I wish that the game itself were as solid. It's not bad, by any stretch -- indeed, it's one of the best tactical RPGs I've played on the computer for a long time -- but it always feels like there's something missing, like the game could have been tweaked a little more to make for a better experience. Part of it comes from the overwhelming maps, which make other games of the genre look like terribly small potatoes, but end up making some battles more tedious than they should have been. Part of it comes from the buggy nature of the game -- fortunately, that's fixable. And part of it comes from the fact that the battle system tries to be a jack of all trades, but ends up as the master of none.
Since Fallout Tactics is primarily a tactical game, centering on the combat, the battle engine is really key to playing the game properly. MicroForte gives us three basic versions of the combat engine. The first, CTB, is something of an amalgam between real-time and turn-based. It's the default mode, and turns out to be both the most unique and the most frustrating mode in the game. It's simply too difficult to keep tabs on your six squad members when the game's running in real-time, and while it's certainly useful when you're maneuvering around the map, battles are too confusing in this mode to be all that playable, especially on the higher difficulty levels.
There are also two turn-based modes -- squad-based and 'standard'. In squad-based, each side takes a turn moving all of their units. In standard, everyone moves according to their initiative. Of the two, squad-based ends up working better, as part of playing Fallout Tactics is heavy utilization of group tactics. A single person running and gunning is probably going to fold in a matter of seconds; a carefully managed squad can tear through just about any opponent.
Thankfully, you can switch between the modes at will, helping to keep your sanity. And you'll need it -- at the beginning of the game, your warriors are almost as incompetent as they were in X-Com, missing at point-blank ranges and other silliness. If you have the enemy AI turned up, you can be prepared to do the save-load dance far more than you'd like.
There are definite RPG qualities to the game, although there's not the sense of completing quests like in 'normal' RPGs. Instead, your characters gain experience as they fight, and as they level, you can gain new perks that increase their abilities. These perks run a wide gamut, from skill-boosting stuff to ones that raise the number of action points you have and so on. You also have to worry about your skills and your stats, which all determine how effective you are on the battlefield.
If it sounds like I like the Fallout Tactics engine, well, I do. A lot. I've always loved the Wasteland/Fallout world, and I'm a complete strategy RPG nut. But the game definitely has its issues.
The main issue with the single-player game is the fact that many of the missions are just too damned long. Playing them on CTB can make them faster, but it also makes it much harder to keep tabs on your squad, and becomes virtual suicide on the harder difficulty levels. If you play it in turn based mode, you can expect some battles to drag on for hours, and most people will never find the time to beat the entire game. While I love long games as much as the next guy, the sense of progressing throughout the game just takes too long. While Tactics Ogre lasted well over a hundred hours if you wanted to beat the game entirely, those hundred hours were spent in well over twice as many battles. Fallout Tactics, on the other hand, has you spending hours per battle, which makes you lose the sense of urgency you need for a game like this.
The multiplayer mode is also somewhat problematic. It uses a point-based system, where you buy units based on points. The problem is that a single high-point unit can decimate a squad of low-point units fairly easily. The multiplayer modes are also not particularly enthralling. Playing in turn-based mode can be an exercise in frustration, and playing in real-time mode is fun yet somehow unfulfilling. And since your characters don't carry over like they do in the real game, some of the fun of the RPG concept is lost.