james debate
james debate

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Developed by Obsidian Entertainment
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Genre Action RPG
Platform PC, Xbox 360, PS3

Obsidian, a company featuring many of the original Black Isle Studios employees who created Fallout, are back to give us the latest addition to the Fallout series. Fallout: New Vegas is built off of Bethesda's Fallout 3 engine and available on multiple platforms. Is it good? Read on to find out.

fallout new vegas

Bethesda's Fallout 3 was one of the best games of recent years. We reviewed it a while back, and frankly that original review doesn't do it justice as it was truly a game that grew on you over time. Now the original developers of the revered Fallout franchise have reclaimed what they created.

Fallout is set in "the atomic age of tomorrow" as imagined in cheesy American propaganda from the mid twentieth century, a world of robot butlers, flying cars and prosperity, all brought about by the wonders of nuclear power. The twist on this vision comes courtesy of the other side of the nuclear equation, atom bombs and war. This series takes place in a comically "American" wasteland following such a nuclear war.

One of the main criticisms you will hear of this game is that it is very similar to Fallout 3, being built on the same engine and using largely the same mechanics as that game. Frankly the fact that this is a criticism says it all. Fallout 3 was an amazing game, and using it as a starting point can't possibly be a bad thing, even if it is slightly dated by this point. But if I were to level any criticism at this game it would be something along those lines. After all Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Fallout 3 both used the same engine, and the quality of the graphics haven't changed all that much since then. While some tweaks have been made, there is no escaping the fact that it still carries many of the same imperfections of games that are now 4 years old. For this reason, the game does have graphics that look slightly rough around the edges.

In addition, New Vegas shares much of the same basic gameplay mechanics as Fallout 3, with similar conversation and the famous VATs and SPECIAL systems, although the shooting mechanics have been much tweaked for this game to allow a much more competent 1st person shooting experience for those who desire such a thing. Still, the gameplay in general is not without its bugs and technical problems (in fact there are many of these according to general consensus, although I personally have been pretty lucky in this regard). The 3rd person camera view still looks half hearted, and navigating the mountainous terrain is a far more awkward affair than it should be in any modern game.

That being said, Fallout 3 still stands as an example of one of the finest action RPGs in years, and that is a quality which fully carries over into this newest iteration. New Vegas, much like it's predecessor, has an incredible open world full of quests, randomly triggered encounters and environments that really looked "lived in" more so than in any other game.

It would be easy for me to say that if you like Fallout 3 then you will like New Vegas, after all it contains the same morbid sense of humour and a similar style of "choose your own adventure" story telling. Indeed, New Vegas contains the same karma system which offers the choice of becoming a paragon of human decency or a complete self centred jerk, a system that allows you to feel like you're crafting your own character and your own story. But really Fallout: New Vegas manages to improve upon Fallout 3 in many ways.

Fallout 3's promised to involve a number of good old fashioned RPG style factions, but in the end player choice wasn't really a factor. Whatever you did in Fallout 3, you were always going to be an enemy of the Enclave, and the last hope of the Brotherhood of Steel. In New Vegas, however, the player has a real choice over which of the many factions to side with and assist for glory. There are many different endings determined by the various choices you make during the game, including several unique "endgame" quest lines depending on which faction you side with. This time, you really have a sense of control over how events play out, and make decisions that really effect the game world, unlike in Fallout 3 which was a much more linear experience.

New Vegas also includes an awesome all new game mode called "hardcore mode". With this option enabled one has to eat, drink and sleep in order to stay alive, which in the context of a post apocalyptic wasteland is really far more gripping and challenging than one might expect. In addition absolutely everything, including ammo, now has a weight, meaning that planning what to carry on you and when becomes an integral part of the game's strategy. The idea here is not necessarily to make the game harder, but to add realism and place greater emphasis on the scavenging aspect of the game by giving players a reason to explore the world more and route through every box or cupboard they find looking for precious supplies.

On top of all this, New Vegas lives up to the Fallout tradition of offering memorable characters and missions which range from the intriguing to the bizarrely wonderful, from the kitschy to the high octane. There really is something here for any kind of player with any preference of gaming style. It is equally possible for a player to perfect his speech and negotiation skills in order to manipulate, charm and lie his way through every task and lead his enemies to destroy each other, just as it is possible for a player to go in all guns blazing, and anything in between

But in some ways this game disappoints. Fallout 3 originally ended after the final quest, disabling people from pursuing any of the side quests afterwards, something which was so unpopular and universally derided that the developers eventually removed this restriction through DLC. So imagine my bemusement when the developers inexplicably decided to go and do the same thing again by making it so that the game can not be continued after the final mission, it is absolutely mind boggling. And in this instance the developers actually declare, proudly, that there is no way they will circumvent this through DLC since the story they've crafted wouldn't fit (having completed the game I can see that actually it wouldn't make any difference, but never mind). Stupid.

In addition I couldn't help but feel that the various environments, on the whole, seems to lack creativity compared to what we saw in Fallout 3. Where before you had massive cities built in scuttled aircraft carriers and others bizarrely cobbled together out of aircraft wreckage and built around unexploded atom bombs which the town's denizens worship as an idol, this time you have the New Vegas strip which, far from being the awesome centrepiece of this game as it should have been, turns out simply to be a linear series of streets literally laid out in a straight line. It's really quite uninspiring.

Ultimately New Vegas is a bit of a mixed bag, in that it improves greatly on gameplay aspects such as hardcore mode, shooting mechanics and factions. At the same time, it feels a bit lacklustre in terms of creative design of environments and still features a number of technical and design issues that have been problematic with Bethesda games in the past.

Crucially though, New Vegas still has that intangible "Fallout magic" and provides one of the best pieces of gaming you'll find this year.

Hardcore mode
Manipulating factions for my own gain
Engrossing open world
Fallout magic

That I can't keep playing after the last mission
Vegas Strip is really quite dull

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