Review: Fallout: New Vegas (PS3)

Title: Fallout: New Vegas
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Original MSRP: $59.99

DLC Review(s) For This Game:
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I wake up in the dark, disoriented and grumpy. Looking at my watch I realize that I am in the middle of a journey that seems interminable. I’m heading towards Vegas, a mythical wonderland on the horizon. I know that once I get there I will be assaulted with opportunities to engage every pleasure center in my overexcited brain or slide into spiraling darkness as I give into my deepest, most base desires. But for now all I can do is brood in the blackness and wait to set foot on the Strip.

This is a quick reminiscence of a recent road trip I took to Las Vegas, but it could easily be used to describe the opening hours of Fallout: New Vegas. While it takes longer than it should to get up to speed, bumming around virtual Sin City is an exhilarating minefield of shifting alliances and intrigue.

Gameplay:
If you have played The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion or Fallout 3 then you have a general idea of how Fallout: New Vegas works. The mechanics are nearly identical to these past titles. You are set loose in a first or third person perspective, given quests, and allowed to roam the landscape at your leisure or follow a quest line to its fullest.

The story of New Vegas is one of its strengths and begins with the speed of a bullet. More specifically a bullet to your head, as you’ve been shot and left to die out in the Mojave Wasteland. Luckily you survive and want revenge, so you set out to right this wrong and figure out why you were shot. This leads you on an Unforgiven-esque quest for vengeance. This story of violence and retribution had me immediately hooked, more so than Fallout 3’s search for your missing father. Eventually, your wanderings take you to the New Vegas Strip where a whole new chapter of the story begins.

Your adventures on the Strip form the crux of the rest of the story. Three factions are fighting for control of New Vegas: the orderly New California Republic (NCR), the chaotic and fanatical Caesar’s Legion, and a third group that wishes to keep New Vegas independent. However, getting to the Strip takes much longer than it needs to. Within the story this sojourn towards New Vegas introduces two of the major factions in the game, but what you are tasked with are some of the game’s lesser missions. In light of the rest of the narrative, this initial trip to Vegas feels like an unnecessarily long preamble.

The skill system from Fallout 3 is back in New Vegas and still retains many of its inherent strengths and weaknesses. Nearly every quest can be completed in a variety of ways, thanks to the flexible skill system. Key figures can be swayed by your speech skill or a new avenue to your goal will open up thanks to a door you were able to lockpick. Unfortunately, it seems as if there is too much variety in the structure of some missions, as various skills can be used to achieve the same results. A door can be opened either by picking its lock, based on your Lockpick skill, or via hacking an adjacent terminal, using your Science stat. This can pull you in too many directions and end in a situation where you have added skill points to both skills, but not enough in either one to actually get you through that door. Also, certain skills, such as Speech, can be critical to your success, but their importance is not communicated to you effectively during gameplay.

New Vegas uses a reputation system as its primary way of interacting with the world. Nearly every major faction, minor group, and town you have a reputation with and many are interconnected. Help out Caesar’s Legion too many times at the expense of the NCR and you might catch some bullets in addition to dirty looks next time you pass an NCR checkpoint. The shifting of these alliances is a key component of the game and really takes effect in the latter half of the story. Simply put you cannot keep everyone happy, and the longer you string one faction along, the bigger the blowout when you inevitably double deal them.

Mission variety has always been a strong suit of the Fallout series and New Vegas is no exception. Casino espionage, running errands for a ghoul cult, and helping prevent a presidential assassination are among the hundreds of different tasks available to you. The ability to build the adventure that you want to play should draw many to the glittering lights of Vegas. However, you will occasionally run into a necessary story mission that spikes the difficulty, effectively killing the pacing of the game. While these are few and far between they can prove frustrating and make you want to step away from the game for a while. Just remember that for every mission there is more than one way to skin a cat, or in Vegas’ case, a Legionaire.

Visuals:
The look of New Vegas is a study in contrasts. You will spend hours wandering sun blasted highways that are a kaleidoscope of brown earth tones to hole up in a dingy casino with a thousand neon lights twinkling in the gloom. The visual style of New Vegas sets the stage for the game and really communicates the isolation of your character. Looking in every direction and only seeing mountains, desert, and the occasional radscorpion tends to drive this point home.

Each town has its own character and even some visual jokes. Try not to crack a smile when you realize how Novac got its name. The New Vegas Strip is the pinnacle of this aesthetic opulence and glows like a beacon at night illuminating the landscape for miles around. The characters are equally well designed, with NCR, Caesar’s Legion, and all-purpose mercenaries easily distinguishable at a glance. This extends even into the settlements of each faction. The Legion prefers lodgings ripped straight from Roman history books, while the NCR occupies barracks of a more modern vintage.

While an excellent story is par for the course for the Fallout franchise, Obsidian clearly has spent a lot of time refining New Vegas’ look, which only adds to your immersion.

Audio:
The soundtrack of New Vegas is a mix between western-themed orchestral pieces and early to mid 20th century country tracks. These serve to compliment the action and setting, without making their presence too overt. The licensed songs seem to be few, but are well chosen. Few experiences in the game are more affecting than roaming through an abandoned house to find its former occupants dead while the haunting “Johnny Guitar” plays on the radio.

The voice acting is top notch. Each of the dozens of characters feels unique and well developed. Most surprising is the voice cast, which includes both mainstream and indie talent, and how they don’t standout and break the reality of the game’s world. Honestly, if I didn’t know ahead of time that actors like Matthew Perry were in the game I wouldn’t have picked up on it. This is a good thing. Nothing is worse than having a bit of voice actor stunt casting completely take you out of the game experience.

Conclusion:
The most fun you will have with Fallout: New Vegas may not even be in the game itself, but comparing your experience with other players and finding out what happened when they went left when you chose to go right. While you both are following the same general plotline your choices can switch things up so much that it will feel like two completely different stories.

Obsidian Entertainment has taken the foundation the Bethesda Game Studios laid with Fallout 3 and built a beautiful hive of scum and villainy upon it. Despite the long lead up to get to the Strip and some issues with the skill system the story of New Vegas conquers all and compels you to play it. New Vegas is as close to a sure bet as you are going to find this year.

Score:
8.5

Written by Justin Spielmann

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  • Anonymous

    Yay, another game I will play once the game of the year version comes out.

    Also, great review.