The Fallout series of role-playing games is known for its epic post-apocalyptic story line and deep combat system, in that order. Fallout Tactics turns the tables by focusing almost exclusively on a series of complex missions that are loosely wrapped in a plot. The focus is on combat, but Fallout Tactics stays true to its RPG roots. You create your own character with the RPG system from the previous Fallout games. The basics should be familiar to RPG fans: assign numbers to attributes, such as strength, perception, and dexterity, which help determine values for skills such as medic, sneak, repair, and big guns. Fun quirks such as fast shot, finesse, and bloody mess make your character unique. Once your character is complete, you're assigned your first mission. There's no need for a strong, personal plot device to get the game going: you're in the army now. Instead of the one-man-against-the-wasteland story of Fallout and Fallout 2, Tactics sets you up as a junior squad leader in an expeditionary force of the Brotherhood of Steel. The Brotherhood is a no-nonsense group of soldiers that has managed to thrive in the nuked American landscape by maintaining strict control over its technological superiority. Your group split off from the main group and headed east in huge dirigibles, only to crash-land near Chicago. Trading technology and protection for food and recruits, the Brotherhood soon finds itself taking on the role of feudal overlord. You and your squad tackle increasingly difficult missions for the Brotherhood. Each successful mission lets you improve your character and squadmates by way of accumulated experience, weapons, equipment, and vehicles. The word "tactics" didn't get into the title of this game by mistake. Characters can sneak into position, lay down covering fire, set up ambushes, lie prone in a sniper hide, and do just about anything else a real soldier can do. You'll need to use these abilities in order to complete the game's tough single-player campaign, or against human squad leaders in the included multiplayer mode. You can set the game to play in the strict turn-based mode familiar to Fallout veterans, or can play in "continuous turn-based," which is essentially the real-time strategy mode seen in games such as Baldur's Gate. The developers should get a medal for allowing gamers to switch between turn-based and real-time anytime. Between battles, your characters wander the wasteland in search of quests, barter for items, and interact with nonplayer characters whose reactions depend on the squad's reputation. It's enough to keep role-playing aficionados entertained, and action fans won't want to miss it. Note that Fallout Tactics is just as profane and violent as the other games in the series, and isn't for kids. --T. Byrl Baker Pros: Crisp graphics with great animation A truly beautiful combat system A decent story links the missions together and lets players get to know their characters Cons: Very challenging Plot is nowhere near as complex as those in Fallout and Fallout 2.