Fallout: New Vegas will ask each and every one of you a very simple question: If a game breaks every 10 minutes, can you still enjoy it?
And it's a tough one. Because when Fallout: New Vegas — a sequel of sorts to 2008's Fallout 3, only this time you play as a courier shot in the head, left for dead, and caught between warring factions in a western post-nuclear wasteland — is humming along, and you're charming gangsters, clubbing mutants and exploring abandoned rocket factories, it's a blast. Your answer is "yes". But then the game will crash. Or your companions will disappear. Or an entire room full of people will draw their guns and run around shouting "Howdy!", and you have to ask yourself the question all over again.
Somebody who has the time to sit down and spend 60-80 hours on a video game, and the sheer force of will to spend much of that trudging over a bleak, desolate landscape performing sometimes ridiculous errands.
Mostly because it's a new Fallout game. Also because there are so many games on the market now that are over and done with in 4-6 hours. Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, is a role-playing game that you can really sink your teeth into. If you've got the time - and more importantly the patience to overlook the game's technical "characteristics" - New Vegas has the missions to keep you busy for months.
It's like Desert Bus, only with guns.
Wait, this wasn't made by the guys who did Fallout 3? Nope. Fallout 3 was developed by Bethesda, the team behind the Elder Scrolls series. Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, has been developed by Obsidian. It's a team that specialises in making sequels to other people's games, but is also home to former Black Isle Studios vets, the original developers of Fallout. This is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in that they're so good at getting under Fallout's skin that you won't even realise the switch in developers, but it's a curse in that many of Fallout 3's (and Oblivion's) flaws are along for the ride too.
And what flaws are those? This engine, despite being capable of some amazing vistas, is also busted at a fundamental level. Plastic-faced people, archaic character animation, dodgy AI path-finding, unreliable mission structures, misplaced map markings, these things - which let you down in Oblivion and in Fallout 3 - will let you down in this game as well. You'll even run into game-breaking glitches like becoming stuck in the terrain. When you have to hard-save a game every five minutes for fear of it crashing or trapping you, there is a serious problem.
Ungh. Anything else? Sadly, yes. Obsidian was stuck with the engine, but many of New Vegas' other problems can't be blamed on an outdated piece of technology. The game's voice-acting is woeful, undoing some great writing from the team, but my biggest problem with New Vegas is its size. The fact it's a lot bigger than Fallout 3's map may seem like a positive, but Bethesda knew that a dreary, post-apocalyptic world isn't exactly a joy to traverse. So they kept Fallout 3's world compact, and kept it interesting. New Vegas' expansive desert is just...boring. And when you're forced to trudge over rocks and dirt for up to 10-15 minutes at a time on a quest, it becomes really boring.
OK, stuff's busted, but what if I don't care about any of that? Is it more Fallout 3? Yes. This is basically an enormous expansion pack to Fallout 3. The interface, the menus, even many of the textures that the buildings and "dungeons" are made of come straight from Fallout 3. The missions feel the same. The characters feel the same. Many of the items and weapons you'll find are the same. You like Fallout 3? This is more of that. You'll love it.
And the nuts and bolts? Mechanically, this is an improved game over Fallout 3. Tweaks made to the VATS targeting system and the game's "iron sights" shooting perspective make combat more enjoyable. You can now craft your own modified weapons and food/chems, which is a fun little distraction. The main quest also felt like it took a lot longer to complete (over 20 hours), though this is padded by some ridiculous fetch-questing late on. There's also a "hardcore" mode that promises to truly recreate a wasteland experience by forcing the player to eat, drink and heal properly, but it's too leniently implemented to be as satisfying as the name suggests.
Like Obsidian's other big-name sequel - KOTOR 2 - Fallout: New Vegas is a divisive game. So much remains of what made Fallout 3 special, from the ridiculous cast to the joy of exploration, that there will be many willing to overlook all the bugs and glitches in favour of the weight of content that lies beneath. Those who were hoping for more than a mission pack to a 2008 game built on a busted 2006 engine, however, may find new Vegas to be quite literally a wasteland.
Fallout: New Vegas was developed by Obsidian Entertainment and published by Bethesda for the PC (version played), Xbox 360 and PS3. Retails for USD$60. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Completed main quest as a man with a beard who liked to shoot first and ask questions of the dead later.