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Review: Fallout: New Vegas

9:40 PM on 10.18.2010 // Jim Sterling
  @JimSterling

Fallout 3 was a game that got into your blood, even if you resisted it. I hated the game when I first played it. I couldn't see what made the damn thing so great, even though the very concept of it was exactly my kind of thing. Then, one day, it sunk its claws into me and never let go.

Imagine a game like Fallout 3, one that's captivating and overwhelming and stuffed to the gills with secrets and treats, then make it bigger. And deeper. And far, far funnier. Then set it in a robot-populated Las Vegas, just for fun.

Fallout: New Vegas is here.

Fallout: New Vegas (Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda
Released: October 19, 2010
MSRP: $59.99

Fallout: New Vegas doesn't waste time in throwing its players into the thick of things. The game opens with you, The Courier, at the mercy of a gangster called Benny (voiced with surprising subtlety by Matthew Perry) who has intercepted a delivery and shot you in the head. Somehow surviving, it's The Courier's job to track down Benny, get revenge, and embark on a quest that will see them judge the fate of New Vegas forever.

New Vegas is better written, better paced and (most importantly) far more amusing than Fallout 3. With Obsidian behind the steering wheel, no opportunity has been missed to infuse the Fallout 3 gameplay model with a flavor that is distinctly old school. Familiar faces such as the New California Republic and the Followers of the Apocalypse  make influential appearances, and the game is stuffed with nods to the original Fallout and its sequel. While newcomers will find plenty to love, this is most certainly a game developed with lifelong fans in mind. 

It's also rather hilarious at times, injecting a sense of humor and fun that was sorely lacking in Fallout 3. From the varied and unforgettable antics of the schizophrenic Nightkin to the inspired Repconn Headquarters museum, Obsidian has used comedy with a skill that not even the original games managed. The humor never becomes too overbearing, but when it appears, it never fails to raise at least a small smirk. 

In terms of gameplay, Obsidian has admittedly done little. With the engine and the V.A.T.S system already in place, New Vegas has chosen to accessorize the game rather than give it a makeover. Alternate ammo such as Hollow Point make a return from the original titles, as does the Trait system (think Perks, but with interesting drawbacks). Some cool new Perks join the party too, often providing greater encouragement for players to enhance certain Skills. 

Skills play a much larger role in the game than Fallout 3. Many more dialog options open up depending on how you choose to build your character, and you'll be requiring some varied stats (or at least carrying magazines, which add temporary Skill boosts) in order to get through some of the game's trickier missions. At times, the focus on Skills can be a little annoying, especially during missions where, say, having a high Lockpick ability seems almost essential to completion, but on the whole, Skills tend to enhance the overall experience and promote varied, unique characters. 

While you won't be able to do a "no kill run" and combat is still a major focus, New Vegas at least tries to vary things up for those who prefer a holstered weapon. Many quests have a variety of alternate routes and multiple options. You'll still need your weaponry close at hand, but the efforts made to provide less "shooty" choices are appreciated. 

If you're more of a fighter than a talker though, New Vegas has you more than covered. A whole slew of new weapons, including a Grenade Machine Gun and an ammo-less Recharger Rifle. There are all sorts of interesting new firearms and melee weapons that join existing ones, so if violence is your thing, you'll be rewarded in spades.

There appear to be far more quests in New Vegas than what Fallout 3 provided. In fact, the sheer volume of missions can become overwhelming, especially since the quests themselves are longer and more engaging than before. I'm still slogging through the Mojave Wasteland, and I kind of don't want it to end. At times, one feels like they're drowning in content, that there's far too much to do and no good place to begin. However, this is also one of the game's greatest strengths -- it is a game you can drown in. One that you can fall into, emerging only to find that you've lost an entire weekend to its charms. 

Any game called New Vegas needs to ramp up the sin, and this game delivers. There are loads of optional gambling games for players to rake in the caps, from Blackjack to the Slots, and the whole of the New Vegas strip is a neon sight that Fallout fans have never before witnessed. As if the main game and its many quests aren't enough, the casinos and other ... entertainments ... of The Strip could keep you going for hours.

Add to this a new hardcore mode where you need to eat and sleep and drink, and this is a game that can last you forever. Not that I am a big fan of needing to eat and sleep and drink in a game. It's there if you really want to feel like an extreme wasteland survivor, at least.

The essence of New Vegas is almost perfect. In fact, I want to say that this is the best roleplaying game you'll find all year. Unfortunately, however, it's let itself down with a number of unforgivable glitches that do their best to ruin the overall experience. Since it's using the same crummy engine from Fallout 3, New Vegas has the typical nonsense you expect in a Bethesda game, with AI bugs, scenery clipping, and general graphics issues cropping up from time to time. New Vegas manages to top those with regular crashes that freeze the entire game and require a system reset. Saving regularly is more crucial than ever, since these freezes will appear at any given moment. They're not so regular as to be a constant threat, but they will occur more than once over the course of your adventure.

It's incredibly frustrating, since New Vegas has everything required to be a 10/10 masterpiece, with its deep roleplaying, fun combat and fantastic sense of humor. These glitches just shouldn't have been in the game and it's annoying to see such a terrific title held back by silly problems that ought to have been ironed out over the past two years. At the very least, New Vegas pretty much confirms that the Gamebryo engine just shouldn't be used again. 

It's also worth noting that Obsidian really should have been more clever with the recycled assets. Asset recycling is fine, but I've found a few buildings that were ported over directly from Fallout 3. Most of the game looks original, make no mistake, but be warned that Obsidian definitely got lazy now and then. 

Whether or not you let the technical problems diminish your opinion really comes down to how forgiving you are, and for the 50+ hours that I've put into New Vegas, I'm willing to forgive. For me, New Vegas manages to do enough fantastic things that they outweigh the technical issues. Fun, funny and so addictive you'd think it were laced with a deadly cocktail of Med-X and Jet, Fallout: New Vegas is conceptually far superior to Fallout 3, and it's a game guaranteed to suck fans into a world that they may have thought died with Fallout 2

You won't find a game released this year with as much immersion as this. From the enhanced background noises and eery soundtrack (containing yet more nods to the older games) to the easter eggs, inventive sidequests and wonderful companion characters, New Vegas is an absolute treat. The amount of content alone makes this a game that any RPG fan should seriously look into, as they'll likely be able to wander the Mojave for weeks, if not months. 

It would be easy to write New Vegas off as an "expansion  pack" for Fallout 3, what with the asset re-use and lack of major enhancements made in the two years since Fallout's last game. If New Vegas is an expansion, then it's an expansion that's worth $60. There is so much in this game that it's managed to get away with not being as fresh as it perhaps could have been. In fact, I'd rather have a game that concentrated on giving you a varied and great experience than on remaking a formula that didn't need remaking. 

There is so much I wish I could talk about with this game, so many cool things that have happened, but to say anything would spoil the many surprises that New Vegas has for you. Yes, the glitches are there in abundance, but the game is just too much of a joy for them to ever ruin the fun for long. This is one of those titles you wake up thinking about, and if the bugs weren't there, this would be as close as perfect as you could get. 

If New Vegas were being reviewed as a piece of software, as a technical product, the judgement would be absolutely appalling. These are games, however, and deserve to be reviewed for the experiences they provide. The experience of New Vegas is sublime and so incredibly big that the ratio between getting annoyed by freezes and getting excited by the game's wonderfully engaging world firmly favors a positive outlook. Very few games could be good enough to make up for serious technical errors. In fact, I could count them on one hand. 

New Vegas is good enough, though. And being good enough to make up for system lock-ups is the highest praise you could give any game.



THE VERDICT

9

Fallout: New Vegas - Reviewed by Jim Sterling
Entrancing - It's like magic, guys. Time disappears when this game and I are together, and I never want it to end. I'm not sure if this is a love that will last forever, but if it is, you'll get no complaints from me.

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