Mutant Future from Goblinoid Games. I personally think that's a shame, because, while it is a very good retro-clone for playing Gamma World, it's actually much more expansive than that. The combination of its compatibility with Labyrinth Lord and its lack of a specific setting makes Mutant Future a good foundation on which to build a variety of gonzo science fantasy campaigns. Ironically, those two qualities may also partly explain why the game hasn't received the love I think it ought to have received, which is why I've thought for a while now that what Mutant Future needed was a solid campaign supplement to show off its possibilities.
Apparently, Charles Rice had similar thoughts and decided to do something about it by producing Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest, the first installment in a gonzo post-apocalyptic setting that takes its esthetic cues from Westerns, but whose content shows a mix of influences, including UFOlogy. I'll admit that I was quite prepared to dislike Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest. Being a big fan of Westerns, I tend to be more than a little snobby about the way the genre is so often misused and caricatured, especially in crossovers with other genres. And while a post-apocalyptic setting is a very good fit for Western themes and esthetics, I was nevertheless apprehensive. I've seen too many poorly executed Western-influenced creations not to assume the worst.
For the most part, my apprehension was baseless. Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest is a well done little setting, described in a 24-page PDF and selling for $1.99. One of its best qualities is that it takes itself seriously without being self-serious. That is, this isn't a silly setting, with mutant horses acting as lawmen or anything like that, but it's also not a setting that's so straitlaced that a funky mutant animal or plant character is an impossibility. Silliness is a big danger in post-apocalyptic settings, especially those that adopt a 50s B-movie approach to mutation as Mutant Future (and Gamma World) does. On the other hand, a big part of the fun of games like Mutant Future are the wildly improbable mutants. There's thus a fine line between inadvertently straying into parody and bleeding all the fun out a post-apocalyptic RPG setting -- a line that I think Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest walks pretty well.
This supplement details an area of indeterminate size situated in the southwest of the former United States. I say "indeterminate" because its single map doesn't include a scale, though any familiar with the region should quickly recognize its major locales: Rhino (Reno), Salt Lick (Salt Lake City), Tusk (Tucson), Vega (Las Vegas), etc. The lack of a scale isn't a deal-breaker by any means, especially when one can easily consult a real world map to determine how far Reno is from Salt Lake City, but it is an annoyance. Fortunately, there's a lot of clever and inspiring ideas in Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest to make up for this oversight, chief among them being the implication that extraterrestrials from Groom Lake/Area 51 are present in the post-apocalyptic world, now freed from the oversight of the defunct US government and engaged in mysterious activities throughout the Southwest.
Of course, the aliens present only one possible source of conflict in the setting. In addition to the struggles between various settlements, there's the rising power of New Aztekia, led by the Lord of the Sun, not to mention several power groups independent of any settlement. There's Hell's Heart, a coalition of criminal gangs; the Nightgliders, who seek the power of man-made flight; the 88th, a collection of human and android soldiers seeking to rebuild America; the Marshals, itinerant self-appointed keepers of law and order; and Uforia, which seeks contact with the aforementioned aliens. Throughout Rice peppers the supplement with adventure hooks and off-handed references to people, places, and events intended to serve as inspiration to the referee in making the Southwest his own setting.
Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest is written in clear, occasionally evocative language, though not without typos and editorial errors. It includes both black and white and color art throughout. I could have done without the colored backgrounds on each page, since they sometimes made the text harder to read. Much like Blackmarsh, Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest is more of a sketch of a setting than something more complete. Whether one views that as is a virtue or a flaw depends on what one expects out of a setting supplement. I myself was largely happy with its level of detail, though I will admit that I was disappointed that some aspects of the implied setting -- New Aztekia, for example -- get very little detail. Likewise, this product is almost entirely stat-less, which no doubt broadens its utility to players of other post-apocalyptic games, but it does somewhat call into question its being touted as a Mutant Future supplement.
In the end, I like Nuclear Sunset: The Southwest; there's the germ of a fun setting in here. I just wanted more, even if, at $1.99, it's actually quite a bargain. Perhaps Charles Rice will return to the Nuclear Sunset setting and produce additional products that offer some of the details I wished had been included in this one.
Presentation: 6 out of 10
Creativity: 7 out of 10
Utility: 6 out of 10
Buy This If: You're looking for a sketch of a setting to use as the basis for your own post-apocalyptic roleplaying game campaign.
Don't Buy This If: You have no interest either in post-apocalyptic settings or using someone else's setting for your own campaign.