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Fallout: New Vegas
Score: 87%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: RPG/ Adventure/ First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Although big name franchises usually mean some sort of high-profile success for a studio, it also comes with high-profile pressure. It is human nature to want to try something different, but gamers are notoriously resistant to any sort of change. This leaves developers in a tight spot: Change something and risk the wrath of fans, or follow the template and risk turning out a dull game.

If anything, Fallout: New Vegas takes an "iPhone" approach. Though mostly the same game as Fallout 3, there are a number of tiny, yet incredibly noticeable changes.

You'll notice an immediate difference between the two games the minute you step into the world. Fallout 3's industrial grit and greys are replaced with a colorful bouquet of vegetation and a blue sky. It's a big visual difference that both works to set New Vegas apart from Fallout 3, but also expands on the franchise's mythos.

New Vegas is a quiet game. Character voicework is on par with Fallout 3 and only shows up during quests or story sequences. While in the wilderness, you can choose to listen to the ambient sounds of the outdoors, or tune into Mr. New Vegas (voiced by Wayne Newton). Though not as annoying as Three-Dog, you'll still hear the same news updates and five songs every couple of minutes.

Fallout: New Vegas takes place sometime after Fallout 3, but on the West Coast rather than the East coast. Given the geographic distance between Vegas and D.C. (and shattered communications network), there's little connection between the two games outside the post-nuclear setting.

You play as a courier who, after a botched delivery, ends up somewhere outside the city of New Vegas. After meeting with the local doctor, who patches you up and lets you set your initial stats, you're sent into the world. Your background is unknown; all you know is you were supposed to deliver an item, but you ran into trouble.

Over the course of your journey, you'll meet up and align yourself with the area's main groups. The big dog on the block is the New California Republic, or NCR, a group formed around keeping the rule of law and order. On the other side of the desert is the Ceasar's Legion, a group of conquered tribes led by the dictator, Ceasar. Tensions are high, with most of their troubles revolving around who controls the Hoover Dam, the only source of water and power in the area.

New Vegas is all about exploration. You're dropped in a giant world and given the freedom to create your own personal adventure. There are obvious limitations, though you can easy lose as much time exploring and gambling as you would tackling missions. There's a lot of content here beyond the main story. Some quests are simple, though others are epic in scope. I've easily lost 70+ hours to the game already and still haven't done and seen it all.

Even on the lowest setting, Fallout: New Vegas is a rough start. You're dropped into the world with only the jumpsuit on your back, two hand-me-down guns and your character's stats. It is challenging, but it is part of the Fallout charm. New Vegas, like Fallout 3, is built on presenting an experience rather than a game. If you really were just starting out on a journey, the first few steps would be rough. However, as you learn about the world around you, the challenge subsides. You are what you make of yourself, which I really enjoyed.

The best way to get up and running quickly is to figure out the crafting system. You can craft everything from weapons to medicines, which should help when trying to save up enough caps (or whatever currency you end up using) to new armor, ammo or other upgrades.

How you treat people has a direct impact on the ease or difficulty of your quest. Taking missions for the NCR will tick off the Legion and vice versa. The same is true for anyone you meet. Do something to anger a group and they'll treat you with more aggression. Alternately, treat them nice and they'll help out.

If you're really up for a challenge, give Hardcore Mode a try. Enemies are harder, though the real challenge comes from trying to survive. In addition to trying to eek out an existence in the wastes, you also have to make sure you drink enough water, eat and sleep. Additionally, health packs take slightly longer to take effect and you can only repair bones if you have a high medical stat. Toss in bullets adding weight to your pack and you're in for the ultimate post-apocalyptic simulator.

Game Mechanics:
Decisions are just as important to Fallout: New Vegas's mechanical underpinnings as they are to how your personal adventure will eventually turn out. Character stats are tied to the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. (strength, perception, endurance, charisma, intelligence, agility, luck) system. These stats determine everything from how much stuff you can carry to weapon proficiencies. Points are earned with every character level. You'll also earn Perks, allowing further customization as well as the chance to balance out statistical deficiencies.

Party members offer additional stat boosts. You can have two at any time, though they aren't that useful. It's easy to lose track of them and there's no way to quickly find them. After a few hours with my first companion, I ended up swearing them off altogether. Although they can even lead you down certain story paths, it isn't worth the hassle of having to babysit.

Shooting was Fallout 3's weakest element. Playing in VATS (Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System) was effective, but the act of shooting things wasn't much fun. New Vegas adds the ability to aim down your gun's sights. Though it doesn't bring gunplay up to par with other shooters, the upgrade is immediately noticeable. In Fallout 3, I spend a majority of my combat time using VATS. In New Vegas, there was a 50/ 50 split between the two modes.

Just to address an issue I've noticed cropping up around various gamer communities, there are numerous reports involving glitches and other bugs. Though I didn't encounter anything worse than a freeze-up or two, just be aware that the possibility for bugs exists.

The similarities between Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas are fairly obvious to the point you could probably get away with labeling it "Fallout: 3.5." To this point, your enjoyment of New Vegas will depend greatly on your opinion of Fallout 3. Changes have been made (mostly for the better), though they aren't so drastic to win over players who weren't into Fallout 3.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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