If you havenâ€™t already spent the last few days getting stuck into Fallout 3: New Vegas (it landed on our shores earlier this week) then you may very well be wondering either what the big deal is, or, if you already have Fallout 3, why you should bother getting the next one.
For those of you who havenâ€™t yet played FO3, you should check out Angusâ€™s excellent review (http://nzgamer.com/reviews/793/fallout-3.html). If youâ€™re not one for back story, well, Fallout 3 is essentially Oblivion with rocket launchers and mutants. Itâ€™s one post-apocalyptic kooky roller coaster ride, with everything youâ€™d hope for from a Fallout title: great story, bizarre characters, an awesome environment, and that wonderful grey area that comes with games that let players make choices about how they want to play. In this regard, New Vegas is no different from Fallout 3.
If anything, itâ€™s better.
I realised this, somewhat belatedly, when I found myself trying to get into the heavily-guarded area of The Strip (the flashy casino area at the heart of New Vegasâ€™s environment). I kept getting stopped by guard robots who wouldnâ€™t let me in unless I could prove I was a) respectable or b) rich. I was neither. I needed another option.
I wound up using a projectile flame launcher (a sort of flame-bomb-dropper) that Iâ€™d pried from the cold dead hands of a bad guy earlier in the day. It took several attempts, but I eventually managed to fry the group of sentry robots (all while they hurled grenades at me). A brief note on the screen advised my reputation in the area had become reviled, but I ignored it and plunged on through the now-unguarded gates.
On the other side, the rest of the sentry bots, keening for their lost kin, attacked me mercilessly. I dove into the nearest casino, thinking Iâ€™d find refuge. Instead the posh snoots ran for cover, telling me I was well known, but not for anything good. I couldnâ€™t even play a hand of blackjack without getting a look of disdain from the croupier.
Desperate, I followed the quest trail up to the thirteenth floor, where using all my feminine wiles I slept with (and then murdered) the man who had tried to kill me earlier in the game. I could have shot him outright. Or, I could have also given up at that stage. Good old Fallout; it always gives you the third option. But itâ€™s never straightforward - thereâ€™s always something there that surprises you, no matter how many games youâ€™ve played.
New Vegas is set thousands of miles away from the original (which youâ€™ll recall was based in the Washington DC area). Instead of the depressingly bleak landscape of blasted rock and rubble of levelled cities, New Vegas is set in the livelier-than-youâ€™d-think desert area of Nevada. Sure, itâ€™s called the Mojave Wasteland, but if you look closely, youâ€™ll see fruiting cacti, jalapeĂ±o peppers, and all sorts of other signs of life (more on the fauna shortly).
Not only is there life, but most of the area is actually in pretty good nick, having avoided the bombs that levelled the bigger cities. Thereâ€™s even a good source of regular power, in the Hoover Dam, that just keeps chugging along. In fact, with New Vegas as the shining centre of the area, thereâ€™s an interesting sort of desert-y Rat Pack vibe, thatâ€™s pleasantly different from Fallout 3.
But if you think things are easier out West, with all that sunshine, youâ€™d better think again. Unlike Fallout 3, where you begin the game as youâ€™re being born, your first introduction to New Vegas is a short cut scene where you, a courier, are robbed of your precious cargo by gangsters, then shot and buried in a shallow grave. Itâ€™s kill or be killed time, baby.
Itâ€™s a harsh welcome, but hey, even in the three years since Fallout 3 was set, things have changed. Everyone is struggling for power: The New California Republic Army, The NCR Rangers, The Great Khans, a group of ex-slavers known as the Legion, and escaped convicts like the Powder Gang, are just a few of the different factions youâ€™ll come across. And they wonâ€™t just let you pass on by; during the course of your travels youâ€™ll also have to choose sides. Kill a Great Khan, a member of the Legion - or even one of Mr. House's robots - and itâ€™ll affect your reputation. As your fame (or infamy) grows, it affects the way different groups of people react to you. Fortunately youâ€™re also able to disguise yourself in different faction outfits - as long as you donâ€™t let people look at you too closely.
As well as the other leaders all looking for power, the other main figure of the piece is the mysterious Mr. House, who lives in the Lucky 38 casino with his army of robots, and hasnâ€™t been seen by a single soul for over 200 years. Heâ€™s somehow linked to your missing courier package, and itâ€™s this thin thread that youâ€™ll follow as you emerge into the brave new world.
While this, the most direct path, was the direction I took for the review, there is a plethora of side-quests, intriguing characters, collectable items (including sarsaparilla bottle caps that are rumoured to lead to a legendary treasure) and all sorts of nooks and crannies to explore. From helping a girl named Sunny Smiles shoot lizards, to hostage negotiations with the Great Khans, or even just collecting enough cards so you can play a game of Caravan, itâ€™ll be a while before you run out of things to do in New Vegas.
As well as content, there are a load of changes that have been made to the gameplay mechanics. There are new perks (including a wonderful option for Wild Wasteland, which unleashes the most bizarre and silly elements of post-apocalyptic America) as well as new weapons, wildlife, and different radio stations, with some great cowboy tunes on offer.
Survival is tough, with geckos, coyotes, and radscorpions everywhere, as well as night stalkers (a hideous combination of coyote and rattlesnake) and the critters responsible for all my reloads: the cazador, a sort of horrible giant fly. But just in case thatâ€™s not enough of a challenge for you, New Vegas introduces HARDCORE MODE, which brings with it a much more realistic gameplay, where players fight daily battles not just with cazadors, but also starvation, dehydration and exhaustion. Stimpacks only heal over time, and if youâ€™ve got a bung limb, youâ€™ll need to go see a doctor to get it fixed. Plus ammo actually has weight. So why bother? Well, apparently if you play all the way through the main quest on hardcore mode, you get a special reward (oooh!).
Thereâ€™s also been some changes to crafting. Now, not only can you create and repair weapons, but you can also upgrade them with scopes, increased capacity, increased damage, reduced spread and weight. You can also create ammo at special reloading tables, where you combine shells, powder, and buckshot to make new ammunition, or break down other types of ammo for components. You can also cook at camp fires! The changes are a nice touch, in my opinion.
Sure, there are drawbacks. On the 360 my pipboy would occasionally freeze the screen (as would the occasional VATS mode) and from time to time Iâ€™d find myself being attacked by buggily-invisible enemies. Plus, Iâ€™ve heard the PC version has some problems with loading quicksaves from a previous session. And for people who like a few more rails on their gaming experience, thereâ€™s still the very real possibility of creating a character who takes to the desert and never comes back again. In addition, relatively long loading times on the 360 made moving from area to area on The Strip annoying after a while.
But this is one instance where, despite the glitches, I genuinely didnâ€™t care. New Vegas is just way too much fun. Itâ€™s got everything in a game that I love, from a huge open world to explore, interesting characters to meet, challenging critters to fight, an awesome environment, great soundtrack and bloody mayhem. When it comes time for me to hand in the review copy, Iâ€™m going to be racing out to buy - yes, buy - my own copy of New Vegas.