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“Fallout” is a mesmerizing, engaging, pitch-perfect video game adaptation sure to appeal to both long-time fans and newcomers alike.

Fallout

“War, war never changes.”

When I attended Prime Video’s Fallout interactive installation at SXSW, in advance of the show landing on the platform, I knew fans were in for something special — and I was not wrong.

The ambitious Fallout would have been easy to fumble, given the gaming franchise’s rabid fan devotion. And video game adaptations aren’t exactly consistent at satisfying their fan base or expanding beyond that built-in audience. But the series now airing on Prime Video manages to deliver on all fronts.

The new series was adapted by the Westworld team of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy, who worked closely with Bethesda Game Studios Executive producer Todd Howard.

Its fidelity to the darkly satirical post-apocalyptic gaming franchise created by Tim Cain — which was entertaining as hell while having plenty to say about corporate greed and the corruptive nature of power — ensures the faithful have reason to celebrate. Still, newcomers will find plenty to love about this thrilling adaptation, even without prior knowledge of the lore-laden source material.

The secret sauce to the success of this original story set in the same universe as the games seems to be entrusting the property with creators who genuinely know, love, and respect the property.

The story takes place two centuries after a nuclear war decimated the world in 2077, shattering picturesque America steeped in a retro-futuristic reverence for 1950s innocence and idealism.

Those who were wealthy enough retreated to elaborate Fallout shelters developed by Vault-Tec, where they recreated their pre-apocalyptic Pleasantville-like utopia. The less fortunate were left to struggle for survival in a desolate, ultra-violent, bleak life on the surface—appropriately referred to as the Wasteland.

Some of the most unfortunate souls have become ghouls, zombie-like creatures transformed by extreme radiation damage into nasty-looking monstrosities with a significantly expanded lifespan — much more a curse than a gift, given the horror of their existence in an unquestionable hellscape.

Our primary protagonist is a doe-eyed innocent with a heart of gold, Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell, Yellowjackets), a young dweller forced to leave her peaceful and comfortable home and venture out into the Wasteland for the first time on a life-or-death mission.

What follows is an epic adventure and life-changing journey of self-discovery as she faces the harsh reality of a world she’s been sheltered from her entire life and the truth about the world she thought she knew, locked safely behind the vault doors.

Along the way, she encounters various interesting characters, including the two other key players in the story.

She meets Maximus (Aaron Moten), a morally conflicted and complicated protagonist who is a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, a military, heavily armored organization with a medieval hierarchal structure consisting of knights and squires. Maximus joined the group after surviving a horrific event as a child — an event that will play a significant role as the story develops.

Lucy also meets a character known as The Ghoul, a former actor in Westerns with a squeaky clean good-guy persona turned corporate shill turned ruthless bounty hunter in the post-apocalyptic Wasteland.

The scene-stealing Walton Goggins plays The Ghoul to absolute perfection.

The Ghoul is one of the most interesting aspects of Fallout, with his tragic backstory (slowly revealed through compelling flashbacks) and his tendency to care more than he lets on.

Most of the buzz for the show has centered on just how incredible Goggins is and that praise is well deserved. He’s a standout and makes you yearn for his presence in every scene.

However, there is stellar acting all around, with both Moten and Purnell delivering equally powerful performances.

Purnell is especially captivating as she transforms from a naively optimistic ingenue to a hardened badass whose worldview has been irreparably shattered in the most heartbreaking of ways.

It’s potent watching her desperately try to hold on to her humanity and inherent belief in mankind’s goodness as the cruel and corrupt world does its absolute damnedest to strip it from her — as it so often does in real life, replacing kindness and empathy with bitterness and apathy.

It starts out strong, with ample comedic charm, and only gets better as it progresses.

Fallout establishes an intriguing mystery that will keep you hooked, and it delivers in its beautiful and devastating season finale, where much is revealed.

A phantasmic, sensory-fueled adrenaline rush, the show is striking to look at with its stunning effects, mind-blowing production design and set direction, well-executed CGI, and perfectly tone-setting costume design.

The soundtrack lifted directly from the game’s songs hits hard with bops from beloved 1950s crooners. Game of Thrones composer Ramin Djawadi also deserves ample credit for his orchestral soundtrack, which impeccably complements the mood and helps create that delicate but brilliantly threaded tonal balance between drama, comedy, action, and horror.

Speaking of horror, genre fans will surely delight in just how violent the show is with its ample and effective gore. It earns its hard-R rating in the best possible way without feeling exploitative and without ever sacrificing the show’s emotional core.

The scope of the series is jaw-dropping, and everything looks authentic and in service of honoring the magic of the game.

The production values are top-notch, and the world-building is fun and immersive. There are also plenty of delightful easter eggs for those who come into Fallout well-versed in the source material. If that’s not you, don’t worry; not knowing the references won’t detract from your enjoyment one iota.

The show does a phenomenal job getting newbies up to speed without alienating anyone who understands this world inside and out.

Fallout has some painfully on-the-nose and horrifying things to say about a potential future that feels far more foreboding than fantastical. It may be blackly comedic and hilarious sometimes, but it’s got the beating heart of nihilistic horror. With that said, it’s never for a moment anything less than wildly entertaining and utterly engrossing. And at just eight hour-long episodes, it’s an easy, breezy watch.

With its mesmerizing atompunk aesthetic and impressive attention to detail, it’s hard to see this as anything less than an ultra-successful adaptation that, much like The Last of Us, is sure to create a whole new legion of Fallout fans.

Overall Rating (Out of 5 Butterflies): 4

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