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Fallout: New Vegas
Reviewed for: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
From: Obsidian Entertainment/Bethesda
Softworks ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and
gore, intense violence, sexual content,
strong language, use of drugs)
By Billy O'Keefe
The Vegas strip in "Fallout: New Vegas" is minuscule compared to the vast Nevada wasteland that surrounds it, but because it's the only place in the whole region that sparkles like nuclear war never happened, it beams in the horizon for miles from any direction.
When you spot it for the first time in your travels, "Vegas" doesn't break from the action with a cutscene or make any fuss whatsoever. Like everything else in a "Fallout" game, it's just there, and players will spot it in ways and under circumstances that are organic and unique to the story they've spun for themselves up to then.
Such staggering freedom is what made the highly imperfect "Fallout 3" a cherished game in 2008, and while "Vegas" rarely improves on those imperfect things, its reverence for discovery — and the terrific stories it tells to complement that reverence — make it a must-play for "Fallout" fans.
Enjoying the journey isn't as simple as it should be, because "Vegas" restores nearly every shortcoming from "Fallout 3." If you didn't like the menu interfaces then, you won't like them now. A new iron sights view barely enhances the clumsy first-person shooter controls players hoping for a transformation on the level of "Mass Effect" to "Mass Effect 2" should stop hoping —and the third-person perspective remains comically useless. Friendly and enemy A.I. is spotty as ever, the graphics that looked old in 2008 look older now, and despite the cross-country scenery shift, everything from lock-picking to computer hacking functions exactly as it previously did.
Also returning: bugs. "Vegas" is a monstrous game that gives players free reign over a ton of variables, so the appearance of bugs isn't a surprise, but gaming forums are flooded with reports of graphical glitches, malfunctioning quests, escalating load times and crashes that sabotage progress and damage save files. Your mileage may vary — the game didn't crash once during the course of this review — but if you're skittish about the prospect of losing progress to crashes, best to wait for the patch Obsidian has stated is forthcoming.
Few games with that many issues would merit recommendation, but when "Vegas" is doing what "Fallout" does best, it's hard not to love it anyway. The Mojave Wasteland is so big that players can complete the main storyline without experiencing a full three-quarters of the characters, towns and secrets hidden off the main road. Just as was the case in "Fallout 3," many of "Vegas'" best moments lie here, and the game applies a level of storytelling care to even the most trivial area that surpasses what most games' main quests receive. More than 100 hours' worth of discovery lie in wait, and "Vegas" allows players to tick them off with whatever methods — combat, stealth, science, reason — they prefer.
In fairness to Obsidian, "Vegas" doesn't completely neglect to improve the "Fallout" formula. The ability to create medicine from picked plants nicely recalls Bethesda's "Elder Scrolls" games, and "Vegas" allows seasoned shooters to craft ammo and purchase new ammo variants and weapon upgrades. Educational magazines, which offer temporary but significant attribute boosts, allows players of one discipline to briefly reap the benefits of another. And a new Hardcore mode — which, among other factors, introduces hunger and sleep deprivation and limits how much ammo one can carry by applying weight to every bullet — should appeal to players who want the full wasteland wanderer experience.
(c) 2010, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.