Fallout: New Vegas
by Dan Hunt

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. If 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 say.

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 Oblivion 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 bin. 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 around.

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 lizard-people.

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 therapy sessions.

"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 packs.

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 once! Awesome!"

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 Mass Effect-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 this.

"Alright," Says the recorder. "I'm stopping here. First impressions are good. Maybe I was wrong about Obsidian."

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 a muttonstache.)

Pictured: Femininity

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 iron spikes.

"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 barrels!"

Shit was degenerating rapidly around me. I double-checked the box, making sure I hadn't inadvertently bought some kind of strange bug-test version. 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 widespread occurence.

"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! Fucking!"

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."

There was 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 lead pipe. 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.

The Fallout 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 dropped. 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 cautiously optimistic.

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 some shit. 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 Oblivion, 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.

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