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Original ‘Fallout’ free for two days

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Fallout's mascot, Pip-Boy

"War… war never changes."

Set the WABAC machine to 1997.  Bill Clinton's in the White House, the Spice Girls are tearing up the pop charts, and a gritty post-apocalyptic role-playing game is dazzling critics across the PC gaming world.  The game's name?  Fallout.

For the next 48-odd hours — until 11:59 P.M. GMT on April 8 — you can get the original Fallout for the low, low price of nothing on

You play the Vault Dweller, emerging from a high-tech underground shelter that has remained hermetically sealed since a nuclear apocalypse a century earlier.  A faulty piece of equipment threatens the vault's population, and it's up to you to make your way across the blasted wasteland in search of a replacement.

Much of this plot was recapitulated in 2008's Fallout 3, which updated the series's universe to the modern generation of 3D graphics and gameplay.  If you've played that game, or its spinoff Fallout: New Vegas, you may be a little thrown by the low-resolution, 2D isometric visuals in the original.

But what still shines, a decade and a half later, is the superb, darkly humorous writing, as well as the sophisticated tactical combat engine and the pioneering '50s-retro style.  And, oh, yeah — one of the best opening cutscenes in the history of videogames, bar none.  Check it out (warning: CG violence).

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