The Litmus Test is a feature I employed earlier this year when evaluating Final Fantasy XIII, as I was unsure that I would find the time to complete a long and involved role-playing game. Most of the titles I've engaged with this year have been action games and shooters, meaning that I haven't had to revisit this means for passing judgement (ha!) on longer experiences. With the arrival of Fallout: New Vegas, I am selfishly looking for a new way to put the latest instalment of this storied franchise to bed, and move on with my life.
Fallout: New Vegas is a wasteland. I know it's set in a wasteland, but from a gameplay perspective, New Vegas is desolate, unforgiving, and almost completely unrewarding. I have so far invested nearly 14 hours, finished several quests, dinged level 13, discovered about 40 locations, and hated almost every second of it.
I could make a redundant observation and state that New Vegas is too similar to its predecessor, or that the main quest isn't as compelling as that found in Fallout 3; but that would barely be scratching the surface. It is an underwhelming game in its own right, not just when compared to the previous instalment.
Of the many reasons why Fallout: New Vegas manages to both anger and disappoint, the sound and quest design have provided the most frustration. The standard of voice acting in the latest instalment of the series fails to compare favourably to that of its predecessor. Fallout 3 featured the incomparable Liam Neeson in the role of your created character's father, and his paternal tone drove me to complete the central quest rather than engage in the various alternative pursuits that were on offer. While the supporting cast (save for Malcolm McDowell) didn't exactly match Neeson's star power, their competent performances belied the wooden nature of the character models that awkwardly mimed on screen. New Vegas failed to capture my attention from the outset of the adventure. Even Ron Perlman, who again reprises his role as narrator doesn't appear convinced that your meandering through the Mojave Wasteland is necessary. It got worse though, I got to sit through an ugly pre-rendered cut scene and several monotone conversations with the various residents of Goodsprings. You'd think that someone with a name like Sunny Smiles would convey a certain amount of warmth and excitement. But, you'd be wrong. Aside from the woeful voicework, there's an understated (almost non-existent) score and an array of recycled sound effects. New Vegas sounds as desolate as it looks.
The mediocre aural experience extends its impact to quests, as conversation is integral to almost all of the missions that you will undertake; and at times both of these elements work together to obliterate any sense of immersion. In the quest titled, "I Don't Hurt Anymore," Obsidian attempt to deal with the controversial topic of rape trauma. This is a very short side quest, but still I'll issue a spoiler alert. When helping a faction deal with 3 drugged-up psychos, I learnt that a combatant, Betsy had been raped by the fiend, Cook Cook. I spoke to her commanding officer to see if he could provide any tips for dealing with this villain. The conversation quickly led to Betsy's attack and the subsequent effect this had on her behaviour. Apparently, after the attack she took to flirting aggressively with fellow female soldiers and I was then asked to deal with this inappropriate behaviour (and in usual New Vegas fashion, this was delivered in a droll monotone). After speaking with Betsy's CO, I turned to the soldier sitting next to him to see if I could obtain any further details. That person it turned out, was Betsy. Betsy sat and listened to her superior desribe her brutal attack in explicit detail, and how her actions were now affecting her colleagues. Normally you would think these matters would be dealt with in a sensitive, and confidential manner. Once again, you'd be dead wrong. After fumbling through my conversation with Betsy, she admitted she had trouble and requested medical assistance. I went to see a neighbouring physician and booked an appointment for Betsy to complete the quest. There you go folks, Obsidian cures rape trauma in 3 conversations across 4 minutes. Personally, I found this cursory approach to such a heinous crime both baffling and offensive.
The problems with questing in New Vegas don't end there. Very few missions have involved compelling conversations or some of the elaborate set pieces found in its predecessor. Instead this instalment offers fetch quests punctuated by short conflicts with three to five opponents. The combat system has apparently been improved thanks to changes made to aiming/iron sights outside out of the VATS targeting mode. There's no denying that combat feels a lot smoother, but when VATS is so effective in the first place there seems little point in fighting outside of it. There have been few memorable missions, and fewer notable characters. I'll clarify that even further, the only notable character I've encountered is a robot named the Yes Man. The Yes Man is the only character that shows any sign of life, and he's a freaking robot!
The graphics engine that first debuted in the first person RPG classic Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion returns in Fallout: New Vegas with little sign of refinement. There is an abundance of pop-in, with mountains sometimes appearing mere footsteps before you reach them. It's the little things too, with masses of shrubs, debris, non-player characters (NPCs), and on the other end of the scale, entire buildings appearing before your very eyes, well after they should have. Character models are still as ugly and lifeless as they were in Fallout 3, except now the voicework is just as limp as the accompanying visuals. The creatures of the wasteland are equally visually uninspiring, at times looking as though they are covered in a Play-Doh veneer. Most upsetting of all, playing New Vegas has kept me from recent, visually spectacular titles like Vanquish and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. No more Obsidian. No longer will I grind in this visual hellhole.
Is it worth a shot?
It may be. It depends on how much you love the grind; the grind accompanied by lacklustre voicework and sound effects, ugly (UGLY) visuals and forgettable characters. One thing I should note, I did not boot up the game until after the first patch went live and I have not endured a single crash. When you consider that the majority of criticisms levelled at the title from the gaming media at large have to do with stability, it is probable that there may be something here you'll enjoy. If you haven't played Fallout 3 or Oblivion, then you may not tire as fast from the hours of meandering across the Mpjave Wasteland; still, acquire at your own risk.
Will I finish it?
Probably not. At least not anytime soon. With several blockbusters sitting around the house waiting to be played, New Vegas will have to wait.
Dutch Note: Please join the Unbearable Dutch Movember team by clicking on the Final Fight-flavoured link below. I hope you'll join my quest to improve the quality of life for men across the country.