’t quite align with what fans know in a jarring manner. There’s plenty more wrong with Halo, but let’s leave it at that. 

There are plenty of older ‘bad’ adaptations out there, although many of these have, in recent years, returned to become cult classics. 1994’s Street Fighter comes to mind immediately, but in the same vein as Super Mario Bros. from the year prior, it has a campy, over-the-top quality to it that turns what could be viewed as questionable storytelling into a somehow enjoyable watch (if only for the unintentional comedy of it all and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s performance). 

Street Fighter Video Game Adaptation
Image: Capcom

Slightly more recent adaptations like Assassin’s Creed and Monster Hunter unfortunately don’t get the same leeway due to their dogged insistence on taking themselves much too seriously and leaning away from what made the games interesting enough to adapt in the first place. AC spends too long in a cut and dry sci-fi story as opposed to the adventuring through time that makes the games so enjoyable, while Monster Hunter gets bogged down in bland storytelling and an excessive amount of combat.

3. Fallout feels right

There are many more video game adaptations that do their source material justice (Arcane, Castlevania, Sonic The Hedgehog) or do them dirty (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Doom) but in trying to work out exactly what each of them does well or poorly, it continues to circle back to my earlier point. Good adaptations feel like they’re part of the game world, even if they split from the canon story. They’re faithful to overarching themes and tone, and for those particularly excellent examples, they look the part to a tee as well. 

This is something Fallout absolutely nails. From its costuming to its set design, Fallout somehow manages to transfer the vibe of the games into live action. Just getting the vault dweller suits to look the part on screen, never hokey or strange, is a huge achievement and helps sell the fantasy it presents. This is but one example — the show is shot through with this kind of attention-to-detail and it’s a load bearing pillar in maintaining the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

Fallout season one has enthralled fans the world over, and with a reported second season on the way we’ll have to see if Prime Video can stick the landing once more. The Last of Us is set to explore Part II in the second season when it drops, and Arcane’s second season is due later this year, too. Video game adaptations are booming, with Dredge, It Takes Two, and Minecraft all getting the Hollywood treatment in the coming years. While it looks like Hollywood is starting to understand the formula that has fans and newcomers alike flocking to adaptations in droves, we can only hope that the trend continues so we don’t have to sit through any more groan-worthy takes on our favourite games.

If you’re keen to check out more video games-turned movies and shows and decide for yourself what constitutes a good or bad adaptation, Street Fighter is airing on PEDESTRIAN TELEVISION, which is streaming on 9Now (channels which, I should add, our parent company, and our parent company’s parent company, own).

What do you think makes or breaks an adaptation? Let us know in the comments.

This piece has been updated since it was first published.

Image: Prime Video / Kotaku Australia

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