Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
Players: One
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Fallout: New Vegas is the follow-up to the multiple Game of The Year award-winning Fallout 3, a first/third-person perspective role-playing game set in a slightly surreal post-nuclear apocalyptic future. That’s the future as imagined from a 1950s viewpoint, with hover cars powered by nuclear reactors and robotic servants to help with domestic life, survivors emerging from their underground Vaults 200 years later to find the world populated by radiation mutated animals and savage human Raiders, as well as the human-created Super Mutants. Unlike Fallout 3, this game is made by Obsidian, best known for making somewhat flawed sequels to other people’s games (with many RPG fanboys yet to forgive them for their lack of support for Star Wars RPG KOTOR II.)

The game doesn’t get off to a good start, opening with a laughably crap pre-rendered cutscene which sees your character, The Courier, being robbed of the package you were meant to be delivering and shot in the head. After a miraculous recovery, the main plot follows your attempts to retrieve the package and get revenge. Predictably enough, this soon escalates into a battle for control of New Vegas itself. The outdoor areas the Gamebryo engine kicks out might have looked fine back in 2006 when it first appeared in Oblivion, but coming after the genuinely beautiful vistas of Red Dead Redemption, they look terribly outdated now, as do the robotic animations. There are also serious pop-up issues, with major landmarks not appearing until you’re right on top of them. Flashing textures abound, especially when you use the scoped weapons, and several areas suffer from extreme slowdown, with frame rates dropping so low they need to be measured in seconds per frame, rather than frames per second. These problems were all there in Fallout 3, but to a much lesser extent; it seems Obsidian’s level designers just failed to take the engine’s limitations into account.

Combat has never been a high point of the engine; both melee and ranged combat feel as weird and broken as they have done since Oblivion. At least the Fallout staple VATS targeting system (which allows you to essentially pause the game and select your targets using a stock of ‘action points’ before pressing a button and shooting them all in one go) means you don’t actually have to play the game like a standard shooter. Although there’s now a ‘true iron sights’ option, letting you look down the sights of your gun and making the FPS option a little more immersive, the actual mechanics still feel as wrong as ever.

Thankfully it’s not all bad news as there are some important additions which help lift the game above its predecessor in at least some respects. There’s a great selection of new weapons, from LMGs to grenade machine guns. There’s also a weapon modification system that allows you to add scopes, laser sights, larger magazines and other mods, making the standard weapons much more useful, rather than worthless after you’ve found any of the unique named versions. As well as some nifty new perks to choose from there’s a new crafting system, which lets you make medical items, food and even custom ammo in addition to the custom weapons from Fallout 3. Between all the new crafting recipes almost every item of junk you find in the wastes now has a use. There’s also a new ‘Hardcore’ mode, which amongst other changes, now gives your ammo weight and forces you to eat, drink water, and sleep at regular intervals or suffer penalties to your stats. This actually turns out to be so easy as to be almost trivial though; snacks and puddles of water are everywhere and you only require a couple of hours sleep every two or three in-game days. Crippled limbs require either a valuable Doctor’s Bag or an actual Doctor to fix in Hardcore, which will probably be the only thing that causes any real inconvenience. The game now features a reputation system, which tracks how the various factions you can work for feel about you, affecting whether they offer you discounts in shops or just shoot on sight. There’s also a rubbish new card game to play called Caravan. Initially extremely confusing, it’s actually impossible to lose once you’ve collected the right cards to make your own deck.

As in the other Gamebryo powered titles, entering a conversation with a character switches to a zoomed in portrait view of the character who stands to attention, bolt upright for the duration, with no visible emotion, relying instead on the voice actors to convey their feelings. Battlestar Galactica’s Colonel Tigh does a reasonable job playing Doc Mitchell, the first character you meet in the game proper, as do the other random celebrities in the cast, but most of the hundreds of NPC characters are voiced by about four actors, with no regard for the race or age of the characters they’re meant to be playing and who often sound like they’re reading the script for the first time. There are some notable exceptions to this; the Super Mutant voice actor sounds good, as do your optional companions, particularly Brotherhood of Steel scribe Veronica, maybe because her extreme deadpan sarcasm fits well with her stony-faced expressions during the conversation segments. The scripting itself is occasionally a bit too wordy, but generally pretty good, although there are occasions where the strong swearing seems forced and unnecessary, which might be because it’s often delivered without the expected emotion. Background NPC scripting also leaves a lot to be desired. It really breaks the immersion when you walk past a dozen people in a row, all declaring in the same voice ‘Damn. Running low on smokes again’ (which in itself is odd; there are an incredible number of cartons of cigarettes lying around in New Vegas.)

The radio stations in Fallout 3 were an integral part of the experience, with the DJs providing updates on your progress through the game and the eclectic mix of tunes really adding to the weird atmosphere as you strolled the wasteland. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said this time. There are two stations you can pick up throughout the wasteland and one that you can only get near the transmitter, but none of them are on more than a ten minute loop and they don’t seem to update – they report on your actions from the first hour of the game right up to the end. With only two or three songs on each station (mostly familiar Vegas crooners; none of the ‘Butcher Pete’ madness from Fallout 3), you’ll soon switch the radio off for good.

The game world itself offers a huge area to explore, comparable to the size of the map from Fallout 3. What doesn’t compare is the amount of things to keep you interested while you’re doing it. Although the spooky abandoned Vaults tell some great stories (with most vaults serving as sinister experiments run by Vault-Tec on their captive populations), there’s a lot less going on in between than in the previous game. In Fallout 3 even mailboxes had a story to tell, with many containing letters to their long dead owners. Now they’re just full of random junk. In Fallout 3 you would often pick up a weak SOS radio transmission which you could follow to its source, getting gradually stronger and clearer, until you found a hidden area with it’s own little tragic story to tell; none of that in New Vegas. In Fallout 3 you regularly got attacked by random groups of Raiders giving you something to do on your long strolls through the wastes, even if they didn’t offer much challenge. In New Vegas Raider attacks are very few and far between and even animal attacks only seem to happen in a small number of pre-defined locations, meaning you often end up walking for hours without seeing another living creature of any kind.

The layouts of the game’s levels also leave something to be desired and, as in Fallout 3, the in-game map is next to useless for finding your way around. It’s blurry and indistinct when indoors, showing even multi-level areas on one screen, leaving you to guess where there are stairs and how to get around obstacles, many of which look passable on the map, then turn out to be blocked or only passable on another level. Outdoors it’s even worse; the detailed map only shows your immediate area with the game world divided into a grid, leaving straight edges at the edge of the grid square it’s currently drawing. Unvisited areas are just blank, meaning you can’t actually use the map to plan your route. Instead, you just have to walk there and have a look. Exploring is and should be a major part of the game, but too many of the important game locations can only be approached from a single direction; set off the wrong way and you’ll have to spend hours walking around a featureless mountain range before you find the path the designers force you to take. It’s not fun, it’s just frustrating, especially when the areas around these locations are often completely empty. You can’t even scout locations from a distance; the level designers frequently use that unforgivable fallback of poor level design, the invisible wall, to stop you leaping over the top of the smallest ridge and taking the obvious shortcut.

Although the actual wasteland is all one huge map with no loading screens, every building (even single room shacks) requires loading, with larger buildings and the city section of the map split into many smaller areas. The load times are fairly lengthy, often 20-30 seconds and occasionally substantially longer, and very frequent since many quests require you to find characters inside the sub areas, forcing you to pass through several of the load screens to find them. This becomes a real pain in the larger locations; trying to find a specific NPC in the McCarran airport or at the Hoover Dam when they all look alike and there are no signs or ‘take me to your leader’ conversation options is a huge waste of time. The size of theses locations might be impressive, but when they’re mostly empty, it just becomes annoying. Also, for a game centred around Vegas, the actual Vegas strip is rather a disappointment; it’s divided into three very short sections (probably to alleviate frame rate issues caused by the flashing neon signs), so it actually doesn’t feel at all like the Strip or even like part of a city, even allowing for the whole post-apocalypse thing. That was one area where Fallout 3 really shone; being set in Washington and its environs and featuring dozens of easily recognisable real-world locations really added a lot to the atmosphere.

The quests themselves are well done and easily up to the standard set by Fallout 3, although they do take the level of perversion, murder, drug abuse and rape references to a new high. It’s hard to say whether the lack of emotion from the characters and their voice actors when talking about this stuff makes it more or less disturbing, but either way, it’s not good. Rather too many of the quests do turn into extremely tedious ‘go here, talk to this guy, go there, talk to that guy, back to the first guy’ shuttle diplomacy (including one quest that just involves travelling back and forth between two characters 6 times in a row!), and the main quest is a little too short, with no opportunity to finish the side quests after you complete the story.

No review of New Vegas would be complete without mentioning the bugs. This is without a doubt the buggiest game I’ve ever played in over 25 years of gaming (going back to Space Invaders on the Commodore 8032.) Almost every quest is bugged or easily broken in half a dozen ways by simple things like standing in the wrong place or talking to someone at the wrong time (just check one of the Fallout wikis for endless lists of issues.) Problems range from relatively minor animation glitches to severe game-breakers including one that prevents you entering the Vegas Strip (and therefore completing the main story, or many of the side quests) unless you are wearing a specific hat. Unbelievable! There are also severe clipping problems with NPCs frequently getting stuck in scenery, occasionally even spawning underground with nothing but their heads showing, or two characters spawning on the same spot, fused together like Siamese twins and unable to move. There’s even a section with no collision mapping for the ground, making it impossible to cross and enter the room beyond; if you try, you’ll reappear out of the ceiling further along the area, like passing through the haunted closet in Poltergeist.

As in the previous game, the AI in New Vegas is almost non-existent. Enemies just run straight towards you, guns blazing. NPCs walk into obstacles and each other. Your companions ignore your orders to ‘stay quiet and attack only when you do’ and often run off alone against overwhelming odds, or ignore your orders to stay put (including one occasion where Rex the cyborg dog wandered off after being told to wait and left me searching for him for hours, only to find him by accident at a previously undiscovered location moonwalking backwards into a tent!) Friendly NPCs often open fire on your companions without reason or warning; your companions will retaliate and before you know it, everyone in town is dead. Even the autosave function is broken on the 360 version; every couple of hours it crashes the console, corrupting your save in the process. Other crashes occur when shopping with merchants, loading new areas, or just during general gameplay. All of this is after the first patch, although another one has been promised ‘within the next couple of weeks’. God knows how bad it must have been off the shelf; seriously, just don’t buy the game if you have no means to download any patches.

So, is there any reason at all why you should buy New Vegas? Well, strangely, yes. Just not yet. In its current state (after patch one), New Vegas is nowhere near fit for release and barely ready for beta testing. Despite the many, many problems, leading you to wonder if they tested the game at all (and present across all platforms, although at least PC owners can use the developer cheat console to get around many of them), at its heart it still has the old Fallout magic. Although the huge game world often feels empty, there are moments where everything comes together really well (thanks mainly to the unique Fallout atmosphere), provided you can see past the crap voice acting, robotic characters, rubbish shooter mechanics and outdated graphics. If only Rockstar would licence Rage; the Fallout universe rendered through Red Dead’s graphics engine would be fantastic. So to finish, how to put a score on New Vegas? In its current state it's a 4/10 and no more. If they ever get it fixed, 8/10 - so an optimistic 6 seems fair for now.

Best Bits

- The unique Fallout universe is still as atmospheric as ever
- New weapon selection is excellent
Worst Bits

- Unbelievably buggy
- Gamebryo engine is looking very outdated
- Non-existent AI in places
- Voice acting and NPC dialogue is terrible

by: Smurfzursky

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