If you’re looking for a bit of escapism through the medium of video games then Fallout New Vegas offers you the chance to take the journey of a lifetime. Come and see the dazzling casinos jutting out from the Nevada desert skyline like a neon mirage. The lights and the glamour, the casinos and the cabarets and the chance to make it big; it’s an attractive prospect and that’s before you even consider that it’s one of the only civilisations left on the face of a nuke-ridden United States of America.
Against the backdrop of 1950s nuclear paranoia and the advent of the cold war, the dawn of consumerism and the technological boom, the fallout series skilfully narrates an alternative branch of history in which China and the US clash with nuclear Armageddon as the final punctuation mark. Your character in this sequel to the hugely successful franchise is a hapless messenger caught up in mob-antics. At the beginning of your role-playing journey you are robbed of a precious artefact before being left for dead. This marks the beginning of your quest for revenge.
Role-playing is central to the game mechanics. You must initially choose your appearance and set the limited starting abilities of your character based on how intellectual, powerful, crafty or charming you want to be. Each point of skill is a trade off, so you must choose an approach that works for you. You can take the role-playing very seriously and customise the characters appearance down to the finest detail. Developers Bethesda have taken role-playing an extra mile in another sense, even allowing you to participate in a ‘hardcore’ mode where your character will have to eat, drink and sleep in order to stay fully functional.
The question is for the gamer then, how immersed do you really want to be in this game? Initially I approached it as a simulation. I created my own face on my character, who stared back at me from the screen as I wandered around in my underpants (in game, not in my living room). After finding some clothes and equipment and getting the basics out of the way, I soon decided that this was not a situation I would want to be in if that character really was me. Before you hit the roulette tables you will need to discover what happened to you; fighting your way through the unforgiving desert and its variety of inhabitants.
You will gain ‘levels’ as you get ‘experience’ for fighting or completing quests. There are a whole range of nasty mutated creatures where conveniently the radiation has produced only features that are helpful to natural selection. The outcome is that the most genial little fruit-fly has been transformed into a fearsome monster intent on re-positioning itself firmly near the top of the food chain.
Humans have remained significantly un-evolved in this freeze-frame of a Grease musical setting. The settlements consisting of typical gas stations and ice cream diners are populated by scores of separate factions bidding for their piece of the leftover pie that is civilisation. You can choose to help and ally with whoever you like, but you will find that you can’t be friendly with everyone for long, since your actions for one faction will have negative implications for another. It’s all a bit political, if politics meant killing everyone that stands in your way (so as I already mentioned, mankind hasn’t changed much in this vision of the future).
The morality based choices in game are rarely clear cut, which is refreshingly interesting when the ‘good guy’ choice isn’t made automatically for you. There’s no basket of puppies to save from the meat grinder. Well, not in the quests I’ve played through anyway. That would actually be an improvement.
There’s not much variety in the quests sadly. Occasionally you have computer controlled companions with you but the enemies are a bit ‘cut and paste’ copies of each other and most quests involve fetching something or talking to someone after a long walk. The plot is the saving grace; it does at least keep you motivated to hear the story out to its conclusion.
Completing the game will take around 50 hours if you exhaust the content but could be done in under 15 if you ignore all the sideline distractions. As with any sandbox game where you can choose your own path, this would be missing out on the intended experience. Unfortunately, when most quests tend to be more of a chore than an experience, the temptation is to miss the richness of the game with its casinos, hidden treasures and sideplots.
Combat is conducted through 1st or 3rd person view shooting, much like your average Xbox or PS3 game. It’s essentially a shooter, but with a role playing game twist – the VATS System. This allows the player to pause the game in combat and lock on to different parts of a targets body before choosing how many shots you will fire. Each has a chance to hit associated with it that will vary based on your stats. It works well, but reduces most fights to a menu-based experience. Although this might please some role playing gamers, it’s not very engaging, more like an accountant’s favoured way of fighting.
It’s not even a particularly pretty game. Fallout New Vegas is based on the same engine as its grandad ‘The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’ released sometime in the middle ages, or 2006, I forget which. In any case, I’m hesitant to recommend a rehashed game where the main chunk is entirely plagiarised from an earlier version. It isn’t even much of a graphical improvement, if you want to see a good looking dusty desert play ‘Red Dead Redemption’. This graphical facelift resembles that of a 120 year old plastic surgery patient; it just doesn’t look good.
If escapism is what you are after then, providing you don’t end up even more depressed, Fallout NV might just offer you a bit of ‘my grass is greener’ perspective. (The people in the Fallout desert wasteland don’t even have grass). However, for some people this might represent a bit too much of a time investment. By far the biggest let down is the feeling that it is such a rushed out, rehashed cash-in on the previous game. If you own Fallout 3 you will feel as if you bought an addon pack at full price complete with a whole range of glitches, crashes and even corrupted savegames that force you to start again.
It is a shame that New Vegas actually has so little new to offer. It’s just not worth the asking price if you have already played Fallout 3. However, there is a story here to be enjoyed here and some good choices and customisation leading to a true sense of role playing. The decisions that you make are tied into the ending, with numerous outcomes inviting a second or third re-play of the game. If you are new to the series then the unique VATS action style provides a suitably different shooting experience, and may well earn its place in your console for at least a few hours. That is providing it doesn’t crash and force you to switch it off.
Graphics: 2/5 Outdated, jagged and glitchy, with occasional items such as freeway overpasses dropping in front of you and terrible animations on all characters including the lead.
Sound: 2/5 Full voice acting, although nothing outstanding, is decent. Sound is appropriate. I had to turn the game back on again to check if there was music so that’s hardly a recommendation.
Gameplay: 3/5 VATs targeting system is unique, repetitive quest system involves alot of going from place to place. The role-playing stats development is detailed and thorough, allowing special abilities to be added and progress to be made each time your character gains a level.
Longevity: 4/5 No multiplayer (which is fair enough). Tons of quests, many different routes through the game and multiple endings give this replay value if you enjoy it. 50 hours gameplay first time through is enough to get you dehydrated in real life as well as in the hardcore game mode if you don’t take regular breaks.
Overall: Old and ugly, not enough variety in quests or combat, might have scraped another point if it wasn’t so half-finished and glitchy. Only plus is that it’s a good interactive story, but then so is a pop-up book and that won’t set you back 40 quid. Buy this if you’re a devout fan of the series and you’ll be getting a fine addon.
2 Snowglobes out of 5