Sunday, November 7, 2010

REVIEW - Fallout: New Vegas.

I'm sneaking my way north, towards the glow on the horizon. The cracked, ancient highway is broken in places and obliterated in others. I'm keeping my eyes peeled, but no one is around for miles - lucky for me. The rusty pistol tucked into my belt is as old as the road, and just as useless. Not much good against the chain gangers - and creatures far worse - that hunt this stretch.

I'll have to be careful.

I am immersed.

New Vegas isn't for every gamer. There is a lot of objectively fantastic stuff, here - laser guns and half-robot dogs and post-apocalyptic ghoul prostitutes - but the real, lasting impression it leaves isn't the product of such minutia. What elevates the title beyond standard action fare is precisely what alienates it from players who demand instant gratification from their games. It's got big, gory deaths and spectacular explosions and crazed, mutated enemies, but it's the between-times that define the experience. Stillness, quiet tableaus and thoughtful moments - the richness of its world, and its experience - which cannot be devoured at your standard action-game pace.

If you want to just run wild and kill everything, you certainly can. Nothing's stopping you - but the bombastic gratification of its zany sights and ultra-violent combat is well-tempered by a pace and scale and scope that asks the player to wait. Just wait. Walk an hour or two through the wasteland, without seeing another soul. Discover an ancient ruin. Stumble across a town, meet its people, learn their stories and begin to write your own.

New Vegas rewards patience, and - at its best - asks the player to make choices that are often blighted by a moral gray area which leaves no "right" decision. It is, largely, fantastic.

Not entirely fantastic, of course. Patience is also required to suffer the offensive amount of technical gubbins the player will (not may) encounter during their travels through the Mojave wasteland. Be prepared to reset your PS3, be prepared to load up an earlier save, be prepared to try to shoot at enemies who are trapped within the geometry of the world.

Hard freezes are a constant threat, with at least thirty appearing during the 80+ hours I spent with the title. Minor glitches become major when they prohibit the player from completing a quest (a particular enemy with a particular item managed to die and fall through the game world, rendering its corpse unlootable), and a few times the game would slow down and chug to a degree which made it unplayable - though this seemed unrelated to the amount of characters and objects it had to render.

Breathe deep. Accept it. It's part of the package. The rest of the package is... exemplary.

The rule of thumb is this: if you enjoyed Fallout 3, you will love New Vegas - it's the same basic experience, but tweaks and improvements have been made to nearly every facet of the title, and there is much more variety to discover in nearly every aspect. Companion characters are much more interesting, each providing their own perk, each with their own involving quest to explore, and a new radial menu that really does make instructing them less of a chore. Your base S.P.E.C.I.A.L. stats are reflected with new options in conversation much more often, and the world you explore is realized in greater depth than F3's.

Fallout 3's most remarkable moments came when you weren't attending to the central quest line - when you were going off the beaten path and finding side stories - in New Vegas there is no such separation. While few of the side quests are as zany as, for example, The Republic of Dave or its like, every person, town and location in the game feels very connected to the over-arching narrative, to a degree that really shames its predecessor.

Whether or not the Helios One power station gets repaired, and who the power flows to is left entirely up to you. Pick a side - even if it's your own.

Everyone you speak to has their own agenda and their own perspective on the various powers that be in the Mojave wasteland, and the ripples of your actions extend far beyond your expectations, as you strengthen one faction or weaken another through your choices.

No matter which quest you're working on, it never feels like you are simply running through a lonely, isolated thread of narrative. Instead, you are running along and vibrating one strand of a very, very large web that stretches across the entire game world.

It's pretty incredible.

The voice work is also, largely, excellent. With the exception of Matthew Perry feeling rather limp as Benny and a few recycled actors, casting is great across the board. Star Trek alums Rene Auberjonois and Michael Dorn are both great and worth serious nerd cred, but it's James Marsden and Felicia Day as charismatic companion characters who really steal the show. I'm also rather thrilled that Dave Foley plays Yes Man, but that's likely just because I love Kids in the Hall.

Danny Trejo plays Raul.

Also remarkable is the sheer degree of choice the player has, in building their character and handling situations. Minimal tweaks have been made to character development - you can only select a perk every two levels, now - but no matter which rout you take it seems very viable. This renders standard abilities like lock picking or hacking a little less required than they were in Fallout 3, but it also allows greater benefits for every other specialization. Proficiencies in medicine, survival and bartering all come into play during conversations - build your character the way you like, and you'll find the game is prepared for the type of solution your alter-ego would apply to a problem.

The shooting? Well, the shooting still feels as off as it did in Fallout 3. The addition of iron sights is a meager bone tossed to those who complained - particularly because it makes shooting outside of VATS even more of a chore - I switched it back to the Fallout 3-style zoom as soon as I found the option.

The moment-to-moment gameplay still feels a bit clunky, invisible walls will impede your ascent up one mountain, but a completely counter-intuitive rout up the sheer slope of another will reveal a hidden location. It ain't perfect. In fact, it's far from perfect - but the scope of the package and the fantastic atmosphere render all the complaints moot.

If - and this is a big 'if', but - if the setting manages to spark your imagination, and you find yourself immersed in its world (which is, I should note, most gamers' default setting) what awaits is an absolutely spectacular single-player experience. Fallout: New Vegas is a world so huge, so intimidatingly deep, so detailed and rich in its history and presentation, so inviting and inspiring that it it doesn't merely live up to the standard set in Fallout 3, but shatters it.

This may not be Fallout 3 ver. 2.0 - it's more like 1.5 - and while it still has some of the sticking points of its predecessor, it provides an experience of much greater depth and breadth. In terms of value, in terms of content per gaming dollar, New Vegas is in a very, very exclusive club.

I put about eighty hours into my first playthrough, and ten hours into my second I find I've had a completely different adventure - I'm telling and being told a completely different story - and all I want to do is get back to it.

-a massive, interconnected world which feels much more cohesive and believable than F3's
-the narrative is very dynamic. instead of Fallout 3's straight line to a single ending, New Vegas offers a huge amount of choice

-more variety in weapons, enemies, factions, abilities
-hardcore mode is a welcome addition
-deeply immersive
-tons of choice in how you play
-great cast and voice work
-great writing
-an incredible value:I spent nearly 100 hours with the game, and I'm still finding new stuff
-with patience comes a uniquely rewarding experience
it's Fallout 3 ver.1.5

-it's Fallout 3 ver 1.5
-sketchy animation, game-breaking bugs, hard freezes
Bethesda, please take the Gamebryo engine out back and shoot it in the head
-the shooting still feels a bit wonky, and the new iron sights option is useless
-invisible walls? really?

New Vegas's technical shortcomings and shoddy shooting don't stop it from being one of the best games of the year.


  1. Actually the engine is called "GAMEBRYO" not "gamebyro" Also sorry but we're sticking with it for Elder Scrolls 5... yeah.

  2. Ah, thank you! Yeah, that was a kick in the teeth when I heard they were building their new engine on the same tech.