33. Fallout: New Vegas
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format: Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 3
Thankfully, New Vegas isn’t in fact the shortest game in the world (I’m not sure, but I think that honour might go to You Have to Burn the Rope), so the player character finds him/herself waking up on a doctor’s bed, fresh from some convenient plastic surgery that lets the character look just how the player wants. Funny how things turn out.
From there, you’re lobbed into the joyously open world of Fallout. A cheerfully satirical post-apocalyptic dystopia, Fallout’s universe, one of the most interesting and enjoyable in gaming, hinges on World War 2. Basically, Fallout is the same world as ours up until WW2, and after that it splits into its own timeline. In Falloutland, technology progresses at a much faster rate, but America remains locked in a 1950s view of the world, all white-picket fences and scaremongering about Communism. By the 21st century, Forbidden Planet-style robots are commonplace, computers have only just been invented, and there’s the little issue of a nuclear holocaust when the USA and China chuck a bunch of nukes at each other in October 2077. Jump forward a bit, and Fallout takes place in the ruined United States – the first one started in 2162, while New Vegas kicks off in 2281.
NV’s immediate predecessor, Fallout 3, took place in and around the heavily irradiated wasteland and ruins of Washington, DC, so Vegas goes for a different tack. Set in the Mojave Desert, which avoided direct missile attack and thus is a considerably less hideous place to live, it offers a distinctive Wild West theme augmented by the presence of New Vegas itself. The remains of Las Vegas’ famous Strip, still doing pretty much what it ever did, adds a Rat Packy, sharp-suited, cocktail-smelling tinge to the game’s Western flavour, resulting in a distinctive and enjoyable gameworld to run around in.
Additionally, it works as a sop to longterm fans of the series. Fallouts 1 and 2 were made by the defunct Black Isle Studios, who were at work on Fallout 3 before publisher Interplay went kaplooie. The Fallout 3 that eventually emerged was the unrelated work of a separate developer, and some fans didn’t care for it. Vegas devs Obsidian are partially made up of ex-Black Islanders, and they brought in a few ideas and locations that were going to be in the original 3, as well as bringing back a couple of characters from 2. Since 3 was my first experience of the series, it didn’t make any difference to me, but it’s always nice to see the extra effort put in.
ANYway. New Vegas plays much the same as 3, which is to say an action-RPG with slight FPS overtones set in a pleasingly freeform world that’s ludicrously addictive to explore. (The late, lamented magazine NGamer described it aptly as “the gaming equivalent of going into a room and forgetting why you went in there” – it’s near impossible to concentrate on any task for more than a few minutes without getting distracted by something intriguing.) The pleasure is in doing things your way. Fancy making some homemade napalm for your flamethrower out of baking soda? Get the ingredients and find a workbench and you’re sorted. Want to stroll into a stronghold of a faction that hates you? Just grab a uniform off a corpse and you’re disguised. Not really into this entire violence thing, and would rather talk it out with everyone? Well, you’ll need a lot of patience and a high Speech skill, but it can be done. Fallout is the game I turn to when I’m tired of developers making arbitrary rules and want to play a game my way.
MAGIC MOMENT: the climax of the game is a massive battle atop the Hoover Dam, which you’ll witness however you play. I was there more or less representing the New California Republic (I may have stabbed them in the back and chucked them out of New Vegas a bit later, but let’s not dwell on that), but I had also spent several hours on the side winning over the Boomers, a weird cult of technicians obsessed with planes. Part of my wooing of them involved helping them fish a damaged B-29 Superfortress bomber out of a lake and fixing it up, so it was a genuine delight to see said bomber swoop down over the dam and rain fiery death on Caesar’s Legion, the NCR’s foes.