Fallout: New Vegas
Instead Of Making the follow-up to Fallout 3 themselves, Bethesda have handed the reins to a company built from the ashes of Black Isle, the series' creator: Obsidian. So, with Fallout's biological daddies back in control, will we get to see the original Fallout 3 - Van Buren - at last? Possibly.
Although New Vegas isn't a sequel to Fallout 3 in terms of its story - it's I set three years later, but there's no other links to the previous game - it's very much Fallout 3. It's still played from a first-person perspective, the VATS system still handles combat, and it's heavy on the talking. The big change is that the setting has been moved from the irradiated ruins of Washington D.C., to the utterly barren Mojave wasteland and the remnants of Las Vegas.
One of the first noticeable differences are clear blue skies. Unlike D.C., which had its skies contaminated by China's nuclear bombs, Vegas dodged the brunt of the attack and as a result is more weathered than obliterated. So you can expect to be momentarily distracted while clubbing a woeful, mutated freak to death by the odd stunning sunset.
You play a courier who delivers parcels across the wasteland (a hint someone at Obsidian is a fan of bad Kevin Costner movies). Unlike previous Fallout games, you're not a nameless Vault Dweller, so there's no protracted character generation. Instead, you begin the game by being shot in the head and dumped in a shallow grave. You're rescued by a friendly robot named Victor and taken to the town of Good Springs. From there you begin a quest to learn who tried to kill you and what was so valuable about the package you were carrying at the time.
One of the crucial additions to the Fallout mechanic in New Vegas is a proper taction system. As you walk through the wasteland killing and maiming, you'll have the opportunity to help or hinder various, often opposing, groups. You'll still have karma's all-seeing eye watching you, but now you can really stick the boot in and get off scot-free if the faction doesn't know it was you. Your standing with all the factions is tracked in your PTP-Boy, and will no doubt affect the ending you get once you've finished the game.
The other notable addition to the mechanic is a slight tweak to the conversation system. In the previous game, the only way to unlock extra conversation options was either a high Speech skill rating ora perk. In New Vegas, your skills can open up hidden dialogue avenues. As an example, when you arrive at Good Springs, the town is about to come under siege from a group of escaped convicts, and you have to convince the townspeople to help you equip for the forthcoming fisticuffs.
One of the suggestions is to try getting Easy Pete, a grizzled prospector, to give you some dynamite. If you have a high enough Explosives skill, the dialogue option that would ordinarily have been a clumsy attempt to dupe him becomes a line that demonstrates you know how to handle TNT - select it and you'll be able to talk him into giving you some. Similarly, the barter system doesn't just affect prices - if you can persuade the local store owner, Chet, that an attack will be bad for business, he'll give you some armour for free.
Beyond those two tweaks, it's the new setting that's the big draw. While Bethesda are keeping downtown Vegas under wraps, we got a tour of the Mojave Wasteland. Dominating the centre of the map is Black Mountain: a heavily irradiated area populated by supermutants and ghouls. This is where that you meet Nightkin: supermutants who've used Stealth Boys so much, they've gone bonkers. The other area we got a look at was the Helios One power station: an enormous solar array controlled by the New Californian Republic. It transpires they've let a moron called Fantastic take charge of the station and, as yet, he's been unable to get the plant back up and running.
If you've got the relevant talents, you can jemmy everything back online and divert the power to whichever corner of the Wasteland you see fit, giving you the chance to aid the crooks who run Vegas' Strip or poorer folk in Fremont. The Helios One's solar beam can also be used as a weapon. Naturally having an enormous beam from space turning their guards into blackened scorch marks winds up the NCR.
So far there's little in New Vegas that feels completely new. But when all most people want is more Fallout3, it's hardly surprising that Obsidian are making something that feels comfortably familiar - like an old armchair. But while they might not be making a classic Fallout title, we don't doubt it'll be faithful to the universe and stuffed with knowing references for hardcore fans.
By Vegas standards, Bethesda may be taking a safe bet, but it's also a safe bet that we'll love it.
Obsidian Is Not the same company that once had to give up its Van Buren baby.
After the apocalypse that hit Interplay and Black Isle, the plucky survivors that went on to form Obsidian have evolved, producing sequels to classic games highly regarded for their stories, yet notorious for bugs.
Neverwinter Nights 2 and Knights of the Old Republic II are both members of this generously adopted family. Alpha Protocol is Obsidian's difficult and awkward new birth, from a mother who possibly wasn't sure she could still have babies. Stretching this family metaphor ever further is Fallout: New Vegas - the glorious prodigal son.
This is a chance for Obsidian to realise some of their old intentions. The Van Buren Tech Demo, which was released in 2007, has entered the group consciousness of hardcore Fallout fans as a non-canonical extension of the lore. References to factions such as Caesar's Legion being surprisingly fleshed out for a group that didn't appear in the games.
The respect for the original games, and Obsidian's proven ability to produce sequels, makes their partnership with Bethesda seem natural, if not inevitable. And it's certainly giving the surviving members of the Black Isle team a chance to get that Van Buren lore promoted to the official canon...
Fallout: New Vegas is set three years after the water purification ending of Fallout 3, only this time, you're on the opposite coast. There's no overlap with Fallout 3, no GTA Episodes self-referencing, because this isn't the same city: New Vegas tells a whole new story on the other end of America.
The location is less desolate, as the deserts of Nevada seemed like a waste of a good nuclear missile. As a result, we see Vault 21 converted into a leisure location, the elaborate structures of Vegas remain intact, and there's enough electricity to waste on slot machines. There's even a clear blue sky. Our new hero - whoever he or she turns out to be in your hands - is a courier, shot in the head before making a delivery. Left for dead, but picked up by a doctor, the character creation scenes take place in his surgery. You won't have to go through the enjoyable - but perhaps overlong - introduction of Fallout3, where you lived the first 19 years of your life in instalments. The GOAT exam has been replaced with word association tests and Rorschach blot analysis. So you can respond to a butterfly with "a big explosion" and get advised to put your skill points in heavy weapons.
First up in the new hands-on, and we're given a tour of Las Vegas' Strip. It's not the Strip you might know and love from CSI. Fallout's world serves up a Vegas stuck in the '50s - slightly more polite (at least on the surface). Granted, there are three girls enjoying themselves in a fountain. I'm assured that the rather oddly posed girls haven't been finalised yet, but it's safe to say: Bethesda's engine has a way to go before it convincingly reproduce Girls Gone Wild videos.
There are four casinos and the converted Vault 21. We head into Tops Casino to play blackjack, roulette and slots. It sounds fun, but videogame casinos are never as much fun as the real thing. We chat to the owner, who's looking for entertainment, and accept a mission as a talent agent But we don't have time, as I'm told to go on a trip. So, I'm warped to Novae. That sounds hopeful. 'Novae' sounds like it's named after a sense of hope, technology, and aspiration. A spirit of can-do rebuilding and unity. As 1 walk up the barren hill to get there, the real reason for the name becomes clear: it's less of a town, more of a motel where the No Vacancies sign has been vandalised. When we see the sniper sitting in a dinosaur's mouth, it suddenly becomes a little less welcoming. Even if the dinosaur is called Dinky.
Novae is guarded by two men, who take it in turns to sit in the mouth of the 20ft high wooden dinosaur. Dinky faces the Vegas Strip we've just warped in from, and although this motel is free of faction allegiances, we can pick out x more points of interest in our surroundings. Camp Forlorn Hope nestles up a hill and to the East. A bit West, and we've got Camp Nelson, operated by Caesar's Legion and their boss, Dead Sea. Then there's the mostly defunct power plant, Helios One.
I'm told somewhere around here is a town dominated by strong mutants, and ruled by a transvestite called Tabitha. Intrigued, I ask whether she's one of the camp ones, and whether she's a mutant herself. I'm told to imagine Elton John in his hey-day, which I take as an emphatic yes to both questions.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. First off, I'm checking out that 20ft dinosaur. There's a door in Dinky's left flank, which opens into a gift shop. It's manned by Manny Varga, a whining, sphere-headed moustache of a man, whose attention is focussed on his plush Dinky mementos. With some conversation, you can get him to open the rest of his stock to you, which includes - usefully - guns, stimpacks, and ammo. The dinosaurs, it turns out, are free. Manny Varga is a bad businessman.
A staircase leads up to the left, and we join Craig Boone at his outpost. His wife is missing, he says. She's been taken, sold. She's dead. It's a strange scenario that no-one will explain to me: why would you buy someone you're going to kill? Corpses make terrible slaves. They're notoriously lazy.
Nevertheless, my position as an outsider makes the paranoid Boone trust me. We make a deal. I'll find out who did it, and take him or her in front of the dinosaur during Boone's shift. I'll wear his beret - that's the code to tell him to shoot. As you'd expect from Fallout, this could go a number of ways. Boone's put me in a position of trust, and trust is there to be abused.
I could invite anyone I want dead out there, put on my hat, and they'll get sniped to bits. That's assuming I've got the verbal skills to convince Boone it was the right person afterwards.
I decide to take the noblest route, and find out who really did it. This involves talking to everyone. It's not my ballshaped friend in the gift shop. And it doesn't appear to be Boone's patrolling partner, although he confesses to disliking Boone's wife. I log onto his terminal to make sure, but it contains nothing but a story-building email: nothing incriminating. Jeannie May Crawford, the keeper of the motel, protests her innocence, too. But I notice a safe behind her counter, and wait for her to go to bed before doing what spies do - rummage around in her shit. I find one record of an exchange of money for one wife. We've got our bitch.
Having gone through due process, the options to get Boone to join my gang are all plain sailing. If we hadn't found the evidence, he'd have been appalled at our disregard for justice. If I'd been dismissive, and said I did it just because I didn't like bi her, he'd have come at me with that sniper rifle.
Blit Boone is on my team now, so my choice of where to go next is limited. He's a dyed in the wool New Californian Republic dude, he lives for the two-headed bear. If we head over to the Caesar's Legion Fort Nelson, his shameless NCR regalia will be enough reason for them to open fire on us. So, it's over to Fort Forlorn Hope.
It Ain't Butlins
It's not in great shape. The ongoing skirmishes between themselves and Nelson are creating heavy casualties, and those that aren't dying from severed everything are starving to death. Major Polatli is pacing the largest tent. His moustache is fuller, prouder and altogether more deliciously military than gift shop guy, and he needs help. His missions take us into the path of combat, which gives me a chance to experiment with the new companion radial. New Vegas gives you the chance to take more control of your teammates. So, I could tell Boone to hang back while I investigate the Caesar's Legion camp, tell him to switch from melee to ranged weapons, stay passive, or plunder his inventory or equip him with guns.
First, we're despatched to Quartermaster Hayes, who informs us of a few rations that have been lost by the Helios One power plant This is a spot of location foreshadowing - we won't get into Helios One at this stage, but it's a big building, and at some point, we'll get her back up and running. How will we use it? Will we use it to boost our standing with the factions? Use it for the common good? Or, as one of the screenshots shows, use it to power a devastating space weapon?
Karma still exists alongside a new faction system, so your choices may affect you in more ways you're used to. Secondly, we have to help out the doctor. He's a bit brusque but lie's soon won around with our conversational skills. This is another feature: we don't charm him using a generic Speech skill, we convince him we're the man for the job using our Medical skill. It makes sense: all the charisma in the world won't help you chat knowledgeably to a doctor if you don't know what an appendix is. And more importantly, it makes sense in terms of role-playing skills. The explosives expert might not let you near his bomb unless you can demonstrate a knowledge of what does and doesn't blow up. So, while the good doctor goes for a walk around, I tend to his patients. There's comedy here - one guy's amputation goes slightly too well, with the amputation of an unexpected limb -but I imagine things could be even funnier if I wasn't such a damn good doctor. I'd have liked to have left behind a room full of mutilated guys and some apologies on Post-It notes.
The Major's final request brings the game's new factions to the forefront. In Fallout 3 and its downloadable content, your standing with certain groups was never made explicit. You knew your behaviour was somehow going to be remembered, but nothing ever popped up to say "The Brotherhood Of Steel Are Now Fond Of You". Now, they do.
Reaching A Head
Whether that's a good thing or not depends on your taste: I'm not keen on too many hidden statistics, and I'm willing to sacrifice the illusion of humanity for another set of numbers to manipulate. You might disagree, and you'd probably be a more complete human if you did.
I'm also encouraged to try out the new melee attacks. Up-close combat wasn't terribly compelling in vanilla Fallout 3, but most of the intimate weapons now have a unique option in the VATS system - you can aim it at a certain limb, as usual, or choose that weapon's special attack. The 9 iron has "Fore!", which lets you take a powerful, slow swing at your enemy - and it's perfect for taking out the enemy's dogs. It's strange - I'm a dog lover, so I tend to hate it when I'm asked to shoot one. But hitting them in the face with a golf club don't bother me at all. Perhaps I'm more of a monster than I thought.
So, will you be able to win the affections of both factions? It doesn't look like it. We've gone from tolerated to hated with Caesar's Legion in just a few minutes and a handful of kills. Grow a pair and choose a side. It looks like you'd be wise to choose a side and stick to it, or be hated by both teams.
For those who enjoy being punished, a new hardcore mode will faithfully recreate the scorching desert heat, forcing you to stay hydrated in the scorching desert heat. It's the final tweak to a familiar template that'll please those determined to wring one last play out of the game.
New Vegas is also a chance for those die-hard Fallout fans to see what happened to their Black Isle dreams. For these people, and everyone else, New Vegas will be a sizable slice of story cake, from people who've waited seven years to tell their tale.
Download Fallout: New Vegas
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode