Fallout: New Vegas
It might have been almost two years since we last ventured out into the expansive, dusty wastes of Fallout 3, yet having explored all that post-apocalyptic Washington DC has to offer - not to mention all of that DLC - it seems that a more than adequate period of time has passed to whet our appetites for some more mutant decapitation, aimless wandering and reams of darkly humorous dialogue.
Beginning with your apparent death - having been subjected to a couple of bullets in the brainpan - before being buried in a shallow grave like Joe Pesci in Casino out in the lonely Mojave desert, Fallout: New Vegas doesn't exactly have the most auspicious of introductions, but don't worry, because you're soon exhumed by mysterious gambling robot, Vegas Vic. You're subsequently taken to the benevolent Doc Mitchell, who puts your head back together for you, and this is where our hands-off demo lead by Senior Designer Chris Avellone kicks off, as your character awakens to the kindly face of the good Doctor, who then puts you through New Vegas' version of Fallout 3's G.O.A.T.
First, you're presented with the character creation interface as Doc Mitchell asks you whether he put everything back in the right place and then you're tasked with remembering your name, which you can input yourself over your character's default moniker and job title, 'Courier'. After a few important questions from the Doc, you'll then assign your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. abilities using the Vit-O-Matic vigour tester and then you're good to go, equipped to embark upon a brand new quest, as a brand new protagonist blinking out into the harsh New Vegas sunlight.
Fallout: New Vegas is a completely fresh narrative, with a new cast of characters and a brand new setting with blue skies, thanks to the bombs causing less of an impact than they did in Fallout 3's ravaged and destroyed DC. And although New Vegas adopts the very same engine and assets as Fallout 3 - and it certainly looks very much like a spin-off rather than a fully-fledged sequel - this demonstrates that Obsidian is either staying true to the spirit of Bethesda's take on the series or playing it safe. You might have expected the developer to be a little bit braver given that Avellone was the lead designer on scrapped 'could-have-been-Fallout 3' project Van Buren, but instead Obsidian has - perhaps wisely - decided to adhere to the successful formula established by Bethesda in 2008 with Fallout 3, which will guarantee the same audience that got caught up in that game's fiction and world will love New Vegas simply by virtue of it being 'more Fallout', and that's certainly no bad thing.
Doc Mitchell, before you leave his modest abode, kits you out with a Vault 21 jumpsuit, a Pip-Boy 3000 (of course) and a basic weapon. Armed with these few items, you venture out to the first of New Vegas' settlements, Goodsprings. A Wild West town comprised of wooden shacks and painted storefronts, Goodsprings is inhabited by a typical menagerie of typical Fallout weirdoes and deadbeats that add local colour to the small town. Upon walking through the swinging doors of the Prospector Saloon, we meet Sunny Smiles, whose name is completely misleading. She's anything but. Nonetheless, after a quick chat, we go out into the wilderness and help her dispatch a few pesky geckos with the 22. Varmint Rifle, which like many of New Vegas' weapons, grants a unique special combat bonus. This particular rifle does extra damage against limbs, but there's a greater emphasis overall on weapon effects and upgrades, giving you three different attachments to add to each of your guns for starters.
Avellone proceeds to show us a pistol he's augmented with a scope, barrel and larger magazine, and cosmetically it looks far meaner than its vanilla counterpart and packs a mightier punch too. This all leads up to the first main mission, which is to protect an odd vagrant named Ringo, who inexplicably lurks in the ladies saloon toilets. With a fellow called Joe Cobb kicking up trouble in the town with a vicious band of so-called 'powder gangers', the bar's owner, Trudy, calls upon you to round up a posse to go out and take down Cobb and his cronies.
After a brief talk with Ringo, Sunny, Chet from the general store and Easy Pete (who also gives us a few sticks of dynamite thanks to a dialogue option unlocked due to our canny foresight to add a 25 point explosive skill augmentation), we're well-armed and more than ready to tackle the hostile powder gangers. During the battle, our hero manages to get hold of the game's new 9-iron and enters the ever-reliable VATs mode, which now shows a new face button option that activates a weapon-specific strike designed to add "spice" to melee combat. This one is called 'Fore!' and is a swift golf swing to the cajones of your targeted victim. Fore, indeed.
And when Cobb's head pirouettes through the air gracefully in classic VATs style following a headshot, but outside of VATs, we realise that we're seeing the new dynamic kill cam for the first time, which now randomly occurs to highlight brutal kills. With Cobb dispatched, the mission for the people of Goodsprings is completed, earning us the acceptance and trust of the simple townsfolk. This is part and parcel of the new reputation system that has overarching consequences that encompass many of the actions you perform while traversing New Vegas, so incurring the wrath of one faction will appease another and vice-versa.
So later in the demo when we betray the loyalty of the New California Republic by activating the Helios One plant's generator to reroute power to the Archimedes II orbital laser, only to rain florescent laser-flavoured death upon the NCR troops on the ground, they'll remember it and will potentially never trust you ever again. But then again, it is easy to slip past the facility's idiotic custodian, Fantastic (who has a "theoretical degree in physics"), and once you get to the generator, you're presented with a variety of options that come with a variety of consequences. Still, it's worth remembering that just because there's a gigantic space laser at your fingertips, you don't necessarily have to use it to melt everyone.
Already we've seen a lot of Fallout: New Vegas' opening moments, but Avellone is far from finished, jumping to Primm; another derelict town overrun by Raiders that's distinctive with an old rollercoaster surrounding it and being home to the besieged Bison Steve Casino. Then there's Novac; a city so-called because the entrance is flanked by a broken 'No Vacancy' sign that reads 'No Vac'. Ah! I see what they did there! Upon entering Novac, you immediately see a huge motel sign, which also happens to be positioned by a towering dinosaur-shaped former gift shop called Dinky, which now operates as a perfect sniper nest. It's here that you'll find ex-NCR member Craig Boone, a crack shot sniper who can join you as a partner.
Even later into the extensive hands-off demo, we encounter another partner character, Raul the ghoul, who dwells in a small facility near the central Black Mountain location where an insane, aggressive breed of super mutants returning from previous Fallouts reside. Joining forces with Raul, we take on the band of Nightkin super mutants who have been driven mad by an over exposure to Stealth Boy technology. Using the new grenade machinegun - which spits out grenades at an incredible rate, the Nightkins and their cross-dressing, peroxide-wigged leader, Tabitha, soon fall under a torrential downpour of explosive projectiles, making Raul and the Brotherhood of Steel immensely happy as a result.
These actions also make the opposing breed of New Vegas' super mutants - a more intelligent kind that can talk and articulate - increasingly fond of us more for killing what they call the 'dumb-dumbs'. As one breed of irradiated super mutants naturally hates the other, you can play them off against one another and sit back and watch as they fight, which is something that extends to all of Fallout: New Vegas' opposing factions. You can use the reputation system to your advantage, orchestrating Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes to eradicate your enemies and stay in favour with the communities and factions that matter during your journey.
There may be few, if any visual additions other than brighter skies in Fallout: New Vegas, but there are plenty of new mechanics to discover and a healthy mixture of the new and instantly familiar that will no doubt attract fans eager to revisit the franchise. Old creatures and names from pre-Fallout 3 titles will no doubt delight the purists and the optional hardcore mode with ammo weight, slow-release stimpaks and the additional demand of collecting water to avoid dehydration, will satisfy hardened Fallout 3 veterans thirsting for a suitably demanding challenge. On the strength of this showing, if you got a kick out of Fallout 3, you'll want to dive headfirst into Fallout: New Vegas when it leaves the vault in autumn 2010.