(Xbox 360 Review) Fallout: New Vegas – Dead Money

Developer: Obsidian Entertainment
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Genre: Role-Playing Game
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: Nick Stewart

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Given the wild success of Fallout 3’s DLC series, it’s not surprising that Fallout: New Vegas saw its first expansion hit virtual shelves a relatively short time after the core game’s release. In keeping with the central gambling theme, Dead Money takes players into a long-lost casino where new gameplay twists abound and a few new Fallout-style goodies are introduced. Interestingly, Dead Money is an awful lot like Fallout 3’s first DLC, Operation: Anchorage, in a great many ways, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing will depend largely on players’ patience.

After you follow a mysterious radio signal advertising the opening of the Sierra Madre casino, you find yourself whisked away to the labyrinthine villa network on the outskirts of the casino itself, all of which is in Parts Unknown. You wake up stripped of your items and with an explosive collar strapped to your neck, primed to go off at the whim of one Father Elijah, whose name will ring a bell for those who paid attention to an unsolved mystery or two in the main game (which is in itself a rather a nice touch). You’re soon informed that you’re going to help him break into the Sierra Madre, where untold treasure is said to hide. To do it, you’re going to have to recruit three collaborators scattered around the external complex, and who are equally outfitted with nitroglycerin neckties – and to ensure cooperation, one person’s death means everybody’s dome detonates. Once that’s done, you must prep, crack the casino, and from there, the real mission begins.

If that wasn’t bad enough, a long-past and highly mysterious calamity has made the outside air a deep, deep red, poisonous and corrosive in general and downright fatal in concentrated pockets throughout the area. What’s more, it’s also totally mutated and corrupted some of the workers assigned to build and manage the villas, turning them into savage, nigh-indestructible freaks who can only be permanently killed if you hack off their limbs or set them aflame. If figuring out how to navigate these two sets of obstacles wasn’t enough, you also have to worry about the fact that the entire DLC is packed chock full of two types of radios, either one of will cause your collar to explode in short order: one can be shot, and the other must be deactivated via terminal somewhere nearby. Combined, all these factors mean that working through this expansion pack is dotted with any number of little touches that force you to be a little more strategic about your exploration. In many ways, this makes the exploration of the incredibly expansive villa system a very careful affair, though before long, it becomes a considerable chore, given that the villa network makes up a substantial portion of this DLC and is all incredibly similar. Despite this eventual complaint, however, these elements manage to provide a very different, creepy and welcome feel to this new area, and one that is, for a too-brief time, a refreshing change.

Other factors that inject some additional rules into the proceedings are the use of holographic transmitters which project indestructible “guards.” Patrolling set paths, they will do their best to kill you once they spot you long enough, though luckily they can be redirected or deactivated altogether with the use of the right terminal. This adds a “stealth-light” feel to some necessary exploration, even for characters who ordinarily use more brute-force tactics.

Technology also changes the rules somewhat through replicators that give you more ammo and supplies. Scattered throughout the environment, these devices use the Sierra Madre casino chips you find in dried fountains and such to provide you with whatever you’re looking to “buy.” Indeed, they’re a different sort of vendor, and in time can use not only chips but also cartons of cigarettes and even clothes, provided you find additional passcodes, which also have the benefit of adding more items to your purchasing menu. It’s an interesting dynamic that forces you to be strategic with your foraging and supply usage, something that was somewhat lacking in late-game New Vegas and is not unwelcome here.

While the gameplay itself leans much more towards hit than miss, the writing in Dead Money is unquestionably fantastic – in many ways, even brilliant. The dialogue and backstory of your partners in crime is totally engaging, with each individual having their own mysterious quirkiness. There’s Dog, a subservient Super Mutant with a well-spoken and scheming alternate personality known as God, which you can alternate between by speaking particular phrases. There’s also the sour, ghoulified Dean Domino, whose name you might recognize from the marquees in the New Vegas loading screens; and Christine, a mute human with an intriguing past. Not only are their individual stories well written, but so are their varied means of communication: Dog/God, with their alternating grovelling and resentful intelligence; Dean, with his sarcastic exhaustion with you and the Sierra Madre; and the surprisingly coherent and communicative descriptions of Christine’s gesturing. The plot itself isn’t bad either, and has no shortage of twists and turns.

All told, Dead Money is a worthy addition to the Fallout: New Vegas experience, though some inherent repetitiveness offers a caveat to less patient gamers. It’s true that there are some new twists to the Fallout formula that make this an interesting go-round, but a near-cookie-cutter environment through the DLC’s first half can wear pretty thin. This is especially true when you factor in the otherwise interesting problems posed by some of the DLC’s “rules,” which go from fun to frustrating after a while. This isn’t to say that Dead Money isn’t worth a try. If you look past its flaws, there’s a good time to be had, and one that provides some hope that future expansions will be more like Broken Steel or Point Lookout than Operation: Anchorage. Tack in an increase in the level cap to 35, as well as some new weapons and recipes, and you’ve got enough newness to breathe some life in New Vegas, even after you’ve left the Sierra Madre behind.

(This review is based on a retail copy provided by the publisher.)

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