Fallout 3’s Music Is the Heart and Soul of its Wasteland

Fallout 3

I’m still in the midst of my fascination with anything Cold War, 1960s-related, like James Bond or games like CounterSpy. But now here comes a whole different trip down memory lane, as it does about two or three times at random intervals annually: the never-quite-happened-but-almost-did post-apocalyptic era, or, more specifically, the time just before the apocalypse would have happened. Bear with me; I’ll explain.

Fallout 3It’s been years now since I completed my trek through the Capital Wasteland of Bethesda’s Fallout 3. Along the way, I dealt with muties, spelunked through enigmatic Vaults, and killed countless bloatflies and radroaches. For a short time – about 2 days or so – I think I approached a state of mind akin to mania, literally losing my mind in the sights and sounds of this immersive world I was getting to experience. I remember playing all through one whole day, then burning the midnight oil until the sun rose the next morning, in one long continuous session with this post-apocalyptic sandbox game. But of all the unforgettable memories Fallout 3 left me with, the one that stands out most in my mind to this day is its amazing soundtrack of 1940s oldies, juxtaposing with its violent and decayed on-screen world in a way that is nothing short of brilliant.

If I remember correctly, several radio channels are available for you to tune in to as you play, with some dedicated to spoken-word propaganda talk shows, but others playing a steady stream of what would have been considered “current” music prior to the nuclear catastrophe. So, as I traversed the hulking skeletons of a crumbling highway infrastructure, or used a scope lens to pick off raiders in an abandoned supermarket or school house, I was constantly accompanied by the same upbeat messages and swinging snappy melodies. Sure they were on a loop, with maybe two dozen or so tunes repeating again and again, but their quality – and the overall experience it created – was so bewitching I never minded.

To me, the ultimate tune, that really signifies everything Fallout 3 means to me, is Bob Crosby’s Way Back Home. Go ahead, give it a listen. I’ll wait right here.

I imagine the message of the song – remembering how much better life used to be back wherever you call home, back when you were there, and dreaming of returning to a better, simpler life waiting for you back in that warm place – is how the nameless Wanderer would feel about the shattered world before him. A kind of yearning to go back to before the cataclysm, to have life be somehow right again. Despite it being an upbeat, sometimes comical song, there’s something hauntingly melancholy about it. I suppose “haunting” is the right word, because the song still continues to haunt my sensibilities to this day, and makes me want to return to Fallout 3 again sometime soon (or maybe finally pick up and play Fallout: New Vegas, which is taking up an unnecessary space in my unplayed backlog at this time).

And Way Back Home is by far not the only song worth listening to. Equally stuck in my memory are I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, Billie Holiday’s Crazy He Calls Me, and Cole Porter’s Anything Goes (which is far superior to the Chinese version Kate Capshaw sings in that Indiana Jones movie!). I’ve read in numerous places that Fallout 3‘s soundtrack is by and far away the best of the series, but if New Vegas and the prequels (which I have collecting dust on a collector’s edition CD-ROM in a box somewhere) are even close, then they will be experiences worthy of shooting to the top of my Must-Play list!


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