A Little Poker, A Lot of Uranium 238
When Bethesda took over the Fallout franchise from its defunct stewards, Black Isle Studios, there was a lot of doubt about how the final product would turn out. Black Isle itself had made a mark on PC gaming with memorable titles such as Planescape: Torment, the Fallout series and Icewind Dale, before imploding on itself and having refugee members of the staff re-form at Obsidian Entertainment. Now, with Obsidian back in the saddle for Fallout: New Vegas, the old hands are in charge of a new engine, with some interesting, but mixed results.
What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas
With the move from Washing D.C. to the Mojave desert comes a new storyline. The ball gets rolling when you, as an innocent courier, gets intercepted by parties unknown and unceremoniously shot in the head and dumped in a grave, Mafioso style. Miraculously, you survive the ordeal and after some character creation, you’re off and running in the Wasteland once more, exploring, taking part in sidequests or pursuing the main story as you see fit.
The game uses the same—somewhat tweaked—engine as Fallout 3, so while it looks a little sharper, it’s looking significantly more dated now, as 2010 graphics have come some way from 2008 standards. That in itself wouldn’t be so noticeable but the constant recycling of actual assets from Fallout 3 weighs heavy on the game. Apparently office cubicles, dresser drawers and lockers from out east are extremely fashionable in the west as well, since many of the environments in New Vegas are taken directly from the 2008 game. The Vegas Strip itself provides a unique visual flavour to the game, but outside of that, the majority of the visuals simply re-use what was seen in Fallout 3.
Audio has fared much better. In addition the expected return of Ron Perlman as the narrator, Obsidian has managed to score a coup with Wayne Newton himself as a radio DJ, Matthew Perry puts in an appearance and even Kris Kristofferson lends his voice in a broad cast with strong performances. The music, as to be expected, has more of a Vegas flair to it with hits like Dean Martin’s “Ain’t that a kick in the head” (which also appeared recently in Mafia II) toeing the line with Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby. The sound effects themselves are identical to Fallout 3, no surprises here at all.
Fallout… Fallout Never Changes
New Vegas is essentially an add-on masquerading as a full, retail priced game. The core mechanics are largely unchanged, the interface is the same, the skills and perks are largely the same and as mentioned above, even graphic assets are re-used. It’s a perfect game to recommend for those that fear change, as some would argue you’re essentially getting a palette swap of Fallout 3 but with some new elements here and there. The new additions to the game are things like the ability to craft your own ammunition, a more comprehensive faction system, and new temporary skill boosts in the form of magazines that can be read in a pinch if you’re a few points shy of temporarily unlocking a door, but are some time away from levelling up enough to pour more points into said skill. There’s also a new hardcore mode that takes into account sleep, food and water requirements, adding an extra layer of strategy to basic survival. It doesn’t drastically alter the game experience, but it does force you to be more mindful of the basics, right down to worrying about how much ammo you’re actually carrying on your person.
Unfortunately, another familiar element of Fallout 3 that makes an unwelcome return here are bugs and glitches. It varies from user to user, but everything from corrupted game saves, getting trapped in environmental geometry and freezes that require restarting the game are also back. For a game engine that’s two years old, with well documented problems from the original Fallout 3, the fact that they can still remain after all this time is astonishing. Doubtless these issues will get patched soon, and some, in fact, already are, but it’s disappointing to see that Bethesda still ships out problematic games with the “We’ll just patch it later, if at all” mindset.
But along with the bad comes a lot of good, and for most people that’s the fact that this is still Fallout. You still have a huge world to explore, you can still tackle quests in multiple ways from a straight shootout to resolving things through dialog. For some, particularly for fans of the game, this is the most important aspect, and on that count, the content delivers. The game feels about as large as the original game, but gives you new missions and characters to interact with. The lore of the Fallout universe has always been appealing and with Obsidian back in the saddle, elements like the New California Republic, the Brotherhood of Steel and even the whackiness of the Super Mutants have made a return. Also back is more of the black humour of the series, something that was noticeably absent from the previous Bethesda incarnation, but in Vegas, appropriately, all bets are off, and players will find everything from Indiana Jones stuffed into a fridge, to opportunities for robot sex. If that doesn’t say Fallout, nothing does.
In many ways, this is definitely a case of “more of the same,” but for Fallout 3 addicts, that’s likely enough to keep you engaged and satisfied. For people that were hoping to see significant changes and innovations to the series, you’ll have to keep waiting until Fallout 4, and are best advised to skip this entirely if Fallout 3 wasn’t to your liking. From a pure dollar perspective, if you’ve never played Fallout before, you might be better off simply getting the Fallout: Game of the Year edition as you’ll get significantly more content. But for fans of the series, this is a decent, if buggy, stop-gap measure to keep your craving at bay until Fallout 4 sees release