Fallout New Vegas (Xbox 360)
Posted by Kuang on Tue, 02 Nov 2010.
New Vegas places you in the shoes of a courier charged with delivering a platinum chip to a casino. The game begins shortly after you’ve been shot in the head by a gang of muggers intent on stealing your cargo, which suggests it’s not going to be a good day. Thanks to a rescue by a passing robot and the attention of the local doctor, you come around in the town of Goodsprings – a good starting point to figure out who shot you, and how you’re going to get your consignment back.
Fans of Fallout 3 will know what to expect from this action RPG; a lone wanderer faced with many square miles of post-apocalyptic wasteland to explore, crammed with odd buildings and ruins and a series of characters determined to monopolise your time with side quests. In this respect it feels more like an extension of the original story than a whole new game, with a shift from karma towards faction affiliations being the obvious change. There are a new set of melee skills potent enough to make brawling your way through the whole game a very real possibility. You’ll also get the option to use Iron Sights on weapons, which makes a big difference because you won’t have to use your V.A.T.S auto-targeting system so often and incur the addition wear and tear on your weapons. A final tweak is the ability to have one human and one animal companion, which can swing the balance in some of the heavier dust-ups.
The main story line of New Vegas can probably be completed in 30hrs or so, but as with the last title that’d be missing the point. The real meat of a Fallout game comes from freeform exploration and interaction with the inhabitants, and in this respect new Vegas doesn’t disappoint. You’re probably looking at around 80 hours to crack most of the missions, and some may be mutually exclusive on a single run-through because you’ll be working alongside different factions who don’t get on. The New California Republic is pitched against the Legion, but also fighting off advances from the Powder Gangers. The Great Khans will fight anything including themselves, the Followers of the Apocalypse are generally about peace, love and technology whereas the Boomers want everyone else dead and will do so as soon as they can work out how to do it. The interplay between these groups doesn’t have the impact on the story you’d expect though, and tends to serve as a foundation for missions rather than an ongoing part of the story. You can stick to your own objectives and avoid most of the politics if you so wish.
Comparisons with Fallout 3 are unavoidable at this point, so how does new Vegas stack up compared to its multi award winning sibling? Not as well as it could, if we’re being honest.
The problem is that it feels like more of the same – you could be playing Fallout 3 but just in a different setting. The new additions (with the exception of the higher level cap) don’t have enough of an impact on the way you play to make the game feel fresh, and although it’s perfectly playable there’s an air of ‘seen it all before’ hanging heavily over the proceedings. The desert environment feels a bit drab compared to Fallout 3’s heavily urbanised areas, and the more simplistic buildings don’t have the same impact as before.
There’s a certain amount of chronological confusion caused by the clash of cultures too – you’re playing a game set in the future, with imagery from the 50s and characters and weapons from the old Wild West... populated by punks and Roman soldiers... and it’s genuinely hard to feel like you belong. Fallout 3 was one long voyage of wonder and discovery, but New Vegas just feels like a grind through the desert between landmarks that aren’t particularly interesting when you get there. Even the main Vegas strip, the focus of the game, feels rough and not particularly impressive. There’s not a single moment of discovery equal to leaving the vault for the first time, or getting your first glimpse of the remains of Washington DC. The overall impression is one of a game that looks slightly old before its time, and while it’s not enough to ruin the experience it certainly doesn’t help.
It’s not all bad though. Many of the side quests are well written with a tone that suggests a solid background, although it has to be said that there's a surprising amount of filler in the form of 'speak to person A, speak to person B, repeat' grinds. The voice acting is top notch throughout the whole game, the characters actually do have character and there are still enough surprises to keep you on your toes; there a nice twist in the form of a set of characters you'd expect to attack you on sight based on Fallout 3 but who turn out to be quite sophisticated, you'll know when you meet them! The same sense of freedom is back, although the map doesn’t make it very clear when your path will hit impassable objects, and I’d estimate you can tackle 80% of the game in whatever order you like. Everything that was good about Fallout 3 is present in some form, even if some of those elements might not work quite as well. There's a question mark over how much you'll actually care about the story behind the main quest once it starts to unravel, but that's for you to decide.
Unfortunately we now have to tackle the well publicised technical issues that range from irritating to game breaking – AI characters run into walls and get trapped in buildings, your companions are unable to follow you over objects that you can jump or climb and instead have to take the long way around, missions stay in your list even after you’ve finished them, AI characters refuse to acknowledge that you possess key quest items... the list goes on, and is surprisingly big. I’ve lost track of the number of quests that I couldn’t complete because of glitches, or that I had to complete in a way other than I’d planned because of some seemingly disconnected event in the past. There’s often no way to tell which quests will bar you from tackling others, and the game seems to randomly trigger events to make up for parts of the quest you chose to avoid.
On top of that there are areas of the game where it’ll lock solid (often corrupting your save in the process) or prevent you from carrying on with the main quest because other characters won’t play their part. One mission to kill a character will crash the game every time you return to an important area unless you choose a speech challenge instead of actually killing him, and it’ll break your autosave at the same time. The developers recommend saving lots and returning to older saves if you hit problems, but you often won’t know there’s a problem until some time later and that represents a lot of lost progression. Given that this is the same game engine that underpinned Oblivion and Fallout 3, there’s absolutely no excuse for releasing the game containing bugs of this level. I get the feeling they’ve stretched what’s now an old engine as far as it’ll go, and they’re struggling to correct the more serious issues. I had a score for this review in mind after just a few hours of gameplay, but suffering glitch after glitch has slowly eaten that away - it really can be that frustrating.
If you’re a fan of the series and you’re prepared to deal with the bugs until they’re (hopefully) patched, New Vegas will give you hours of enjoyment and plenty of scope for exploration. If you haven’t played any of the Fallout games before though, I’d have to refer you to the Fallout 3 Game of the Year edition which can now be picked up for pennies. Leave this one on the shelf until you’re sure you’ll like it, as the glitches will be a deal breaker for anyone not already sold on the franchise.
(or 7 if they ever fix all the bugs…)