Xbox 360
Fallout: New Vegas

Posted by Tom Chick (October 21, 2010)

I should warn you this is going to be a bumpie ried. If I were to write a review the way Obsidian has made Fallout: New Vegas, ev

I should warn you this is going to be a bumpie ried. If I were to write a review the way Obsidian has made Fallout: New Vegas, I'd just stop typing every so often. Then you'd have to

If I were to write a review the way Obsidian has made Fallout: New Vegas, I'd just stop typing every so often. Then you'd have to back up and read the same bit agin. And then I'd get half way in and just stop writing.

But let's back up for a little bit. Let me show you how this review would have worked if Fallout New Vegas had actually worked. I would have spent a good deal of time talking about the new Mojave setting, and the hardcore mode, and the companion system, all of which are welcome additions in this smartly iterated version of the Fallout 3 formula. It might have gone like this:

At first, the world of Fallout New Vegas feels mostly like the world of Fallout 3, but with a slight palette shift towards brown and the Old West. But as you work your way into the New Vegas area, Obsidian's world building prowess really shows. New Vegas is no mere single location. It's a lively sprawl of communities, consisting of the Westside suburbs, industrial ruins where the raiders have taken up residence, the NCR's military presence at the McCarren Airfield, the hipster cool Freeside, and The Strip at the center of it all, like a shining jewel. The Strip is a vibrant and colorful place with gaudy neon signs powered by the Hoover Dam. It sports an iconic spire visible from almost anywhere in the game. It'll probably be at least ten hours before you actually get to this area. But from the get-go, you'll know it's there, especially at night. What a fantastic slice of world design.

When you first start playing New Vegas, piecing together your character's stats, traits, and perks, the game throws down the gauntlet when it asks if you want to play in the new hardcore mode. This is independent of your choice of difficulty level, and it's really not that hardcore. Instead, it's mostly a layer of extra busywork for managing hunger, thirst, and sleep. This adds survival flavor, but it's not terribly challenging given the abundance of food, drink, and shelter in this wasteland. Given a little time, all things can be yours. What's more, like Fallout 3, there's no meaningful economy in New Vegas, so you can easily buy what you can't find. This is particularly true given a card game called Caravan, which is a far easier source of money than any of the gambling in New Vegas. Since the AI doesn't seem to understand the rules, Caravan might as well have been called "Leech Lots of Money from NPCs".

But what's significant about hardcore mode is how it affects combat. Healing potions stimpacks in the world of Fallout take effect over time instead of instantly. This mean you can't power through any encounter by stockpiling stimpacks. You have to stay alive long enough for them to take effect. This change forced me to do something in New Vegas that I don't recall ever having to do in Fallout 3: target something's legs. While fighting a supermutant whaling away on me with a cluster of rebar wrapped in barbed wire, I had to flee and take targeted shots at his legs so he couldn't catch up with me. This bought me enough time for the stimpacks to take effect. In Fallout 3, I would have just stood there shooting him in the face while eating stimpacks like so many Tic Tacs. But New Vegas' hardcore mode gives the game more flavor and more tactical variety.

The companion system also gets an overhaul since Fallout 3, where someone tagging along with you was often more trouble than he, she, or it was worth. Obsidian makes up for this trouble partly by attempting a new interface. It doesn't help much. I would gladly trade the "companion wheel" for a simple "you go there" button. But they mostly make up for the trouble by attaching a valuable perk to each companion, usually in a way that gives the companion even more personality. The companions also have stories that are cleverly woven into the game, sometimes in surprising ways.

Furthermore, if New Vegas worked, I would also talk about how well the story unfolded, the new faction system, the generous range of activities and quests, and how well new elements of Fallout lore are explored. I would hope to have ultimately talked about whether there were any spectacular set pieces like the giant robot in Fallout 3, and whether it ended with something less contrived than Fallout 3's disappointing conclusion.

But I can't talk about those things, because Fallout New Vegas simply doesn't work. I'd estimate my Xbox 360 locked up maybe once every two hours. The problems started to progress from occasional freezes to recurring freezes in the same place. My last ten hours with New Vegas have been spent troubleshooting, or going back to replay from earlier saves in the hopes that I can somehow work around a crash. But my last problem has effectively brought the game to a screeching, inglorious halt. After investing forty hours in Fallout New Vegas, I've come to a point where there is no possible way to finish the game. Let me repeat that: There is no possible way for me to finish the game. The latest technical error locks up the game whenever I try to enter the Strip, which is not only where my companions are kept, but also where the story quest leads. This happens from more than ten separate saved games. Fallout New Vegas is dead.

So where does a review go from here? Wait for the patch? Assume the error will be fixed? Take a guess at how the game might have turned out? It's a tough call, but if you accept that a review is an expression of one person's experience at a specific moment in time, then you write the damning review I'm writing now. My intent isn't to suggest the same thing will happen to you. Odds are, it won't. Odds are you'll only have to deal with the lesser problems like physics glitches, occasional crashes, broken dialogue trees, erratic scripting, or corrupted saved games. You'll probably be able to work around these and have a grand time in New Vegas.

But I can't review that game, because it not the one I experienced. So this review, and the letter grade that follows, are based on my experience, over the course of forty hours, with a game so broken I literally cannot finish it. A game where a quarter of my time has been spent dealing with crashes, including one final fatal freeze. The game has slammed shut with a recurring black screen that may as well read "You shall not pass".

I could start over, but without some assurance that I won't be dumping my time into a sinkhole of incompetent game development, I don't intend to play New Vegas again. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

It's bad enough when something this egregious happens on a PC, where different players can have widely divergent hardware and driver configurations. But it's absolutely inexcusable that a game is released in this state on a closed system with a single hardware configuration, particularly when Microsoft supposedly submits finished games to a certification process. And it's particularly galling that a failure this colossal happens in a game that could have been as good as New Vegas.

Rating: 4/10

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