Wednesday, July 6, 2011

REVIEW: Fallout: New Vegas

"Video Gaming at Its Best"

Score: 10/10

Fallout: New Vegas is the first sequel to Fallout 3. Fallout 3 was a game with two spiritual predecessors: the original Fallout series; from which this game inherited the apocalyptic, gloomy atmosphere, and some philosophical, moral themes, and in a smaller amount gameplay. The other spiritual predecessor was Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, which drastically changed the gameplay of the original titles and added multiple dimensions to the already complex universe of Fallout. It was not only the gameplay which was “Oblivionesque”, the whole mood of the game had shifted. Even the traders in the game used the catch sentences of Oblivion. The game was ultimately a huge success- widely known as the game of the year in many circles, and praised by most of the critics and gamers. Only one circle disliked the game: the hard-core fans of the original titles, who thought this game had damaged the integrity of their favorite series. I need to establish, before venturing on to the rest of the article, that although I am a fan of the original titles, I found Fallout 3 an improvement of those great games, and I view it as a separate, autonomous entity, with a history of its own. This review is not the place to discuss the reason, but this is a premise that the writer holds. In this aspect; Fallout: New Vegas is at the same time the fourth game of Fallout series and the second game of a nameless franchise- a franchise with two games; related to other games but independent as well.

In this sense; Fallout: New Vegas moves even farther in the same two directions. The game is closer to its roots. It's closer to Fallout franchise and it's closer to Oblivion, deriving from both games, and yet, it's not imitative, but original and it stands on its own feet. The result is one of the finest games of all times, a superb masterpiece.

When we consider a game as deep and as complex as this one, it's better to investigate the different aspects of gameplay separately. Overall, a game is a successful mixture of FPS action games and action RPGs. The game draws upon the elements of both genres without ever becoming one; therefore it's unique in experience (of course, together with Fallout 3). In gameplay, the game is one of the greatest games ever made, improving upon another great game. At this moment I'd like to discuss the different aspects of the gameplay.

A crucial part of this game, as an open-world, is exploring. The game is quite successful in creating a unique experience. There are many places to discover, and most of them are interesting and rewarding. The atmosphere (discussed more fully below) and critters and enemies awaiting you in your journeys are the two key features that make the game worthy of exploring. If you are the kind of gamer who enjoys wandering in a vast map fighting enemies and looting places for rewards without following a certain mission, Fallout: New Vegas is just the game for you. The map is huge; it's bigger than the map of Fallout 3. Although it's quite smaller than the maps of some games of the same genre (for example; Oblivion or Red Dead Redemption) it's completely varied and it will take hours and hours of gaming to explore it all, and it never gets repetitive or boring.

The only problem of the gameplay, which is a small one, occurs here. The geography of Mojave Wasteland is mountainous and it's really hard to travel to a certain place with a mountain blocking the straight way. The compass doesn't help in this aspect as well. Your marker always points straight to your destination and the game helps you in no way to find your path. It might happen a lot that you follow a long path and you suddenly find out there's a mountain in your way. You have to detour and find the correct path which is not indicated, and it's really hard not to feel annoyed and frustrated. This happens at a time where a great compass system is developed by games such as Mafia II and Red Dead Redemption which help you focus on gaming rather than finding where to go.

In all titles of the series, the atmosphere is a vital part of the gameplay, adjusting your mood. In Fallout: New Vegas the atmosphere is similar to that of a western epic. The main difference with the previous games is in the fact that New Vegas, although damaged, hasn't been fully destroyed in the Great War. Therefore the atmosphere of the game is varied. The game successfully repeats the gloomy, apocalyptic atmosphere of a country ruined in war, but there are also places that are more complex. For example, Free Side is a district which stands on its feet but it's full of thugs and it's not safe, the atmosphere of this district is that of poverty and slums. Right to the north of Free Side there's The Strip, a district for the wealthy, with gamblers, prostitutes, gangsters, and drunken soldiers roaming in the city. The atmosphere of The Strip is that of a corrupt bourgeois resort. When you travel to an NCR camp you're faced with an atmosphere of a war movie, while Followers of Apocalypse camps show you an atmosphere of hardship and illness, and when you find the chapter of the Brotherhood of Steele you feel you've switched to a sci-fi film. This unique, rich atmosphere has two major effects. The first one is related to the game's message, discussed below, but the second one is related to the gameplay.

First of all, the game never gets boring. You're always in the process of discovering, and the game changes from time to time. In addition, the force and the emotion intensifies. If there's an element of sublime in this game (and there is), it comes from its atmosphere. It's not only a complete success but an example for all games to look up to.

RPG Elements
No one can call Fallout: New Vegas a complete RPG; for obvious reasons. The action of the game is completely FPS-like and it's almost impossible to build your character into a weak one. (For example in Oblivion, wrong choice of class and upgrades can force you to start over, but this will never happen in this game). But that's no weak point, since with clever use of its RPG elements the game is at the same time unique and intriguing. I'm willing to go far enough to claim that the game is even better than the typical RPG, in that it includes all the good points of an RPG while leaving out the bad points.

First off is your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. which stands for Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck. S.P.E.C.I.A.L. is the foundation of your character, signifying how your character will upgrade throughout the game and his/her strong and weak points. At this point you can also choose two traits, which are actually two perks which leave a great impact on the gameplay, and three tag skills, which will be your main skills and will increase with every level up. As you play, you receive XPs which will eventually result in a level up, and you can increase your skills. The way you choose to increase them determines how you should play and what your weaknesses are. With every two level up you also get to choose a perk which is a special ability which can alternate the game.

Although dealing with these elements is fun in its own right, it also helps you to build your character exactly as you like. You can be a gun-blazing cowboy, a powerful fist-fighter, a stealthy ninja, or a cunning diplomat. The choice is yours, play the game as you like it. This feature encourages the gamer to be wise and act strategically without being hard and laborious like some other games in the genre. The game is therefore enjoyable by both hard-core RPG fans and the average gamer.

The game also introduces an aspect: by campfires or workbenches, you can create potions and food for your health or other effects, (I believe this is an adoption of alchemy in Oblivion) and modify or upgrade your weapons. You can pretty much beat the game without using this feature but it makes the game more interesting and it adds another fun dimension to the game.

It's noteworthy that the game remedies one of the flaws of Fallout 3. In Fallout 3 your level cap was 20 and you would reach this level pretty soon, and the rest of the game wasn't as fun. In this one the level cap is 30 and you can only reach it at the very end of the game, while you have the chance to design your character more thoroughly.

The game doesn't change the combat system of Fallout 3. While remaining faithful to its predecessor, it adds many new weapons, making the experience better. When you carry guns, combat is a classic FPS; but you can also switch to melee weapons which are more powerful and more varied, and unarmed mode is now much more practical. A semi-stealth combat is also possible. V.A.T.S. is also back without any change, and this lovely special attack never gets boring. I believe that the combat system of Fallout 3 was perfect and it's still as good after 3 years.

Reputation and Karma
There are many fractions in the game, and you can build any reputation with them. Based on what you do they might idolize you (in this case they will assist you) or they might vilify you (in this case they will become hostiles), or anything in between. Your reputation directly affects the gameplay and makes it more complex and interesting. Karma is also back, determining how good or bad you are, also affecting the gameplay.

There are seven companions in the game. The good news is, each of them has a unique story and side mission, they are great characters and you'd enjoy talking with them and following their deep story. The bad news is, there are no evil companions. However, never before in the series the companions have been this interesting.

I'm happy to announce that the only major flaw of Fallout 3 doesn't make it to this game. The game is now much more difficult. There are more critters and stronger enemies. Let me use my own experience to explain this point. In Fallout 3, I reached level 20 halfway through the game, with 100 points in energy weapons and small guns skills, and I also had The Grimm Reaper Sprint perk. At that point I was almost invincible, and the game was much less challenging. It wasn't much different if I cheated and played in god mode. (I killed the last enemy with one bullet!) I'm sure this happened to most of you as well. This doesn't happen in this game. The enemies remain tough, and will get tougher, while you can develop into a really strong character as well. Also, thankfully, The Grimm Reaper Sprint perk no more fully restores your AP but it restores only 20 points. Therefore the game gives you the satisfying sense of power and at the same time it remains challenging. Speaking of challenge…

Hard-Core Mode
The game can get even more challenging. In hard-core mode, dehydration is a serious concern, you need to eat, drink and sleep in order to survive. Stimpaks take time to restore your health and your companion can die. I strongly recommend you to try this mode in your second playthrough.

Mini Games
There are some interesting mini games in the game. They involve gambling. It would mean nothing to take you to sin city but not let you gamble, and the game does. The most interesting game is Caravan, but you can also play Roulette, Black Jack and Jackpot at casinos. Just don't waste all your money on these games, you'll need them for bullets.

The game is a classic example of a replayable game. There are 4 main fractions you can choose from; and your karma and every action change your endings. Plus, after your first playthrough there are certainly many undiscovered locations and incomplete sub-plots, and also you can try playing the game with a different strategy. Although the game is long enough in the first playthrough, you will certainly play it over multiple times.

Like all other games in this genre, there are many bugs, but I don't find them a real problem. First of all downloading the patches will solve many of these bugs, and secondly, in a game as huge and as complex as this, bugs are inevitable, and we must show our understanding by tolerating them and not blaming the developers for them. The game is open-world and vast, and its good points make this small shortcoming look pale.

The game is not a technical wonder, but you shouldn't mind that as well. The artistic graphics, the coloring and the settings are so magical that the game doesn't need such technical wonders. Have you replayed older Fallouts, or a really good old games? Haven't you forgotten that their graphic is old after ten minutes? The reason is, no matter how fascinated we are by graphics, the real factor which finally determines how a game looks, in the long run, is the artistic, not the technical, graphics.

Voice Actings
I don't know how many lines of dialogue are written for this game, but I can bet they're not a few. One should applaud the effort put into acting them artistically and efficiently. I would appreciate more actors, but those present have done a great job portraying vastly different and varying characters they personify.

Well, there's a great collection of old songs in your radio, all of them great songs that are a match to the mood of the game and will intensify your emotions. (Try Johnny Guitar. A masterpiece. The first time this song plays, you'll stop playing and listen in wonder.) Also the background music is great. Especially a piece when you enter the Hoover Dam is great. The only bad news is, there are a few songs in comparison with the size of the game itself.

Story is one point of controversy among the fans of early and late games in the series. The stories of the first two games were complex, and you had difficulty deciding, and your choices were challenging. Morality wasn't black and white, but gray. Since this is not the case with the later two games, original fans were disappointed. I think they are wrong, and I try to demonstrate why.

First of all, the story of Fallout: New Vegas is equally deep. The message is the catchphrase of all the games: “War. War never changes.” The game is an anti-war game, pointing to the disasters brought by war and violence. Although the Legion is a cruel authoritarian band, promoting misogyny and slavery, the other groups aren't flawless either. Mr. House is a symbol of capitalism. He might bring posterity to town but he thinks only of his own benefit. While NCR is a benevolent force but at the same time it's imperialistic. The Followers of Apocalypse are sincere but they clearly lack the will to solve the problems of the world. The Brotherhood of Steele and the NCR, both benevolent groups, waste their resources fighting each other. Like all the forces in the real world, there are purely evil forces (such as the Legion and Powder Gangers) but no good group is without flaws. And no matter what you do, there will be undesirable effects (as will be shown in the fascinating ending you achieve). The world of the game is a harsh world, torn apart by violence and war.

But that's not all. You witness people really suffering through the game; you see plausible instances of poverty (as mentioned, Free Side). You will at the same time see rich people leading an essentially corrupt life. While people are suffering, people in New Vegas are gambling, getting laid, wasting their money on casinos and unnecessary pleasures. Like our world, on one side people are living in pain, while on the other, indifferent people spend lavishly and absurdly. You can also witness instances of racism (hatred against Ghouls and Super Mutants), and all of our real-life problems. This game is a great critique of our civilization. While most of the video games serve as an escape, this one enlightens us, it raises our awareness.

And of course, there is also hope. There are great people, brave people, people who struggle in spite of the odds, and fight through problems, people who remain hopeful in a bleak world, people who stick to their ideals in an immoral world, people who don't give in despite the odds. The game pictures all the problems of the world acutely, but it doesn't fail to celebrate the heroism of people. The average human, the bread and butter of democracy, is praised. You can also be a beacon of hope, if you choose. The game reveals your true personality, something that only a video game is capable of.

The game is a western game. A western of John Ford style. The game begins at Goodspring, a game which clearly pictures the typical western movie village. This is also evident in songs such as Big Iron or Johnny Guitar. The same epic mindset controls the game. A lonely Courier, who might have friends or allies, but belongs to nowhere. We don't know where the Courier comes from or where s/he goes to. Lonely and brave, nameless, s/he goes on a personal heroic journey and reached his/her personal goals. The great westerns of Hollywood pictured cinema at their best, and this western masterpiece is video gaming at its best. The games will come and go, but a real epic with a great gameplay and artistic story will never die.

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