Sunday, August 30, 2015

"Fallout: Dead Money" Review

I finished playing "Fallout: New Vegas" the other week. It is the 2nd time I have played thru it and I played all of the DLC. I decided to play "Skyrim" a bit and it is good, but I miss playing Fallout. It is just a more interesting universe.  Fallout, for those who do not know is a dark comedy action RPG, it is set in a post-atomic war wasteland, but contains technology that is akin to a 1950’s vision of the future, personal computers that have black and green displays, robot security guards that look like Robbie the Robot of “Forbidden Planet”, an emphasis on the “Golly Gee” era of television, and Norman Rockwell like fashion.
Fallout has laser weapons straight out of sci-fi b movies of the 1950’s, and it makes lots of commentary on social engineering, forms of government, and perceptions of who people are, what they believe, and why they believe it.  While the 1950’s is key to its foundations the post-apocalypse angle is also at the forefront as ruins dot the wasteland of the old world, most of civilization is based around scraping together resources from the past, and making due with what they have (for instance, the currency of the wasteland is Bottle Caps, because they last for a long time, and are difficult to replicate).
            Until the upcoming “Fallout 4” due later this year, I guess I will just talk about the four DLC adventure packs for the last game with each of their positives and negatives, because none of them are flawless… And some of them are more slag than ore.
Let’s have some categories for evaluation: Story (which considering how this is an RPG and writing is probably the biggest draw, it is pretty important), Environment & Characters (because Fallout has always been about exploration), Enemies and Loot (who do you kill and what do you get from their corpse), and lastly any Gameplay issues (cause it is a game and that is a big deal).
"Dead Money": I both love and loath this thing.
The mad scientist ex-leader of the Brotherhood of Steel has located a massive technological wonderland from before the nuclear holocaust.  The Sierra Madre Casino was cloaked in poisonous gas the day of the Nuclear War and since that time it has remained untouched by the outside world, hidden in its mysterious cloud.  The mad scientist, named Father Elijah (who is referenced as a major character in the game proper, but is not seen until now) has gathered you and 3 others to “help” him break in and take control of the Sierra Madre, using its wealth, defensible location, and an elaborate resource system he will be able to create his own little kingdom in the wasteland.
This is a great pitch for a series of adventures, it is a heist with a team that you cannot trust and are forced to work with by an unseen villainous asshole.  Your equipment is taken from you to keep you from being too hard to control and you are strapped with a bomb collar to keep you from ditching the mission.
I guess the use of bomb collars makes some sense, because the main villain is a thunderously large asshole about the whole enterprise, especially when he could have just politely asked for help in exchange for a share of the spoils, people would have helped him, lots of people work together in the wasteland in situations just like this without the need for bomb collars.
"So all you want is the Facility?  We get the money?  Yeah, okay."
Environment & Characters:
            Sadly the environment is as unpleasant as they come.  You start out in a Mexican villa style resort village outside the Casino, and it all looks the same.  Boring repetitive architecture randomly choked with brown poison fog and the occasional vending machine.
            Inside the casino is a little different, but it too gets very same old same old.  There is also the issue that the automated vendors in the game use pre-Nuke money, not the standard currency of casino chips that the vending machines use, and not the bottle cap currency of the rest of the wasteland, but the game still uses bottle caps to do exchanges, so if you want to sell off some useless gear rather than just having the game figure out how much pre-nuke currency or chips to give you it instead forces you to figure out how much pre-Nuke currency to ask for, so I hope you like doing algebra where finding “x” means how much fake money you have to ask for in exchange for a 200 year old 9mm handgun.
            There are four speaking characters, along with an elaborate background story to what happened to the Sierra Madre.  I feel that the main villain, Father Elijah is competent, driven, and dangerous, his voice actor does well, but I see a few holes in his plan.  The rest of your team is full of colorful characters, though their dialogue is really repetitive, I liked the final resolution to their stories, but only liked interacting with the mute woman because she had no dialogue to repeat endlessly (though even that had issues because when you talk to her they have text to describe what she is miming but the descriptive text is not on screen long enough for you to read all of it).
"...a mysterious blood red cloud began to roll across the Mojave, then West toward the Republic, no one knew where it had come from. Only that it brought death in its wake."
Enemies & Loot:
            The only enemies that you will regularly encounter are giant cockroaches (which are piss easy) and the Ghost People, who are mysterious jerks in hazmat gear that live in the sewers beneath the Sierra Madre.  The GP leave traps everywhere so be prepared to have your legs crippled every time you walk thru a doorway.  The GP also regenerate and pretend to be unconscious to ambush you later, so you have to dismember them or burn them to dust to make sure they don’t get back up.

They are very creepy for a while, unless you know how to use a spear.
            The loot is alright, you are given a steady number of casino chips to spend in vending machines, and the Ghost People have some rather brutal weapons, like a gauntlet with a bear trap affixed to it that cripples your limps.  The real issue with the money comes in the final confrontation  (SPOILERS for the rest of this paragraph) in which you are forced to leave behind a few dozen gold bars (each worth 10,000+ caps) in order to escape the casino’s lock down, otherwise you are entombed and lose the game.  It kind of plays into a story theme about letting go, and being dragged to hell by the weight of your own greed.  You might just end up feeling like you went on a grand adventure just to leave (mostly) empty handed.

            And this is where it all goes to pot.  The bomb collars are the WORST.  They can go off because you are too close to a radio or speaker that is playing a strange signal, you have a few seconds to back up before you are killed… But you often have to go thru an area with a speaker and you have no way of figuring out where it is if the thing is hidden behind a wall or stack of shelves, so you often have no chance to shoot out the speaker/radio.  You will die A FUCK TON.  I think I died 40+ times from this bullshit.
            The Ghost People would be interesting bad guys, but quickly become boring, they just lack variety.  And if you have the “Bloody Mess” perk which causes people killed by you to explode in gore, they the GP’s only clever feature of getting up after pretending to be dead to be a non-issue.  And the whole mission gets even easier if you have a lot of ranks in melee weapons which are all over the place and will be the default way of killing things, and the GP are aberrations, so if you have the “Purifier” perk which gives you a melee weapon damage bonus against aberrations then you will go thru them like butter.  And nearly all of the traps that serve to soften you up and slow you down are rendered close to useless if you have the “Light Step” perk.  If you have the “Them’s Good Eatin’" perk then the whole thing becomes fantastically easy because you will have plenty of time to recover from injury by eating all the sausage you will find.
This image does a lot to encapsulate the humor of the main game.
Overall Final Verdict:
            I might have lied about loving this.  The more I think about it the more flawed this becomes.  It is claustrophobic, lacks variety, and is excessively oppressive without enough dark humor to balance it out.  And the cherry on top: you can never go back, all the other DLC’s allow you to return to their environments to fully explore them, get more gear, and other fun little completion activities, this one doesn't.  So the game basically tells you, “and stay out” as soon as you exit, like it didn’t even want you to play it from the get go.

If you like or hate this please take the time to comment, +1, share on Twitter or Facebook, and otherwise distribute my opinion to the world.  I would appreciate it.

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