Name: Fallout: New Vegas
Genre: Action RPG
Platform: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
Price: £37.69 (Amazon)
If you were one of the many, many gamers who sunk a large chunk of their lives into Fallout 3, you’ll know that it was an experience as gruelling as it was awe-inspiring. Set in a huge, beautifully realised but desolate world, combat, story telling and exploration combined in a perfect mix that made you question how the apocalypse could ever lead to so much fun.
Getting gamers to commit to such a lengthy (and at times emotionally draining) undertaking once again however is no easy task. Obsidian, taking over development duties from Bethesda, were given that very challenge, and Fallout: New Vegas is the fruit of their labour. For the most part it’s a great success, but a series of bugs and engine failings tarnish the adventure somewhat.
An action RPG that can be played from either first or third person viewpoints, you take the role of a nameless courier who is shot, left for dead and then revived, tasked with hunting the perpetrators who pulled the trigger and finding out why you were on their hit list in the first place. You can play the game any way you like, using stats to build characters that survive on their wits, shooting skills, intelligence or any other combination of traits. There’s the main storyline to play through, but much of the game’s 100+ hours of fun lie in straying away from the beaten path and exploring the vast desert game-world that Obsidian have created, undertaking the numerous side-quests hidden around the map.
The new setting is the major difference between New Vegas and its predecessor. This sequel takes place in Nevada on the west coast whereas Fallout 3 was in Washington DC on the east coast. Washington being the capital city, it was hit hardest in the game’s fictional nuclear war between the USA and China. The dusty New Vegas, whilst hardly cheery, is therefore a little less dilapidated. Visually the game is a tad sharper, with a far more varied and less oppressive colour palette. But don’t let that fool you; skies may be blue and birds may be flying, but there are still a load of mutated nasties and giant insects out for your blood.
It’s a good job that you’ve got quite the arsenal available to you then. From mini-nuclear weapons to trusty shotguns to be scavenged and traded, there are plenty of ways to deal damage to your many foes. Melee attacks have been improved this time around, with finishing moves activated if you attack in certain ways, whilst different ammo types and weapon modifications can now be applied to your gear. While on the one hand these additions mean that your character is more flexible and less dependant upon stats, on the other it also means multiple play-throughs are less rewarding as a “jack-of-all-trades” character is quite easy to build. As well as the VATs time-stopping targeting system, you now also get true iron-sights with which to aid your aim, allowing you to stare down a gun’s barrel and through it’s sights. In reality this is merely an aesthetic change though; your shooting is still governed more through your character’s stats than your trigger finger.
Central to the game’s desert world is the New Vegas hub town, a neon oasis full of casinos in the sea of dust. This inevitably leads to the inclusion of gambling mini-games, but also results in three warring factions all vying for control over this lucrative zone. You’ll have to carefully play the game’s factions off of each other to progress, with a reputation system tracking your standing with each group and settlement. In addition to Fallout 3’s karma system, it results in a tightly nuanced world where your actions have both a subtle and obvious impact on your surroundings. Get caught wearing the wrong gang colours in the wrong town, and you’re in for one hell of battle.
You’ll do well then to have a companion accompany you on your journey then, and Obsidian have done a fine job of streamlining the system used in Fallout 3 for commanding your allies. You’ll run into a handful of potential road-buddies over the course of the adventure, each with individual back-stories, skills and personality traits. Issuing commands is now done through a pop-up radial menu, which is far easier to navigate than the clumsy conversations that governed allied actions in Fallout 3. In a nice touch, your buddies will now also give a little word of warning should you be giving an order that’s not suited to their skills.
Even on the normal settings New Vegas offers a stiffer challenge than Fallout 3, but if you’re looking for a truly sadistic survival experience, there’s now a Hardcore mode to take on too. Here even environmental strains play on your character; the weight of your ammo, the amount of water your character has drank and the amount of sleep you’ve had all must be micro-managed. It’s very, very hard, but play though the game from start to finish in this mode and you’ll be duly rewarded.
Perhaps we’re already viewing the 2 year-old Fallout 3 through rose-tinted glasses, but New Vegas certainly seems let down by the limitations of its ageing engine and the quirks and bugs we’ve come to associate with it. There’s a stellar script and quality voice acting to be enjoyed, but it’s difficult to get past the soulless, wooden models that deliver them. Using an engine that’s now four years old, it’s dragging its feet graphically behind the best this generation now has to offer, suffering from too many drops in frame-rate and glitches to be ignored. Also, the inclusion of true iron sights still doesn’t do enough to tempt the Modern Warfare crowd away from their frag-fests in a game that’s in many ways even more intimidating to the RPG newcomer than its predecessor.
With the narrative drive stilted by dated character modelling and animation then, the real life of Obsidian’s Fallout paradoxically lies in the desert itself. Whilst not quite as compelling a setting as the Capital Wasteland, it’s just as densely packed, with each nook and cranny crying out to be explored, reaching even further extremes of dark humour and brutality. A wrecked roadside vehicle can tell a story as vivid as any voiced character, whilst using the detailed world to conjure your own tales as you scramble to survive through hardcore mode is as testing as it is exhilarating.
If Fallout 3 stole hundreds of hours of your life away, you’ll still likely get a huge kick out of this new adventure. Don’t expect Obsidian to have re-invented the wheel, or to have even sanded down it’s crooked edges, and you’ll easily find yourself falling in love with the apocalypse all over again.