Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Fallout: New Vegas review

With Fallout: New Vegas, Bethesda have handed the reins of the franchise over to Obsidian Entertainment for this latest edition in the series. They are a good match because many members of Obsidian actually worked on the first two games, including the director of this game, Chris Avellone. Many of the ideas that would have gone into the first abandoned version of Fallout 3 have been resurrected here, such as the Roman Empire wannabes that go by the name of Caesar's Legion.

In Fallout: New Vegas, you play the part of a courier who has been shot in the head and left for dead by Benny, just one of many characters in the Nevada wasteland who are trying to get hold of the package you were trying to deliver - a platinum poker chip. After being rescued by a mysterious cowboy robot that goes by the name of Victor and being patched up by the doc in the small town of Goodsprings, you dust yourself down and set out to piece together why you were betrayed and the current whereabouts of Benny. Or, you could just ignore the plot and explore the world at your leisure - this is a Fallout game after all and this one in particular offers more freedom than ever before. However, it would seem this freedom comes with a price, and that is poor quality control, as New Vegas suffers from a plethora of bugs both benign and game breaking. More on this later.

Format: Xbox 360 (Also available on PS3 and PC)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Expect to pay: Around £20

Graphics: 7 out of 10
While you could argue that as the game is running on the same engine as Fallout 3 and therefore the graphics are almost identical, meaning that I should award it the same score, there's really no getting away from the fact that the Gamebyro engine is starting to show its age. NPCs still have the same glassy eyed, plastic faced expressions they did almost five years ago in Oblivion, so I hope after this that the engine is going to be retired, and that Fallout 4 when it appears will make use of the new one being developed for Skyrim.

Despite many of the monsters being repeated from Fallout 3, there are also quite a few new ones, including the absolutely disgusting Cazadors - huge bugs that do obscene amounts of damage and poison you as well - and chimeras - dog/snake hybrids. Moving on to the world map and the environment, it initially looks smaller than that of Fallout 3, but there is easily just as much content present here as there was before. A lot of the locations don't seem to have much purpose at present however - whereas most locations has something to do or find in the last game, this time there were many places that seemed to be of little interest. Some of these may be related to future DLC, time will tell.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The music in Fallout: New Vegas is the same mixture of classic tunes from the 40's and 50's and a more cinematic score by composer Inon Zur when you have the radio switched off, and the actual music itself is great. There just isn't enough of it by a long chalk, especially when you consider how many hours the game could take you to complete. If you keep the radio on you will hear the same few songs over and over and over again, and the announcements from Mr New Vegas also seem to repeat more often than those in Fallout 3. PC owners have a distinct advantage over console players in this regard as there are mods out there that add new radio stations with 100 or more new songs to listen to.

Obsidian have gone for another all star cast for this game, and this time the recognisable talent includes: Matthew Perry (Chandler from Friends), Felicia Day (The Guild), Zachary Levi (Chuck), Danny Trejo (Machete) and Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica), besides Ron Perlman who returns as the narrator yet again. All of them do a very solid job and don't sound like they're just trying to say "Hey, listen to me, I'm Mr Famous Guy sounding just like I do on that show/film you watch!". As for sound effects, a lot of the them are reused from Fallout 3 but there are plenty of additions for the new horrible critters you encounter and are very well done across the board.

Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Now, a lot of the mechanics of Fallout: New Vegas remain pretty much the same as in Fallout 3, so rather than repeating myself I will mainly focus on what's been tweaked or added for this game, and direct you to
my review of the previous title for the rest. The first thing which is small but significant addition is true iron sights. Now you can finally look down the sights of you weapon of choice and actually stand a chance of hitting your intended target outside of VATS combat, which makes the whole thing more interesting straight away.

Another good addition are the various factions that you can align yourself with throughout the game, including major players like Mr House, the NCR and Caesar's Legion, as well as smaller groups like the Boomers, the Great Khans and the Powder Gangers. As you complete quests for these factions or kill their members, you standing with them will increase or decrease and will have an impact on the ending of the game. Conversely though, while the Karma system is still present in this game, it is almost meaningless this time around and has little effect on the game.

There is also a new Hardcore mode in the game, which changes various aspects - ammo has weight, you have sleep and dehydration meters that have to be monitored, and stimpaks won't heal broken limbs, only doctors bags or a visit to an actual physician will do. These things all change the gameplay up considerably, as you can't just loot every bit of ammo you see, and have to rely on food and water far more heavily than you do otherwise. It adds an extra layer of realism for those who are looking for it and can definitely seen as a good thing.

What is definitely not a good thing however, is the amount of bugs present in this game. I had put around 40 hours of play time into the game when I suddenly started getting a random message about some DLC being missing and then being dumped back to the main menu. This effected all of my saves and prevented me from playing the game as that character entirely. It was towards the end of October when this started happening and it wasn't until the release of the first DLC, Dead Money, on December 21st that it was finally fixed. That's almost two months where I was unable to use the product I had paid money for, and to rub salt into the wound the game went down to £20 during that time as well. I seriously considered giving the game a 5 or a 6 overall because of the serious nature of this bug, but new players won't encounter it any more. That's not to say there aren't still a variety of other bugs left to be fixed, because there is. I will definitely think twice about buying another game developed by Bethesda or Obsidian on the day it's released in future!

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
Some reviewers have criticised this game as being little more than expansion pack to Fallout 3, but I feel that is being extremely harsh, as the tweaks to the gameplay have changed things quite a bit. The engine definitely feels somewhat creaky, but Obsidian are certainly working it hard (quite literally to breaking point unfortunately).

Value and Replayability: 8 ouf of 10
Fallout: New Vegas is just as huge as its predecessor but because you can finish the game and see four different distinct endings depending on your path, plus many other more subtle variations depending on how you've finished certain quests, it offers far more scope for experimentation and replay. This is the greatest addition that Obsidian have made in my opinion as it's really interesting to help defend the town of Goodsprings and hand the strip over to the NCR on one hand, and then take over the town for the Powder Gangers and overthrow the entire area for Caesar's Legion on the other.

Overall: 8 out of 10
While the additions made to the gameplay are all good, on the whole I didn't quite enjoy Fallout: New Vegas as much as Fallout 3. I think the overall tone had something to do with this, as the last game was very scary and atmospheric for a lot of the time and this one felt a bit sillier overall. There are far less encounters with feral ghouls and super mutants this time around (though they are certainly present) which I also kind of missed. Then of course there are the bugs, and I can't let them slide without a minor penalty of some kind. So all this combined means that New Vegas deserves one point less than the previous game. See the clip below to see one of the sillier bugs in the game!

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