|Fallout: New Vegas|
|Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
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.)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
- The unique Fallout universe is still as atmospheric as ever
- New weapon selection is excellent
- Unbelievably buggy
- Gamebryo engine is looking very outdated
- Non-existent AI in places
- Voice acting and NPC dialogue is terrible