Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform reviewed: Xbox 360
Genre: Role-playing / First-person Shooter
Number of players: 1
Online/offline: offline, with DLC to be expected
It is difficult to enter into any evaluation of Fallout: New Vegas as a videogame without mentioning its predecessor, Fallout 3. There is the question, of course, of whether or not this game is a "true sequel". In my opinion, the short answer is no. But then, it never claimed to be a true sequel. There's no number after its name. New Vegas is not a startling new leap forward in the Fallout series, but it is a very, very good game, particularly for the teeming mass of gamers who enjoyed 3.
New Vegas is very much a retread of Fallout 3, but it is a unique experience, as well. The graphics are much the same, offering a beautiful gameworld which becomes steadily more unattractive as one gets closer to any given object, though the individual people seem to be improved this time around in terms of face models. The graphics are not remarkably better than in Fallout 3, but they are slightly superior in little ways: certain textures don't look quite so bad, better face models, somewhat better animation, etc. The audio is basically another version of the same sort of music in Fallout 3, save with an occasional western theme; Mr. New Vegas replaces Fallout 3's Three Dog, and I actually found the new announcer to be much more enjoyable, and less annoying. I remember a distinct urge in Fallout 3 to hunt down Three Dog's toaster and brutally massacre it. No such problems with Mr. New Vegas, though I suspect that after another hundred hours I'll tire of hearing how he loves me and everyone else listening to his station.
Much like the graphics and audio, the gameplay has been improved, not so much in leaps and bounds but in slight increments. The addition of "true iron sights" is welcome, though as the game is an RPG, your shots will often miss because of your Guns stat--which has been wisely combined from Small and Big Guns from Fallout 3. It's definitely an improvement, though, and I've had much fewer frustration moments as I did in Fallout 3 when shooting. There's an increased fidelity to the shooting this time around: the guns feel a bit tighter, a bit more real, and as I probably should've mentioned earlier, they sound a bit better than in Fallout 3. One of the other elements incorporated into the game is a "companion wheel", which allows you to access the commands for your companion which are regularly available only via dialogue. Revolutionary? No. But handy.
The game also features a number of additions to the "behind-the-scenes" systems of the game. Whereas in 3 there was a universal holiness-monitor that followed you around everywhere, in New Vegas your karma matters little when compared to your direct interactions with the veritable menagerie of factions in the game. Shoot up some Powder Gangers? The Powder Gangers will hate you, but the people of Goodsprings, who the Gangers were just terrorizing, will be thankful. This system works best in New Vegas because there are so many different factions, which is a refreshing update from Fallout 3. Finally, one of the most notable gameplay elements is the addition of "Hardcore" mode, which requires the player to eat, sleep, and drink to avoid stat detractions, and causes the game's general healing system to be a touch more realistic. Hilariously, playing Hardcore mode had me drinking Root Beer more often than not to recover from gaping bullet-wounds in my chest, in order to conserve on medical equipment. The mode isn't "Hardcore" so much as "a minor inconvenience", but for those who like a little more role-playing in their role-playing game, it's a nice addition.
The New Vegas Strip is more or less an entity unto itself: once players finally enter into the Strip (a lengthy process involving the cocktease that is Freeside, a free-to-enter town that surrounds the ritzy Strip) a whole new world seems to open up, creating a sense that there is almost a game-within-a-game. The gambling is fairly fun, and I believe the game actually tries to punish you by employing save/reload tactics in Blackjack by having the dealer carry out a lengthy deck reshuffling process, but in the end it's essentially another Fallout town with a bunch of quests to carry out and people to run errands for. This is fairly formulaic fare--oh, look, a rancher who wants me to investigate a casino bigshot--which inevitably winds up in an interesting twist or two. The game typically forces one to choose between two factions which, most of the time, both have something going for them, and the morality isn't necessarily cut-and-dry, which is refreshing.
The story feels a bit better in New Vegas, with regard to individual missions, at least, but that sense of a greater story that you yourself create is gone. Perhaps it has to do with the game's opener: you are rather abruptly thrust into the Mojave Wasteland after being saved from a near-death experience, rather than being raised and growing up in Fallout 3's Vault 101. It certainly lacks Fallout 3's distinct sensation that you alone were building your character from the ground up, and the game loses some of its narrative punch for it. New Vegas feels less intimate than Fallout 3, which is unfortunate. Had Obsidian managed to recreate that sense of ownership of one's own character, I believe the game's sprawling system of factions and disparate communities would've been much more effective.
New Vegas isn't so much a direct knock-off of Fallout 3, but it's not a proper sequel. It's something of an interesting creature. It's more like what Fallout 3 would've looked like had the developers spent an extra year or so fine-tuning, polishing, and adding elements to the original game, and yet simultaneously could not exist without the prior game: part of the reason that New Vegas works is that after the cramped downtown of the Capital Wasteland and the harsh, generally oppressing conditions of Fallout 3's setting, New Vegas' Mojave Desert and New Vegas Strip are wonderfully refreshing.
There's been a lot said of gamer entitlement--Adam Sessler's addressed the issue a couple of times on his Soapbox, which is infinitely superior to the actual show X-Play--which more or less boils down to the fact that a certain group of gamers will always whine, bitch, and moan incessantly when they feel they're being slighted. Those people will, undoubtedly, decry New Vegas as a cheap cash grab. New Vegas is more or less a love-letter to the fans of the first game, and offers a slightly more polished Fallout experience. It shines a little more. Some naggling issues are taken care of. But it's not Fallout 3, and in many ways that's a bad thing. Fallout 3 had a little something more: it was a fresh experience the first time around, for example, whereas New Vegas feels undeniably familiar. New Vegas has a few new tricks, and it benefits from a bit more shine, but it will never quite match the original Fallout 3 as a whole, as an experience. Don't let that discourage you, though. New Vegas is a wonderful game, and anyone who enjoyed the first will likely enjoy the second.
3 & 1/2 stars (of a possible 4)
Note: Much like Fallout 3, and nearly any game released by Bethesda and Obsidian, New Vegas is plagued with glitches. Hopefully software updates will take care of this, but for now it remains a minor annoyance.