‘War, war never changes.’ – Hellboy

Roughly 53 days ago I reviewed Call of Duty: Black Ops and if I recall I gave it a pretty good review but cryptically claimed I was going to leave the battlefield for a while in order to explore a little burg named New Vegas. Well, I’ve returned from that hideous desert bruised, battered, and pretty exhilarated.

For those of you who don’t know, I’m talking about Fallout: New Vegas, the latest instalment in a computer game franchise that was around in the days when you had to crank a lever on the side of your PC before it decided to work, when the internet was made of string. The series is set hundreds of years after a nuclear apocalypse cashed society’s cheque and casts you in a variety of everyman destined-to-become-superman roles in a massive wasteland setting. The first two games were primitive-looking isometric 2d RPGs with a combat system that made the shifting of tectonic plates look sprightly, but will almost certainly make any veteran PC gamer grow glassy-eyed with nostalgia. There were then a couple of rubbish spin-off games which no-one likes to mention, like the cousin at a party who everyone knows smokes dope and listens to Pissing Razors. The 21st century gifted the series an extra dimension and thus we had Fallout 3, one of my favourite games of the time.

I sometimes don’t know exactly who I’m writing for when reviewing games, but really the only people genuinely interested in reading about computer games are those who play them and in which case almost certainly know what Fallout 3 was all about. It’s like we have a secret club. So I’ll fuck the rest of the exposition off and assume you avenged Liam Neeson, destroyed Malcolm McDowell and listened to Ron Perlman  moan about war never changing for the umpteenth time.

Right. My only problem with F3 was it didn’t really have much connection with the rest of the series. Of course, it had some of the same goodies and baddies, the same retro 50’s-aesthetic and you did emerge from a vault as in the first game, but there didn’t seem to be much continuity. I assume this is something to do with ten-year gap since the last game, wherein a new generation of gamers had risen who didn’t know you could play games on PCs and assumed that the ‘3’ at the end of the title was leet for ‘tits’. Admirably the devs decided to readdress the balance by giving F:NV the same west-coast setting as the first two games and actively referencing their events, giving the series a greater sense of cohesion.

Plot-wise you play The Courier, or at least A Courier, who, in the course of his or her work is ambushed by a set of bastards and shot in the face by none other than Chandler from Friends, recession being what it is Obsidian probably couldn’t employ anyone more expensive for fear of bankruptcy. Anyway, with the bullet once ensconced in your face removed by a kindly doctor you begin a trail of revenge that will eventually make you the main player in a war that will change the face of the Mojave desert forever. Or not, because in true Fallout tradition the game world allows you to do pretty much whatever you want, within the confines of the game’s physics engine etc., allowing you the opportunity to become petty thief, mass-murderer or nancy-boy, depending on your approach towards violence.

F:NV isn’t just the third game with a new set of clothes. Well okay it is, but they’re pretty fancy new clothes. For instance you now have the opportunity to play in HARDCORE MODE(!), in which you must actually drink, eat and sleep in order to survive. To be honest it isn’t very hardcore, the penalties of not eating are slight and both food and water are pretty readily available. Still, you get an XBOX achievement for completing it, if you’re one of those people who think that your gamer-score mirrors the size of your cock. There is a massive new arsenal to play with as well as some new and horrible enemies, including a strain of gigantic mutated wasp-twats called ‘cazadors’ who were the bane of my existence throughout my entire play-through, plus there is an extremely unwelcome return of the dreaded Death Claws, the capitalisation of whom should negate any need for a description.

Cazadors aren’t the only bugs to plague F:NV, the game being notorious for containing numerous glitches, system-crashes and the like. Some vaguely amusing, such as the time I conducted a conversation with a man whose head was stuck in the ceiling, and others which could lead the player into paroxysms of fury, such as the fucking disgusting time when I couldn’t get through a door because a completely random computer screen would get in the way whenever I tried to pick the lock. Those are the only instances I can think of, but many other reviewers complained that the game can sometimes be pretty much unplayable. Your best bet is to install the game onto you hard-drive and save diligently.

There are other, less technical problems which were also intrinsic in the first game. Whilst the script is often smart and funny the voice-acting doesn’t really live up to it. This could be down to the fact that they only seem to have seven different actors to voice over hundreds of characters (recession biting again), but it often sounds like they are simply reading from a sheet. Certain individual characters are fine, such as Matthew Perry’s Benny or The Wire’s Major Rawls as uber-bastard and potentially the game’s main antagonist Caesar. Another annoying hangover from the last game is the way your character seems to float over the environment rather than walk on it, and trying to navigate some of the more mountainous regions can be an exercise in frustration. I swear I could get up some of those hills and I’m not a super-powered avenger of the wastelands carrying a gun capable of launching nuclear warheads.

Hmm, there’s plenty more to say really, the game being as huge as it is, but if there’s one thing I learnt from my Blops review its that nobody really cares. This review was quite easy actually, because if you liked the third game, you’ll love this. If you hated the third game, you might just tolerate this. If you hate computer games overall, you’ll hate this almost beyond hyperbole. Tellingly I’ve been playing it for over 50 hours overall and still have plenty more to do, the pleasures of unemployment, what recession? Etc.

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