Move over, 'The Last of Us' — 'Fallout' is the next great video-game adaptation

Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean in "Fallout."
Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean in "Fallout."Amazon Prime Video
  • Amazon's TV series "Fallout" is based on the hugely popular games by Interplay and Bethesda SoftWorks.

  • The show follows a young woman looking for her missing father in a postapocalyptic world.

  • "Fallout" embraces the exploratory spirit of the games but tells an original story.

Video games are notoriously difficult to adapt for film and TV successfully.

HBO's "The Last of Us" was a hit, flooring fans and critics alike with its strong performances and dedication to the source material.

But many less-than-stellar adaptations ("Prince of Persia, "Hitman," "Warcraft," "Monster Hunter") failed to win audiences over.

Players have flocked to the "Fallout" games since 1997 to fight off raiders and slay monsters in a retrofuturistic wasteland ravaged by nuclear war.

With so much material at hand — four main games and several spinoffs — attempting a live-action adaptation that captures the hallmark intriguing character arcs, fast-paced combat, and open-world exploration is an unenviable task.

The makers of Prime Video's "Fallout" were wise, then, to develop a TV show with an original storyline that does indeed capture the games' sense of adventure and mystery.

The show focuses on Lucy MacLean (Ella Purnell), a young woman who has lived her entire life in the underground bunker Vault 33, one of many shelters across America where thousands of people sought protection from a nuclear war between the US and China.

Ella Purnell as Lucy and Kyle MacLachlan as Hank in "Fallout."
Lucy and Hank (Kyle MacLachlan) in Vault 33 in "Fallout."Amazon Prime Video

When Lucy's father, Hank MacLean (Kyle MacLachlan), is kidnapped by invaders from the outside world, she decides to leave the safety of the vault to find him.

At first blush, it's similar to "The Last of Us," which faithfully followed the events of its games, also focusing on a postapocalyptic journey and a father-daughter-esque relationship.

But with "Fallout," executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy take the opposite tack.

Aside from the vaults, the weapons, and other recognizable "Fallout" imagery, this is a completely original story that manages to blend seamlessly with the world of the games. It's a smart choice, as the beauty of the games lies in exploring the truly bizarre world in which the story unfolds.

Lucy MacLean's story embraces the spirit of the games

Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean in "Fallout."
Ella Purnell as Lucy MacLean in "Fallout."Jojo Whilden/Prime Video

While the drive to find Hank is the catalyst for Lucy braving the postapocalyptic wasteland, her story is really about learning who she is away from her isolated upbringing in Vault 33.

That means the audience learns everything it needs to know through Lucy's point of view, cleverly making the story accessible to newcomers, while seasoned fans can still enjoy the glut of Easter eggs and references.

Players will recognize the way Lucy has to figure out how to navigate the dangers of the wasteland, which echoes the start of the game. (Top tip: Don't drink the irradiated water.)

After leaving her comfy underground home, the naive vault dweller quickly gets tangled up with an enigmatic bounty hunter called The Ghoul (Walton Goggins), as well as a militaristic group called the Brotherhood of Steel.

Aaron Moten as Maximus in "Fallout."
Aaron Moten as Maximus in "Fallout."Amazon Prime Video

Anyone who's ever played a "Fallout" game knows how easy it is to get sidetracked by different factions, gangs, and cults after starting even the simplest mission.

Thankfully, Lucy never gets too distracted, and her journey widens her perspective of what's happened since the bombs fell 200 years ago. This forces her to reckon with the fact that she will never return to her squeaky-clean, comfortable life in the vault, meaning viewers actually care about her as a character when the bloody action scenes inevitably come along.

A pitch-perfect script drives the narrative forward, making clever use of the franchise's satirical take on consumerism, the Red Scare, and Hollywood.

Game players will also be pleased that the games' warped sense of humor isn't lost in translation to screen: whether that's a member of the Brotherhood running away from a mutated bear repeatedly screaming "Fuck!" as any player would, or a gleefully murderous robot voiced by Matt Berry trying to steal Lucy's internal organs.

Sure, the world has gone to hell, but at least it's funny.

By leaning into the world of "Fallout" rather than adapting a specific game or storyline, Prime Video found a way to bring this wacky, wonderful wasteland to life in all of its unhinged glory. It's an utter treat.

"Fallout" streams on Prime Video on April 10.

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