Review: Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money (DLC)

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Title: Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money
Format: PlayStation Network Download
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Price: $9.99

Review of the Original Game:
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With open world games becoming one of the medium’s standout genres I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on what I love and hate about these titles. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I love the idea of options, not necessarily exploring every option to the fullest, but just the concept that they are out there.

Fallout: New Vegas, much like its predecessors Oblivion and Fallout 3, is a towering edifice of options, with choices stacked upon choices. I approach these games like a heat-seeking missile. I zero in on a single quest line and see it through to its fullest, this way I get a single narrative thread and don’t meander across a dozen different storylines. That’s how I play.

I realize that for some the sandbox that New Vegas offers is a reason enough to wander far and wide in order to uncover every nook and cranny. If you like to meander you may want to head back into the Mojave Wasteland and stay away from Dead Money. However, for those who like tightly scripted linear quests, like I do, then definitely look into the Sierra Madre Casino and get ready for Dead Money.

Gameplay:
By playing through Fallout: New Vegas you are well aware of the core gameplay mechanics. Indeed, most DLC packs leave one wondering “Haven’t I seen this all before?” In Dead Money’s case you have. All the mechanics that made New Vegas a great experience are still present, but Dead Money changes how you play to such an extent that it feels fresh.

You are drawn into Dead Money by following a radio broadcast and are quickly reduced from a Mojave Wasteland-trekking badass to little more than a pawn in a game, as an explosive collar is strapped to your neck. With none of the weapons or items from your main playthrough you quickly realize that you are not in charge of the situation any longer. Stripping you of your inventory is an old DLC trick, but in Dead Money it heightens the isolation and desperation you feel. Your mission, which you have no choice but to accept, is to break into the Sierra Madre Casino. The Sierra Madre was an upscale casino that was set to open right around the time the first bombs went off, leaving the casino a relic of a bygone age, and a merciless deathtrap.

This is where Dead Money turns a corner from New Vegas. Instead of running halfway across the map to complete quests you are confined to narrow streets and hallways brimming with traps, invulnerable holographic guardians, and a life stealing fog. The pace of your adventure changes dramatically, you have to creep around every corner to avoid detection and check each doorway for the mine or shotgun trap looking to end your journey. Also, the only way to buy any goods, including all-important stimpaks, is to pick up casino tokens and trade them in. If that wasn’t enough you can’t sleep anywhere. Because of these handicaps the tension is high, as you must assemble a group of coconspirators to break into the legendary Sierra Madre.

Removing some of the comforts of the main game and changing up the pacing of your adventure makes Dead Money feel fundamentally different from your previous quests. Indeed, the narrative is a straight line, no sidequests and relatively few optional quest objectives. While some may chaff at being sent through such a linear experience, I found that it was akin to running a gauntlet – challenging, but satisfying.

Visuals:
While the artstyle of New Vegas was based on Las Vegas in its 1950s heyday, Dead Money seems to take a more classic Hollywood aesthetic. You run through dilapidated versions of 1920s and 30s Hollywood villas, with their Mediterranean revival architecture. However, the populous of Dead Money, a race of masked mutants, doesn’t benefit from the same level of creative spark. With their ever-present gasmasks and overall generic design you begin to long for the visual flair of Caesar’s Legion or utilitarian simplicity of the NCR’s military-style fatigues. Luckily, this does not extend to your three coconspirators, each of which is based on a novel design concept, especially striking is the ghoul lounge singer Dean Domino – a well-pressed tuxedo and a skinless face contrast just a bit.

Audio:
In addition to Dean you have Dog/God and Christine to talk to. Christine is actually a mute and provides a really interesting spin on dialog as you only receive a description of her actions, no audio whatsoever. Despite my initial misgivings about this design choice, her actions are incredibly well thought out and the conversation is quite easy to follow. Dog/God, a hulking super mutant with two personalities, provides the most unique voice acting in New Vegas or Dead Money. Your character ultimately decides which personality to use the docile, easy to control, but more powerful Dog or the aggressive, intelligent God. Both feel believable, but adequately dangerous in their own ways.

Unfortunately, the necessities of gameplay, i.e., the ever-present threat of explosion-inducing radio static, forces the background music to be eliminated. You are left with only ambient sounds, which makes the audio experience, outside of the dialog, forgettable compared to New Vegas.

Conclusion:
What did you enjoy about Fallout: New Vegas? Was it running back and forth to every faction in the Mojave Wasteland and completing as many quests as possible? Or did you prefer experiencing a contained storyline spread amongst a series of quests? Ultimately, this is the decision you must make to decide if you should invest in this DLC. If you want a huge map, lots of new locations to explore, and a branching storyline Dead Money isn’t what you’ve been waiting for and you should look to future DLCs to fulfill your desires. However for me, New Vegas is a perfect change of pace, visual design, and characters, all centered around an interesting story that retains the hopelessness and humor fans of Fallout have come to expect. Just remember the Sierra Madre Casino and the Hotel California have one thing in common, you can check out anytime you like, but you may never be able to leave.

Score:
8.0

Written by Justin Spielmann

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