Before anything else can be said, let's make
something clear; I fucking love me some Fallout.
There's not a damn thing I don't like about roaming
vast Californain wastelands, shooting fools and
mutants. There's not a damn thing I don't like about
waltzing around the ruins of national monuments, a
jaunty fifties tune playing as I shotgun ghouls down
with surgeon-like precision.
I fucking love me some Fallout, and if that makes me
disturbed or ill-adjusted, then, well...fuck you, you
god-damn firework-pissing fun-Nazi.
Might as well stick this in your front yard, Adolf.
Now, for some background. No, I can't just get
straight into talking about New Vegas
there's one thing that I've proved (and there isn't),
it's that I fucking love to hear what I've got to
I'll be the first to admit that I was tense as the Fallout
franchise moved into Bethesda's hands. I'd witnessed far too many old and wonderful franchises turn to steaming cesspits already this century. (Not that Fallout did particularly well in the early 2000's) It was becoming clear to me that thinking
is an action falling swiftly out of
favor in this medium, and I feared that Fallout was going the same way.
So, hearing that Fallout 3 was to become an
FPS (and take place on the East Coast), I put on my
Moses-Robe and climbed a mountain with a staff in
order to make dire prophecies - for surely this could
only be the bastardization of a once-proud series,
the flipping of the switch onto the tracks where the gravytrain runs.
There were, after all, already enough generic
shooters on the market, and the amount of original ideas
between them was expressable in single digits.
I was sure that we were about to witness
Fallout follow them into finger-twitching
monotony. Terrifying visions came to me as I slept fitfully; Fallout deathmatches, corpse-humping, double-tapping, people whining and crying because you shot them (Here's a hint, fella; Don't play a competetive shooter if you don't like being shot
), memorizing weapon spawn points...)
Perhaps it was because my expectations were so low, or
perhaps it was because it was a wonderful breath of
fresh air into the same engine that I was sure
had charted the limits of, but
Fallout 3 dropped me stright into the
post-apocalyptic wastelands of America as easily as any of its
predecessors. One thing I won't soon forget was
emerging from the vault for the first time. The short
walk through that tunnel and into the light told me
more than half an hour of clumsy dialogue could have.
In short, Bethesda delivered on their own high
standard. Perhaps if other software houses took as
long between releases as Bethesda do, they wouldn't
be shitting high-def abortions into stores just in
time for every Christmas, barely distinguishable from
last year's stock which resides in the nearby bargain
The future of Fallout looked good; we were
over those colossal fuck-ups from the early 2000's,
and into new waters. Bethesda appeared to want to
hold onto the franchise, and those guys don't fuck
Naturally, when I heard that my next incursion into
the retro-post-apocalyptic nuclear wastelands (that aren't as stupid as that sentence made them sound) was to
be in and around Las Vegas, my usually-joyless mind
lit up with glee and anticipation . The series has
always toured iconic American landmarks, and I could
only imagine the fun both players and developers were
going to have with the capital of vice.
Then, I found that it was being developed by Obsidian
Entertainment. It was hard to forget their endlessly
spiraling quest chains from Neverwinter Nights 2. For
those who missed that one (congratulations), they
looked like this.
A wants you to collect F, which is in the possession
of B. B, however, will not part with F until you
fetch E. E is being held by C, who need their sacred
D before they could ever possibly render E unto you.
By the time you've picked up the sacred D, you've got
no idea what this fucking game is about and why
you're in the swamp, talking to the fucking
Seriously, dude, you're interrupting our ritual lizard-orgy. Not cool.
And you know what else? This will be relevant later; Obsidian were behind KotOR 2, which was so fucking bug-ridden in its initial release (you know, the one you paid for) that you wanted to break into their offices with a bible and a gun and just put fear into people.
Despite this, I still went out and bought
the fucking thing as soon as it was out.
I knew full well what I was getting into, so I kept a
tape recorder handy, just in case I felt the
overwhelming urge to rave at something.
Playing it back sounded like the amateur recordings of a series of shock
"Day one," It says. "Hour one. Here we
are...Mojave desert, nuclear wasteland...that fucking
doctor wasn't much creepy. He probably fucked me
while I was out. Shit, what kind of mutated STD's do
they got out here?"
It was Fallout in all its glory; a barren
wasteland, ravaged by nuclear holocaust and hundreds
of years of neglect. It looked just as crisp as its
predecessor, but the contrast between the Capital
Wasteland in 3 and the Mojave Desert in New
Vegas couldn't be more apparent. The Capital
Wasteland was a vast expanse of grays, browns and
rust, pale and weak colors. The post-nuclear heart of
America was a bleak place to live, an unending
struggle for survival.
Ask this guy, he knows how it is.
The Mojave, however, is still vibrant with color.
Oranges, reds and yellows cover the land, spread
across rolling hills and desert flatland, splashing
at the sides of cliffs and canyons. My immediate
impression was that this was some kind of message on
the designers part - even a nuclear winter and the
destruction of human civilization as we know it could
not defeat the desert. When all of our makeshift
kingdoms and ephemeral monuments fade into the dust,
the tide will still beat on the rocks, and the air
will still whip up the sands, and the freakish
mutated animals will still roam the land in murderous
See this shit? This is why they're worried about the radiation from the Fukushima reactor. They still have live dragons in Japan, you know.
Also interesting is that in the Fallout
universe, humans exposed to excessive radiation
become ghouls, sterile and quite literally falling
apart (yet with extended lifespans, somehow), but
animals and insects become gigantic and badass. They
apparently mutate and thrive in whatever new and
irradiated environment our fucking about throws at
them, but humans cling to the rituals of their
forefathers, trying to live as men and women of
better times have.
The message seemed clear to me (but I'm probably just
a colossal shitfucker); humanity has made a long and
vigorous effort to adapt its surroundings to itself,
but when society crashes to a stop, creatures that adapt themselves to their surroundings will fare better.
"Day one..." The record proclaims. "Hour
three. Wait, this is Primm? I drove through Primm
There were all kinds of additions to the game this
time around. I'd thought for a moment that New
Vegas was simply an expansion that had found the
nards to stand on its own, but there were all kinds
of arguments against that. Weapons mods to be hunted
down, reputation with factions to be monitored,
companions to be wooed - who, best of all, now have a
-style command wheel, turning them
from meatshields and bag-handlers into useful,
productive allies. Mostly.
I could even break down ammunition to its base
components and turn them into something useful,
though I quickly stopped doing this. Too long looking
at the menu; I wasn't saving myself any caps by doing
"Alright," Says the recorder. "I'm stopping
here. First impressions are good. Maybe I was wrong
Oh, you poor, naive bastard.
I came back to it at the earliest possible
convenience. "Day two, hour one," The recorder says,
clearly excited. "Gotta get me up in some of that
power armor...what? My save...is corrupted? FUUUU~"
Yeah. This is just the tip of the fucking iceberg. I
walked away in disgust, telling myself that I should
return the fucking thing, but both myself and
everyone else I raved at knew I wouldn't.
"Day four, hour one...let's start this
fucking thing again." I rushed right into it;
alternating between three saves, skipping all the
dialogue, wanting nothing but progression. I'd been on the
verge of serving some hurt to some gang members in
Primm, and I was eager to get back to it.
"Day four, hour four..."I said, hours later.
"Why...why, god, why, is this fucking...sniper-guard-asshole not
coming up to the giant fucking dinosaur?"
Before I'd even had a chance to become exhausted with
the endlessly circular quests, I had become exhausted
with the bugs, glitches, freezes and crashes and all
points in between.
Things were falling through terrain, getting stuck
behind rocks, bouncing off into the air, disappearing
entirely, and I'm god-damn sure that throughout all
of this, my male character was using a female
soundset. That, or Geddy Lee was the voice actor.
(Yes, I am sure that I picked a male - I was sporting
Loading screens began to lengthen, and the framerate
dropped alarmingly. The 360 sounded like it was
trying to imitate a wind-tunnel, so I decided to call
it a day before anything caught fire.
"Day five, hour one. Let's see if this damn
thing wants to work today. Save's not corrupted,
that's good...360 isn't trying to go into meltdown,
we're all set to~wait, why are the clouds block red?"
The game was broken; there was no denying it. I fast
travelled back to the giant dinosaur to see if I was
allowed to advance the main quest yet, but a pack of
giant scorpions had me half-dead as soon as the
loading screen disappeared.
I felt unreasonable for loathing the game, but I
couldn't say why. It's irresponsible in the extreme
for anyone involved in a game's creation to unleash
it on the general public in this state.
Still, I battered away at it, enduring my character's
arms flickering above my head, weapons refusing to
reload as deathclaws fucked me, still grunting and
squealing with a distinctly female voice.
Coaxing the damn thing to work recalled the days of
DOS, in which no less than seven voodoo rituals were
required (per game) to see so much as a start screen.
Would the neighbours complain if I began to sacrifice
chickens? Probably, and of course, once it emerged
that it was for a dreaded videogame, the police and
PETA would string me up like a hide and batter me with
"Day five...hour two." I said later.
The game had managed to do something quite incredible
and inflict the imaginary rigors of the wasteland on my actual body
without leaving the couch. "Jesus Allah fucking
Christ!" I exclaimed. "That woman and her dogs just
fell outta the fucking sky, and it's raining
Shit was degenerating rapidly around me. I
double-checked the box, making sure I hadn't
inadvertently bought some kind of strange bug-test
I called a friend, one that I had ensared onto the
Fallout wagon after I loaned him 3, to see if his
experience differed. I was sure it wasn't; unless I
was the unluckiest man in the world, this must be a
"Link," I greeted him. He's called 'Link'
because he resembles a young Brendan Fraser, rather
than an elf. "Did you pick up New Vegas
"Fuck yeah I did." He growled. "It's been
kicking me in the balls all weekend."
"Shit. I can't help but feel partially
responsible." I admitted.
"Well, you should. 3 had its problems, I'll
give you that, but this shit is so bad it's unreal. I
gave up about a half-hour ago. I can't get into Vegas
without a certain kind of hat, and the camera's
constantly blurry...blue fucking sky, invisible
shit...no signs of life. Goddamn shit raining outta
the sky...fucking meshes! Fucking eyeless dogs!
It was insane rambling from a man too enraged to
utilize language, but I understood every word of it.
I, too, rode that wavelength, and I responded in
kind. Mine was a lengthy and wandering discourse that
need not be repeated; we touched upon matters of
New Vegas, Obsidian Entertainment, quality
control and the administration's foreign policies. he
agreed with every last word as I transcended language
and wailed a cacophony of hate and despair down the
receiver, bleeding bad words from the mouth like some
kind of derelict anti-pope.
"It takes," I muttered an hour later.
"Monumental effort, by and number of, uh, parties, or
people...to dissuade you from something that you
just, well, want to like...so damn bad. If I could
ignore the broken down parts, which at the time of
recording, is most of it. If I could ignore 'em...I
think there's a good game buried here, alongside the
bodies of whatever schmucks, fuck-ups, and, uh,
shysters that should have bug-tested it. As it
is...fuck Obsidian. Those cynical bastards deserve to
work in retail for the rest of their days. No, I
don't mean that...but fuck 'em."
a good game buried here, somewhere,
I was sure of it. Still am, in fact. The same sense
of scale (and of your own insignificance next to it)
is present in the Mojave as you felt in the ruins of
Washington D.C; the same sense of savage, senseless
violence, fear and distrust, horror and sickness.
The unwary die fast in any part of America post-2077.
You might wander off into the desert, confident that
your shotgun and cowboy hat will deflect all of the
world's harms, enjoying the music and the sights.
Before you even know what the fuck just happened,
you've got vicious mutant motherfucker flies all over
your shit, up in your grill, giving you beef. They
will fuck your shit up, and even if you manage to gun
them all down, their poison will still leave a set of burning, gaping
chasms where your organs once were.
I found myself staggering back to town every now and
then, low on medical supplies and ammo, convinced
that I would be safe in New Vegas.
But there is no rest in the wasteland; around every
corner there is something waiting to put the eternal
fear into you.
That'll do it.
The remnants of civilization give no shelter,
however. Obsidian, for all their failings, have made
a good effort to make the city of New Vegas act
appropriately to its setting.
The people here will screw you. They will see you as
a meal ticket, or even just a meal. They'll trick,
lie and beguile you, ambush, trap and generally fuck
you around. Sometimes they'll even charge you with a
People don't seem too bothered when you unload a few
rounds on your attackers, and it only tells you more
of the kind of place New Vegas is (or that Obsidian
couldn't be fucked to code it, your call); bystander
syndrome has exploded here, becoming bystander
culture. There's no time for moral or ethical
consideration out here; survival becomes all the
justification anything needs - the series has always
tried to make that point. Moral rewards rarely go
with monetary ones.
series has always had the ability
to convey large meanings with small details. The
skeletons of children cower on beds with stuffed
animals in their arms, telling you everything you
could need to know about their lives as the bombs
The skeleton in the office block toilet cubicle with
the belt around one arm and the empty syringe next to
him probably didn't even feel the bombs go off,
didn't notice the end come.
Minor details like these, when taken as a whole, can
make a good game great. Details that do not intrude
on you, forcing you to notice them, hidden cracks in
the fourth wall or cryptic messages - they conspire
to make imaginary worlds feel deliberate and true.
The more obscure, the better; you're convnced you've found something special, something just for you.
I found little of this here; environments seemed
empty and sparse. Was this a conscious design, or are
Obsidian just lazy and sloppy? I'll bet you know what
my answer is.
A few months later, I heard in passing that New
Vegas had received numerous bug fix patches, and
decided to give it another stab. I still couldn't
help but tell myself that I should've returned the
fucking thing - why should I pay for broken software?
- but since I was stuck with it, it seemed like the
only thing left to do.
Upon loading, I cautiously looked around. The sky was
the correct color. No barrels falling from it. My
companion wasn't floating six feet in the air. My
arms were below the camera, rather than above. For
once, all hell wasn't breaking loose, and I felt
Holy shit, the world hasn't collapsed!
Whatever patience I may have reserved for the game,
however, was long gone. Everything seemed to take too
long, there were too many loading screens, areas were
divided into small and annoying compartments. There
was nowhere that these problems were more apparent
than the Vegas Strip. As soon as you think of the
Strip, you think of a long god-damn road, with
casinos and hotels and people and all that jazz.
What you're given in New Vegas probably
wouldn't register as anything to do with Las Vegas
unless you were expressly told so. There are walls
made of ruined things at intervals (with loading
screens, natch), and at any given moment only a few
people stumbled about in no particular direction,
often going from sober to shitfaced in a matter of
seconds. This, and the scripted vomiting, was
apparently Obsidian's way of representing hedonism.
Obsidian, guys, give me a call - I can teach you
. Where I come from, that's not even a
regular week night.
The functionality of the map has been carried over
from Fallout 3, which in turn imported it from
, where it was still mostly useless
anyway. The thing was useless when it was young, and
another five years on it hasn't made anything better.
It isn't exactly high-end game design to have a map
that is coherent, and it's damn surprising that
no-one at either studio thought to make it work. The
half-map, half-spatterfuck thing we're left with
might even be a relic from the early days of the Elder Scrolls
series - I've long since lost my copy of Morrowind
Difficulty spikes that were only present in the higher levels of Fallout 3
have made their way to the forefront here; humans fall before your wrath like Stormtropers, but Obsidian apparently realized how poorly the AI performs in melee combat. To counter this, they gave every non-humanoid enemy a gross amnount of armor to prevent it being gunned down before it got a swing, sting or bite off. All this managed to do was turn every insect or animal fight into a gangfuck dickabout of running backwards and firing off rounds.
No franchise game is going to come to the table without bringing problems from previous iterations with it, but Obsidian seem to have been focused on adding to that pile.
Level design is uniformly terrible, misleading, dull and all around nonsensical. Perhaps I'm crazy (as if), but with Oblivion and Fallout 3, it only took a few dungeon crawls before I began to get a feel for the designer's style and habits. The layouts made sense - not to me, but to someone, and it was just a case of tapping into that foreign logic.
There is, of course, little logic in New Vegas
. Shit was scattered around absolutely everywhere, and you'd have to run through big rooms of absolutely nothing to get wherever it was that you thought the map was telling you to be (but probably wasn't). There was usually a needless loading screen, as well; did these people create new cells for single quest items? Could they not have used that time for, perhaps, ironing bugs out?
After a time, I found a difficulty setting in the menu while looking for aiming sensitivity. (Note - even set to maximum, the aiming sensitvity is still about as responsive as a corpse) It explained to me just what 'hardcore' mode was, and the possibilities lit up inside my head. Sleep cycles? Thirst? Hunger
Surely that was how the Mojave wasteland was meant to be tackled; thirsty, tired, running out of ammo, injured, and generally shitting yourself every time absolutely anything happens. Survival in this place should be hard; the first thought that should cross your mind when something moves on your screen should be 'oh god, oh god, oh god, how long ago did I save?'
All the 'hardcore' setting seemed to do, however, was add several gauges, make items less useful and ammo weightier. Were these enemies tougher? I couldn't tell; on any setting, killing certain things requires enough rounds fired as to make a solid lead full scale-replica of whatever it is you're trying to kill.
Hardcore mode began to bore me, so I shitcanned it. It was a shame; as I had read the description, a vision of a Fallout that adopted a 'survival of the fittest' approach had occured to me, and all I was left with was the busted-up, on-off again approach of a franchise still trying to find its feet in a new genre.
There was not much that I liked about it, I admitted to myself.
It seemed like that ratty kid that everyone knew back in school; the one that always hung around his tougher friend, or older brother, simply riding on the successes of people that could do anything, because he could do nothing.
I found myself just wandering around the strip, devoid of intent. I watched a soldier stagger into a corner and throw up some radioactive orange shit (I've eaten and drunk some fucked-up shit, but never projectiled orange. Pink, however...) and began to wonder why these soldiers were so intent on debauchery.
The answer was painfully obvious; they weren't hedonists, they were escapists. The dregs of humanity in the wastes of America c.2281 risk death, slavery, mutation and god knows what else just to secure water and food that's still far filthier than anything most of us have eaten in our lives.
What the hell were we doing in comparison? We, the players, were as much escapists, but we live in the lap of luxury, instead.
And there we sit, simulating hardship. When the bombs drop, we'll probably be the first to go.
Until that time, there's certainly better things to do than hang about New Vegas, the latest addition to the line of franchises that Obsidian has jet-blasted their unique brand of untested shit all over.