What would you do if you found yourself in a lawless, postapocalyptic world? How would you endure? Where would you go? Whom could you trust?
As in previous games in the Fallout (ESRB: Mature) franchise, these are the sort of questions that Bethesda Softworks' Fallout: New Vegas, an adult-oriented role-playing game that drops players into a nuclear wasteland 200 years hence, excels in tackling, though from a slightly different perspective than its predecessors.
Whereas preceding games had players take the role of survivors emerging from underground bunkers, here we inhabit the boots of a native wastelander; a desert courier who begins the game in a bad state after being shot and robbed.
And rather than relentlessly dreary ruins, we spend much of our time in Las Vegas, a city that somehow managed to escape a direct atomic blast. Many of the hotels and casinos along its glowing Strip are nearly what they were prior to the war, though now under the thumb of a complex web of gangs united by the mysterious, centuries-old Mr. House.
But despite these changes, the lonely, desperate vibe of the series remains intact.
While traversing the vast wastes beyond the city's walls – I spent more than 20 hours roaming the desert before finally spotting the Strip's lights on the horizon one dark night – players will take on a role similar to that of the father in Cormac McCarthy's end-of-the-world novel, The Road. I had to defend myself from roving gangs while meticulously scavenging every building I encountered for water, food, weapons and medical supplies. The surge of excitement that came from finding a trove of untouched prewar treasures in the rubble was, as it has always been in Fallout, palpable.
- The Goods Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC Publisher/Developer: Bethesda Softworks/Obsidian Entertainment The good: Nicely marries the franchise's bleak post-apocalypse vibe with a subtle Wild West tang. Vast desert wasteland is filled with countless interesting characters and quests. Retains the atmosphere and structure that made its immediate predecessor so popular. The Bad: No significant innovations or improvements in graphics, design, or play mechanics. Plays host to a heaping helping of bugs (make sure you take advantage of the ability to save anytime, anywhere) The Verdict: More a massive expansion pack to Fallout 3 than a true sequel (and that's not necessarily a demerit, given its predecessor's popularity) there’s no denying New Vegas' appeal for fans of post-apocalypse fantasy.
While there is plenty of tension and gore galore, the game never takes itself too seriously. I met many oddball characters – such as a healthy human who had deluded himself into thinking he had become hideously mutated based solely on his encroaching baldness – and was sent on some strange quests, such as seeking a "sexbot" for a brothel owner. These eccentric elements effectively temper the gloominess.
Admittedly, it often feels a bit too similar to its immediate predecessor, Fallout 3. Aside from the new location and its decidedly Wild West vibe (expect to hear songs like Marty Robbins's classic gunfighter ballad Big Iron playing on the radio), differences between the two games are superficial, with innovations no more substantial than, say, being able to communicate with your travelling companions in new ways. That is, unless you count unintended "features" (read, glitches – yes, it's got a few more than Fallout 3) such as rifles that get stuck in firing mode and an occasional inability to draw one's pistol.
But, bugs aside, there's no denying that it satisfied my postapocalypse fantasies in an entertaining fashion.
Though let's be clear: Once on the other side, the toxic sludge does not seem greener. You will not leave New Vegas longing to live in a world devastated by nuclear war. If anything, the game's bleak wasteland combines with the draining effect of hours-long play sessions to leave one utterly exhausted and happier than ever to retire to a clean, non-irradiated bed. Sometimes we don't appreciate what we have until a game depicts what it might be like to lose it.