Fallout: New Vegas

"New Vegas... Is that like Old Vegas that's
still in the box, wrapped in plastic?"

So along with the new name, I'm trying a different kind of format for these game reviews. Even though I'm typically able to play though Call of Duty titles in a day, this won't be the case for a lot of other games. I've instead decided to go with more of a milestone oriented review process; do first day and last day reviews as well as intermittent mid-game reviews. This way, I'll be able to write more at more relevant times without getting tired of writing altogether. So we'll see how that goes. Anyway, like a lot of games I have, New Vegas has been sitting in my Steam library for a while, waiting for that magical alignment of me being at my apartment, having free time, and having an internet connection will allow me to download and start playing it. Well, as of writing this, it happened yesterday. Starting a new game is one of my favorite things in the world, especially when it comes to RPGs. Despite being almost exactly like the previous Fallout title (Fallout 3), everything still felt new and exciting. I spent my usual hour or two just running through Fallout's in-game character setup process. I bought Fallout 3 when you still bought physical cases that contained a disk, random inserts on thin, shiny paper, and sometimes even a game manual, and since I didn't have that last item to read through and remind me, I completely forgot about the Perks system. You were also given the option to choose certain Traits (no more than two) that your character could have. Unlike perks that are exclusively positive, traits had an up and down side. I thought the options were pretty cool, and they really made you think about how you were planning on playing the game. Another aspect of New Vegas that I don't remember being as prominent is a faction and reputation system. I remember there being reputation in Fallout 3, but I don't remember them being tied to individual factions. You run into a few right off the bat, so it could be a fairly extensive list of factions out there, but they appear to fall into either the Good or Bad category regardless of what they are called. More on that to come I'm sure. Since I purchased New Vegas off Steam only a couple months ago, it came bundled with all the DLC included with it. I like DLC that adds missions, but one item gave me extra gear at the onset of the game. When I first noticed this, I quit and tried to reload without those files initialized, but I couldn't seem to get that to work. That was a little annoying because I thought it cheapened the experience of the game. Being useless at the start of the game is kind of the point; usually you have to learn to walk before you get the grenade launcher, except for today. I suppose a potential balance to this is the game's "Hardcore" option.

Y U NO GET ACHIEVEMENT?!?!

As you can probably guess, Hardcore mode has more difficult enemies, but it also adds weight to your ammunition (makes you think twice about that hoarding instinct) and the obstacle of exposure. Being outside without adequate water (radiated or otherwise) will make you dehydrated, a condition which I can only assume will be detrimental to your character. It was a mode I opted-out of; but I'm starting to regret that choice, and there's a high possibility that I'll start over with it enabled before I get any farther along in the game. The game allows you to turn it on or off at any time, but there's an achievement for completing the whole game with it enabled so I figure why not go for it before I get more than an evenings worth of playtime in. Like I mentioned earlier, the gameplay, environment, terrible inventory system, and to an extent the characters are near identical to Fallout 3. Crafting items is a little different with the addition of a reloading station to breakdown ammunition and create other types and fire pits that combine with your survival skill and allow you to make anything from steak to poisons. At this point, I haven't really had the need to do much with these items, but I think they add more of a survivalist element to a world that supposed to be post-apocalyptic. Not that the environment doesn't do a good job of portraying that on it's own or anything. It looks very much like a desert wasteland, and the destinations I've been to so far, though limited, haven't been repetitive. Still, it feels very much like the same animal; and if my draw to games was less centered on the story and the experience it creates, I might find it a little disappointing in that respect. Luckily, that's not me, and I'm enjoying it thoroughly.
I'm glad that my first post for this segment is true to form. I wanted to do a game review bit on this site, but I knew that I'd never really be able to keep up with (or afford) all the major titles that come out and write about them in anything resembling a timely fashion. So my thought was to come up with a segment title that represented the old news I was reporting, and so I came up with Late in the Game. Aren't these things better after they're explained?
Black Ops box art

I know it was released almost two years ago. I'm writing about it now.

Anyway, there will actually be a review of a game at some point, but in the interest of not pissing off my one reader, I'd like issue a warning that this post contains spoilers. I don't know if anyone has been staving off a need to play Black Ops just so they can play it back-to-back with Black Ops II; but if that describes you, you may not want to read on. I'll start out by saying that I own (or in the case of a Xbox 360 copy of Call of Duty 3, have owned) all the various iterations of the Call of Duty franchise. Call of Duty has been one of a few major LAN party staples for my group of friends (along with Warcraft III and UT) since my first, and this level of sentimentality has perpetuated (and will continue to perpetuate) my buy-in to this series. Even so, I realize that many of these titles don't offer much more than a good-looking FPS (depending on your specs and chronological reference point), but I think Black Ops managed to provide more than this. And by this, I'm not referring to the ability to take on the persona of Nixon, JFK, Fidel Castro, or Robert McNamara and shoot glowing-eyed zombies. Yes. What I am referring to is a good, original story and a creative method of delivering and integrating it with the gameplay. In my experience, a lot of storylines in first-person shooters aren't much more than a transparent means to get a character from one closed map to another. This obviously isn't the case all around (e.g. the Bioshock or Half-Life titles), but at the time of it's release, and especially when compared to the previous titles in the series, the story of Mason was pretty exceptional in several ways.
The main menu screen

Not exactly the kind of place you hope to wake up in.

One of those ways, as I've mentioned already, was the delivery of the story. They put you into it right from the main menu screen; you're bloody, tied to chair that's been wired to a car battery, and all you can do is look around at your bleak surroundings as a modulated voice interrogates you. From there the game starts. You have no idea what's going on, but you're getting drugged up and the shit shocked out of you as someone in a shrouded booth yells questions at you that you don't know the answers to. It immediately puts you on the defensive, and you become sympathetic toward Mason and his situation. However, that sympathy changes as the story progresses and Mason's conditioning begins to surface more and more. This brings me to Viktor Reznov, how is perhaps my favorite element in the story. The full extent to the subtlety in the use of Viktor Reznov was not made clear to me until my second play through a few days ago. He is tied into the story and the gameplay so well that he never really feels out of place. I honestly had no idea who he was until the Rebirth Island mission where you're Hudson, and there's only Mason on the other side of the glass. Up until that point, I had no reason to suspect his as anything other than another character in the game. However, going through everything a second time, you start to notice things like how nobody else ever interacts with Reznov after Vorkuta. There were times where he'd just appear at your side to offer insight or direction, and in the missions he would show up in, he was always with you. I noticed that if I died and had to restart a segment, Reznov would appear in different places depending on where I went. If I used cover on the right side of a street, he would show up next to me; if I instead went through a building on the left, he'd be there as I came around a corner.
Reznov in Vorkuta

"He and us are not so different..."
-Reznov

Knowing who and what Reznov was also gave certain scenes an entirely different feeling on a second play through. When you're consciously aware of your characters psychosis, you start to picture how those scenes actually played out versus how they were portrayed in the game. In one obvious instance in the rat tunnels where a squad mate challenges Mason and tells him to "keep this shit together" when Mason is talking to Reznov, you first see that as someone telling Mason to be quiet so nobody hears them sneak up. However, when you know that Reznov isn't real at that point, it's just Mason talking to himself in the dark. Other times when Reznov helps Mason up after a close explosion or watches Reznov kill someone, you now know that it's just a survival mechanism and Mason is just projecting his own actions. It's elements like these that made the story, and the title as a whole, stand out to me. It's enthralling nature and cohesion with the actual gameplay was impressive, and I'm hoping it's a quality they choose to replicate in Black Ops II. As of now, that is scheduled for release on November 13, 2012.