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I’m going to level with you right now, this is simply me writing about Fallout New Vegas. If you want a standard cookie cutter “Review” you should be prepared for disappointment. When I sat down to finally write about Fallout New Vegas, I was faced with the reality that I was doing so long after most people have let loose their own ramblings about the game. While I don’t see this as putting me at any kind of disadvantage, it certainly changes the perception of any “Review” I would try to conjure up.
With the freedom to explore the game and not have the threat of the game shutting down without so much as a moments notice, I was able to craft an identity in the wilderness of the Mojave desert, and bear witness to the evolution of a chain of consequence that was created with every step I took, and every bullet I fired. What’s interesting more than Bethesda’s blunders into Apocalyptica is the subtle hand that has been used to craft the world you find yourself in. This isn’t a dense metropolis littered with location after pointless location, or worse, subway crawls. Rather it’s a desolate and bleak and isolated wasteland populated by ideologies, and wills struggling to create a paradise out of hell. If you can wrap your head around some of the concepts at play here, there is much more substance, and subversion than there is in your face black and white. While others have complained about the lack of an emotional connection with the story, I rather think that the decision to detach you from any obvious path of action was the best one to take in the framework of telling an interactive story. Without a predisposition to do “obvious good” you will find yourself investigating each situation a little more than usual, and probing people that you normally wouldn’t consider siding with, out of morbid curiosity, greed, or whatever the individual case may be. Add in the ability to disguise yourself so that you can work with certain factions even though they may very well hate your guts, and the fact that others may catch on and threaten to drop the dime on you, and you have a game that at times does a better job of conveying a sense of espionage than Alpha Protocol.
Finding motivation wasn’t particularly hard for me. The opening of the game had set me up with enough information that I was just anxious to hit the desert, and see what was waiting for me. Since I was shot on the job, and left for dead, I figured I should avoid anything that had to do with those strenuous circumstances for as long as possible. This lead to me avoiding the main quest line until it was literally not possible to do so anymore. My connection with the game didn’t come from my own story, but rather from the hundreds of little stories that I had created throughout the environment. The ripple of my choices was always something to behold, especially in the face of larger characters in the game displaying obvious struggle to make their own decisions. The NCR is better equipped, and better trained than most of their enemies, but they find themselves once again dealing with the pesky human nonsense of bureaucracy, and establishing an economy that will stand the test of time, and not fall flat on it’s face. Their attempts to unify the people through the use of propaganda, and economic control are slow going, and it results in the faction being spread few and far between in an already sparsely populated Mojave. Meanwhile the Ceaser’s Legion seems to operate on a platform of recreating the Spanish Inquisition as closely as possible, while trying to incorporate some of the more modern elements of society into their manifesto, like guns. In appearance the Ceasar’s Legion looks just like you would imagine after hearing the name. Like Roman soldiers. It’s actually got a kind of jarring effect on you when you run into them for the first time. Just the sight of soldiers in Roman tunics, and armor wandering around in camps made up of red tents in the middle of a futuristic wasteland is weird in and of itself, and then they start throwing spears at you. With countless other splinters of gangs, and groups that operate under both of their noses, it at times is hard to keep track of everyone’s individual goals, but the benefit in being able to do so, and to juggle all the different sets of personalities at work, yields an untold reward.
Where Fallout New Vegas truly returns to form is in it’s ability to make scalding commentary on society as it exists today, through a barren view of the future. It may be hundreds of years in the future, but the problems are largely the same. You have a government that is struggling to retain the faith of the people. For better or for worse, they have established a system, and a bureaucracy meant to protect the ideologies of that system. While the people aren’t outright anarchistic, there are dissidents, and fringe organizations that threaten the system in place. And while the established party has to deal with the issue of would be usurpers attempting to take that power, they are also saddled with the responsibility of trying to stabilize their incredibly shaky economy. The problems that face the NCR echo all too loudly in the real world where a political landscape rife with internal conflict, and some of the most desperate economic times since the great depression has caused similar desperation.
As for the game’s mechanics… if you’ve played Fallout 3 then you’re in for more of the same as far as combat is concerned, with the exception that shooting without VATS is no longer useless. Iron sights, and a complete overhaul of the crafting and ammunition system add another layer of tactical depth that was definitely missing from Fallout 3. The perks, and SPECIAL haven’t been messed around with to the point that purists will feel back at home, but the changes they have made do more to ensure that you have to play a role in this game, than Bethesda did with Fallout 3. As it has been with every Fallout that has preceded it, exploration is a crucial component of Fallout New Vegas, and the simple choice to just get out there, will lead to the most memorable moments. What also bites, is that much like every Fallout before it, the game is rife with quirks, and bugs. While I never experienced anything game breaking, I did run into a glitch that made it impossible to fire for a period of about 10-15 seconds after reloading a rifle class gun. While it annoyed the hell out of me, it was never enough to make me throw in the towel.
But here’s the thing that struck a chord with me the most. If you live in California right now you are privy to one of the dirtiest and nastiest political cycles in the history of the state. Clean energy, and the economy are the reasons for what has become the nastiest bout of mudslinging since Gray Davis was thrown out of office, so that we could elect Conan the Barbarian to run our state. The landscape is almost eerie, when you compare the problems of the New California Republic to the very real state of California, as both the fictional and the real struggle to come to grips with the crippling problems facing their uncertain futures. However, what may be the more depressing truth is that unlike the world of Fallout New Vegas, we can’t play as large a part in the evolution of our own future.
This is the connection that Fallout has made with me, a much deeper experience than most I suspect, but it was mine nonetheless. This is mostly because the game is a return to the ideas that propelled the first two games to the point that it made people insanely protective of the franchise as a whole. Case and point… those delusional psychopaths at No Mutants Allowed, and the equally Communistic control of The Vault Wiki by a guy who calls himself Ausir. These people, and their maniacal defense of those games is only made possible by the abundance of good ideas, that up until this game was released, seemed to be deteriorating from the landscape of development. The ability to deliver such a complex interactive narrative with so many levels of social commentary is no small feat, and while the rose tinted insanity of the select few may or may not be understandable to some, it also leads to another reality.
The game as a sequel to Fallout 3 will do nothing for those who only know Fallout from that point of view. Your connection to the world will be limited at best unless you do yourself a favor and get to know the story of the first two games. With that being said, do not subscribe to the hypocrisy that you need to play those games to do so. You can, but fair warning… the games themselves, despite what the select few might say are archaic and don’t stand up to the test of time as well as other games from the genre. To the select few I say this… this is the closest you will ever get to a true sequel to Fallout 2, take it or leave it. Fallout New Vegas is a return to form and an evolution of a wealth of good ideas that were buried long ago. You will never get the isometric turn based nonsense you want, so deal with the fact that Fallout is much like your teenage daughter now. While she may not have grown up exactly the way you envisioned, she is still beautiful, unique, and worth protecting.
So here’s the deal folks, Fallout New Vegas is a work of art plain and simple. It’s ability to echo the desperation of the American political landscape through a clever collection of wit, technical know how, and gripping storytelling is second to none. Owning this game is a requirement for anyone that appreciates the form.
This is the part where you buy the game.
Fallout New Vegas is available on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
It was developed by Obsidian Entertainment, and was published by Bethesda Softworks.
Editor In Chief
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