Fallout is a series that has gone from strength to strength, earning itself one of the most dedicated fan followings in video games. Whilst the fans showed concern at Bethesda taking the IP away from developer legends Black Isle, Bethesda managed to dismiss all naysayers as Fallout 3 achieved critical acclaim obtaining a plethora of awards. Fallout New Vegas, developed by Obsidian, achieves modest success in the shadows of the former hit.
Fallout New Vegas starts out quite differently from the typical Fallout introductions, having you take control of a courier that has never set foot in a Vault and therefore doesn’t fit the usual ‘Wastelander’ criteria from the series past. Carrying an item of extreme value you are double crossed and left facing the barrel of a loaded pistol, shot and left to die. Thankfully a helpful cowboy, well robot with a cowboy artificial intelligence to be exact, pulls you out of the grave set aside for you and brings you to the local village doctor. From here on out your goal is clear; find the man who did this to you, discover what was of so much value and get sweet revenge. Obviously the story wouldn’t be very interesting if it was as simple as A-B-C so there is far more than meets the eye and revenge is on the beginning.
Whilst a game could be created with a linear path following the critical mission, the beauty of Fallout comes from the fact that the critical path is a rain drop in an ocean. There is such a vast level of scale, depth and complexity to the world that your own tribulations feel minor in comparison to the ones others face around you, that typically have you getting heavily involved. Whether it be crackpot scientists trying to create plant life in the barren wastelands, a mechanical dog in need of a brain, hoodlum gangs trying to gain notoriety or exquisite clientèle looking to find happy endings (from machines and ghouls alike) there is always something of interest happening in the expansive world that begs for your attention.
Playing in the first person viewpoint (or third person if you like terrible character animations) you’ll control the game's lead character as if the game was an FPS, with some RPG roll of the dice elements to spice up gameplay somewhat. As you work through the wastelands you’ll be playing a rotation of quizzing the locals in order to learn more about topics of interest, searching for items (be it a mission objective or simply treasure) and taking down an extremely varied list of potential enemies. This rotation of gameplay is repeated throughout, but due to the sheer diversity of the encounters, locations and objects to be found it never becomes stale and appears quite magnificent when compared to other triple-A titles that struggle to have more enemies, weapons, NPCs or locations than you can usually count on one hand.
The potential for widely varied gameplay and unique encounters for Fallout New Vegas gives it an almost unrivalled experience... when not compared to its almost identical brother, Fallout 3. The games are heavily similar and given the post apocalyptic style it’s hard to differentiate them apart in a screenshot, however, there are a handful of new features that Obsidian have included that are sheer brilliance. The big ones include a proper crafting system that extends to weapons, ammo and even harvesting plants to use as ingredients; reputation with the games many different factions, needing you to earn loyalty and reap its rewards; weapon modifications and a companion wheel that lets you give commands on the fly. Outside of the large new elements, old features have been tweaked such as karma, luck and random chance being separated somewhat and more heavily based on skill values or companions now providing special temporary perks (a bonus ability or stat adjustment) to offset only getting to choose a personal perk every three levels.
Out of all these new features the most welcome, and interesting, is a ‘Hardcore’ mode that doesn’t affect the game's difficulty setting (that can be set independent of having Hardcore mode on or off) but delivers more realism and intensity into the gaming environment, having it feel somewhat like the classic Fallout titles. Healing items are no longer instant but work gradually over time, the player has health requirements that have to be met like H20, food and sleep levels and ammunition carried by the player has weight value.
Fallout New Vegas does has its negatives though, and without a doubt the largest of which is the games engine which being based on the Oblivion Gamebryo engine from 2006 is quite dated. The character models struggle to show their personality and emotion in model and need to do it via voice work and dialogue instead, and the world environment whilst impressively open lacks the detail it deserves. The engine's limitations quickly become apparent when you finally hit the Vegas strip, only to find that it has been split into extremely small segments with two or three casinos per load sequence. Made even worse is when you go inside the casinos to find them populated with only a few NPCs, as the engine likely has trouble populating an area heavily.
Being based on old technology, with the world scale as large as it is, there are also a long list of bugs that you’ll encounter on your travels from NPCs walking into walls, getting stuck in terrain and the worst of which is entire game crashes. Only having encountered two game crashes in my thirty plus hours with the game I’m somewhat relieved, however I have encountered such situations as watching NPCs walk constantly into a vertical hill, made worst by me standing at the top slashing them in the face with a pocket knife to only have them speak out “Hey don’t do that!”, till they all fell down one by one... A little brutal perhaps, but a point well proven! Thankfully the game has a superb save system that I only wish every game would adopt, allowing you to save in a hundred slots (and being able to overwrite) and manually saving at every load screen (meaning every new building in this case).
Whilst the game might fail to deliver in graphical presentation, it certainly exceeds in the audio department. Instantly I was happy to see the familiar jingles and tunes have been kept in-tact, and at first weary that the magical effect Fallout 3 had on me wouldn’t be replicated... it was. Before long I found myself turning on the game's radio station (available at all times on your wrist computer, the pipboy), and leaving it on. The fantastic radio host (voiced by Wayne Newton) introduces each next song beautifully and will have you feeling perfectly relaxed, in tune while killing super mutants with a tire iron, wearing ‘Sexy Sleepwear’, as Dean Martin’s ‘Ain’t that a kick in the head’ plays on. It’s also common to be wondering the wastelands to find upon speaking with a random NPC that it has been voiced by a high calibre celebrity actor, who generally deliver their lines fantastically, coming together well with the music tracks and overall background ambience and sound effects to create a prestigious audio experience.
Fallout New Vegas is in very familiar ground to Fallout 3, and with a dated engine and a plethora of bugs it wouldn’t be too hard to dismiss it as nothing more than an attempt to cash in on a prior success; but that would be wrong. Fallout New Vegas is a fantastic game that in its vast, interesting, flavour-filled world has something for everyone. I could say that I’ve not loved the last thirty hours, and don’t expect to spend another thirty more, but ‘It’s a sin, to tell, a lie’.
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