I'd be the first to admit that there's something fun about running around in a virtual world that blends the artistic sensibilities of the '30s and '40s with the rusted and crumbling detritus of a post-apocalyptic future. And that's exactly the charm of the Fallout games. How can you not smile at the contrasts evident in scavenging for protective clothing and a bottle of dirty water at bombed-out gas station while listening to Kay Kyser sing a bouncy ditty about having spurs that "jingle, jangle, jingle"?
But that hasn't been the end of the discussion when it comes to this franchise. So while it's not technically a sequel to Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas still has more than its share of radioactive hot spots.
It's 2281, about 200 years after the Great War blew the world into thermonuclear bits. All that's left are radioactive critters (the king-sized rad-scorpions and flame-belching giant ants among them), enormous mallet-wielding supermutants and shambling ghouls that are not much more than animated bone, teeth and gristle. Oh, and a few groups of normal humans who are eager to get their civilization back up to speed.
Of course, a number of strongman factions have their own ideas about how that new humanity ought to look. The major players are the New California Republic, a West Coast army that wants to grab the Hoover Dam and reestablish an American-like ideal, and Caesar's Legion, gladiator warriors from the East Coast demanding that everyone join their purist, drug-free empire—or die. And let's not overlook a Howard Hughes-like megamogul named Mr. House who owns a high-tech Vegas casino and an army of robot enforcers that he hopes will make him king.
Choose, Choose, Bang, Bang
Players are dropped down into this Wild West war zone wearing the boots of a courier who's immediately shot, robbed and left for dead. A local doc gets you back up on your feet. But your head injury leaves you without a single memory to explain what you see around you. So it's off to track down the shooter and find out why the stolen package—a mysterious poker chip—is so important to this growing power struggle.
New Vegas offers a huge sprawling world and literally hundreds of possible quests that blend adventurous explorations with lots and lots of gory gun battles. Like other Fallout games, the choices gamers make help shape each unfolding chapter. Will you cheat, steal and kill your way to the top and scrounge up scores of enemies, or will you help others and reap the rewards of friendship? Will you join with the NRC or the Legion and tip the scales of power? Or maybe you'll just run fast and loose as a gun for hire?
Truth be told, there's going to be dirty death-dealing no matter what you choose. You meet scores of people along the way—each with his or her own tale. And you can pick up just about any melee or ranged weapon you can imagine (from lead pipe bludgeons and electrified boxing gloves to machine guns and plasma rifles) and obliterate them with it. Even if you're nice, hard-core enemies are around every corner, so brain-splattering and dismembering violence is as common as a stroll through the cacti in the cool of the evening.
With all the gun-blazing, it's reasonable to assume that the story's hero (who's actually more of an antihero) will find himself winged from time to time. And that brings up another of the game's problem areas: To maintain character health stats and keep-your-boots-on fortitude, gamers will consume all manner of virtual booze and drugs. And as you woof back strength enhancers, med packs and radiation remedies, your world can slip sideways into blurry inebriation, radiation poisoning or drug addiction that only a visit to the digital doctor can cure.
Sexuality is also scattered throughout the Vegas homeland. No sex acts are on virtual display, but you can solicit the off-camera services of a prostitute. Some characters reveal quite a bit of skin, and dialogue can easily venture into randy areas—especially in a cathouse/casino called Gomorrah, where half-naked dancing "escorts" coo come-ons.
F- and s-words are anything but rare. The same goes for "a‑‑," "d‑‑n," "b‑‑ch" and "h‑‑‑."
Are you starting to feel the radioactive char?
I haven't even mentioned yet some messy carryovers from Fallout 3 such as the Bloody Mess perk and the call-your-pals-for-lunch Cannibal perk.
Suddenly all that retro-futuristic charm just doesn't feel so … charming. The gameplay is long, the storylines are complicated and things can melt down into a pile of oozing goo pretty quick in this New Vegas Wild West.