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Friday, October 29, 2010

Gameplay: Fallout New Vegas

I'll start with a confession: I've been playing the hell out of New Vegas. And I could rattle off all the reasons why that is so - except none of them would surprise you if you have already played Fallout 3 in the last two years. Bethesda has managed to sneak in a few new details, most of which add at least a few new concepts - most of which are pretty sound but don't really do anything to change the core gameplay from when Fallout and Elder Scrolls first got mashed together.

And there have been many, many reviews which have mentioned all of that, and how wonderfully the mechanics hold up over the last couple years. So lets' talk about something else.

Let's talk about just how often this damn game crashes, and how completely wrong that is for a console game in the year 2010. The level of instability that this game has is so far off the charts compared to every single other title I have ever played on the PlayStation 3 that I challenge any other blogger or gamer to argue the case that this is not the buggiest release in the history of the console, with the only other contender being Fallout 3 or the even buggier DLC for Fallout 3.

Let's talk frequency: Nightly. At least once a night that I've powered this game on, it has crashed. Let's talk severity: It completely locks up the console, requiring a manual reboot. Let's talk about predictability: There is none. You'll just be walking down the street, turn and look at something and ... bam. Instant lockup. I've had it happen at least once in between locations, causing nothing but a black screen to stare at me while I wondered if I should wait or go reboot the thing again.

The only saving grace is the frequency of the saves in the game: it does an autosave when you change locations or when you sleep. Course, the location autosave may not work correctly if the game crashes at the right moment, so unless you remember to save after every important action - you might be completely hosed anyway. I've lost hours of gameplay by not being absolutely draconian about saving after key points, a habit I've now fallen deeply into for the sake of my own sanity.

And it's not like the game itself is spotless. I walked right past a quest item because it was buried mostly in the ground ... not in "oh look, buried treasure" kind of way - but rather a "model was graphically blended with landscape" kind of way. While talking to a major game character, the conversation was stopped for cinematic animation ... which was blocked because the character for said animation was stuck on a chair. There are times when VATS goes completely on vacation. I'll be swarmed by evil poisonous creatures and tapping the shoulder button like a madman, and absolutely nothing happens.

So it's hard for me to be excited about things like factions, weapon mods, reloading benches or the nifty new companion wheel (though, it is kinda nifty) when I know every time I load the game, I'll end up rebooting my console. I said this about the Fallout 3 DLC, and I'll say it again: this is why I left PC gaming for a console. That Bethesda has had two years to work the kinks out of the engine and it's just as buggy as it ever was tells me one simple thing:

Bethesda needs to ditch this engine. While playing New Vegas, I was also playing the new Borderlands DLC and realized: it looks better, plays faster and never crashes. Yeah, I know it doesn't have the same dynamically loaded overworld that Fallout does, but these are things engines like Unreal and Id's latest have been working on. The Gamebryo engine has always been a burden on Bethesda games, it's never been able to deliver the same graphical quality of contemporary engine and apparently porting it to the consoles saddles the consoles with PC level bugs. It's ridiculous that in a two development timespan that Bethesda has released a product with this few updates, that looks exactly the same as the game before it, and is buggy as all hell.

Is the game fun? Yes. Does it offer hours and hours and hours of play? Yes. Do I recommend it? Yes. Well, if you liked Fallout 3.

Does that justify the level of instability in this game? No.

There, quite honestly, is no justification for the level of instability in this game.

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