Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fallout: New Vegas: Old World Blues review


    Old World Blues is a delightfully deranged addition to the Fallout universe, essentially making up for the mute seriousness of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas (minus the Wild Wasteland perk) by starting off as one of the most delightfully kooky DLC in the history of gaming before going far beyond that.

    The best analogue for this is if someone decided to do an episode of Venture Brothers, itself a parody of sixties science-fiction, in the Fallout universe. This description is exceptionally accurate because James Urbaniak (the voice of Rusty Venture) actually plays a mad scientist here. There are other references if you have the "Wild Wasteland" perk for your character, including the appearance of the Walking Eye from said cartoon and Johnny Quest.

    I will state that people who like their Fallout to be dry and serious will probably hate this DLC with a burning passion beyond all reason. The premise is so over the top it makes Max Von Sydow's Ming the Merciless look positively restrained.

    You think I'm exaggerating? The premise is the Courier finds himself accidentally teleported to a Pre-War laboratory where a group of deranged cyborgs remove his brain....then lose it.

    I'm not kidding.

This is a typical character you'll interact with.

The Sink - the Courier's new home away from home.
    The Courier, lacking his brain, must recover it. I would go on to mention plenty of the deranged things that happen in the DLC but it's better if it comes to you as a surprise.

    What's really interesting is that, at least to me, some of the humor actually goes so over-the-top that it comes around the other end. There's some genuinely disturbing stuff in the DLC and a few laugh-out-loud moments that turn into grimaces of horror as the implications settle in. Dog-lovers will certainly feel a pang of guilt when they're forced to put down one of the scientists' beloved cybernetic pets.

    Old World Blues is, at heart, one lengthy parody of the Silver Age of science fiction. The kind of movies produced on a shoe-string budget and shown in movie drive-ins. Plan 9 from Outer Space, They Saved Hitler's Brain, Them!, and so on. Familiarity with these sorts of things is unnecessary as we've all absorbed the idea of bad movies and science fiction cliches via cultural osmosis. At least, if you're an American. If not, you'll still be able to pick up the majority of the references.

    There's also a message present, albeit one carefully disguised, about the moral pursuit of scientific discovery. The scientists of Big Mountain, a think tank from before the Great War, gleefully violated every ethical restraint imaginable in the pursuit of greater knowledge. This isn't because science is evil, the game goes to great lengths to say otherwise, but because the people involved were petty individuals easily lead astray by the slightest promise of recognition.

    A harsh lesson is taught from the fact the only reason these individuals had unlimited authority to pursue insane and damaging discoveries was because their pursuits had military applications. It's a critique not only of the scientists involved in unethical research but the kind of culture we exist in that devotes endless amounts of hardware to military study at the expense of more valid pursuits. My opinion of this moral lesson is mixed since military-funded research gave us the internet, rocketry, submarines, and a few million other advances but I understand the concerns involved.

    Game-play wise, Old World Blues doesn't actually have that much going for it. Almost the entirety of the DLC consists of fetch-quests across an industrial environment with no real break-up between them. The only really different one is when you're forced to infiltrate a Pre-War high school and discover the thing is filled with machine gun turrets and life-threatening robots, things heavily implied to actually have been present in America towards the beginning of the war.

    One interesting aspect of the game is ammunition is in relatively short supply, though you can bring all the ammo you need if you're smart enough to do so. As a result, I found myself making use of the "Proton Ax" during large portions of the DLC. Despite having never devoted any points to the melee skill, the ax tore through the numerous robot enemies I faced with relative ease. It was quite fun.

    The biggest benefit from the DLC, however, is in loot. Gamers who dislike having to travel to and from the Lucky 28 in New Vegas everytime they want to store their equipment will discover one of the major rewards of this game is "The Sink."

     The Sink is a secret base the player character can use a teleportation gun to visit anywhere in the Mojave (as long as they're not in a building or in combat). The Sink has a free autodoc, its own vendor, devices for processing much of the Wasteland junk you routinely find into useful items, and ample space for storing all of the loot one might acquire in one's adventures. Some of the benefits verge on the game-breaking, though nowhere near to the extent of the rewards for completing Dead Money.

    In conclusion, I had a blast playing Old World Blues and highly recommend it to any Fallout fans who want to play it. The game is cheerfully absurd so roleplayers should be warned it goes far beyond the limits of anything resembling sanity. The humor is also somewhat cartoonist and broad, which may not be to everyone's tastes either. Still, I think it's definitely worth the money I paid for it and then some.

9/10

2 comments:

  1. I find it kind of impressive that OWB and Dead Money are not only part of the same setting, but part of the same game. It's quite a feat to achieve such a wide range of tones.

    I'd argue that OWB is basically "Portal, except in Fallout and without the Portals". If someone likes Portal's basic plot and Fallout: New Vegas, they'll probably like this DLC as well.

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    1. It's interesting to see Fallout: New Vegas as the produce of Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer's brains colliding. Josh Sawyer making Honest Hearts with a sympathetic view of religion as well as optimistic view of human nature versus Avellone being the guy behind Planescape and Pillars of Eternity with his pessimistic unsympathetic view.

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