Fallout New Vegas
You are The Courier. Your mission was to deliver a mysterious platinum casino chip to the Lucky 38 Casino in New Vegas. You were to travel through the barren, post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert.
Instead, you were captured by tribal raiders. As you dig your own grave the leader of the gang (dressed in a natty white and black checkered jacket) lights up a cigarette and draws his pistol. He remarks that while it may seem as though you've gotten a run of bad luck, the game was rigged from the start.
Then he shoots you in the head.
That might sound like the end, but in Fallout: New Vegas, it's just the beginning.
The Fallout franchise games take place in an alternate reality Earth in which mankind achieved a level of technology roughly similar to what the future was going to look like from the perspective of the 1950's -- robot servants, flying cars, rocket packs and laser pistols. All those technological innovations were achieved, but not long afterwards there was a nuclear exchange with the Chinese, and America was reduced to a radioactive wasteland. Aside from a few humans who made it to the safety of underground vaults, almost no one survived the intial nuclear exchange.
The region surrounding the Mojave Desert, however, seems to have been relatively unharmed, and Las Vegas in particular seems to have survived the nuclear holocaust. It is now named New Vegas and is ruled by the reclusive Mr. House, who administrates the city using an army of robots. His base of operations is the Lucky 38 Casino, whose roulette-like shape towers over the Mojave landscape. No one has entered or exited the Lucky 38 in over two hundred years.
As in Fallout 3 much of the plot revolves around a large mechanism that could change the politics of the surrounding region. In Fallout 3 it was a water plant that could convert irradiated water into clean water. This time around it's the Hoover Dam. Mr. House requires it to remain in operation for the sake of New Vegas -- but other factions are wrestling over it. There's the New California Republic (NCR) who have come from the West. The NCR has attempted to create a new government modeled on classic American government -- a constitutional democratic republic. Of course there is some friction between the residents of the Mojave and these newcomers.
Also present are a terrifying group called The Legion. Modeled roughly after the Romans, they are a conglomeration of various Eastern tribal humans that have been conquered by a man who calls himself Caesar. At the time of The Courier's arrival in the Mojave the NCR is in possession of the Hoover Dam, after having repelled the Legion. The Legion is known for using brutal tactics including beheadings, burning-at-the-stake and crucifixions. They employ slaves and women are considered to be a kind of cattle. The outcome of this power struggles will be decided by the player's actions.
Karma and Factions
As in the last game, the player is given the option to be a 'good' player or a 'bad' player -- or remain neutral. There are difficult choices to be made at times -- will you turn on the solar-powered array? And if so, will you direct the electrical power to the people that the NCR has designated for political reasons, or will you distribute the electrical power to all the people of the Mojave? Of course, you could just direct all that energy onto an orbiting satellite, which can then beam down the energy as a weapon of mass destruction.
That's what makes this game (and its immediate predecessor) such a guilty (replay) pleasure -- the game designers always provide the player with an alternate, evil or self-serving decision. So you can play the game to its conclusion once, as a goodie-two-shoes, and then play the game as an evil psychopath if you want. With so many possibilities, F:NV packs an awful lot of game into a single disc.
In F3 the karmic system was generalized. If you were 'good' then good people behaved positively to the player, and vice versa. This time around there are various factions that each maintain a separate attitude towards the Courier. It is also important to know how the various factions regard each other. For example: since the NCR is currently at war with The Legion, walking into an NCR camp while wearing a set of Legion armor that you looted from some dead Legionaires is just asking for trouble. There is still a generalized Karma meter with ranks like "Savior of the Wastes" or "Evil Incarnate" -- but the individual factions retain their own unique views of the Courier.
For example: if you kill Legion members, they will soon hate the Courier and attack on sight. Help the Legion and your 'fame' with their faction will improve. Players can also decide to take no allegiance with any group, remaining neutral -- but this is difficult because the game often gives the player choices that will ingratiate them with one group and make another group hate them. Completing quests for a faction will improve your relationship with that faction.
Did I mention quests? In addition to gob-smacking giant radioactive scorpions the Courier can also help (or hinder) the people who live in the Mojave. Some people need food or items to be delivered; other people will ask you to clear out a nest of radioative ants or other mutated beast. The quests run the gamut from simple deliveries of food and supplies, to bounty hunting, securing prostitutes for a brothel (!), to the more investigative quests which might require staking out a certain area or finding clues to a crime.
The quest system seems to be identical to that found in F3.
Since the Mojave is crawling with critters, and you will most likely be desperate, you'll need to arm yourself. F:NV give players a very wide range of combat options. You can simple brawl your way through the game with your bare fists (satisfying, but difficult when going up against multiple opponents), or use something more sophisticated, like a pulse rifle. There are more brutish weapons like the 'Rebar Club' -- a bundle of twisted rebar with a clump of concrete clinging to one end. Since this is the apocalypse, you can even make weapons from parts that are just lying around, if you have the skill. Some new weapons types are thrown spears and golf clubs.
And of course, there are explosives. There's nothing quite so satisfying as lobbing a fragmentation grenade into a group of wasteland raiders and watching them fly through the air in slow-motion.
Carried over from Fallout 3 is the V.A.T.S. system, which stands for Vault Assisted Targeting System. The Courier wears a device called a Pip-Boy on his wrist, a kind of personal computer (and where all the menu options are located) which also allows for precise targeting of opponent's. Activating V.A.T.S. pauses the game, and the player can cycle through the enemies that are in range, and then select body parts, weapons (and even thrown grenades!) that they wish to attempt to strike. It's not a guaranteed hit, and percentage chances of scoring a hit on a specific target is indicated.
This allows players to merely cripple a fast-moving target so it cannot escape (or so that you can escape!) or shoot a weapon out of someone's hand in order to defuse a fight. Shooting a grenade in mid-air has its own rewards, naturally. Melee weapons and hand-to-hand combat gets a bit of an upgrade from the previous game -- now players who go the, eh, more 'hands on' route can specify special moves. For example, if you're using your bare fists and have enough skill the player can select specific kinds of punches. You can use 'crosses' or 'uppercuts'.
Again, assuming you manage to hit your target.
As anyone familiar with the Fallout franchise (or sci-fi movies in general) can attest, radiation has a sense of humor. The Mojave is filled with giant ants that breathe fire, radscorpions the size of a city bus, mutants and all sorts of critters. F:NV keeps nearly all the critters from F3 and tosses in some new ones. The nastiest of the bunch are probably the Cazadores -- (spanish for 'hunters) -- giant, irradiated wasps. Poisonous, they move quickly and erratically making them difficult to target. Their poison nearly cripples the Courier's ability to fight and did I mention they attack in swarms?
The desert is littered with interesting places to explore, find food and water and what not. F:NV also features difficulty settings as in the previous game, but adds a new wrinkle with the 'Hardcore' setting. Under this setting the player will have to fend off thirst, starvation and sleep deprivation. If you don't mind these values the Courier will suffer debilitating side effects and eventually die. I haven't tried that setting myself, but what's next, a 'fiber' statistic? The 'hardcore' mode may be a bit too realistic for some players.
What Happens in New Vegas Stays in New Vegas
At some point the Courier will have to make his way into New Vegas proper, where not too much has changed, including the sidewalks. Vegas isn't quite as glamorous as it was before the war, but when you consider that most humans alive in this world drink water from toilet bowls and live in the relative 'safety' of an underground sewer system, then it's pretty luxurious. There's gambling, there are mobsters, and 'companionship', too.
When wandering the savage wasteland you'll run into other people who may decide to hit the trail with you -- if they can be convinced. Fallout 3 offered a few basic companions, but Fallout: New Vegas has a lot more available companions and in greater variety. One of the more novel companions is a levitating eye-like robot named 'ED-E' and a 'cyber-dog'. Each companion has different strengths and weaknesses, and varying combat styles. Some of them (including a doctor) have little combat value but can make surviving a battle much easier. The companion scripting is a lot more interesting too, with each companion having one or more side quests that develop the character, and the dialogue is more interesting.
There are eight companions in total and they have quirks: the cyborg-dog named 'Rex' needs a new brain and the Courier will have to find him one before he dies, including finding a surgeon skilled enough to do the job. As always, the Fallout franchise gives you options. There are three different suitable dog brains for 'Rex' -- and depending on which one you choose as Rex's replacement his abilities will change. Also, companions have quirks that can make them dangerous to have around (but not in the good way). Rex hates rats and will attack them on sight, regardless of the player's wishes. He will also growl at anyone who wears a hat (presumably because it rhymes with 'rat').
If you've played Fallout 3 and/or read my review of that game, it would be easier to describe Fallout: New Vegas as 'more of the same.' For most games that charge would be the kiss of death; but since the previous game was (by almost all accounts) incredibly awesome, that's not necessarily the case.
Almost everything that was great about Fallout 3 is present in the new game: the graphics are identical, the user interface and game mechanics are the same. The combat is the same -- V.A.T.S. (Vault Assisted Targeting System) is available, which allows for precision targeting. A few new wrinkles are tossed into the mix, but not a whole lot.
The game world is expansive, allowing for leisurely exploration. The art direction is still great, with interesting pre-War propaganda and advertising, and the music is great too. At the start of the game there is also a new option that allows the player to select a special beginning perk (or 'trait') that determines what kind of game you will experience. You can be a 'berserk' player -- your accuracy is reduced but you get more attacks, or you can choose to fire more slowly but more accurately. The third option is the 'Weird Wasteland' trait. This trait changes some of the content of the game to make it more like the traditional Fallout content -- funny and weird. This trait unlocks the aliens, the people who worship an undetonated nuclear bomb, etc.
Now for the negatives.
The glitches that plagued the original game (lagging, clipping, companions that get caught in the background textures, etc.) -- they are all still here too. In fact, some of the glitches are even worse. Players have reported frequent crashes, but subsequent patches from the developers has fixed this. The game still crashes ocassionally, but since the game automatically saves your progress it's rarely a devastating loss. Still, it can be pretty annoying to be playing a great game that inexplicably freezes at a crucial moment.
This reviewer's biggest gripe with F:NV is related to the companions. One of the companions available in the game is 'ED-E' -- an eye-like robot that levitates. If you played Fallout 3 you'll recognize it as an 'eyebot'. ED-E can become your companion if you repair him. At one point during my gameplay I 'lost' ED-E. I'm partly to blame for this because when I play the Fallout games I get into the mood. I don't use roads, with the mind-set that no one who survives the Apocalypse would use one. You would just be begging to be ambushed by raiders, communists, cannibals, or some permutation of all three.
So, I tend to take the long way around, which leads me through valleys, gulches -- all over the map. So yes, my companions get trapped in the textures and I lose them. Now, if you're playing on normal difficulty your companions cannot be killed. When their hitpoints are exhausted they will drop to the ground, unconscious. They will revive once all hostile targets are gone. But, as in the previous game, the companions sometimes get caught between the textures that make up the landscape. So apparently ED-E got trapped in a texture and was then subsequently 'killed'. I think he dropped to the ground, under a texture, and then became trapped in the shadowy netherworld between textures.
Ok, so I lost ED-E. This is a savage world, right? I can't be expected to cry over a robot. The problem is that the game never recognized ED-E as 'dead' and the game world continued to react as though the robot was still by my side, which became a pain when it came to getting new companions. To get a new companion requires dismissing the former companion -- which I couldn't do with ED-E. This required that I reload an old save point and redo part of the game. Annoying.
Overall, if you loved Fallout 3 (and most everyone did) then get Fallout: New Vegas. The question is whether you can be cagey and wait until it wins 'Game of the Year' again (or not) and you can buy the entire game in a few months for just $30 including all the downloadable content. You'll save a bundle. But really, why even wait, this game represents many, many hours of entertainment -- just like its predecessor.