None more brown: The irradiated shit-hole of New Vegas.

How to get old people playing games? It’s the question that – for the purpose of this review – I’m going to suggest is on every game developer’s lips. You could name your game Gran Turismo, and hope that old people think it’s a SAGA holiday simulator; you could streamline your control scheme in the hope that ‘greymers’ (suck it, Pachter) are aware of the existence of bowling on anything but short grass…or you could do what they’ve done with Fallout New Vegas, which is tap into the older market’s unfettered desires, stick it on a small plastic disc and sell it for £40. Sorry, £35. (Actually, now more like £20).

As with the obvious risk of alienating their prospective audience with the word ‘New’ in the title, Obsidian’s game makes noise at loftier goals than mere pandering to the silver sofa brigade. But brush away plot, inter-mutational relationships and troubling moral dilemmas and you’re left with a simulator that involves barging into houses, opening draws and seeing what stuff they’ve got. It’s like Cash in the Attic set in an irradiated shit-hole. It’s EXACTLY what old people are interested in.

The shameless shilling starts from the opening sequence: accompanied by the crooning of some velvet-voiced 50s idol, the player starts off in a graveyard. ‘There’s a well-dressed gentleman in a smart jacket. He seems nice. But wait, something’s wrong – there are some young people with him. He pulls out a gun…BANG! We fall into a grave. It’s not quite as we expected this death business. Where’s my dog, Ronald? Oh, we’ve been rescued by a Doctor. He seems nice; like Dick van Dyke in Diagnosis Murder. I like Doctors.’

From here your adventure starts, and New Vegas starts to open up like a flower – though not the kind you’d send to your sweetheart. It’s not just the locale that looks a bit weathered: the game engine is clearly showing its age and nearly buckles under the weight of its own ambitions, which would be more admirable if it attempted slightly more than basically remaking Fallout 3 with a few rusty bells and radioactive whistles. Thank God then for the writing, the most notable area where New Vegas does best its East Coast sibling.

Where Fallout 3 aimed clumsily for the heartstrings with its tale of looking for Liam Neeson among the crab people of Washington DC, New Vegas concerns itself with a more immediate and compelling story: ‘Who am I?’ And ‘If I’m so good at shooting, why was I working as a postman’? Such lofty questions are not answered overnight (nor by watching not very good Kevin Costner films, thankfully). They’re answered by exploring the landscape of New Vegas; meeting its folk; killing its irradiated beasts; stealing its shit.

The majority of your time will be spent walking over irradiated hills, mapping areas of interest like a wasteland Wainwright. Although it’s hard not to feel a little pang of sadness as you walk past yet another shell of an automobile, you soon forget when you climb a peak and find a deserted building with promises of spoils inside. You see, New Vegas takes the Hugh Hefner approach to courtship: never mind the looks, check out the wealth.

Fallout New Vegas is a huge game and its map is littered with more places to go, things to do and stuff to steal than there is in old, aka ‘now’ Vegas. Aside from the fairly compelling main storyline there are a number of side-quests that basically function as narrative rabbit holes. Deliver a message to one area and you can be given five more optional side-quests, as well as more things to look in and steal. All this is optional, but if you’re a virtual Howard Hughes then say goodbye to your friends, you’re about to bottle a lot of electronic wee-wee.

Most of New Vegas’ inhabitants want to kill you, from drug-addled Freaks and lumbering super mutants to a variety of sharp-clawed monsters. It’s not exactly a heartening place to spend time, but it also won’t be completely unfamiliar to anyone who’s explored an inner city after hours. Plus, unlike real life, you also have the immensely satisfying VATS combat system to defend yourself, which allows you to watch the results of your decisions play out in immensely satisfying slow motion.

But it’s not all plain sailing, while it may not be quite as buggy as a narcoleptic’s picnic – as some have reported, it still features a few eyebrow-raising quirks. Character’s heads get stuck in ceilings, giant lizards are embedded in rocks and you hold conversations with people whose eyes have vanished. It would be nice to imagine that the developers are dothing their fedoras to another reality defying adventure in the Nevada desert, but as far as I can recall, Hunter S. Thompson’s didn’t feature cross-dressing super mutants.

Other negatives are holdovers from Fallout 3. While it may concern itself with colourful language and adult situations, the character models and animations in New Vegas are rudimentary at best. Characters may talk of genocide, murder and rape as if they’re discussing what happened on last night’s Eastenders (and maybe they are, I haven’t seen it in ages), but the low-rent presentation makes it resemble a disturbing trilogy-capper to the immensely popular (ahem) Mannequin series of films. Similarly, attackers merely run straight at you and continue to attack until you get them, or they get you. There’s little strategy beyond choosing the right thing to hit them with.

The karma system is also a little uneven. Most people – save for perhaps, Richard Madeley – recognise that theft is wrong. Fallout New Vegas’ system of punishment for the 5-finger discount, however, seems to have been drafted in a Dickensian workhouse and then refined by The Daily Mail letters page. Let me explain; I helped murder an old woman based on hearsay (I know, I know) then confessed to her friend that I’d had a hand in her brutal demise. He basically shrugged his shoulders, so I reasoned that perhaps he wouldn’t mind if I helped myself to one of his plastic dinosaurs. After all, the place was littered with them. However, he then proceeded to beat me to death, while the decrease in karma made me about as popular as Nick Clegg strangling a dog.

But that’s the real beauty of New Vegas; it’s about creating your own stories in the wasteland, based on the consequences of your actions, intentional or otherwise. Besides, looking for realism in a world where you ‘meet’ a sex robot called ‘Fisto’ seems a bit redundant really. Fallout may have lost its looks, and on more than a few occasions turns into a doddering mess, but flashes of brilliance are so frequent that it’s easy to look past the surface, appreciate its deeper charms and remember a time when it didn’t seem so decrepit. And even if this is a last hurrah for the series, it’s not a bad way to go out really – certainly better than laying face down in an open grave.

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