Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox 360) PAL Fallout: New Vegas (PS3) PAL Fallout: New Vegas (PC) PAL

Format Reviewed: Xbox 360

What is it really like living in a world where everything went wrong very quickly? It is a question that has lingered since the near calamity that is the Cuban Missile Crisis. If the nukes went off, would we be completely annihilated or would humanity live on somehow? The Fallout series has always gone with the semi-futuristic version of the latter option of humanity living on in vaults or even a tribe. But never have we seen it from the point of view of someone who isn’t immediately connected to the Vault program and indeed Vault Tech. Enter Fallout: New Vegas, where apparently not only are you a courier who didn’t come from a vault, but you are also in the only location in America that wasn’t heavily touched by the nuclear bombs. But is New Vegas really a paradise amongst ruin, or does the corruption that lays within leave a sour stench in the air?

As mentioned before, you are a courier in the Mojave Wasteland. Your last package however was either some kind of set-up or an unfortunate sequence of events. Things got so bad, somebody shot you in the head. You awake to find yourself alive and seeking answers. So far, not a lot that is interesting. Then you look at where you are. New Vegas is a warzone in a vast desert, with the NCR (New Californian Republic) and “Legion” at arms. Oddly, it seems there is a similarity with Fallout 3 about the fact it is a war about resource. Last time it was water that wasn’t radiated. This time though it is about who controls Hoover Dam, and the essential electricity it provides. But don’t let that fool you into a false sense of security in that you aren’t going to get involved, because you are. What’s nice is that every other faction out there searching for scraps is part of the overall plot and the words and actions you take matter to the overall outcome. Replay value is assured here.

For those who felt that Fallout 3 was way too easy, even if you Forrest Gump’ed (Put your Intelligence stat to 1) your way across the Capital Wasteland, you’ll be pleased to know that this is a lot harder. This is due to the fact that armour has more of an impact this time around, with certain weapon types being hardly effective against certain protection. In the Mojave, it isn’t just Deathclaws that can kill you with ease. Swarms of bugs that resemble giant wasps will come in very quickly and poison you to death with their large stingers. Primarily though it is the humans that are packing the armour, with a few animal based exceptions, and those that do take a lot longer to drop. The catch here is that there are armour piercing bullets at your disposal, and they rip through their protection for slightly reduced damage. Switching ammunition is a little cumbersome, but you also gain ballistic ammo which causes slightly more damage against anything unprotected and nothing to those with armour. Of course, VATS is there to help out in battles but the actual normal aiming has been significantly improved with a focus aim option, ala Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. That said, some bullets that are perfectly aimed might still veer off course. Nothing is more satisfying than an instant stealth kill however, and that is more likely now than it was two years ago.

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The other improvement to combat itself is the modifications you can equip to certain weapons. This allows for scopes, suppressors, extended magazines, you name it! So far there hasn’t been a limit to how many modifications one can make to a particular weapon. So instead of a typical laser rifle, you could theoretically now have one that spreads on impact and infects the enemy with the bubonic plague…with a scope. Of course it isn’t as elaborate as this, and there are limitations, but the impact of these options on combat means that you’re constantly looking for new ways to kill the mutants. There are several classes of weapons and some fall under fairly odd but understandable classifications. The Grenade Launcher for example is part of the Explosives family. The reason this is all important is because there is greater emphasis on the Skills table this time around, including more options via dialogue for specific areas of expertise. This makes it a fairly methodical, yet intriguing game to experience no matter how you go about it.

As morality meters go, Fallout 3 had a fairly rudimentary one. You do bad things; you become a harbinger of despair. You do good things; you become a paragon of justice. Both came with perks and consequences. It’s not quite as simple as yin and yang in Fallout: New Vegas. Yes, good and bad things have consequences, but morality is of hardly any importance in the Mojave Wasteland. Instead, people judge you on how you handle situations they put you in. They will obviously look highly upon you if you treated them with respect, but with hatred if you decided to kill several of their gang with no explanation. It’s a cool system, with lots of ways to get around it to make everyone happy if you want to. But there comes a time during the course of the game when you undoubtedly annoy a faction. This will spawn a random event every now and again when members of said faction come to destroy you/fine you. If for example it is Legion, there are eight of them, they want blood, and you’re just in a chequered suit; it is time to say the last rites. Unless you can trigger another random event quickly, this event will occur ad-nauseam. On the flip side if you really please a faction and enter their territory, they will bestow you with gifts. Overall it is a lot more in depth of a system but the events aren’t as random as one would hope.

Fallout: New Vegas is however a bit under the weather, suffering from some major bug issue. While Fallout 3 had some tracking issues, the bugs here range from the miss-loading areas to random crashes. Some of the glitches are downright ridiculous. I’ve seen the very first person you meet have his head spin and hovering in a sitting position. I’ve seen Old Lady Gibson in a sitting position, randomly murdered outside the Helios One power facility by two random mole rats and the dog she put down to salvage the brain, which then together with the remaining dogs turned on me. I’ve even seen the cowboy Securitron turn into a Guard Securitron straight after speaking to it. These are far less common than the “crash on the load screen glitch”, which is neither funny nor interesting, just infuriating. None of these bugs really break the game fully, unless you happen to decide to save during the glitch and not before. Besides, that’s what patches are for. Boy does this game need one of those soon!

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If you thought the options in Fallout 3 were a bit Spartan, then you also be pleased as punch to know that the Mojave Wasteland has more than a host of stuff to distract you from one of the many end-game options. Certain quests are unavailable depending on which factions you annoy the most. For example, saving the town of Goodsprings will provoke the wrath of the Powder Gangers. Really though there is no rush in what you do and don’t do. Everything can be taken at your own pace. As for other diversions, some come in the form of challenging strangers to a game of Caravan; a game involving normal playing cards that is so complex that a read through of the instructions isn’t enough to get you through, or some classic gambling in New Vegas such as slot machines, roulette and Blackjack. These games tend to use your Luck stat a lot to determine how lucky you are and how much cash you’ll accumulate by sheer perseverance. If you aren’t the gambling type however the options are limited to the side-quests, which isn’t as bad as it might seem. For the sadists out there, there is “Hardcore mode”, which adds an H20, Food and Exhaustion meter into the experience. While it may seem like someone at Obsidian has been playing a Sims game too much, the mechanic adds an interesting challenge to the whole experience that has not been covered in any other RPG in recent years. If you liked old 80’s RPGs, consider this a throwback.

One thing that has seemingly not changed in the two years since the Capital Wasteland is the visual style. Sandy in most places with barren locales that have most of the times seen better days. There are some exceptions to this though, as one of the few Vaults is overgrown with plants and another is populated by hotel guests. The scope is massive and the immersion is mostly absorbing. The few moments when it isn’t as immersive as one might want are when the game asks if your choices at the beginning are okay, or when you’re reloading the same area for the umpteenth time due to unfair dismissal. But really, these are minor quips with a beautifully crafted if slightly buggy world. The soundtrack on the radio is stellar to say the least, with Mr New Vegas helming the main station and actively trying to seduce your ears. It gets annoying after a while, but not as annoying as hearing “Johnny Guitar” for the millionth time or someone singing about getting mad about a boy. Turning the radio off is not recommended however as some songs such as “Big Iron” by Marty Robins and “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head” by Dean Martin are just cool even in the 21st century. As for the non-playable characters, they still look at you as if you’re about to steal their change (which isn’t accurate in my case, I just steal their stuff!), but at least they move around and change emotion after a while. The voice acting is brilliantly executed, with some half-famous people chipping in for a change. Kudos to Felicia Day however; I knew the girl could act on camera thanks to “The Guild” but she should really branch out everywhere. Her character is both amusing to converse with and an interesting history behind her provides Felicia with a persona to undertake of its own. She nails it. The rest of the cast are competent though, so her standing out is all the more remarkable.

Fallout: New Vegas poses a question. Can you enjoy a game that has so much going for it, with excellent presentation, more features than a brand new spangled Mercedes S-Class with diamond encrusted steering wheel and adamantium hub-caps; if the thing breaks down every five minutes? My answer prior to playing this would have been “no”. If a game hasn’t been properly tested, then the developers did a shoddy job. My answer after playing this is a resounding “yes” however, because with a game of this scope it was inevitable they’d miss a few things. It is sad that they couldn’t have ironed out the freezes before release and it does affect my opinion of their best work to date. The upgrades were necessary to improve the experience, and the immersion is a little more focused when the game allows for it to be. The only thing you might experience is intimidation due to the sheer scale of it all, together with some occasionally unforgiving difficulty spikes. Fallout: New Vegas is a phenomenal feat, but one hoped the nuclear winter would have at least taken out the bugs.