Fallout: New Vegas – A Role Of The Dice
Fallout: New Vegas could be the first sequel in history that would be disappoint if it were too different from its predecessor. We sit down with Bethesda’s Pete Hines to talk about a decidedly brighter look at post-apocalyptic life, and the benefits of sticking to your guns
Good promotion is about capturing the spirit of the product. Communicating its strengths, its unique qualities, and the elements that make it stand apart from the competition. This is often referred to as taking ‘a vertical slice’ – a narrow cross-section that provides as clear an impression of the whole as possible.
In that regard, Bethesda’s ambitious reinvention of the Fallout series poses a daunting challenge. How do you take a vertical slice of a game whose appeal is entirely rooted in its sprawl, and the way it tempts you away from defined objectives with the exhilaration of haphazard discovery? When Fallout 3 was shown at E3 2008, attendees were treated to a 20-minute demo from its very beginning – the most linear section of the game. Becoming excited about what followed your character emerging into the endless wasteland required a leap of faith.
As we pondered our imminent hands-on session with Obsidian Entertainment’s Fallout: New Vegas, it seemed clear that the game could only be effectively demonstrated in two ways: with a small but completely open section of the Vegas wasteland, or the entire game-world with a controlled number of locations to discover. In both cases, the demo would embrace the qualities that any vertical slice of Fallout should contain: exploration, freedom, and discovery.
What we got was a controlled sequence of quests that lasted just under an hour. It took us from a chunk of the strip that was clearly still a work-in-progress, via a run-down fronted by a huge plastic dinosaur, to an encampment of tired, beleaguered soldiers fighting for the New California Republic. We played poker and roulette in a casino, encountered vicious ‘Fire Geckos’ out in the wastes, stormed a stronghold manned by the forces of the ‘Legion of Caesar’, and solved a grim mystery on behalf of Boone – a lonely sniper wracked with guilt following the disappearance of his wife – the conclusion of which is just too satisfying to spoil.
In all but the last instance, however, the finer details are largely irrelevant. Fallout is a mosaic: focussing on any single piece reveals so little; the parts only truly resonate in the context of the whole. Yet while this made our demo an ambiguous representation of just how good New Vegas is likely to be, it also speaks of its major strength. Obsidian is wisely sticking with the template established in Oblivion and refined in Fallout 3. As Bethesda’s watching representatives directed us to the next destination, the hollow triangles peppering the on-screen compass sang to us once more, tempting us with the promise of new adventures waiting in the desolation. It’s as fine a basis for role-playing as one could hope for, and the Fallout universe remains pregnant with potential.
Indeed, after the phenomenal success of Fallout 3, it’s hardly surprising that New Vegas is doing so little to alter the basics. With 4.7 million units sold in its first week and Lord knows how many more since, we suggest to Bethesda’s vice president Pete Hines that even he couldn’t have foreseen just how receptive the public would be. Apparently, his confidence in the product was greater than we predicted.
“I don’t think it took me by surprise,” he replies. “Obviously, I had a sense of how good the game was, and I had a sense of how big it could be. It probably out-stripped my expectations by a little, but we put a ton of effort into making that game, and promoting it and marketing it. The goal all along was to make it bigger and take it to a wider audience, and I think we were successful in doing that.”