Re­vis­it­ing Ob­sid­ian’s desert waste­land.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Andy Kelly

Shot in the head and left for dead, you wake up in the one-horse town of Good­springs and be­gin a quest for vengeance in the Mo­jave Waste­land. That’s the beau­ti­fully sim­ple setup for Fall­out: New Ve­gas, which makes the vault se­quence in Fall­out 3, where you watch your char­ac­ter grow up, seem need­lessly long-winded. Af­ter a quick chat with a lo­cal doc­tor, voiced by Saul Tigh from Bat­tlestar Galac­tica, you’re set free. And it’s up to you whether you want to hunt down the peo­ple who tried to kill you, or just drift aim­lessly around the desert like Clint East­wood’s Man With No Name.

The Mo­jave is a far cry from the grim, shat­tered ru­ins of the Cap­i­tal Waste­land. This part of the United States wasn’t bombed quite so heav­ily, and has re­tained some color and life over the cen­turies. Fall­out 3 was a sea of blues and greys, but New Ve­gas siz­zles with or­anges and reds. It’s a more vi­brant post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­land, but still tinged with the melan­choly, des­o­late tone that de­fines the Fall­out se­ries. You be­gin the game on the edge of the desert among iso­lated towns and rolling tum­ble­weed, then move closer to New Ve­gas it­self, where civ­i­liza­tion has a stronger foothold.

“So much of Fall­out is bleak,” says writer and de­signer Eric Fen­ster­maker in a ‘mak­ing of’ film in­cluded in the Col­lec­tor’s Edi­tion. “Ev­ery­thing has been blown up, but the New Ve­gas Strip is unique in that no nu­clear weapons hit it. So when you go in, you’re im­me­di­ately struck by the fact that this is one of the last places that still feels like the old world.” And although the re­veal of the Strip isn’t as im­pres­sive as it could have been—a re­sult of the slightly creaky, ugly en­gine the game was built in—it’s still in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore an area of Fall­out’s waste­land that isn’t to­tally ru­ined.


But the Mo­jave has a very dif­fer­ent feel when you wan­der out to the edges of the map, feel­ing more like an old west­ern—an at­mos­phere en­hanced by the catchy cow­boy bal­lads that play on your Pip-Boy’s ra­dio. “I took a mo­tor­cy­cle trip through the desert, and went all around the out­skirts of Las Ve­gas,” says project di­rec­tor Josh Sawyer in the same mak­ing of film. “Trav­el­ling by mo­tor­cy­cle, you get a lot more op­por­tu­ni­ties to see the world around you. And it gave me a re­ally

strong feel­ing of what it’s like be­ing out there in the desert, which I then tried to bring into the game.”

A slick, smooth-talk­ing New Ve­gas gang­ster called Benny, played bril­liantly by Matthew ‘Chan­dler Bing’ Perry, is the man who shoots you in the head, and chas­ing him is, at least to be­gin with, the fo­cus of the story. Benny’s ap­pear­ance, specif­i­cally his gar­ish black-and-white plaid suit, is based on real-world Ve­gas gang­ster Bugsy Siegel—one of many his­tor­i­cal fig­ures Ob­sid­ian looked to for in­spi­ra­tion when creat­ing the game’s char­ac­ters. But in the big pic­ture, Benny is small time com­pared to some of the other an­tag­o­nists you’ll en­counter in the Mo­jave.

There’s the enig­matic Mr House, in­spired by in­fa­mous Ve­gas busi­ness­man Howard Hughes. He’s a prag­ma­tist, and even a force for good in the waste­land in some ways. But you don’t get that pow­er­ful with­out a cer­tain amount of ruth­less­ness. Then there’s Cae­sar’s Le­gion, a tribal army plan­ning to as­sault and cap­ture the New Ve­gas Strip and nearby Hoover Dam, whose pre­ferred method of deal­ing with en­e­mies is cru­ci­fy­ing them. And there are other, smaller groups, too, in­clud­ing the Pow­der Gangers, the Boomers, and the Jack­als. You’re never short of en­e­mies in New Ve­gas.

One of New Ve­gas’ best tricks is sidelin­ing the bi­nary karma sys­tem for rep­u­ta­tion. Karma is still there, but it has much less bear­ing on the game. How the fac­tions per­ceive you is a lot more im­por­tant, and it’s worth mak­ing a few friends. Get cosy with the Brother­hood of Steel, and they’ll give you ac­cess to their safe­house and oc­ca­sion­ally fill a crate with en­ergy weapons and ammo. But anger them, and Veron­ica—one of the bet­ter com­pan­ions—will refuse to join you. Pal up with the New Cal­i­for­nia Re­pub­lic, and you’ll get a ra­dio that lets you call for backup and sup­ply drops. Up­set them, and they’ll send a hit squad to kill you.

But the game’s great­est strength, and the rea­son many con­sider it the best of the 3D Fall­out games, is the writ­ing. Ob­sid­ian has a solid back­ground in sto­ry­telling, and it shows in New Ve­gas. Quests are more in­ter­est­ing, with a moral grey­ness that Fall­out 3 sorely lacked. In a GDC talk about de­sign­ing its branch­ing nar­ra­tive, Sawyer said he wanted to

avoid ‘Je­sus/Hitler’ mo­ments: Those blunt choices where one op­tion is self­less and no­ble, and the other is com­i­cally evil. “The agony of a choice should fall some­where be­tween th­ese two spec­trums,” he says in the talk. “A player should feel like there’s some­thing good and bad about what they pick.”

New Ve­gas doesn’t have the moral am­bi­gu­ity of some of Ob­sid­ian’s other games, par­tic­u­larly the mag­nif­i­cent Pil­lars of Eter­nity, but it’s one of the things that sets this Fall­out apart from the Bethesda en­tries in the se­ries. Ar­guably, though, the Mo­jave isn’t as evoca­tive a set­ting as the Cap­i­tal Waste­land. Civ­i­liza­tion’s post-nu­clear col­lapse is felt more vividly in Wash­ing­ton DC. It has a bleak­ness that you never re­ally get a sense of in the Mo­jave. That was al­most cer­tainly Ob­sid­ian’s in­ten­tion, to show us an­other side of the Fall­out set­ting, but there’s some­thing more com­pelling about the hope­less­ness of the Cap­i­tal Waste­land.


But in pretty much ev­ery other re­spect, Fall­out: New Ve­gas is the bet­ter game. Many of the com­pan­ions are rich, in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ters with dis­tinc­tive per­son­al­i­ties, and not just dumb au­toma­tons fol­low­ing you around. There are more ways to talk and think your way out of trou­ble. And the fac­tion sys­tem makes it enor­mously re­playable. In one playthrough you might side with the NCR to pro­tect the Hoover Dam; in the next you’ll buddy up with Cae­sar’s Le­gion and help them cap­ture it. And de­pend­ing on who you de­cide to join forces with, some mis­sions will close off and oth­ers will open up. Your al­le­giances re­ally do have an im­pact on the game.

Some of the worst things about New Ve­gas— dead-eyed char­ac­ter mod­els, janky an­i­ma­tion, fee­ble FPS com­bat—were in­her­ited from Fall­out 3, so I can’t re­ally blame Ob­sid­ian for much of that. Over­all, it did an in­cred­i­ble job, es­pe­cially when you con­sider that it cre­ated the en­tire thing in just 18 months. It also found time to make some qual­ity of life im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing a ra­dial menu that lets you eas­ily give or­ders to your com­pan­ions, and the abil­ity to mod guns with scopes, si­lencers, and so on. It even added a sur­vival mode that forces you to eat, sleep, and drink to stave off death, and where com­pan­ions can die per­ma­nently if they take too much dam­age.

The de­bate about which 3D Fall­out is best has been rag­ing for years, and prob­a­bly will for­ever. But for my money, New Ve­gas is the clear win­ner. Ob­sid­ian’s his­tor­i­cal ties to the se­ries and its deep un­der­stand­ing of the lore—thanks to the in­volve­ment of ‘Fall­out Bible’ writer Chris Avel­lone—makes for a much more con­sis­tent, au­then­tic take on the set­ting. The quests are more en­ter­tain­ing and var­ied, the char­ac­ters are stronger, and the fac­tion sys­tem makes it a much richer role-play­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. I don’t know if Ob­sid­ian will ever make an­other game in the se­ries, but I’d love to see it take an­other yank of the one-armed ban­dit.

The city’s lights can be seen for miles.

Easy Pete, tak­ing it easy.

The mag­nif­i­cent Ul­tra-Luxe casino.

Vi­o­lent gangs roam Free­side.

The Lucky 38, home of Mr House.

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