Tuesday 6 September 2011

Little things console us because little things afflict us

I’m not sure why I buy games on release day any more; the last two I got were Portal 2 (which I really must finish off sometime; what I’ve played so far is excellent, but for some reason it’s just never top of the list of “what I fancy playing right now”) and Deus Ex: Human Revolution (started it up, did a bit of the intro, blah blah blah dialogue dialogue, quit and went back to Fallout: New Vegas). It’s probably slightly unfortunate timing to be really into one FPS/RPG/OMG/WTF just as another comes out, but I’ve been hooked on Fallout: New Vegas for the past month or two.

You don’t even need to give it five years, picking up New Vegas in a Steam sale around nine months after launch allowed time for fairly extensive bug-squishing in a couple of big patches (though the game as a whole does just stop working and crash every now again on my system), and of course a hefty discount. I think the total for the game and three DLC packs was under £15; I feel a bit guilty as I’ve spent more than that on World of Tanks and, without wishing to denigrate the team behind World of Tanks, New Vegas is an entire game world with an overarching story with many paths, hundreds of locations to explore and massive amounts of recorded dialogue, whereas WoT is some tanks shooting some other tanks (gross simplification, and I’m still enjoying WoT and jumping in for a battle or two almost every day, but there does seem to be a bit of disparity there).

I’ve had my current PC for about two years now, without upgrades, and at one stage, in the dim distant past of the last millennium, if you had a two year old PC then you wouldn’t have much choice but to buy old games on budget releases, at least not if you wanted to nudge graphics sliders past the “monochrome stick men” option. That’s really not an issue now, my PC (pretty beefy when new, but not right at the top end) still happily runs everything I can throw at it, worst case scenario usually being running latest releases with “High” detail graphics instead of “Really, Really High”. I suspect much of that is to do with the majority of big non-MMOG PC releases being multi-platform; for Deus Ex apparently the PC only represented 13% of sales (57% 360, 31% PS3), and though that figure doesn’t include digital distribution a company would need a pretty major reason (like the prospect of monthly subscription fees) to go PC-only on a game if chucking AAA money at the production of it. With the 360 and PS3 getting on a bit, and no immediate prospect of replacements, developers have been pushing their limits for a while, and you can notice a few compromises in Fallout: New Vegas.

The New Vegas game engine handles the open spaces of the wasteland very well, and has no problems with interiors like casinos and vaults, but densely packed urban areas like the Vegas strip and surrounding town are partitioned into chunks by fences and gates with zone transitions between them. It’s not game breaking by any means, but it doesn’t help with immersion and is particularly annoying if you need to speak to someone as part of a quest. Fast Travel lets you (nigh-)instantly hop to any previously discovered location, but (unless I completely missed something) the only travel point for Vegas itself is the gate to the strip, so you fast travel there (…loading…) then go through the gate (…loading…) then through another gate to a different section of the strip (…loading…) then into a building (…loading…) to find the person you need to speak to, and of course half the time they have a couple of lines of dialogue then pack you halfway across the map again.

It’s not like New Vegas is a shoddy port by any means; the interface is bigger than it really needs to be on a PC screen, so it can be seen on a TV on the other side of a room, and it’s a minor inconvenience to have maps, quests and notes in different tabs of a screen rather than each having its own hotkey, but nothing to get worked up into an insane frothing Slashdot-comment/Digitiser’s Computer Boy type of rage over, even without mods the basic PC game is fine.

Speaking of mods, they’re a good reason to stick with PC gaming (along with using the only sensible control system, keyboard and mouse), and waiting a while after release before picking a game up gives plenty of time for modders to really get their teeth into it. I’m not using any mods for my first run-through of New Vegas, even though some could probably fix a few annoyances like the HUD scale, as you never quite know if you’ll wind up elbow deep in compatibility issues or problems with future patches, but once I’ve wrapped up the DLC I might well grab a bunch, or even leave it a while and come back to another play through to see what sort of a difference they make. I’m sure, as per Sturgeon’s revelation, there are plenty of half-finished well intentioned “quests” that only got as far as having an NPC approach the player and ask for help before running around in ever decreasing circles while performing the “use workbench” emote, free infinite-ammo nuke pistols of instant death and of course mod packs that perform the ever-vital game function of replacing every female NPC with a bikini-clad bint with improbable breasts. The user rating system and number of downloads should allow for decent filtering, though, and there do seem to be plenty of high quality mods for game functionality, graphics and content (once you’ve got past the “most downloaded” options that replace every female NPC…)

I’ve just started the most recent DLC pack, Old World Blues (currently my favourite of the lot, more on that after I finish it), which should keep me busy for a while longer yet, then I’ll need to get some new release to ignore while I actually get around to Deus Ex. Hmm, Skyrim Collector’s Edition for a mere £130, you say…

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