Game Review: Fallout New Vegas – Old World Blues

Mark Butler reviews Old World Blues, the latest add-on for Fallout: New Vegas.

Available now for PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360.

Despite being frequently startling, regularly desolate and occasionally harrowing, the Fallout universe has always contrasted its ruined, violent post-apocalyptic landscapes with outbursts of offbeat or wacky humour, populating toxic locales and ramshackle settlements with colourful, oddball characters and enjoyably silly sub-plots, which never fail to complement the dangers of rampaging psychos and monstrous mutants.

Bringing back this sense of humour with a bang following the moody survival-horror of Dead Money and the po-faced musing of Honest Hearts, this latest add-on for open-world action-RPG Fallout: New Vegas musters a fair old dollop of amusing comedy. It’s also by far and away the finest expansion for the game to date.

The intriguing saga begins with the player being transported to a vast and intricate pre-war research facility called Big Mountain, also known as ‘Big MT’ (see what they did there?). It takes the form of a large crater dotted with various lab buildings and other facilities, but you start off in a central hub called The Think Tank, where you awake to discover that a bunch of mad scientists have removed your brain, spine and heart. Rather surprisingly, not only has this not killed you, it has in fact given you a few very handy perks into the bargain.

Said scientists are the first indication that the emphasis here is strongly on humour. Taking the form of hovering monitors controlled by clearly unhinged and equally disembodied grey matter, they provide a good few laughs during the opening dialogue – even if their conversation is a little long-winded.

A heady mixture of insane, giddy and downright bizarre (one gets very excited when confronted by the sight of human flesh) this motley crew are baffled as to how this latest ‘Lobotomite’ has survived their experiments, but they are also delighted. After all, they now have a flesh-and-blood outsider who can help retrieve a number of advanced technologies from around the Big MT, and rid them of their nemesis Dr Mobius. And his army of giant robo-scorpions, of course.

Following on from this juicy set-up, you are free to explore the entirety of the surrounding environment, and there is much to see and do. It may not seem that huge at first, but the Big MT has many unusual and compelling areas to explore. There are 35 locations in total, ranging from familiar factory buildings to weird laboratories, a ruined internment camp and an abandoned village, which boasts a number of surprisingly individual houses (belonging, as they do, to the formerly corporeal scientists).

Make no mistake: this add-on is big. The main quest line alone can take a good five or six hours to complete, and if you decide to explore further – which Fallout fans are strongly advised to do – it can occupy you a good few hours more.

Old World Blues is well worth having for the new gear alone. Unlike previous DLCs there are terrific pieces of kit to recover, including a fiercely powerful ray-gun, a smart stealth-suit that pumps you full of chems and stimpaks when necessary, and HP-regenerating headgear. Enthusiasts will also value the welcome backstory on how various mutants and robotic enemies came into being (Cazador-phobics can expect a certain degree of closure), as well as the expansion of the mythology surrounding Dead Money antagonist Elijah.

There are unusual and satisfying quests, taking in such things as the high school from hell, stealth exercises and a cyber-dog training centre. Side-quests mainly involve retrieving activation modules and upgrades for the hub’s array of colourful household help, including bitchy light-switches, a useful auto-doc, and a psychotic toaster with designs on world domination. All can provide welcome stat boosts or useful items – and their lively conversation adds to the comedy value.


Big trouble in the 'Big MT'


Not that it’s all laughs in the Big MT though. There are plenty of shocks and scares to face when being hounded by Nightstalkers, fellow Lobotomites, or the roaming, zombie-like harness suits (which come complete with decomposed corpses within).

And though the new enemies are great additions to the Fallout canon, their abundance is also Old World Blues’s most notable flaw. Frequently, you get bogged down in protracted and occasionally tedious combat with large groups of foes. The first few encounters are thrilling fun, but when you find yourself facing-down hosts of robo-scorpions, cyber-dogs and attacking mutants all at the same time, it can be frustrating and dull, not to mention a tad unfair.

This adventure is certainly no walk in the park. Low-leveled Couriers need not apply, while higher-leveled veterans will want to stock up on stimpaks and supplies before journeying to the Big MT, particularly as you cannot leave until the main quest is complete. The raising of the Level Cap to 45 is welcome, as you’ll be crying out for a few more valuable skill points and perks along the way.

One sad yet wearily familiar drawback is, at least on the Xbox 360, the possibility of some extremely annoying bugs and glitches. On this reviewer’s playthrough for instance, a potentially disastrous glitch occurred whereby selling items to the central hub’s vendor did not result in any caps being added to the inventory – even after repeated exiting, reloading and trying-again – making it impossible to repair crucial equipment or purchase additional medical supplies.

Given New Vegas’s record on this front perhaps that’s no surprise, but it is still an incredibly frustrating situation. That said, such bugs will hopefully not detract too much from the achievements of a genuinely excellent add-on.

Armed with a fair few laughs, magnificent new pieces of loot and a fascinating environment to explore and uncover, Old World Blues is a near-essential purchase for New Vegas fans that provides a great deal of entertainment, a satisfyingly long quest-line and plenty of the sublime, offbeat touches that Fallout enthusiasts have come to know and love.


FMV Rating: ****

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