‘Fallout 4’ envisions Boston’s history in a post-apocalyptic future

The Commonwealth Institute of Technology, aka MIT
The Commonwealth Institute of Technology, aka MIT

It’s funny how much post-apocalyptic Boston looks like a typical New England winter.

In the world of “Fallout,” created by game developer Bethesda, the world has been mostly destroyed following something called “The Great War,” which resulted in full-out nuclear apocalypse. Walking through the nuclear-wrecked wasteland in “Fallout 4” is a familiar experience for people who grew up in the area, and not just because game developer Bethesda utilized many of the city’s most iconic locations.

The game’s setting was rumored for years before the official announcement. When a trailer confirmed it back in June, people spent their days dissecting the locations and landmarks shown – which included the State House, the Bunker Hill Monument, and the USS Constitution – and coming up with more theories about how the game would incorporate not only Boston’s physical setting but also its culture and history.

So it’s more than just the familiar iconography, although there are the historic landmarks. We knew the Old North Church would in the game thanks to the trailer, along with the State House, but the rest of the Freedom Trail is, too. One part of the game has you taking a tour along the trail, and not only does the red brick still exist, but so do most of the monuments. The stops along the way are stocked with obstacles, as you run into ghouls (“Fallout”’s version of zombies) in the Granary Burying Ground and in the church. You also can visit the Boston Public Library, which is also overrun with monsters, walk along the Charles River, and go into some of the MBTA stations. Park Street, for example, is an important stop in the story where players visit a vault that was constructed to protect people from nuclear radiation.

Fenway Park
Fenway Park
But then there’s the detail put into taking things Boston is known for and using it to build a new Boston in the game. In Diamond City, which is a marketplace and safe haven set behind the walls of Fenway Park, the residents worship “The Wall,” as it protects them from invaders. Inside the markets, you can purchase necessary items such as food and ammunition, but you can also buy baseball collectibles, bats, and uniforms. The guards in Diamond City walk around looking like catchers. It all looks like if the Red Sox and their fans were stranded at the stadium for 200 years and had to make do with what they had. Baseball indeed has become a religion.

“Fallout 4” includes not just Boston landmarks, but also its characters. The Minutemen, based on the militia companies that fought the British during the Revolutionary War, are a faction patrolling the Commonwealth that you can align with during the game. You run into them at the start in the fictional Museum of Freedom in Concord, which is a decaying dedication to that same Colonial history. If you want, you can knock over mannequins and listen in on some audio recordings that give you a brief history lesson.

The banks of the Charles River
The banks of the Charles River

However, the marker in “Fallout 4” that’s truly indicative of contemporary Boston is how the characters are at war with technology. There’s the secret organization called The Institute, which seems to be kidnapping children and creating robots called “synths” that can be mistaken for human. It existed long before the war that destroyed the planet, and is housed inside the Commonwealth Institute of Technology, or this world’s version of MIT. While it originally began as a prestigious university, it has since become the shadowy and technologically advanced organization that acts as a boogeyman for the characters. Everyone that lives inside the Institute is dedicated to scientific progress. While there are robots in every “Fallout” game, the ones in Boston are a natural outgrowth of the area’s technology companies, so it feels more at home in “Fallout 4” than in any other title in the franchise.

“We felt that Boston has the right mix of American history and high-tech,” said game director Todd Howard during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles in June. “It’s very good for ‘Fallout.'”

Looking back at other entries into the “Fallout” franchise gives one a sense that the developer takes these kinds of things into account. “Fallout 3” took place in Washington, D.C., and was praised by residents of the area for its accuracy. “Fallout: New Vegas” is not only a reconstruction of Las Vegas and surrounding suburbs, but also relies on a story that plays with the gambling culture.

The spread of the Boston area is greatly reduced in the game. A walk that would normally take hours takes only a few minutes; for example, you can walk from Lexington to Cambridge to Fenway Park in less than an hour. “Fallout 4” isn’t a complete replication, but it couldn’t be. What’s striking is not just the research game developers put in to get locations correct, but also how they incorporated themes of Boston’s history and culture into the story, its characters, and its fictionalized landmarks. Some names have been changed, and statues aren’t quite where they should be, but it’s familiar territory, which makes the game more inviting for those from New England.

Plus, there are the little touches. The leaves on the ground, the baseball memorabilia scattered around. There’s even a mutant you can fight named “Swan” who uses a swan boat for armor. Nice.

“Fallout 4” was released on Nov. 9 for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC for a list price of $59.99.