Why Fallout: New Vegas is good.

Jackson Bentley: “What attracts you personally to the desert?”
T.E. Lawrence: “It’s clean.”–Lawrence of Arabia, 1962.

One of the many remarkable features of that film, David Lean‘s masterpiece, is the fact that there are many long scenes of people on camels trekking through the desert, and yet it never gets boring. The harsh wasteland in which T.E. Lawrence leads the Arabs in revolt against the Turks is so haunting and intriguing as to almost become a character in its own right.
It probably isn’t quite as hard to accomplish that effect in a video game, because interactivity makes the process of walking through a desert less dull, and thus there is less need for artistry in the landscape. Still, to manage to achieve the same in a video game is no small feat.

I mention this because, of late, I’ve seen a lot of complaining in the blogosphere about Obsidian and Bethesda’s game Fallout: New Vegas. And not from people looking to bash a game for no reason, but from people of good taste and intelligence like Wil Shipley and Simon Burdett.
Now, I will concede that both of them make good arguments as to the game’s flaws, and there are only a few points where I can actually say I disagree with them. But for me, all the valid criticisms I’ve heard for F:NV are utterly outmatched by its many virtues. 

The brilliance of New Vegas is really in the area surrounding the city of New Vegas. The story is obviously very good, and the writing is quite well-done, but where the game truly shines is in small moments as you explore the wasteland, especially once they are contrasted with the goings-on in the city.

New Vegas is yet another installment in Obsidian’s growing line of games that simply are literature. The land itself seems to become a character, its haunted desolation providing the tone of the whole story. The irony, however, is in the open, melancholy beauty of the Mojave contrasted with the crime-filled and ugly city. It serves well the game’s dark take on human nature: the sinister implication that humanity grows more corrupted and ugly as it rebuilds from the war.

This sense of escape, the feeling of exploring a vast expanse of land, also plays on the interactivity factor. It feels more like a world to be shaped and explored, than a pile of rubble to struggle over.

Fallout: New Vegas has its flaws, its bugs, its weak scenes and its missed opportunities. But I think of none of these when I think of playing it. I think instead about the feeling of adventure of standing out in a ruined abode in the desert, watching the sun go down behind the Mojave outpost as Marty Robbins‘ “Big Iron” plays in the background, wondering where I want to go next.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?