Fallout: New Vegas
After the amount of acclaim that 2008’s GOTY, Fallout 3, received, it’d be clear to even cockroaches that any subsequent titles in the series would either have to heroically raise the bar once again, or merely exist in the shadow of the former. Relatively soon after the Fallout 3 gaming-nuke had detonated, fans desperate for further wasteland adventures were comforted by the fact that Fallout: New Vegas was already in development. Fallout 3’s developer, Bethesda Softworks, would act as publisher but the new title would be developed by Obsidian Entertainment, a company comprised of former Black Isle Studios employees (who created the series’ beloved first two games). This situation was intriguing and split many heated fans down the middle (like a Herculean blow from a fiery shishkebab); some were worried the ‘new’ developers would stray too far from Bethesda’s blueprint whilst others had absolute faith that Obsidian could do no wrong…
It’s not giving away too much to reveal that the game opens with your character being shot in the cranium and left for dead. Fortuitously, it transpires that you’re somewhat hardy to headshots and a robotic Good Samaritan deposits you at the local doctor’s. The process of recovery acts as the character creation section and once you’ve selected the stats, skills, perks and visage of an appropriate wasteland-roaming badass – it’s out into the irradiated world to track down the guy who thought it’d be OK to blast you in the fizzog.
“I’d encountered the game’s first bug and it wasn’t the made-bigger-by-exposure-to-radiation kind.”
Exiting the doctor’s residence, fervent to investigate this new Fallout world, was I soon mainlining post-nuclear super-fun into my eyeballs? No, I’d become inescapably trapped between a pickup truck and a garage roof. I’d encountered the game’s first bug and it wasn’t the made-bigger-by-exposure-to-radiation kind. This same physics problem cropped up again soon after, so did several graphical glitches and then an expletive accompanied system crash, mid shoot-out. Thus, the all important first few minutes were sullied; my initial sense of excitement was castrated and as New Vegas is a major title, these kinds of game-spoiling problems just don’t cut it. Quality assurance – what were they playing at? Not New Vegas, obviously. But, bugs aside and hopefully patched ASAP, this is a highly commendable addition to the series. From the beginning, the game evokes a similar atmosphere to Fallout 2 and compared to its predecessor, New Vegas is broader, more irreverent, darker and its expansive world feels even more foreboding.
The map is massive, eclipsing that of Fallout 3 and offering the potential for real-time days of exploration. Although the game’s location within the Mojave Desert wasn’t directly hit with nuclear warheads, the area’s still no Garden of Eden. Barren stretches of sand are bordered by impassable rocky hills and deadly valleys and whilst various flora is actually alive and sprouting lush green leaves, it often looks like its being intimidated back into the ground by the enshrouding bleakness of it all. Nothingness is rife. Whereas a seasoned Fallout 3 veteran could expect to be constantly assailed by wasteland-wildlife whilst travelling, here, players will find themselves wandering through the topography with little more than the sound of their footsteps for company, masochistically begging to be ambushed by some kind of mutant fauna. There’s always the radio, but, depending on your annoyance threshold, that soon becomes tedious. Although these lonesome walks could be viewed as dull, they contribute to the brooding atmosphere and the abundance of locations easily restores interest to equilibrium .
“Masochistically begging to be ambushed by some kind of mutant fauna”
Many of these locations are familiar: shrewdly constructed shacks and empty caravans but many are fully-fledged settlements with intriguing back-stories and characters. For all the recognizable Googie-style architecture, there’s also prominent monoliths such as Novac’s Dinkie The Dinosaur Motel, the horizon-breaking Helios One power-plant, the power-generating Hoover Dam and of course, the strip itself. As Fallout 3 featured nothing comparable to Fallout 2’s New Reno, it’s excellent to see a crime-ridden hub astride the wasteland once again, especially as you can partake in some nifty in-game gambling whilst there. The strip’s iridescent lighting is brilliant as it illuminates the black desert night and the dazzling colours draw unfortunates in like eager moths to a corrupt flame.
While locations like the strip can appear visually stunning, much of the map does look dated. Should you get too close to various pieces of terrain, it’ll often look terrible (especially bushes and fabrics used in tents/on buildings) and the landscape’s graphical rendering often flickers to opaque as you traverse the environment. Obsidian has used a tweaked version of Fallout 3’s Gamebryo engine and this obviously creates a vivid optical link between New Vegas and its predecessor. At times (and provided you love Fallout enough), though, it’s almost as if your brain thinks it’s still 2008 and is therefore willing to look the other way (which is when you get a skewer shoved through your teeth).
“The dazzling colours draw unfortunates in like eager moths to a corrupt flame”
Whereas Fallout 3 had a central quest that was vastly important to your surroundings and the people that inhabited them, New Vegas’ primary quest is concerned with revenge and greed. Although many of the quests could be considered filler (take/retrieve item A to point B etc.), just as many are memorable and hark back to the intertextuality and dark humour of the early games. Whether you’re defending a besieged town from a violent drug gang, negotiating supplies for deprived areas, assassinating seedy characters, recruiting the sultry services of sexbots or helping to fulfil mythic prophecies, you’ll leave a lasting effect that’ll alter your surroundings and the way you’re perceived from then on. The reputation system from the series’ earlier games has been reintroduced so you must therefore take caution in your actions and constantly think about where your allegiances lie. The game contains three primary factions: The NCR (New California Republic army of questionable integrity), Caesar’s Legion (brutal Ancient Rome-alikes) and the strip’s clandestine overlord, Mr. House (it’s a secret!) and many minor factions also come into play as you progress through the game. If you offend a certain faction enough, they’ll vilify and even send assassins after you, help them enough and you’ll be rewarded in kind.
Although the game presents sufficient challenges, the quest compass markers can become overused and relied upon, which, when they malfunction, can be irksome. If they only indicated the general vicinity/map location of the quest’s solution, as well as being assigned different colours for different stages of the quest, this would present a more demanding task and require greater tenacity of the player. Of course, the compass can be ignored altogether but in that case players should be allowed the option to switch it off/alter the information given. A ‘hardcore’ mode is available and is intended to create a more realistic difficulty setting, whereby players face a harsher task of survival as their hydration levels, stimpack usage and limb condition all become much more important than in the other difficulty settings. This mode, inspired by various Fallout 3 mods, is an interesting addition and clearly aspires to please those who decried the aforementioned title as being too unrealistic.
“Many are memorable and hark back to the intertextuality and dark humour of the early games”
New Vegas‘ writing is generally of a decent quality; with some humorous and realistic dialogue options cropping up instead of Fallout 3’s overused profanity and general blandness. Important characters are rationally motivated and aren’t afraid of upsetting their fellow residents or superiors when it suits them. Human companions are limited to one (gone are the days where you could stride around with an entire crew of wasteland misfits backing you up), but you’re also permitted to bring along a non-human too, such as the lovable ED-E eyebot. Although followers often strafe directly into your gunfire (standard), they can hold their own in a fight, are hard to properly kill (they go unconscious rather than die) and they also serve as packhorses for your wasteland loot. For companion control, Obsidian has introduced an efficient ‘companion wheel’ mechanic, so you can now command your followers in seconds rather than having to do it via tiresome dialogue options, saving you valuable gaming time. The voice acting for NPCs is of a decent standard, with actors such as original apoca-larynx, Ron Perlman, Kris Kristofferson, Danny Trejo and noted Fallout 3 fan, Matthew Perry (way to go, Chandler!) lending their lungs to the title. This pedigree gives some balance to proceedings, though, as some of the other actors sound like they’re just reading the script for the first time, hung-over, whilst never having even seen The Road Warrior.
Speaking of sawn-off shotgun wielding maniacs, many of the series’ classic enemies have been included and some new monstrosities are thrown in too, many of which are utterly lethal to a fledgling player (swarms of cazadors will massacre you in seconds). You’ll variably encounter ‘legendary’ versions of some creatures, which are more durable, fearsome and are highly rewarding to fell. The game’s combat is fairly slow and clunky; the carnage seen through Gamebryo will never feel as fluid as an FPS proper, but perhaps that’s asking for too much. Variously, the game’s bugs impede the combat and can give either side a huge disadvantage, although it’s still perversely satisfying to bludgeon an enemy that’s become hopelessly lodged in the terrain. Obsidian has improved the gunplay slightly with the addition of sight-aiming for all the firepower, which means the V.A.T.S system isn’t always as requisite as is was in Fallout 3. Unfortunately, V.A.T.S still doesn’t permit groin or eye-shots, but special melee attack animations have been added and are positively amusing – utilise the golf club in this manner and you’ll hear a comical cry of “Fore!!”. Of all the Fallout games, this one contains the most weaponry and although the weapon-count doesn’t come close to Borderlands’, it’s definitely possible it had an influence on New Vegas’ bolstered arsenal.
Although it’s visually dated, New Vegas is a bona fide Fallout title that contains well over 100 potential hours of quality post-apocalyptic RPG gaming that ought to please existing fans and gain the series many new ones. Although not a direct sequel, it’s a worthy successor to Fallout 3 and once its gameplay-impeding bugs are stomped from digital existence, it’ll offer an immense experience with a wealth of worthwhile replayability.