An ambitious mutation of Fallout 3 hamstrung by outdated tech
Have you played Fallout 3? If so, then you'll like Fallout: New Vegas. The writing is better, there's more to do and a lot has been improved, but the actual minute-to-minute experience of playing it is identical - ﬂaws and all.
So while there are more weapons and ways to customise your character, combat is still ﬂimsy and inconsistent. The story and dialogue are better, but the characters remain impossibly ugly and stifﬂy animated.
NPCs (non-playing charactors) still occasionally sit beside chairs rather than on them - just one of a hundred dumb (but not game-breaking) glitches that have marred Bethesda's engine since it was ﬁrst used in Oblivion four years ago.
But none of this is Obsidian's fault. Considering what they've had to work with - ie. one of the most notoriously buggy game engines in the world - they've done a brilliant job breathing new life into Fallout's heavily stylised, post-apocalyptic America. The gameplay may be the same, but thematically this is a very different beast to Fallout 3.
Fallout: Las Vegas: The setting and background
The biggest change is to the wasteland itself. DC was mercilessly gloomy, veiled by grey clouds and dotted with pools of radiation. In comparison, the Mojave wasteland is relatively cheery, with piercing blue skies and vegetation peeking through golden sands.
It's still dangerous, of course - there are plenty of mercs and mutated animals running wild - but there's more to distract the eye as you trek through it.
It's a world ruled by factions. The biggest is the New California Republic, who have become the defacto government of the Mojave wastes. This means that, unlike Fallout 3 where the world was pocketed by disparate groups of struggling survivors, Mojave's population is part of an almost stable civilisation.
Their greatest rival is Caesar's Legion, whose hobbies include dressing like Roman soldiers and crucifying people. And you'll get to work for, or against, both - as well as other groups, including the iconic Brotherhood Of Steel...
How you interact with each faction determines your standing with them, from main players such as the NCR to small groups of mercenaries.
Betray them and you'll become their enemy, meaning they'll hunt you down or attack you when you enter their settlements. Help them and you'll curry their favour, opening up new quest opportunities.
Deciding who you work with and who you work against is one of the game's most entertaining features. You can also disguise yourself as a faction by wearing their uniform, but be careful; we strolled into an NCR camp forgetting we were wearing Legion armour and were instantly killed.
Fallout: Las Vegas: Gameplay
There's one thing the factions all have in common: the desire to own and control the New Vegas Strip. Even rushing through the main story quests, it'll take you ten hours to get there. It's the centrepiece of the game whose bright lights you can see glimmering enticingly on the horizon at night, wherever you are in the wasteland.
But when you ﬁnally get inside, you feel overwhelming disappointment. Because of the constraints of the technology (yeah, that again), the Strip doesn't feel like the bustling metropolis you've been promised - it's a series of wide, empty streets, littered with the odd NPC wandering around aimlessly.
The casinos are the same: in the background you can hear the ambient sound of people gambling, but when you look at the main ﬂoor, all you see are six people standing motionless by some slot machines.
But if you suspend your disbelief and ignore the game's technical shortcomings, New Vegas is still full of stand-out moments. Discovering the Brotherhood Of Steel's underground hideout and getting embroiled in the sinister political inner-workings of their organisation is a quest on a par with Fallout 3's best, with dozens of potential outcomes.
Then there's your eventual meeting with the mysterious Mr House, owner of New Vegas...
Fallout: Las Vegas: Conclusion
The driving force behind New Vegas is the story. The simple premise (you're a courier, you've been shot in the head, your package has been stolen - ﬁnd out who did it) builds up a nice sense of mystery, and Fallout's trademark blend of optimistic '50s pop culture and bleak nuclear destruction is as engaging as ever.
When you get to the bottom of why you were shot, the story loses some of its edge, but a bewildering variety of alternative endings ensures the ﬁnal few hours are rife with difﬁcult choices.
The combat is still annoying ("Why did it take ten headshots with a sniper riﬂe to kill that guy?"), but the addition of new weapons that you can customise and craft ammo for at least makes things a lot more varied.
New Vegas is disappointingly similar to Fallout 3, but the improved story and wealth of new content and features makes up for it - just.
Fallout: New Vegas is out now