Cruising the wasteland strip in Fallout: New Vegas
The follow-up to one of 2008's best games provides more of what we've come to love from the Fallout series.
The follow-up to what many consider 2008's game of the year, Fallout: New Vegas takes place just a short time after the events of Fallout 3.
Does Fallout: New Vegas take the franchise in a new direction, or is the iteration simply a case of "same game, different setting"? We'll also be taking a look at the PC experience, thanks to the contribution of our desktop editor, Rich Brown.
While Fallout 3 was easily one of 2008's best games, Fallout: New Vegas doesn't seem to be attracting the same amount of hype. Perhaps it's because New Vegas is more of a shoot-off, rather than a numbered successor. Whatever the reasoning, New Vegas is a lot of what we remember from Fallout 3. In fact, looking specifically at gameplay, the two titles are nearly identical.
In the case of Fallout--and its loyal fans--this certainly isn't a bad thing. But if you were only a casual fan of Fallout 3 and are expecting the innovation and change that true sequels tend to offer, New Vegas won't supply that.
Instead, Fallout: New Vegas is able to deliver exactly what the franchise is known for: creating a compelling storyline and memorable cast of characters while remaining incredibly accessible. For gamers who have never attempted an RPG, Fallout 3 or New Vegas is definitely the one to get started on.
As we mentioned earlier, New Vegas shares a lot in common with Fallout 3. Unfortunately, though, this means the bugs are back. Occasional lock-ups and freezes aren't uncommon, but like with Fallout 3, these issues tend to get patched up quickly. To that end, New Vegas will also be getting the DLC treatment, with the first installment exclusively hitting the Xbox 360 by year's end.
With a holiday season that's gearing up to be one of the most underwhelming in some time, it's comforting knowing that Fallout: New Vegas is providing reliable backup.
Post-apocalyptic entertainment is like a security blanket more than a warning sign: We presuppose society's going to hell in a top hat, then luxuriate and mope in the overwhelming pathos of a world gone wrong. Fitting right into this decade's apocalyptic zombie chic is Fallout: New Vegas, a follow-up to Fallout 3 that's analogous to what Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was to GTA III. The locale has shifted to the sands of Nevada, lending the game a very Red Dead Revolver vibe, but the storyline and style make it feel like another much longer piece of Fallout 3 DLC.
I forgot how long it takes to sink into a Fallout game: Instead of streamlining events, you're left to discover many parts of the landscape (and your inventory) for yourself. It's an independent vibe that's largely left increasingly hand-holding console games behind. Nothing's utterly surprising about New Vegas, but its quality level is up to par with what any fan would expect, and that's very good news indeed.
The only question is, could Fallout aim higher and surprise more in the future? Fallout 3's reinvisioning of an old franchise was revolutionary, and we may have to wait a while before Bethesda makes a Fallout 4 that could match that level of surprise. However, in a holiday season that's painfully light on high-quality games, Fallout: New Vegas effortlessly rises to the top.
Real-time connection to the virtual world is what large-scale, open-ended role-playing game franchises such as Fallout and the Elder Scrolls do so well--combining the micro and macro for an experience that's focused on the moment, but simultaneously also very concerned on the big picture.
The gambling dens of New Vegas and its outskirts aren't as packed with clear and present danger as the zombie-filled casinos of Fortune City in Dead Rising 2, but the day-after-tomorrow vibe is similar--and it's become a curiously common one in current popular culture.
If anything, we live in an era of post-apocalypse-chic, with "The Walking Dead," "The Road," "The Book of Eli," and others reflecting a world worried by economic, political, and social upheaval (although the roots of socially conscious apocalyptica go back at least as far as 1959's "The World, the Flesh and the Devil"). After all, is there a more fitting metaphor for our tension-filled world than people literally eating each other?
Because if there's one thing the Fallout universe teaches gamers, it's that survival in the wasteland requires more selfless cooperation and less tribalism. And the game's greatest strength is in creating a sense that those relationships need to be nurtured (unless you're playing the game as an insensitive jerk, which is an amusing, but more difficult, option). Despite the sometimes oppressive grimness of the proceedings, it's that ultimately uplifting underlying idea that stands in stark opposition to the go-it-alone vibe of many games.
Rich (PC experience):
From a technical side, two things stand out from the PC version of Fallout New Vegas. One has to do with how you acquire the game, the other with actually playing it.
For the first, we're glad to see that Bethesda has moved on from Microsoft's Games for Windows Live service that it used to manage DRM and game updates for Fallout 3. Instead, New Vegas uses Valve Software's far less intrusive Steamworks.
With Microsoft's service, you would launch the game and then manage all of the logging in, updating, and other administrata from a Games for Windows Live pop-up that overlaid the main game menu. You might then need to restart the game, but in either case you were taken out of the experience. With Steam, you go through the main Steam client to launch the game, then you're ready to play.
We wish Bethesda had added support for Steamworks' cloud-based saved game storage to Fallout New Vegas that would let you pick up your game progress from any PC, but on the whole the experience of purchasing, downloading, and installing Fallout New Vegas is far more seamless in Steam than it was with Fallout 3 and Games for Windows Live.
In-game, we were impressed at the image quality and performance of Fallout New Vegas, particularly on a Dell Inspiron 14 laptop. Our configuration includes a 2.4GHz Core i5 520M CPU, 4GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 memory, and a 1GB ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5450 graphics card. That's no Nettop, and at the time of purchase the system cost just over $1,000, but we still anticipated having to drop the image quality to the lowest settings and choppy frame rates.
Instead, the game automatically set itself to medium image quality, and on our 1,366x768 resolution screen the game plays and looks great. The frame rates are flawless in outdoor environments and inside, textures look crisp, and we even have anti-aliasing dialed up to 4x.
If we had to guess the reason for our surprisingly smooth Fallout: New Vegas gameplay experience, it's that with so many titles coming to both PCs and game consoles, game developers have to focus on making their games look good on consoles that are now five years old in the case of the Xbox 360. As budget PC hardware has caught up to the quality of those console parts, PC gamers can play newer games with lower cost hardware, especially games made for multiple platforms.