Faced with a fearsome nuclear winter, a dying world in which savagery, survival and fanaticism compose a melody impossible to avoid, a battle tank advances through the ruins. What was once the city of Denver, now razed, stands like a mound. Distress calls come from the radio waves; threats, screams of terror. But also, music. One that accompanies the ranger wherever the survivors of this cold world need them.
Because music has always tamed beasts.
It is difficult to play Wasteland 3 without feeling intoxicated by his music, by his attention to this particular detail. The third installment of the older sister of Fallout has landed at the best possible time: during the COVID-19 pandemic that keeps many of us locked up at home. An unhappy coincidence. Faced with an uncertain and apocalyptic future, Brian Fargo and his team at InXile were undaunted and decided that Wasteland he still had a lot to say.
Published by Electronic Arts in 1988, Wasteland, Directed by Brian Fargo, it was the first approach to a saga that has laid the foundations of the apocalyptic RPG games that we have enjoyed from now on. And when we talk about such a specific genre, it is impossible to ignore the name that comes to mind: Fallout. Interplay, the same company that developed Wasteland, published in 1997 the first installment of what today is a great saga recognized by Bethesda and the pioneers in the post-apocalyptic theme in video games, as well as a benchmark in Western role-playing video games and a recognizable brand throughout the world with millions of fans. Less fortune has reaped Wasteland, this tactical role-playing title that takes place in a world much like the Wasteland of Fallout and who shares features, characteristics, a very similar badass and foul-mouthed sense of humor, and an undeniable taste for good music.
In 2014, Fargo and his team decided to give us a continuation of their star game. Wasteland 2 garnered good reviews and attracted a sector of the player hardcore of the strategy and in 2018 they were acquired by the powerful Microsoft. After that spectacular return (and, let’s face it, with the bad reviews that her sister saga was going through in the hands of Bethesda, now also absorbed by the family of the big M), a third part seemed inevitable.
Wasteland 3 it goes back on the foundations laid by its predecessor, polishes some of its details (an unbeatable combat and exploration), falls into new errors (frankly poor dialogues) and presents a work with its own voice, recognizable to fans and others. It presents the rawness with a touch of humor, of hope; unbridled violence with a fabled filter.
Something that is seen a lot in Quentin Taratino’s cinema, a comparison that is not trivial.
One of the main novelties that it presents Wasteland 3 (and one of the ones that is surprising the public the most) is its soundtrack. The choice of a series of typical American songs covered; boss fights to the rhythm of folk, rock’n’roll or even religious music has given a twist to a formula that delves deeply into American myths and rites to establish a backdrop and symbology of its own. The person in charge of this is, to a large extent, Mary Ramos, a name that may not sound as much as others, but it will soon, patience. She is not as well known, of course, as the aforementioned film director Quentin Tarantino. But if we think about his films (full of violence, from the same American mythology), we will inevitably come to mind with endless songs discovered by the director born in 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Songs that establish a dialogue with the scene in which they are immersed that could be shocking, even out of place, but that elevate the audiovisual language and beat the viewer. I mean unforgettable like My baby shot me down by Nancy Sinatra used in Kill Bill The how Girl You’ll Be a Woman Soon written by Neil Diamond but performed by Urge Overkill in Pulp Fiction. A version that has become, thanks to being related to the strange friendship-love story of Uma Thurman and John Travolta in the 1994 film, more famous than the original.
Mary Ramos has held the position of music supervisor for two decades and has participated in more than a hundred films. Among them, several collaborations with Tarantino stand out: Kill Bill, Django Unchained, Death Proof, and own Pulp Fiction.
He also has on his resume having developed the same position in Wasteland 3.
Now we explain many things.
In my first hours in Wasteland 3 I came across many familiar elements: a combat system based on turns and on planning the strategy with the prepared scenario; a team exploration, a direct narrative, violent, without ambiguity. Pleasant terrain, but known. The justification for a sequel cannot (or should not) remain in the success of its predecessor, but rather offer something beyond. In the first fight against a boss in the first bars of the title, I found the first audiovisual blow that Fargo’s new work gives us: a fight on hostile terrain while the song is playing Washed in the blood of the Lamb. A religious hymn written in 1878 by the Presbyterian minister Elisha Hoffman, re-interpreted for the occasion with a different rhythm, the lyrics adapted, an interpretation with an old voice, close to Johnny Cash. A dark folk, melancholic but soft, that does not seem the most obvious option in a scene of this type of video game.
Unless you are Mary Ramos, or Gustavo Santaolalla.
The apocalypse begins to sound like folk. A religious hymn. And it is not the only case: Bioshock Infinite He also gave us guitar versions of Will the Circle be Unbroken sung with the softness of a female voice; or ecstatic choral versions of religious fanaticism. Or the awesome version of Take me home, country roads, original by Bill Danoff, Taffy Nivert and John Denver, used to promote Fallout 76. All these examples of how some modern classics of the song have a second life in the video game. How the importance of what is playing in this or that scene can turn around the sensations experienced by the player.
The importance of music in the video game is something that players are increasingly aware of. Fortunately, some teams have been for years. Others still have a lot to learn. After many hours of games with Wasteland 3 I refused to write a detailed review of the title, study its weaknesses, its great successes, and decided to let myself be carried away by the sensations. And the feelings of this end of the world they sound. They sound like guitar or banjo chords; they sound like a ragged, beautiful, but leathery voice; to a letter that speaks of the great fears of the individual. Talk about life and death; of the beyond and of what awaits us on earth as we wake up every day to survive. I don’t know if this is what the team of InXile and Mary Ramos wanted to achieve, but they have made the power struggles, the snowy roads of this title, the ties that unite the rangers and the blood they leave behind, have a band own and particular sound.