torstai 30. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Nosferatu (1994)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 1994
Available on: SNES
Developer(s): Seta Corporation
Publisher(s): Seta Corporation
Players: 1

Irish novelist Bram Stoker practically created the common myth of vampirism with his 1897 gothic horror classic Dracula. Adaptations and alterations of the story began to pour and in 1922, German film maker F.W. Murnau directed a silent horror film based on the novel, but localized Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens - Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror. It was spit on by the Stoker family, but it remained a classic motion picture which influenced just about every vampire story brought to the big screen afterwards just as much as the original novel. Nosferatu became an official synonym for Dracula, it was just used less. Well, as time went by and people witnessed the dawn of computer and video games, vampires were an obvious myth for game developers to exploit. Konami's Castlevania series was born in 1986, and today, it needs no introduction. Hailing from the deep end, we got Bram Stoker's Dracula, yet another typical 90's movie license by Sony Imagesoft - playing it's just as fun as trying to spot as much different food residue in some other guy's vomit as you can. Somewhere in between we have... what? Nosferatu? Damn. I didn't even remember this game existed. Want to see if the Seta Corporation ever did anything passable by Western standards? A game that crosses the typical cinematic platformer scheme in the vein of Flashback and Prince of Persia with some stuff stolen straight out of Castlevania and moves ripped off from Final Fight? A game that has about as much in common with Nosferatu and Dracula as the Twilight series has with vampires? This is just way too interesting to pass. Let's take a brief gander at a SNES cartridge time forgot.

I firmly believe punching a werewolf is not the answer

Nosferatu, the king of all vampires, is on the hunt for a bride and he happens to find a very lovely candidate in Erin, a young maiden whom he kidnaps and places in a dungeon in his huge mansion. Erin is not exactly available, though. Kyle, a young athlete with remarkable skills in martial arts, sets out to save his girlfriend from the clutches of the foul creature of the night and his army of monsters.

Okay... let's start from the top. First of all, I was kidding: I did remember the game's existence quite well, but there are not many people that do. See, when I was a kid, I read every issue of a Finnish video game magazine called Super Power (I have mentioned it before) multiple times, to just have a look at cool-looking games again and again. Nosferatu looked very cool, and the graphics are indeed not bad at all. The overall rating was something like 79, that was pretty bad by the magazine's standards, but in a time cinematic platformers flourished, I thought it was just some sort of comparative rating to all the other, bigger games that were released around the time. Come on: the main character is named Kyle. Kind of Blackthorne-ish, don't you think? The game indeed struck me as a carbon copy of every other cinematic platformer there was... but a game I was eager to try, and 15 years since its U.S. release (it was never officially released in Europe), I finally got to try it. It's not a copy of one certain game, it is quite unique in fact... uniquely crappy. Yet, on the other hand and in theory, it's a quite respectable mix of different genres.

I finally run on cue! What an accomplishment!
Like I said, Nosferatu looks quite good. The cutscenes are dynamic, there's a little pseudo-3D thing going on, and the different environmental angle during gameplay looks quite neat. Some (very) small portions of the game's overall look are actually quite ahead of their time. But, it is bland. Imagine an actual cross between Prince of Persia and Super Castlevania IV, which are both older games than Nosferatu, and you'd come up with something a little more versatile and fleshed out.

The opening music of the game is cool, technically speaking - but in a vampire game that doesn't seem to have a clear time setting, it just kind of dribbles between the 1990's and the medieval times, I'm not really sure whether it belongs here or not. I think the theme song is best described as poor man's Donkey Kong Country. The background music is simply horrid throughout, there's nothing artistic about it - something that any sound effect dude wannabe could whip up overnight, in the small hours, in the confines of his garage.

It looks like Prince of Persia - or a cheap version of it - with a guy dressed like Rocky Balboa, kicking demon ass left and right. There are some elements from Castlevania that are especially apparent in the boss fights, as well as the theme, obviously, and the fact that somehow the big cheese has assumed control of just about every kind of cliched monster available. Gargoyles, werewolves, humping monkeys (yeah, even them), evil genies, Frankie, whatnot. I won't even go into flying bastards, 'cause about 50% of the game's bastards fly in some capacity and fashion.

Don't you mess with the crane kick, demon.
A very basic room, or dungeon, consists of many hallways that form a maze-like union. Actually you can get forward simply by going forward, you will eventually reach the spot to enter the next dungeon, no matter how confusing it all looks like. Some paths have more enemies and obstacles than others, and you can spot all of them from afar. Usually, the ones that look most hazardous are actually the easiest ones to avoid. The hardest ones you can't even see before going on a little trip of trial and error. Luckily you have an infinite amount of lives and continues. You just couldn't do without, I assure you. Every staircase works as a checkpoint. The graceful amount of checkpoints is one of the very few things I truly appreciate about the game.

You have a decent amount of different martial arts moves at your disposal. It's just too damn bad that the controls are horrible. Seriously, is there some sense in making a beat 'em up game with even slower control based on physics and timing than Flashback or Out of This World? The worst problem with most of the worst enemies is that they're like a million times faster than you could ever hope to be. You have no chance to master the game or meet its requirements for perfect timing. You just need to battle it out with patience if you're seriously going for making this boring, irrelevant game another feather in your hat. And, punching and kicking gargoyles and werewolves feels hella stupid.

I'm not really sure anymore.
The slide is the worst possible move to execute in this lacking control scheme, and of course, you need it just as much as you need the equally inresponsive running ability, to slip through narrow gaps. Actually, you have to run in order to be able to slide. Oh, and one more thing: usually you have some ultrafast enemy tracking you whenever you need to do these things. Botch it up, and you'll not only hit a wall, but you're certain to take some amount of damage. Keep botching it up and you'll die.

There are some "puzzles" which need to be "solved" in almost every dungeon, in other words "find" an obvious button on the floor to open some door right above you, or push a distinctively coloured "hidden" pile of bricks to reveal a "secret" passageway. This, and the fact that the so called mazes are not mazes at all, makes me think this game left the conveyor belt kinda incomplete. Or, Seta just thinks we players are dumb as bricks.

Each dungeon has a number of treasure chests, which contain hourglasses and crystals. The hourglass extends your time limit, which is not really relevant to begin with. Green crystals regenerate your health, and rare blue crystals grant you an additional half of a health container. Red crystals are quite different. They're like upgrades for the Vampire Killer in Castlevania, as they enhance your physical attacks. Yet, you lose one every time you take damage, whether you fall, get hit by an enemy, or hit a wall - kind of like Sonic's rings. It's impossible to not take damage in the game thanks to all the random occurrences like hands coming out of the floor and slapping you without any type of warning every now and then. Even if you memorize the placement of the hands, it doesn't help you a whole lot when the controls start acting up again, and some other occurrences fix the problem the previous ones couldn't. "Run, damn it! ...Oh, crap. YES! ...Ah, spikes coming out of the wall on the other side of this stretch. How nice. 1. I had to run to survive, and 2. traction equals zero. Baaaaaaad combination." Just some of the things I said out loud while playing.

Not just a flying bastard, but a FAT flying
The boss fights in the game are just about as generic as you can imagine. The bosses are incredibly easy to lock up and make them succumb to a merciless series of straight punches, even if there are multiple bosses to fight at the same time. Punch one down, just punch the other 'til he's down, repeat. Nothing to it. Same goes for the general difficulty level of the game. Thanks to the surprisingly frequent checkpoints and infinite continues, you can easily beat the game if you have the slightest interest to do it.

Nosferatu is not a completely bad game - as in those starring Bubsy the Bobcat. God, I've missed saying that! It's somewhat entertaining and fun, but mostly a very bland, boring game with a totally non-existent horror atmosphere, and awful controls that almost make me feel like I'm trying to play Clay Fighter with both of my hands plastered. The time is surely coming to re-evaluate the playability of other cinematic platformers of the time - it couldn't have been this bad.

Graphics : 7.7
Sound : 5.5
Playability : 5.8
Challenge : 5.0
Overall : 5.8


GameRankings: 70.05%

REVIEW - Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare (2010)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2010
Available on: PS3, X360
Developer(s): Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar North
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games
Player(s): 1-16

Whether you liked it or not - I can't say I understand why not - Red Dead Redemption was the most talked about game in 2010. What was left after the literally sad end of the game? The extensive multiplayer experience, of course. The possibilities of roaming the prairie online were some of Rockstar's main focuses when they made the game. It surely showed in downloadable content for the game. Multiplayer challenges, online co-op missions, new weapons and skins, the long-anticipated patch that enabled online minigames... but what about those people that never were quite into playing online? John Marston's story came to an abrupt but an immensely beautiful end, that doesn't really call for a direct sequel. And besides, even if there was a possibility for a sequel, its development would take years. Just in time for Halloween, those eager for more single-player content for Red Dead Redemption got their wish... in the form of a completely tongue-in-cheek sidestory about John Marston and his efforts to put an end to a zombie plague spreading all the way across the U.S. and Mexico. Red Dead Redemption meets survival horror? Hardly! Undead Nightmare is one damn funny, action-oriented add-on that pays homage to campy b-horror, and does it in a way only Rockstar Games can deliver.

Night of the Living Red Dead

Rob Wiethoff : John Marston
Josh Blaylock : John "Jack" Marston, Jr.
Sophia Marzocchi : Abigail Marston
Kimberly Irion : Bonnie MacFarlane
Anthony De Longis : Marshal Leigh Johnson
Don Creech : Nigel West Dickens
Joe Ochman : Professor Harold MacDougal
Kevin Glikmann : Seth Briars
Ross Hagen : Landon Ricketts
Jay O. Sanders : D.S. MacKenna

Just a while after disposing of his former partners in crime and reuniting with his family, devoted rancher John Marston finds himself in a bit of a situation. Overnight, a mysterious epidemic has fallen over the frontier and turned most citizens, even wild animals, of West Elizabeth and New Austin into whole hordes of flesh-eating zombies. Since Abigail and Jack have also been infected, John takes it upon himself to find the source of the disease and a cure for it - armed to the teeth, of course.

Serious gamers, beware. Red Dead Redemption was all about telling a dramatic story. It was a funny game, sure, but it was also extremely dramatic and famously featured missions that used to be very unbecoming of an action game. Undead Nightmare is the polar opposite of the main game. It's not even a part of the true story, it's more of a sidestory that seems to take place in a wholly alternate reality of John Marston's life. This action-packed six-hour journey will be filled with laughter, there's not one drop of serious drama in it. Some old friends drop by to say their hellos and share their views on the situation, usually just to die in some b-horror fashion. Everyone dies and John just doesn't care, as long as his family is safe - that's by far the only thing in common between Red Dead Redemption and Undead Nightmare.

However, lingering themes and taboos from Red Dead Redemption are cleverly used in Undead Nightmare as well. The term "zombie" or the whole concept of the undead walking the Earth didn't really become known before the 1930's. No one quite knows what to make of the epidemic, then, so the cards of racism and religion are played, among others. Many people believe that the epidemic's happening because there are so many immigrants in the United States, and deeply religious people believe that it's some sort of curse or divine punishment for people gradually turning their back on God. The truth? Well, you'll have to see for yourself. Overall, as far as the story is concerned, Undead Nightmare doesn't quite hit all the notes - they could've squeezed out a little more gray matter from this subject, but for now, I'm quite pleased just by having a crazy amount of blood and guts spilling to the left and right, nuns with shotguns, Seth at his craziest ("I've seen a lot of sick bastards in my time, but Seth - you're special") and all the mythical creatures John might encounter on his travels, including sasquatches (FINALLY!) and the Four Horses of the Apocalypse. My point is, as much as you try to analyze the story and its small nuances, in fact it's a totally, completely and moreover, shamelessly brainless monster mash all the way, graced with some incredible, usually pitch black humour deep in the vein of Red Dead Redemption.

John Marston don't like them God damn zombies.
Although it differs from the main storyline by a great deal, Undead Nightmare DOES spoil some specific threads of Red Dead Redemption, so I'll make it clear at this point, that you should not even start with it if you haven't already beaten the main game.

Of course Undead Nightmare looks just like its source, for the most part. Like the graphical differences between Grand Theft Auto IV and its two expansion packs, the changes made are artificial, but noticeable and becoming of the theme. The general font used is straight out of any horror comedy film ever made, and the main colour scheme is switched from red to green, with a shade of yellow. The first thing that comes to my mind after having watched the undead nightmare unfold for five minutes, is something along the lines of "Tales from the Crypt: The Outlaw's Return". All we need is the Crypt Keeper.

The voiceovers are still the shite. There's close to no new characters, most of the cast was part of the original game in some minor or major capacity. If possible, the actors give some even better technical performances and the characters deliver a small host of even better punchlines than they did in any part of the game. It's missing some of the subtle dedication, but it's great nonetheless. Many pieces from the original soundtrack appear, but there are many new tracks by Elm and Jackson, including some ambient horror music and some tasty, jazzy jams to bring out the flesh (no pun intended) in the epic battles against dozens of poor, rotting bastards hungry for your brain. Unfortunately some of these jams have an annoying industrial vibe which doesn't fit the bill at all. In addition, there's one licensed song, "Bad Voodoo" by The Kreeps, which in turn fits the atmosphere of the game perfectly.

I'm sure many people will attack the expansion pack head-on and point out all the features that made Red Dead Redemption the game it is, and are gloriously missing from Undead Nightmare. Well, during the first playthrough, I felt disappointed as well. No minigames, no real connection to the main character apart from the one we already established in the game, no real exploration, just straightforward zombie massacre all the way, with a few cutscenes featuring familiar faces sending you on fancy sounding errands that have the ultimate goal of slaughtering some more zombies. Bounty hunting is replaced by finding missing persons all over the world, and even that's practically just about killing zombies. Then I figured, that first of all, Undead Nightmare is 9,95 in euros. It gives us the chance to kill hundreds of zombies as John Marston - we're getting somewhere already, right? Lastly, and this I figured out just today by browsing through my fabled game shelf, Undead Nightmare has more gameplay in it than 80% of even the best action games released in the last few years, as generic and straightforward as it might be in comparison to the main game. Think about it: a casual playthrough of Metal Gear Solid 4, minus all the cinematics, takes about five hours. A casual playthrough of Undead Nightmare, minus the time it takes to conquer the whole new Ambient Challenges, takes about six. Just suck it and pay that lousy tenner, would ya partner?

The zombies like to get up, close and personal,
so close-encounter executions are quite common
in Undead Nightmare.
Although one mission requires you to pick flowers in the old Survivalist style, the Survivalist challenge is out of the picture, and replaced with Four Horses of the Apocalypse, which will send you out searching the world for Pestilence, War, Famine and Death - special horses with some unique perks that will prompt you to break them even if you want no part of the challenges. Death, for example, can dispose of enemies very messily just by running into them, and Famine has infinite stamina. Every other old challenge is ambiently present, but with the exception of Undead Treasure Hunter, the requirements for beating them are wholly different from those in the original game. For the most part, notably harder.

There are no stores in the game; for obvious reasons, I think. New weapons, consumable items, including ammo, and special items are rewarded to you by killing zombies, saving whole towns and settlements from the undead menace, reacting to random world events, finding missing persons, doing the few survivor missions available, and looting everything and everyone in sight. Every time you enter a previously unvisited town or settlement, you will have to clean it out of zombies completely before you're able to save your game there, or do a survivor mission, if there's one available. The towns will become overrun by zombies again over time, but luckily it's a long period of time we're talking about. If shooting's not really your thing, you can also advance town safety by donating your ammo to the survivors you are there to aid.

Graveyards also need cleansing by the purifying fire and some relaxing shotgun madness against the zombies who don't want to crawl back into their holes. All this is really cool at first, but it's pretty repetitive. It's best to save a few towns and then just finish the storyline. Yep, in this expansion you can't miss anything and you can tie up all loose ends after the storyline's ended. Survivor missions are marked on your map as soon as they are available, and if you don't go doing something stupid, like blasting a Horse of the Apocalypse into oblivion instead of lassoing and breaking it, you simply can't botch your chances to nail 100% of the DLC.

The controls are not quite as smooth as in the original game. There are some new gameplay mechanics and control dynamics that are optimized for attacking large groups of enemies at once. In turn, John moves a little slow and stiff, and climbing ledges is pure hell at worst. The new weapons are cool, though. There's a good ol' classic blunderbuss shotgun, that uses zombie limbs and organs for ammo. There are also a couple of new melee and explosive weapons, as well as special coating for bullets.

As tradition goes for DLC for Red Dead Redemption, Undead Nightmare is full of multiplayer goodies in addition to the single-player campaign. There's an array of new characters, multiplayer modes, and a good deal of the stuff introduced in single player.

Breaking War.
The Undead Nightmare storyline is not hard to conquer at all, once you get used to the new massacre mechanics. The expansion pack comes complete with a Trophy/Achievement set of 12; to my surprise, only two of them are multiplayer exclusives that prompt you to try out the new multiplayer modes. The hardest parts of the game are beating all of the Ambient Challenges of the game, and collecting the few different outfits available. Yes - there's a Trophy for beating all challenges, a Trophy for killing a legendary beast and breaking another - both of them count towards beating the challenges - and a 100% completion Trophy. All things considered, there's about ten hours' worth of playing here. Pretty good for such a reasonably priced piece of downloadable content - the GTA IV add-ons originally cost about 17 euros each, and they weren't that much bigger than Undead Nightmare. Just as varied as their source title, maybe, but not much bigger in size.

It's Michael Jackson's "Thriller" vs. Tales from the Crypt vs. George A. Romero vs. the wild frontier of the Old West. Overall, Undead Nightmare is a mandatory purchase for each of those people who enjoyed Red Dead Redemption. Don't expect anything but some relentlessly bloody head-exploding goodness, and a truckload of b-horror slapstick of pure Rockstar quality, and you should be fine.

Graphics : 9.8
Sound : 9.3
Playability : 8.8
Challenge : 8.2
Overall : 8.7


GameRankings: 89.22% (PS3), 89.74% (X360)

The retail version of Undead Nightmare comes complete with all previous downloadable content for Red Dead Redemption.

The names of most of the new multiplayer characters are usually puns or combinations of important - or otherwise famous - figures of the horror genre: Poe Boll (Edgar Allan Poe/Uwe Boll), Viper Craven (Wes Craven), Ishmael Raimi (Sam Raimi), Paco Romero (George A. Romero), Sarah Reese and Magic Jackson. Sarah Reese may be a reference to horror author Sarah Reese Brennan, or the main characters of The Terminator - Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. Magic Jackson is possibly a reference to the late Michael Jackson, whose classic music video for "Thriller" was a tribute to b-horror in itself.

There are a lot of "plotholes" that have been pointed out by fans such as the whole ordeal with the zombified Uncle, and John's encounters with Nastas and the female bank clerk, who were supposed to have died long before the events of Undead Nightmare. Although it hasn't been confirmed, it's safe to assume that Undead Nightmare is a sidestory with no rational ties to the game whatsoever.

The game always starts on Friday, and time flows very fast and without logic. Friday is a reference to superstitious beliefs surrounding Friday the 13th, and the awkward flow of time may be a reference to one of the strongest recurring themes in The Twilight Zone.

keskiviikko 29. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Red Dead Redemption (2010)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 2010
Available on: PS3, X360
Developer(s): Rockstar San Diego, Rockstar North
Publisher(s): Rockstar Games
Players: 1-16

In 1985, we got the classic shooter Gun.Smoke. In 1994, the lightgun drivel Wild Guns. In 1997, LucasArts published Outlaws, an FPS game that gained a cult following. Finally, surely every gamer who lived the 90's has at least heard of the legend of Mad Dog McCree. What binds all these games is the setting - the Wild West; a largely undiscovered playground for game developers to bring their visions to life. Well, as we all know, early on during the decade, Rockstar Games rose from nothingness to the top with the releases of Grand Theft Auto III and its prequel, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. While Rockstar North was working on the anticipated third part of the GTA III trilogy which turned out to be the masterpiece Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Rockstar San Diego was in turn working on Red Dead Revolver, a third-person action game set in the Wild West. The promotional material for the game was visually off the charts, but the game itself received mixed, mostly lukewarm reviews. In 2009, Rockstar Games announced that Josh Needleman, the main designer of Red Dead Revolver, had joined a production team working on a "spiritual successor" to the game - although it was clear to be rather what Revolver was originally supposed to be. The RAGE and Euphoria game engines known from Grand Theft Auto IV were applied to a sandbox-style Wild West adventure that was supposed to blow everyone's mind. It did that, and more. Red Dead Redemption is without a doubt and in every way, the most captivating and addictive video game of 2010... and one of the best games of the decade.

"My name is John Marston." 

Rob Wiethoff : John Marston
Josh Blaylock : John "Jack" Marston, Jr.
Sophia Marzocchi : Abigail Marston
Spider Madison : Uncle
Benjamin Byron Davis : Dutch van der Linde / Nastas
Kimberly Irion : Bonnie MacFarlane
Chuck Kelley : Drew MacFarlane
Anthony De Longis : Marshal Leigh Johnson
Don Creech : Nigel West Dickens
Joe Ochman : Professor Harold MacDougal / Government Clerk

West Elizabeth, 1911. The age of outlaws is over. The newly formed Bureau of Investigation does its best to put the rest of the stubborn old troublemakers out of commission. John Marston is a former outlaw, who is now desperately trying to gain the trust and respect of his teenage son Jack, and lead a whole new life as a dairy farmer with his loving wife Abigail on his side. However, John soon realizes he can't escape his past. Two crooked government agents take his family into custody, and blackmail John into tracking down, and capturing or killing his old gang of three, who are still wreaking havoc across the county and the Mexican borderline. John will stop at nothing to protect his family, even if it means taking the lives of the only friends he ever had, or giving his own.

Although Red Dead Redemption is very close to Rockstar's flagship series when it comes to gameplay, the similarities just might slip by unnoticed for the longest time due to the whole different setting. Unlike games in the Grand Theft Auto series, Red Dead Redemption is more of an expansive story than just simply an open world sandbox game by Rockstar in which you start off as a nobody and work your way up to the top. It's a story with a little The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, a hint of Wild, Wild West, and a shitload of The Unforgiven, topped off with a healthy dose of Little House on the Prairie. It sounds bad, but it plays out like the most beautiful dream. John Marston - who, by the way, is one of the best video game characters in history - does not help people for money, fame or anything of the kind. First of all, he's just such a nice guy, especially towards women. Too bad for the ladies, he's also 100% devoted to his wife. After abandoning his old ways, his only purpose in life has been to provide for his family, and keep them safe from any harm - and if an opportunity to do these things is given to him even by someone he doesn't like, he takes it. John is a fascinating character I can't even begin to analyze - by default (there's a Fame/Honor system based on your personal choices of action) he's a man we all want to be. Or would want to be, if we were frontiermen of the time. Although Red Dead Redemption is not a role-playing game, there are many elements taken from the RPG genre, and John has the perfect boots for us to strap on. You're not just playing as John Marston, you ARE John Marston. It's all so real, and there aren't many things you CAN'T do while riding around the prairie. Everything you could possibly imagine to do in a sandbox game set in the late years of the Wild West, is most likely possible to do in Red Dead Redemption.

Everything you could possibly SEE in a sandbox game set in the late years of the Wild West is most likely here to see, too. The industrial revolution of the early 20th century is well taken note of. Rockstar Games is known for taking their chances with taboos, and Red Dead Redemption is a new high on that front. Swearing, very explicit cursing is present, but only the less sophisticated people really use bad language all the time. John, for instance, apparently resents the word "fuck" - another small nuance about the character that I truly admire. Despite randomly saying it upon having bad luck at a blackjack table, he only says it twuce to my personal recollection during the scripted portion of the game, and even then, he's either angry as hell or uses it to provide a sarcastic answer. The script in general, including the dialogue, is off the charts. I'm starting to think Dan Houser should write every video game script. Red Dead Redemption has the best story I've experienced in a video game in years. Back to the taboos, many real issues from the Wild West that are rarely spoken of in any mainstream movie about the subject, have some sort of presence: the overwhelming significance of faith, the commonness of physical and mental illnesses (and devious elixir peddlers claiming to have a single cure for all ailments), explicit racism and oppression, cannibalism, sexual abnormalities - and I don't mean people being gay, which was considered an abnormality at the time as well, but some really sick shit! - and other crimes against nature, those sorts of things.

Remember mi nombre: John Marston!
The game is based on Grand Theft Auto IV, but there were two years between Rockstar's multi-million seller and the highly anticipated Red Dead Redemption, so some sort of graphical facelift was hoped for, not exactly expected. Yet, it happened. The world map isn't that huge when you look at it, but once you get to riding it from one end to the another, you'll notice that the frontier around you is huge, and the distances you can scan by standing on cliffs is amazing. The definitions, the use of colours, shading... if you squint enough, you can even see how your reflection and position influences the eye patterns of NPC's. The violence is quite gross; make a headshot in Deadeye and watch your opponent's brains burst out in slow motion. Red Dead Redemption is a pure marvel to behold. I thought facial design and expressions can't get any better than they were in Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2, but they did. It's like watching a very lengthy Western movie; there are only two things wrong. Although the game looks even better than Grand Theft Auto IV, there's still a certain (trademark) blockiness and stiffness about the characters and their movement. In a way of comparison, Niko Bellic and John Marston move the exact same way; John might not be as fast of a runner, but you could easily imagine him trampling the streets of Liberty City. Another thing is that while even the most minor NPC's stand out in this game in general - it's the same as in Grand Theft Auto IV, you rarely meet the same man or woman on the streets - whenever you engage in any closer action with them, like a game of Hold 'Em or Liar's Dice, they all look the same and act the same, even if all gambler NPC's do have a distinct style of playing. That's a feat in itself.

Going into how the game sounds like calls for a few lengthy, separate paragraphs. Let's talk about music and sound effects first. The Grand Theft Auto series has had its share of good, original score - it just hasn't really been the center of musical attention since there's been so much licensed music in the games since Grand Theft Auto III. Red Dead Redemption does have licensed music - songs that play in key scenes and whenever they don't spoil the authenticity of the experience, like during the end credits. And do they possess the Western spirit or what? Ashtar Command, a duo formed by DJ Chris Holmes and former Filter guitarist Brian Liesegang, hits the jackpot with an incredible, heartfelt ballad named "Deadman's Gun". Soul artist Jamie Lidell contributes with a remix of his song "Compass", Swedish folk musician Jose Gonzalez impresses with "Far Away" and finally, since this is a Western game, it needs at least one traditional Western song - and what would be more traditional than "Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie"? This version's performed by the young blues singer William Elliot Whitmore. All of these indie musicians surely got a huge boost from this game, and unlike the bunch of crappy indie bands that performed on the Grand Theft Auto IV soundtrack (and pretty much ruined it), these guys are more than listenable.

Since radio was generally a fairly new invention in 1911 and primary vehicles for transportation - horses - could not really be fitted with one, most of the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack consists of an original score, produced by Craig Conner as always, and written by country, folk and Western specialists Bill Elm and Woody Jackson. There are 15 guys in their "band", complete with a horn section, a lot of drums and percussion, occasional orchestration, bass, violin and harpsichords, and whatnot - except for instruments that simply didn't exist. To describe the authenticity and the atmosphere of the soundtrack is a trip I dare not to make. It cannot be done, not by anyone. I have the soundtrack, actually - it doesn't quite feel the same without the gameplay and the general visuals of the game backing it up, and it isn't really my favourite kind of music in the world, but it is classy and its production values are great. The in-game cues for the music are well inserted. Whenever there's any sort of situation - a chase, a damsel in distress, a turning point in a mission etc. - expect to feel your blood pressure rise courtesy of some tense Western crunch. Therefore, the soundtrack works as a series of sound effects in itself. The soundtrack alone garners in pretty good points for the sound scheme of the game.

The voice acting has never been better, in a Rockstar game or anything else for that matter. Grand Theft Auto IV didn't need prolific actors to succeed on this front, the cast of Red Dead Redemption is a bunch of even less known actors that are just begging to get noticed. It's simply amazing throughout, there's no way around it. Some of the minor Latino characters in the game are a bit overplayed, but everyone that has some significance to the game's outcome is most definitely on the mark. Besides John Marston, this game features many of my favourite characters in video game history. The awesomeness of the script almost demands a "best lines in Red Dead Redemption" article to be written - it would be almost as lengthy as the whole script, so there really isn't much sense in it, but it surely gives an idea how downright incredible the script is. It's got humour, it's got drama. Both in large, even quantities.

The prairie isn't Liberty City. Actually, there are no cities; Blackwater is considered one, but only because they have quite an establishment with a hotel, a church, a national bank, many stores and the Bureau headquarters. In size, it isn't much bigger than the rest of the towns. The world map in Red Dead Redemption is split into four different parts. The biggest is the county of New Austin. Then there's Nuevo Paraiso, a Mexican province near the border. The small county of West Elizabeth is where John starts his journey, but we can't explore the area before the final few hours of the game. Like in every 3D Grand Theft Auto game, it is lawfully prohibited for John to enter the area, but there's not a really good reason for that this time around. Finally, there's Tall Trees, a partly snow-covered, forested area in the north, inhabited mostly by Indians and some huge fuckin' grizzly bears.

The missions are not just the simple variety of "kill this dude", "kill that dude", "rob this bank" or "rob that bank", there are also missions that totally break some molds of the action genre; for example, cattle herding. You read right. John is no longer an outlaw, he's a farmer, and he loves to work with cattle. Some people absolutely loathe these sorts of missions, but I absolutely love the way Rockstar squeezed in missions that are John's everyday life, instead of just having him riding his horse from point A to point B and killing someone that has pissed off another someone, from the beginning to the end. It adds to his character in its own way.

Not exactly Sunday church.
An automobile is a new invention which only those in the highest social positions can afford, and John hates them anyway, so in this game, you have your feet and your horse to get you around. Of course, you have some fast-travel alternatives like boarding a train or a stagecoach taxi to get from one end of the map to another - and you probably will use them more and more towards the end, since you'll be doing a lot of trips between Mexico and the U.S. if you're going for the 100% mark. The hidden packages from the Grand Theft Auto series are completely eliminated. What we get in turn is an array of different outfits, obtained via about six accomplishments each, extensive challenges in several different categories such as sharpshooting and treasure hunting, bounty hunting, different jobs like breaking horses and working as a town's nightwatch, and playing lots of minigames. There's nothing truly frustrating or tedious about going for the biggest prize of the game. It's all pretty fluid... except maybe for the Survivalist challenge. But it's not that bad in the end. I'll get to it later. The main positive is that you aren't forced to look for hundreds of pigeons or something of the kind in order to completely beat the game.

Like I said before, John moves exactly like Niko, but there are some small tweaks that make him a little more realistic. It doesn't have a lot of practical use, but you can manually draw and holster your gun or melee weapon. Your weapons are neatly organized in a radial menu. Whenever you get a new weapon from the same category, it automatically replaces the older one. If, for some reason, you liked the previous weapon more, you can manually revert back to it from the main menu. For no actual reason except for the fact that he's the coolest gunslinger alive, John has very, very sharp eyesight and better reflexes than any normal human being; that's why he can use a bullet-time feature called Deadeye, as long as he has the needed amount left in the meter. There are three different versions of Deadeye; the two later ones are introduced via the storyline. The first one simply lets you aim in slow motion. The second brings in tags for easy headshots and disarmings, you just need to sweep your crosshair over an enemy or animal body part and you'll automatically shoot at it once the Deadeye drains or you manually end the sequence. The third one's the best - no surprise there. The tags are manually inserted in Deadeye 3.0, and the sequence is much longer, meaning you can quite easily take down the whole bunch of whoever's potentially chasing you in just a jiffy, with a well-placed series of headshots.

John can spontaneously greet (or insult) people with the press of one button. "How ya doin', Miss?" or something like that. It has no practical use and it's a very small, almost ambient thing, but it brings the realism of the game once again that much closer to home. Whenever you wander too far from your horse to easily mount him/her, you can call 'em with a whistle and they spawn near you. If your horse happens to die - which is surprisingly common on the first playthrough - you'll have to let the game to regenerate you a new one of a random species in about five minutes. The horses can be saved just as any vehicles in the Grand Theft Auto series, by hitching them outside your safehouse. The control scheme partly reverts back to San Andreas; you use the X button (PS3 version) to run or gallop. It would be quite awkward to gallop by using a trigger button, I agree. There's no health meter in this game; like Nathan's in Uncharted, John's health regenerates over time. The blue meter opposite the Deadeye meter is actually your horse's stamina meter. At first, it isn't full - it becomes full once your horse has become trusting enough. He can be made your loving companion by riding him enough, or automatically by hitching him. If you're being too rough on him while riding, expect 'em to drop you off their back, regardless of the hurry you are in. During some big chase in which you have eight angry bandits shooting at you with rifles, this isn't very fun - and no, you don't have any time to keep watching the stamina meter.

In Grand Theft Auto IV, if your health got too low, you were very often prompted to drive for many extra miles in search of a burger joint or a hot dog stand, which was quite tedious when you had to do it several times in succession. This is not a problem in Red Dead Redemption, since you have a satchel for items. Although John's health regenerates over time, there are situations which call for immediate medical attention, and for that, you can buy medicine. There are many consumable items for refilling the Deadeye meter - which also regenerates over time, and faster with each unassisted kill - as well as your horse's stamina meter. By buying a campsite set, you can save your game anywhere on the world map, and fast travel without having to resort to a stagecoach. You can buy deeds for special horses, new weapons of course, and maps for general use, as well as the Survivalist challenge. There are also many special items: puzzling treasure maps, a rabbit's foot which of course grants you luck, and a cross that protects you (I didn't attain this on the first playthrough), among others. You can go out, kill and skin wild animals, and sell their skins and innards for some reasonable profit at any store.

Just take a look at this scenery. It doesn't matter
whether or not you have a car, you can still just
take a ride and relax.
Even if you're playing it nice, it's not too uncommon to gain a bounty on your head, even by accident. You can't always make out who you're shooting at in a hasty situation. Once I was trying to shoot a bandit determining his position according to the minimap, but actually my target was a lawman, riding in front of the bandit and who was actually trying to help me. Also, if you whistle for your horse and hastily climb on his back, you can accidentally mow someone over, which counts for murder; it's your fault if you were riding the horse, see. You can just imagine how irritating these sorts of situations are. Oh, well, anyway. The law is not such a simple thing in the late years of the Wild West - that's why it's called Wild West. Most lawmen are cowards to some degree. Even the Bureau outsources to bounty hunters - that's how this game starts! Whenever you break the law (there are actually quite a few ways to do that), lawmen start pouring after you in the Grand Theft Auto IV style. However, as soon as you've made it outside the threat ring, they'll give up, BUT the bounty on your head remains. The larger it gets (the cap is $5000), the more likely you are to get each bounty hunter and lawman you pass by after you. There are quite a few ways to get rid of the price on your head. You can use letters from the Bureau to get a full pardon with no payment necessary, pay off the bounties yourself, or do some bounty hunting for smaller sums, to reduce the fine from your reward money. Of course, you can also surrender and count the bricks on the walls of a jail cell for a spell.

Fame is rewarded for everything you do to help people or build your reputation. Missions, random events, tasks for strangers, the ambient challenges, everything. Yes, the stranger feature introduced in Grand Theft Auto IV is back - and most of the strangers are literally strange! - but there are also events happening all over the world and you can choose whether or not to get involved. You can also decide which side you want to take. There are stagecoach taxis getting attacked by bandits, you can choose to help the bandits or save the innocents riding the stagecoach by unleashing some headshot madness. There are hangings, in which you can choose to save the victim by shooting at the rope or make his/her death that much quicker by putting a bullet in their heads. Hookers hired by groups of bandits, pretending to be damsels in distress... many sorts of things. There are so many unique random events in the game, but I've got to admit that towards the end, the same ones are repeated so many times that you simply lose the interest to help. It's kind of cold to just ride away as fast as you can when a man comes up to you and tearfully asks you to save his beloved wife from a case of bandits-hanging-someone-just-for-fun, but after you've done it for a hundred times during the course of the game, you just really won't give a damn anymore. The more famous you are, the more different perks you get on your way to becoming a Legend of the West. Permanent bounty reductions, price reductions at stores, free stagecoach rides, and such.

Honor is the counterpart to Fame and a very familiar stat to anyone who's played Sucker Punch's action sleeper inFamous, Fallout or some other choice RPG's of recent years. Honor builds up the way you want it. You can march into a store, rob the owner and go through his belongings. If he gives you shit instead of being smart and just running away, you just put a bullet in his head and that's the end of that story. If you can't find your horse, you just steal his and gallop into the sunset laughing, flipping the bird at the dozen of lawmen standing at awe of your awesome nerve. OR, you wake up in the morning, find out the store owner's been robbed, chase the robber down, lasso and hogtie him, and scold him for being such a bad puppy before returning the money to its rightful owner and continuing on your usual way. In theory, you don't need to kill anyone in this game outside of the storyline. The more people you let live, and the more general moral decisions you make for the better, the more your Honor increases. In the end, you can be either loved by everyone (except the most vilified outlaws), or hated and pissed on, even by dogs.

Not only does Red Dead Redemption have extensive stats that are fun to read, and mandatory to read every once in a while to keep track of your progress towards 100% completion, John also keeps a very handy journal of everything that's going on. The downside to the game is, that you can actually miss stuff related to the 100% completion, unlike in any Grand Theft Auto game. The game does continue after the final credits as always, but at that point tasks given by strangers, for example, are no longer available. The upside is that just about everything you do in the game, or are able to do at the moment, is written down in John's journal. When you met a stranger (or random character, as they were called) in Grand Theft Auto IV who gave you several missions, you needed to find 'em again each time, in some other part of the city. The game keeps track of these people's movement and marks their position on the world map even if you're far away from them, as long as you've met them once. Luckily they are not that difficult to find in the first place. There are a couple of strangers found in some secluded locations no one would think twice to inspect normally, but the stranger icon can be spotted on the minimap from quite a distance, actually. And, it's big in size - unlike the almost invisible, thin shape in Grand Theft Auto IV.

Challenges take up the most time in the game besides the storyline. First of all, there are all the different outfits which require many criterias to be met, almost every one of them - for example my favourite, the Duster Coat, requires only certain Fame to be achieved. The four Ambient Challenges will certainly not be to everyone's liking. Each one has ten ranks; as expected, each rank is more difficult to achieve than the previous one. Upon reaching rank 10 in one challenge, you gain a perk associated to the subject, and you're one step closer to gaining the Legend of the West outfit, as well as 100% completion. First one is Sharpshooter, in which you have to conquer all sorts of challenges related to - surprise, surprise - sharpshooting. For example, you need to brush up on your skills to be able to shoot people's hats off without killing them, and off a set amount of wild animals in a single Deadeye sequence. Master Hunter starts off easy; you just need to find a good spot to kill and skin a number of certain animals, for example coyotes. Later, you need to kill the biggest and most dangerous beasts in the game, like cougars and grizzly bears by using your combat knife. That's just dastardly, I can tell you. Especially if they have friends backing them up. Treasure Hunter is by far the easiest challenge in the game, if you have a good eye for landmarks and details, and a good mind for puzzles. Survivalist is the most tedious challenge of them all; this one involves picking several tens of all kinds of flowers blooming around the world map. First of all, some side missions also require you to pick flowers - and they do not count for the challenge. Secondly - and it is a problem in other random areas as well - the autosave feature only takes the full amount into account. For example, if you need 10 Hummingbird Sages and you have nine of them, one unexpected attack from a pack of wolves may kill you and therefore reset the amount. It wouldn't be a problem if the flowers were not so darned hard to find at their worst. Luckily there's the Survivalist Map, but you can only carry one of them at a time.

Some people need to learn to not fuck with John
Marston the hard way...
Red Dead Redemption is such a vast game that it's completely pointless to go over ALL the details, but I'm guessing a lot of people will be interested in the minigames it has to offer. It's the Wild West, and you're not a man if you don't gamble. If you're a poker fan, you can expect to spend hours (literally) by playing Texas Hold 'Em and attempting to eliminate all other players - and yes, with a certain outfit equipped, you can cheat and there are no punishments for it, since cheating actually takes some skill in itself. Five Finger Fillet is in; if you've seen the movie Aliens, you know what it's about. It's not my favourite minigame since it's based on strictly rhythm-based QTE that's never on my side, but a lot of people seem to like it. Blackjack - well, of course. Arm wrestling, check. Horseshoes, check. Liar's Dice, check. Actually, I had once heard of Liar's Dice before playing this game, but never knew how the game worked. I became hooked on it after the first few rounds. Now, I think it's a bit too easy to win. Texas Hold 'Em is a form of poker I never liked or even fully understood before playing Red Dead Redemption, now I think it's pretty much the only form of real poker there is.

Before I wrap this all up, I'll go over some random, minor specifics I dislike about Red Dead Redemption. The most annoying detail about it is that each time you skin an animal, regardless of the weapon you killed it with, you switch to the combat knife. You can just imagine what it feels like to step into the line of fire and getting ready to unleash hell with the shotgun you thought you had equipped, only to realize you're trying to fend off a hail of a thousand bullets with a damned knife. I'll just never get used to it. Secondly, I'm annoyed by the breach in the autosave feature which I already mentioned - but not exactly due to the Survivalist challenge, but more due to a stranger side mission that requires you to gather ten flowers, five beaver furs and 20 bird feathers. In this case, the autosave doesn't work at all. If you want to keep these items in case of an impromptu death, you need to save all the time at a campsite. Birds are easy to find and shoot, but finding their corpses is another thing. All flowers are hard to find - at least when you're searching for specific ones - and beavers have a lot of trouble showing up when needed. I'm serious: last night, I spent three hours looking for the last beaver I needed to skin for the mission. Well, when I found it, I accidentally killed it with a rifle. If you shoot a small animal with a rifle, there's not shit left of it. Realistic, but at that point, enfuriating, as you can imagine. Well, I finally got it, then rode away from their natural habitat towards the stranger, and found something like three or four beavers running across a farm. A FARM. It's like the game was seriously fucking with me. Thirdly, people challenging you to a traditional duel give up way more easily than other harbingers of random occurrences, you can easily miss an opportunity to engage in a duel by riding into town too fast. There are some more nuisances, but I'll leave them to your own judgement; the last thing I'll mention is that as great as the story is, even magnificent, almost perfect, I think the "main" antagonists are underplayed. The gang members' character development is almost wholly left to John talking about them; the only times they are seen, they are either having a two-minute dialogue with John or looking down the barrel of his gun. I really would've liked to see them in action a bit more, since everything that John says about the leader in particular, makes his old gang sound like the renegade FOXHOUND of the Wild West. OK, maybe not THAT grand, but great villains nonetheless. The real main villains here, of course, are those two guys from the Bureau... some serious Assholes with a capital A. Not really intimidating, more like arrogant, degenerate sons of bitches you can't wait to get your hands on. Every word they say comes out worse than the last. In other words, they're great villains in their own right.

Grand Theft Auto IV wasn't a very hard game and Red Dead Redemption is even easier. The low level of difficulty is the game's biggest flaw, aside from the multiplayer mode which was a huge disappointment for me before all the DLC started pouring - initially you couldn't play minigames in Freeroam, which I thought would've been one of my main interests in multiplayer. Late entrants to the multiplayer game have to start from the absolute bottom and take it up the ass from campers that have already run the game back and forth for months, and believe that shooting low-level avatars who can't even spit back at them is some sort of demonstration of true power. This isn't me speaking, I bought the game two days after its European release, but I know exactly what this friend of mine is talking about, thanks to my experiences with some other similar online games. Going back to the difficulty level of the game, reaching 100% is harder in the traditional sense than in Grand Theft Auto IV; in that game, it just took a hell of a lot of time. Some would say, too much time. On top of it being harder, you need to know when to do everything, since like I said, you CAN miss stuff needed for full completion, which in my mind is quite unbecoming of a Rockstar product.

There's a lot to do, however, and hitting the 100% mark will take you about 40-50 hours. There's a bit of replay value as well, brought on by the sheer awesomeness of most of the gameplay, as well as the opportunity to make different decisions throughout the game. An opposite Honor stat than before or handling things differently don't quite affect the concrete outcome this time around, but they sure grant a different gameplay experience from all accounts.

One thing about living in Armadillo I never
could stomach: all the damn cannibals.
The collection of Trophies/Achievements in Red Dead Redemption suffers from the problem that's way too common in games nowadays: too damn many multiplayer exclusives, and ones that are nearly impossible to get if you're one of those unlucky, late entrants who get all the worst "n00b" shit from 15-year old assholes who think they're some sort of gods of the network and spend all their time crouching at the edge of a cliff and pointing their sniper rifles at the road, getting ready to shoot whenever they see a player ID lighting up. The rewards of the single-player campaign consist of the obvious: standard completion, 100% completion, killing X amount of people with weapon X (ironically one of them is impossible to achieve in single player), and passing certain points in the storyline - but also of quite random stuff like escaping U.S. Marshals (called upon in the most extreme situations) on a specific type of horse, and killing every single buffalo in the game... and who could forget the controversial Dastardly Trophy, that requires you to hogtie a woman, place her on the train tracks and enjoy the show?! Even if getting 100% isn't that hard, platting the game is damn challenging. For that, I guess I'll give the game a couple of points more for challenge.

In the other end we have a guy into fast cars and dirty women that says Red Dead Redemption simply isn't as fulfilling and beautiful as Grand Theft Auto IV, and that the multiplayer mode sucks ass. In the other, a guy that never really liked Grand Theft Auto IV, but loved Red Dead Redemption so much that he pushed on to conquer 100% of the game in just a few days, and had fine experiences with the multiplayer mode as well. Well, I'm in the between. I'll NEVER bash Grand Theft Auto IV, because the game is phenomenal, even two years after its release it stands as one of the finest action games ever, pretty much surpassed only by its predecessor from the previous generation when it comes to the sandbox style. However, Red Dead Redemption is an amazing experience. It has many qualities in general gameplay which Rockstar's previous game didn't have and an incredible story, but also some random downsides and nuisances which become more and more notable towards the end. Is Red Dead Redemption a better or worse game as a whole than Grand Theft Auto IV? No. It's just as good. And, I would dare to say, as much as you might dislike its setting, it's an experience that you just can't miss from a gamer's point of view. It just might be as real as a video game can get.

Graphics : 9.8
Sound : 9.9
Playability : 9.3
Challenge : 8.6
Overall : 9.5


GameRankings: 94.76% (PS3), 94.45% (X360)

As of December 28th, 2010, the Xbox 360 version of Red Dead Redemption has more Achievements than any other game on the platform - 95.

John Marston was partly designed after Red Harlow, the young protagonist of Red Dead Revolver, who in turn was designed after Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood's character in The Outlaw Josey Wales. Many observant fans of the series believe the character "Uncle" is actually an aging Red Harlow, but Rockstar denies there being any characters from Red Dead Revolver in the game. However, many Red Dead Revolver characters are mentioned by name during campfire stories which John can listen to. Additionally, there are many storyline threads that Redemption shares with Revolver to some degree.

At the age of 38, John Marston is the oldest protagonist in a Rockstar game thus far. He surpasses his runner-up, Tommy Vercetti from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, by three years.

The first Rockstar game with two countries to explore.

It is described "very likely" that the character design of Seth Briars was most influenced by Smeagol, a.k.a. Gollum from Lord of the Rings.

The ending of the game wasn't written until after the release of some of the earliest trailers. Some of the character designs, including those of John and Abigail Marston, went through some notable changes due to the rewritten parts.

tiistai 21. joulukuuta 2010

REVIEW - Fallout: New Vegas (2010)

Genre(s): Action / RPG
Released: 2010
Available on: PC, PS3, X360
Developer(s): Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher(s): Bethesda Softworks
Players: 1

Fallout 3 was one of the greatest surprises I've ever experienced during my years as a gamer. Released in 2008, this game was on my hatelist for months into its release. It looked dull, it was poorly delivered, and essentially a first-person RPG; I've never liked to play in first person. And, it was full of glitches. Chocked. Yet, after just a few hours, I completely understood why people praised the game. There was just something so awesome and addictive about it. As praised as the game was in the media and as much as I liked it, fans of the Fallout franchise were almost unanimously disappointed in the game, in one way or another. I've heard some fans downright berating the game for destroying every bit of what used to be so great about Fallout. Most of the blame was on the game's developer, Bethesda Softworks. In 2009, a sequel to what many more casual gamers consider the game of 2008 was announced. Obsidian Entertainment, a team of developers comprised of many former employees of Black Isle Studios - who made the first two Fallout games - was hired by Bethesda to combine their Fallout know-how with the modern Gamebryo engine, in an attempt to bring balance to the Fallout fanbase. Me, I'm not into this "Fallout 3 vs. the world" war. What I see in Fallout: New Vegas is simply another great post-nuclear role playing experience. Yet, like that of its predecessor's, New Vegas' greatness comes with many costs.

Viva New Vegas

Matthew Perry : Benny
Wayne Newton : Mr. New Vegas
Kris Kristofferson : Chief Hanlon
Zachary Levi : Arcade Gannon
William Sadler : Victor
Rene Auberjonois : Mr. House
Michael Dorn : Marcus
Danny Trejo : Raul
John Doman : Caesar
Ron Perlman : Narrator

It's the year 2281. The state of Nevada has not had the worst share of the nuclear war that reduced the East Coast to a pile of rubble over 200 years ago. There's a steady supply of fresh food and water, and general radiation level across the land is nominal. However, all the benefits New Vegas has over the rest of the world calls for a power struggle. The New California Republic army usually manages to keep things in check for the common man, but their rules and regulations don't suit everyone, least of all the opposing tribe of Great Khans, the maniacal Legion, or the mob families running the many casinos in central New Vegas. Nevada's a battlefield created by several factions looking for dictatorship. A courier is sent to Vegas on a seemingly brief and simple delivery job. Things get a lot more complicated when he's ambushed in the small town of Goodsprings, shot in the head twice and dumped in a shallow grave. A re-programmed Securitron robot named Victor saves the courier and takes him to the local doctor for thorough treatment. When he comes to, there's only one thing in his mind; he needs to find the man that shot him, and make him pay.

If you have seen Fallout 3, you've seen this game when it comes to the visuals - the graphics engine is perfectly identical, there are just a few changes in the interface that those with the keenest eyes can spot. It looks so identical that some people actually still believe New Vegas to be an expansion pack to Fallout 3 instead of a full-length game in itself. That, and the fact that Bethesda has explicitly stated that New Vegas is NOT Fallout 4, rather a spin-off of the first two games. The tone of the palette is different, the game is somewhat lighter than Fallout 3, to clarify New Vegas' relatively healthy status as opposed to the Capital Wasteland, and of course, most of the free roaming in the game takes place on the Mojave desert, where you'd expect a lot of sand and sun. Oh, did I mention the game's size? If you thought Fallout 3 was big, you ain't seen nothing yet. A somewhat larger and more cramped world map, four main quests and over 70 official - or "marked" - sidequests, four prominent minigames, plus all the extra stuff you can do, topped with the trademark freedom of the series... how'd you like that? Welcome to New Vegas.

The original music's once again composed by the Israeli master of classical ambience, Inon Zur. He's assisted by Mark Morgan, the guy responsible for the soundtracks of the original Fallout and Fallout 2. In addition to the original score, we have a righteous, traditional collection of songs from the 40's, 50's and 60's, including tunes from Frank Sinatra, Guy Mitchell, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby. All in all, the soundtrack's better than the one used in Fallout 3, but it's still highly repetitive - I don't even remember hearing more than perhaps six or seven different songs during a 10-hour stretch.

Despite of a few repeating lines - usually greetings and goodbyes - that sound ridiculous and totally out of place, the quality of the voice acting has gone up by many notches. The monotony of the previous game has been harvested for the most part and there are some individuals who do outstanding jobs and are always a pleasure to talk to. Whereas the previous game only had two big names calling the shots, Liam Neeson and the series stalwart Ron Perlman, New Vegas features appearances from Matthew Perry (Chandler in Friends!), musical legends Wayne Newton and Kris Kristofferson, William Sadler (perhaps best known as the villainous Col. Stuart in Die Hard 2) and Rene Auberjonois (the filler actor of all time, best known as Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine). Michael "Mr. Worf" Dorn returns as the Super Mutant Marcus from Fallout 2, and Danny motherfuckin' Trejo makes an appearance as Raul the Ghoul with a much-criticized and perhaps a little decontextual, but the way I hear it, moderately cool performance - it's Danny motherfuckin' Trejo! The sound effects are great across the line, but I have to heavily criticize the effect indicating a poisoning or a severe drug addiction. That's dastardly.

This is a progressive review, which basically means that I've played the game for 52 hours right now, while writing this paragraph, but I won't write all of it before I'm done with the game to get the difficulty ramble right; I predict I still have 30 hours or so to go (indeed I had - post-game note). On the first glance, Fallout: New Vegas looks exactly like Fallout 3, which makes it even more difficult to understand that it's a stand-alone game instead of an exceptionally epic expansion pack. Many fans of the old school Fallout experience have pointed out that essentially, Fallout: New Vegas is what Fallout 3 should've been - there was never anything wrong with making Fallout run on Gamebryo, instead it was a whole bunch of tiny nuances that affected the negative views on the game from the old community. I loved Fallout 3 and disregarded any negative thoughts, because it was my first Fallout game, and the first game, as good as it turned out to be, didn't quite captivate me in the same way. I'm still aiming to beat it, though, and then take on Fallout 2. Great games, but there's just something about the modern engine that pleases me. Be the game at its best in first person or not.

Fallout 3 took about two hours to really kick in and show off its true greatness. Fallout: New Vegas takes a hell of a lot longer. I don't remember when I've last played a game as slow to get its hooks on you - it's certain, but slow. The plot and all its subtleties are quite confusing (ie. too political) at first, you'll start to understand them better by talking to different NPC's and hearing their takes on all the shit going down in Vegas. Parts of the story are very, very solid - some lengthy quests have better plots than the entirety of Fallout 3! - but as a whole, the story's all over the place. It's the ambition. Too many eggs on the frying pan here. I can safely say right now that the game didn't really make the same kind of impression on me Fallout 3 did. Some parts are better, none are really worse but could've used more work. Both games look exactly the same, though, and I highly doubt anyone who liked the previous game would go and disregard this epic journey across the wastes.

One of the first big choices: either you help this
prick and his cronies take over the village you
woke up in, or lead a deserved attack against
the bunch.
So, let's go over what's different between these near-identical looking games, and why a part of the Fallout community holds this game in much higher regard than its predecessor. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that in Fallout 3, you couldn't kill kids. You could beat down any woman - who was not an essential part of the storyline - and dictate all sorts of extremely immoral violence towards innocent people, but you could not kill kids. And guess what? You still can't do it. Why? "Because it's wrong." You can invade an innocent, kind, young woman's home, loot her belongings and finalize your burglary by smashing her head in with a huge fucking sledgehammer, go offer your condolences to her father, befriend him and cheat him out of a bunch of caps, then leave the place laughing your ass off at some people's good will and stupidity... but you simply cannot kill kids. This is something that bothers me about both games, especially in the previous game in which you just wanted to bust your way into Little Lamplight and unleash infinite minigun madness on those obnoxious brats running the show there. This game gives the player an opportunity to break every moral rule, I don't think the possibility of slaughtering children would make it any worse.

On to the things that actually are different. First of all, Fallout 3 began with your character's birth in Vault 101, and there was a series of small "quests" for him/her to do as an infant, a child and a teenager before his/her great escape into the wasteland. In Fallout: New Vegas, your character is a male or female courier - his/her exact age you can determine yourself. You have similar options to customize your character as in Fallout 3, the explanation for the options being that after being shot in the head, your character needs to be tested both physically and mentally - it's recuperative training, so to say.

The voiceovers are indeed of much better quality than last time around, so is the dialogue itself. "Fuck" is not a common word that just has to be squeezed into every sentence because it makes the game "cool" in the golden age of Grand Theft Auto. In this game, "fuck" and all other expletives are thrown around a lot, but I haven't been in a situation in which it wouldn't have had some real meaning - it's "fuck" with passion, all the way! The downside to the dialogue is that there's perhaps too much of it; many characters have a tendency to ramble for tens of minutes if you give them the chance. It's awesome at first, but when the game clocks in at about 30 or 40 hours, you'd just wish for less words, more action. Many of the quests in this game are purely based on dialogue and different speech challenges - which are no longer simply tied to your general charisma and speech skill, but all of your skills - instead of the seemingly endless dungeon crawling in Fallout 3. In that game, most quests required you to speak to an NPC and go to an appointed cavern or building to get an item, and return to declare the job done. There aren't many of those kind of quests in New Vegas; it was wholly Bethesda's idea, while Obsidian clearly wanted to return to the open areas of the first two games, and base an important part of character development and leveling up on diplomatic conversations and accomplishments instead of straightforward action. This guarantees diverse, exciting and surprising sidequests (in the creative vein of Wasteland Survival Guide, my fav in Fallout 3), and a larger quantity of them, but personally, I would've preferred more action. Of course, you can try to cross the many off-road desert areas on the map and see what kind of bastards lurk there if you get bored with all the talking... but some groups of enemies will make you want to get back on track as soon as you can, regardless of your experience level.

Victor's kinda annoying, but you'll get used to
him. After all, he seems to follow you everywhere.
The Speech challenges are a very important part of the game, as one of the main themes of the game is diplomacy. The factor of luck that was very present in these types of challenges in Fallout 3 is completely scrapped and replaced with a "you either do, or don't" rating for each challenge. For example, whereas in Fallout 3 you had a 23% chance of succeeding in a Speech challenge and you kept reloading the game until you hit pay dirt, in New Vegas you have a simple indication via your current skill points and the amount needed for the particular challenge, of whether it's gonna work out or not. It's definitely for the better, it saves a lot of time. You can boost your skills in just about everything, but only temporarily, by reading magazines scattered all over the wastes. The skill books which permanently boost your skills from the previous game still exist, but they're extremely rare and hard to find, since a lot of them are in places you never have to visit during any quest. Snowglobes replace Vault-Tec Bobbleheads as the prominent collectables, but the only benefit you get from them is a hefty sum of caps. Same goes for Sunset Sarsaparilla Star Bottle Caps, which in turn replace Nuka-Cola Quantums as collectables for a particular sidequest.

Whereas Fallout 3 had very few different enemies for its size - Feral Ghouls, Glowing Ones, Super Mutants, Centaurs, Mirelurks, Radroaches, Radscorpions, Bloatflies, Mole Rats, Ants, Deathclaws and humanoids are the first and only to come to mind at the moment - New Vegas has all of them, and a whole bunch of different enemy avatars. Many quests have some sort of a variation of a regular enemy or a wholly unique one. For example, there are two different, prominent types of Uglies (Super Mutants for you new players), and at least three different kinds of Deathclaws. There are very few Feral Ghouls, which is easily explained by the semi-radiated setting of the game; there are not many Ghouls living among the people, either - ironically, they're treated a lot better than their huge community of bros in Washington. Standard Mirelurks are scrapped, but Mirelurk Kings return as Lakelurks. Among the unique enemies that weren't present in the previous game we have Nightstalkers, a strange breed of coyotes spliced together with rattlesnake DNA, Cazadors, Spore Carriers, Spore Plants, Giant Mantises, Geckos of several kinds, and weaker versions of Radscorps called Bark Scorpions. The Radscorpions are a freakin' menace in this game and Cazadors should really, really not be judged by their thin look. These poisonous, overgrown mosquitos are by far the bitchiest enemies in the game, and require high levels to kill and/or evade efficiently. Even if you manage to kill the first batch, they multiply by the second and get more aggressive all the time. They're incredibly fast and perceptive, and simply cannot be escaped unscathed. Plus, they have a tendency to pop up whenever there's only one route to take to your destination. Traditional Raiders are reborn as Fiends, even crazier, openly cannibalistic versions of their previous selves. There are many humanoid gangs, tribes and cults, most of who are against the NCR superpower: escaped cons calling themselves Powder Gangers, the "civil barbarians" Great Khans, the peace-loving Followers of the Apocalypse, the brutal and insane Legion, a posse of Elvis impersonators calling themselves The Kings, and the derelict Brotherhood of Steel, among many others. As always, you get to choose your side all by yourself... or just piss off and/or kill everyone in your way. Oh, except for kids.

This time, you can recruit a companion or two if the going gets too tough. Yeah, sure, we've seen Dogmeat and all sorts of buffs, but in this game, you can control your party members' tactics via a companion wheel and send them back to the shithole they came from at any time, if the only thing they do right is getting in your way. You can drag around two companions at once, one humanoid and one robot. The companions are usually found by completing certain sidequests, and some are perhaps only recruitable by one with a silver tongue. Each kill scored by a companion is added up to your personal EXP, of course. Each one of these unique individuals offers up a perk, which is valid as long as they're with you. At first, I was very against having a party in a Fallout game. Like, isn't the game all about being alone in the wasteland? When I witnessed this game's first really hard moments, I immediately accepted the idea with no further questions.

Having dozens of different communities in one role-playing game entrusting your character with an unworldly amount of quests might sound all fun, especially after Fallout 3, which had about 30 different quests available. That didn't mean the game was short, on the contrary, but in the end, it's less than a half of the quests available in Fallout: New Vegas. However, most of them don't involve any sort of dungeon at all, as I already said, so the game isn't that much more formidable in length as its predecessor - actually, I completed it about 25 hours quicker than the previous game, and I did everything I could. That said, you have to keep in mind that a 100% completion on one single playthrough is downright impossible, courtesy of the Karmic system, which is now enhanced with Reputation, a much appreciated feature returning from the first two games.

The Reputation system is easiest to explain by saying that even though you have a basic Karma meter that keeps track of your person, for example your tendency to steal, it really doesn't affect people's take on you by a great deal; Reputation is much more important, it's kind of like your Karma within a certain community. For example, if you decide to play it nice, you'll probably do a lot of stuff in the game that benefits the NCR and severely pisses off the Legion. If you are a saint all the way, you'll eventually become "idolized" within the NCR community and "vilified" within Legion, while other communities might not have any opinion on you yet. This practically means that the guys and gals at NCR are behind you 100%; they might give you free stuff, they are not very prone to attack you even if you pull some random psychotic pranks on them, and you might even get some really delicate, exclusive quests by enhancing your reputation within the community. In turn, you are downright hunted by the Legion. Mercenaries might show up on the behalf of Caesar and his cronies to bring them your head on a plate, and you should really, really avoid any Legion settlement. Sadly, this also means you can't accept missions from Legionaries. Not even those that are worth a Trophy or Achievement. You thought this was going to be one casual game among all of your other easy Plats? Tough luck.

Don't get me wrong, of course it's cool that we have guaranteed replay value, but the whole sidequest network in this game is way too delicate. Think about this: we have three rivaling factions in a small area - the New Vegas Strip, for example, is a place where many communities are at work: Mr. House, the NCR and the Families. Let's say all of them give you a sidequest, and all three quests oppose each other. You'll go cross-eyed before you can say "bomb" and making a mistake is way too easy. I never failed a quest in Fallout 3, but in New Vegas, it's inevitable to fail quests, even by pure accident. You can't have total control over the game. You might fail quests before even triggering them, due to the delicate nature of the Rep system. Also, as much liberty as the developers granted you when they made this game, they seemed to have an idea of exploration order within settlements. One quest involves finding the smoothest possible talker to work as a prostitute for a cheap casino. Well, I had no idea who to talk to about it. Then I found this Latino guy, lodged in an obscured corner and talked to him. One non-optional sentence was all it took to get this guy to work at the casino. He just took off, and that part of the quest was done. Well, great? I just would've liked to talk to him a little? What the fuck just happened? Well, it didn't end there. Suddenly, I got another quest. Apparently simply finding this guy was the first part of a quest I hadn't even heard of. Apparently he gave me some money that he owed to another character before leaving. Well, I followed the instructions and took these caps to the character I had not even met, and she talked to me like we would have spoken several times before. Then she gave me orders to kill a dude I had never heard of, but my character apparently had. Is this how it feels like when your creation surpasses you like in all those philosophical versions of Frankenstein? Seriously, this game gets really confusing at its worst, and it's sad it's purely due to the otherwise phenomenal amount of sidequests.

Mmm, slots and sluts. My kind of place.
This isn't really the time or the place to criticize the bugs and glitches in-depth, but going into what bothers me about the game the most, even more than the confusing network of sidequests, forces me to take note of the ridiculous loading times, but most of all, glitches. Especially in exterior areas, which most definitely take up most of the RAM capacity, there's a huge risk that the game will crash or freeze, perhaps even four or five times within one hour. Luckily there's the autosave system which activates each time you enter or exit a building, but that doesn't really help you in wide, open areas. The game is shot full of glitches even moreso than Fallout 3; personally, I don't believe the developers can ever patch out all of them since even the final version of Fallout 3 wasn't exactly glitch-free. Hell, New Vegas crashed about 12 times on me during my final quest, including just before the credits! Yet, I will NOT go down the same path as some idiots on the Internet who apparently think that the amount of glitches defines a game's value by an absolute. For groundwork, I just read one of the worst reviews ever, in which a guy said that the game itself deserves a niner, but since there are so many glitches, he reduced the overall rating to 2 out of 10. What a fuckin' dork! OK, if New Vegas was an old school console game which could not be updated or patched at all, this would be comprehensible, but in this day and age every game has glitches. The Fallout series might have more than most, but still, you can't make a game of this size without some necessary evil. AND, you can't criticize a modern video game after its glitches, at least not before the final version's been released. This was more about me making a point than reviewing the game. Let's get back on track, shall we?

Even though your character is not a Vault Dweller, you have a well explained Pip-Boy to serve as your control panel for everything; handling your inventory, leveling up, keeping track of your movement around the world map, and reviewing your quests and current objectives, among all else. If possible, the Pip-Boy is a little more strategic and important to use than ever before. You can be poisoned by different animals, in which case you need to use Antivenom - which is ultimately so rare of an item that the poisoning really becomes a nuisance. You can battle it out by curing yourself up to the point the poison naturally leaves your character's body, but that can take a long time. You can tune up your weapons with different mods, such as silencers and scopes. Stimpaks cure you immediately - except in Hardcore Mode, which I'll explain later - Super Stimpaks also cure you immediately, but they do a temporary number on your Strength stat. Food and drinks slowly regenerate your health instead of curing you immediately. The regen time depends on the food and the amount of it. Workbenches can still be used to build new weapons, but you need high numbers of certain stats in addition to all the schematics. For example, you can't just simply whip up a whole bunch of Bottlecap Mines with the right ingredients like you could in the previous game, you also need an Explosives skill of 75 to be able to build one of them. Mostly, you will probably be using the Workbench to make more bullets. There's also a Reloading Bench for this sort of action. You can use Campfires to cook great food from even the worst ingredients and make medicine, like in Oblivion... if you have the proper medical skills. As you might've picked up by now, Fallout: New Vegas isn't quite the breeze Fallout 3 was. The common theme is that reaching the surface, like finding an awesome schematic for a weapon, is hardly ever enough, you also need the skills to back it up.

The crafting system is therefore more realistic than before, and I like it, even if on the first playthrough I found myself short on just about every skill needed to make what used to be my favourite weapons in Fallout 3 - personally, I usually spend a lot more skill points on diplomatic skills and thievery than guns and explosives. I thought I would have pretty much emptied the bank of one negative for one positive by now, but during the last few hours, I picked up two things that really tick me about the game - and both things are lessons I thought the previous game would've taught the developers. First of all, Fallout needs a minimap. It's really tedious and in this game's case, even glitch-prone to keep checking the Pip-Boy's GPS over and over again to see if you're surely going into the right direction. The marker on your compass seems to move around all the time, and even duplicate on the fly. The marker on the GPS map, on the other hand, never quite indicates the ground level your destination is on.

The second thing is that it's weird how they emphasize liberty and the benefits of stealth. OK, you can definitely enter a building in a settlement and kill everyone inside as loud as you can, and probably no one outside the building will mind your little outbreak. But, just try to kill a faction member in the same building as the rest of them and they'll be on you like hounds - it doesn't matter whether or not you closed the door and slit the guy's throat with a switchblade from his back, with absolutely no sound. It's even said in the random loading screen that melee weapons are completely silent and therefore, they make for excellent tools for stealth. Somehow, everyone in the building just knows what you did although nothing points to you and you're liked by the community. Like I said: it's weird. I can't think of one quest in which you would actually need to stealthily kill someone, but still, the game's main attraction is its liberty, so it's kind of a hefty nuisance as far as I'm concerned.

Lastly before I'll go into the game's different challenges in better and worse, and into all the stuff you can do yourself to manipulate the difficulty level of the game: the game is set in a version of Las Vegas, so feel free to expect minigame madness, something that has never before been experienced in the Fallout series. Central Vegas is filled to the brim with casinos, complete with hookers, mobsters and game tables. You can play three different games at these casinos: blackjack (my definite favourite, I can't get enough of it... lucky for me, I'm not a real gambler), roulette and slots. In addition, there's Caravan, a really popular card game within several poor communities, exclusively designed for Fallout: New Vegas. It's a quite tricky and irritating, but ultimately addictive game that has some elements of Solitaire in it. You'll find yourself spending hours on these minigames alone and constantly visiting the cashier for some chips to replace the ones you lost. They're stylish, and comfortable to play. Fans of the casino in the first Leisure Suit Larry game are perhaps a little disappointed that there's a one minute cooldown period to reduce the desire to cheat by reloading the game again and again if the casino games don't quite play out as you planned.

Fans of Fallout 2 surely remember this guy.
Fallout 3 was a very easy, but tiresome game to beat to the hilt when it came to Trophies and Achievements. I got the Platinum Trophy for it, and as much as I enjoyed the game, I must admit I felt those three months in my bones. You were forced to play the game through at least three times, there was no option for it, and assuming you did everything on the first round, the second and third time granted you no more than six additional Trophies, plus the Plat. Fallout: New Vegas has four different storyline branches for you to follow, and as you might've guessed, to get the Platinum for this game, you need to see each possible ending. However, this time you don't necessarily need to restart the game, just make an additional save file at the point the game practically prompts you to do so, return to that file and select another branch. Well, the game still takes a couple of playthroughs no matter what you do, but there are ways to bend the rules if you're going for the Plat. However, you can't bend the game's difficulty. The game takes about 75 hours to beat if you're going for the level cap of 30. As long as you follow the road, the game's pretty much the same as the previous one; the enemies' experience level is defined by yours, but the off-road areas are off-limits for those who haven't got enough skills to take on a band of vicious mosquitos or a bunch of the hugest scorpions you've ever seen. You can't just run through every quest. Exploration's still an important part of the game, but it needs a little bit more discretion than before.

However, you might be an all-around RPG expert who knows every trick in the book, regardless of the game at hand. There's a surprise gift for you as well: the Hardcore Mode, with the cherry on the top of the cake being the ultimate Trophy/Achievement in the game, acquired once you've beaten this path of Satan. On Hardcore Mode, your character absolutely needs to eat, sleep and drink in a steady rhythm to survive. Stimpaks no longer heal your broken limbs, and they regenerate health just like any food or drink instead of healing you immediately. On top of all, ammunition has weight. You might think that you'd do fine if you just stick to the main quest, work on your Unarmed and Melee skills, stay out of off-road areas and kiss the asses of the most formidable armies around to get decent back-up, but it's simply not that easy. Hardcore Mode is like taking care of a glitchy Tamagotchi. It's gonna hand you your balls. I bet you regret criticizing Fallout 3 for being too damn easy, right about now.

In addition to the Trophies, the game has tons of in-game challenges that range from simply eating a certain accumulative amount of food to unleashing mayhem with different weapons. These challenges might strike you as "cute", until you realize that some of them give you extra perks on the go, in addition to the perks you get each time you gain two EXP levels, or by bringing companions along. This is a really cool addition to the Fallout experience, one of my favourite unique things about this game.

It's full of glitches up to the point you're not even certain if you're going to see the credits. I didn't, not on the first playthrough - the game crashed right after the final scene. I still got the Trophy for the quest, though. Also, it's confusing and once again, a little uninteresting when it comes to large portions of the main storyline, while some of the sidequests absolutely rule. Still, Fallout: New Vegas is a bonafide, 100% real Fallout experience. The previous game struck me better on a personal level with all of its delicious shotgun action, and hours and hours of navigating those dark mazes, but New Vegas' diplomacy in open areas is not all that bad of an option - and, it's a refreshing change. Also, the dialogue, especially the pitch-black humour that nearly skipped the previous game, is a lot better. Still, I'm with 3 when it comes to gameplay and some forms of presentation.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 7.9
Playability : 8.3
Challenge : 9.2
Overall : 8.5


GameRankings: 84.44% (PC), 83.69% (PS3), 83.64% (X360)

The specific laws of censorship in Germany and Japan are the same for Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas. The official German version of the game does not feature any blood and gore, and the Fat Man nuclear launcher is named Nuka Launcher in Japan - due to the Hiroshima bomb's well-known nickname "Fat Man".