It really is — there is no way we could possibly see everything the game has to offer and still meet deadlines and cover other games. New Vegas is like a vacuum, it sucks you in and refuses to let go. It is a beast of a game, brimming with content, exploration and objects to interact with. It's more than a game in many ways, it is an experience. It's an experience that demands time, that demands frequent involvement in a work-like manner. It is, in some ways, a chore. But it's the kind of chore that's different every time you do it. So vast is New Vegas' world, so varied are the cast of characters that it never really feels like you're repeating actions. Yes, you're confined to the mechanics of the game, but the world provides so much variety, so many options, that it never becomes repetitive. It puts you inside a cohesive, breathing world and asks you to explore it, tempts you to reveal its secrets.
The problem is that it's broken. Completely and utterly broken. The game is plagued with a catalogue of errors, inconsistencies and bugs (there are plenty of the shooting kind, but even more of the, "Oh, I just lost 20 minutes of gameplay," kind.) At the time of writing patches have been promised and re-promised for the game [a Fallout: New Vegas title update finally launched on 28th October, but after a short test we still found the game to have many of the issues listed in this review - Ed]. It's true that Obsidian and Bethesda's ability to fix their code post-release might supersede our review, but we can only inform you on the type of experience we had with the game. And it was, at times, controller-throwingly maddening. Aside from the general issues — y'know, like the way the frame-rate is so bad it decides to pause for half-a-second every few moments, and the way AI characters get stuck in geometry — Fallout: New Vegas has a wicked freezing problem. Over the course of this review our game locked up roughly 8-10 times, which is really below par, even for a game of New Vegas' ambition. The result is a game in which you panic everytime it stutters, and find yourself hovering over the "Save" command in the pause menu because you've lost progress before.
So we ask again, how do you review a game like Fallout: New Vegas? Do you ignore its technical shortcomings in order to recognise its creative vision, or do you overlook its ambitions to criticise the flaws? It's a balancing act, and one that's not been easy to manage. Fallout: New Vegas is a poor, poor piece of technology, but it also happens to be a brilliant game. And it's the latter that we think is important. Despite its issues, despite its creaks, wear and tear, it tells an interesting story, in a brilliant world with fantastic characters. And that really is the crux of this review. Fallout: New Vegas is brilliant, it's just heavily flawed.
The game puts you inside the shoes of a courier who's witnessed his own death at the start of the game. Kind of. While you'd think a bullet to the noggin would put you down, you end up waking up in a doctor's surgery, patched up and ready to get your revenge. New Vegas is very much a revenge story, though it obviously quickly opens out into so much more. There's so much narrative to Fallout: New Vegas it would take the size of a small novel for us to detail it, but we find it's probably best to experience it for yourselves. There are so many options, so many factors that affect the way the story is told that we'd do an injustice to your playthrough if we told you about ours. All you should know is that it's brilliant and definitely worth working through the issues to experience.
The game's built around the same engine as Fallout 3, and mechanically it is identical. The HUD, Pip-Boy and general controls and mechanics are exactly the same. There are some general tweaks — the new Hardcore mode brings the series more in-line with its RPG routes, and the engine finally supports a proper iron-sights mechanic. That aside, this could easily be considered a Fallout 3 mod. A good one, mind. But at its core, it is the same game.
It's impossible to factor a length to Fallout: New Vegas, mainly because we haven't seen it all ourselves. The main campaign could be finished in 30 hours, but it'd take upwards of 65 hours to see a reasonable chunk of what the game has to offer. There's easily 125 hours of content in this game, if not more.
Oddly, despite the vast array of Fallout: New Vegas' content, it's the game's cast that demanded our attention. The range of personalities, writing and the voice acting — through a vast cast of celebrity talent — is unmatched by any other game. The way the game introduces its cast, through a range of different factions, gives you real consequences and real choices to make. Do you sacrifice your relationship with one group of characters, in order to enhance it with another? Despite the game's fictional apocalyptic setting, these are choices we have to make in real-life. It's grounded and clever, and the personality of the cast add to the believability of the world.
Fallout: New Vegas' world is brilliantly engrossing. Unlike Fallout 3, it is more condensed, more focused and more interesting. Gone are the acres of barren land, and in its place are small settlements, buildings and general places of interest. It never feels like you're walking 10 minutes to get to the next piece of content. Everything's closer together and much more focused. That stops New Vegas from becoming repetitive. The game engine's mix of greys and browns don't relieve the depressing visual spectacle of the game — then again, this is the post-apocalypse — but New Vegas is a slightly more colourful world. The Strip is powered by electricity, and as such it glimmers with bright lights and large marketing banners. Not to mention the cultural references the game's setting plays. At one point you'll happen upon a faction known as the Kings. They're not sure why they wear leather jackets and talk with swagger, but apparently it has something to do with a guy from the "old world" known as The King. The entire game is littered with nods towards pop-culture, and you can tell there's a real reverence for the material that's gone into it.
There's so much to do in Fallout: New Vegas, it's very easy to start out on the path of one quest and end up running the errands of a handful more. It's the type of game where you get out what you're willing to put in. If you talk to characters, if you get involved in the world, the game will keep giving back, almost spamming you with objectives and giving you things to do. The quests are well designed too, as they give you context for exploration. The game guides you around the world, and while it's not necessary to play the game in that way (you can just go where-ever you want, and see whatever you want), some players require that direction and guidance to get to the best stuff. Fallout: New Vegas delivers on that front — the quests are interesting and the characters it introduces you to are always smart and well voiced.
The VATS system — Fallout's turn-based RPG mechanic — has always been awesome, and it remains relatively unchanged in Fallout: New Vegas. What has been tweaked is the game's general shooting mechanics. The introduction of iron-sights makes it much more involving to pepper dudes with lead outside of the VATS system. It's a small adjustment that adds a lot to the real-time nature of the gun-play. That said, the shooting mechanics are still poor, and feel really weak when compared to something like Borderlands.
Fallout: New Vegas is one of the worst looking games we've played all year. People can tout its scope, size and draw-distance as much as they like, the game looks horrific. Characters are lifeless (saved by their inherited voices and dialogue), textures are dirty, jagged and murky and the frame-rate is abysmal. We're not sure what the exact numbers are but we're sure our game dipped as low as 10FPS at some points. For those unaware — the industry standard is at about 30FPS, and Call Of Duty runs at 60FPS; so that's pretty damn poor then. But it's not just the frame-rate thats the problem, the game actually pauses periodically to catch up with itself. We're not talking a slight hiccup, we're talking full-on pauses for half a second or more. In any other game we scream about the odd drop from 30FPS, but Fallout: New Vegas runs like that all the time. And that's before you've even factored in the games catalogue of other bugs — the way NPCs simply get stuck in the environment, the way the game locks-up and crashes the PlayStation 3, the way objects literally pop into view when you're mere yards away from them. It's sub-standard, and no excuse for the game's ambition, scale, or context should make them acceptable. By the time you come to read this, Obsidian might have patched and fixed many of the game's issues. But it's looking unlikely they will ever be able to cover everything. Sometimes less really is more, and regardless of ambition it's important to ensure a game actually works before its shipped. If that can't be delivered, then why is it being considered in the first-place. We're all for pushing the envelope, and we appreciate New Vegas for that very reason, but games should not ship in this state. If any other product released like this, it would be panned the moment it hit shelves. It's unacceptable.
Fallout: New Vegas cannot be faulted for its ambitions — it is a tighter, more focused game than its predecessor. Compulsive gamers will get hundreds of hours out of its vast open world, which is rich with interesting characters and things to interact with. The problem is, New Vegas creaks under the weight of its own achievements. The engine is dated and the whole package is riddled with bugs, often breaking the sense of immersion it is so desperately trying to achieve.