People are strange when you’re a gamer.
They presume that video games are inherently strange, and that the people who play them have skewed priorities and half-shot receptors and retarded attention spans and bad skin. I generally – loudly – rail against this notion. Video games are no stranger than novels or movies, their aficionados no more eccentric than any other kind of hobbyist.
But just as the literary world has Chuck Palahniuk and the film world has Gaspar Noé, so do video games have their little oddities. I have quite a few of them. Killer 7. Katamari Damacy. Mr. Moskeeto. Psychonauts. Silent Hill. I’m not strange, yet I am not a stranger to the strange. And even so, I think the strangest thing I’ve ever done, as a collection of pixels, is stand breathing dramatically for an electronically-orgasming floating brain with a teddy bear fetish. How the hell do you explain that one to a non-gamer? How would you even begin to translate Old World Blues for a gaming virgin?
Luckily, I’ll never have to. Old World Blues is the latest downloadable content made available for Obsidian/Bethesda’s epic Fallout: New Vegas, though playing the latter is scant prep for the weirdness of the former. So far in terms of DLC we’ve had the dark, difficult and atmospheric Dead Money (the best of the three available), and the vast and involving Honest Hearts (in which we get to be lectured ‘roundly by one of New Vegas’ mythical bogeymen). The gently bonkers Old World Blues rounds off the package, and we’re left with a trio of adventures, with plenty in the way of diversity, difficulty and humour, that more than justifies the cost of the required gamer points. When a game is as involving as New Vegas, one tends to be loathe to leave it.
In Old World Blues, the Courier is kidnapped as a guinea pig by a squabbling collective of pre-War scientists who have managed to immortalise themselves by ditching their bodies and transferring their brains into hovering robots. Forced into waging war against their equally insane nemesis, who’s come into possession of his original brain, the Courier must take on mechanical terrors and the Mojave’s most fearsome genetic abnormalities to rescue his biological bits. Strange enough for you? Because we’ve also got mass lobotomy, nerdy revenge on high school jocks, a passive aggressive stealth suit, and an apartment full of neurotic robot helpers, including catfighting light switches and a homicidal toaster. And, of course, Doctor Dala’s obsession with the durty inefficiency of living organisms. Such as the dishy, squishy Courier. Deep breath … and … out.
The daftest of plots, indeed. Luckily, the gameplay is as solid as anything else in the New Vegas collection, meaning that while it’s occasionally as glitchy as a automaton’s migraine, it’s never enough to prompt a joypad’s being fucked through a flat screen. Best keep two saves (as I would advise with any next-gen game, let alone a massive RPG). I got stuck once between a pre-War army truck and a wall, and couldn’t fast travel out again due to there being too many enemies nearby. The enemies are more challenging than I had expected, too, having danced through New Vegas and all of the previous DLC on hardcore mode. I had the smug smile wiped off my face by swarming robo-scorpions, who pack a mean punch despite looking like lil’ Lego pets. I’m also informed that the nightstalkers are absolute nightmares to those players who haven’t lumped for the Animal Friend perk (like me! Teehee!). The dreaded cazadores abound. There’s a giant robo-scorpion who’s nuclear powered. And somewhere in the ruins of the Big Empty there’s a legendary bloatfly who’s been feasting on a few too many bottles of Buffout…
Aesthetically, though, the manufacturing plants and science labs of the Big Empty are simply not as involving as the expanses of the Mojave or Zion, nor do they have the creepy character of Dead Money’s Sierra Madre. It’s not as much fun to explore, and so you’re not as likely to stray from the main plot, and with some of the side quests finishable in a single conversation, your robotic opponents don’t seem as bothered about sending you on wild goose chases as the human antagonists the Courier’s used to dealing with. It’s charming, but slightly lazy; the most involving and rewarding quest for me was tracking down the components for my robotic flatmates, something which has nothing at all to do with the main mission. And though there are secrets to be uncovered about Dead Money’s power-mad baddie, Father Elijah, and your noble companion Christine, they’re simply not compelling enough.
As an add-on base for the Courier, though, Old World Blues’ apartment can’t be bettered. Once upgraded it provides your character with everything he could possibly need, from an endless supply of purified water, to his own home-grown veggies, to a haircut and in-house cosmetic surgery. Who cares about the squabbles of perpetually insane scientists? Completion of Old World Blues provides you with New Vegas’ equivalent of Barbie’s Dream House, and that’s reward enough for most of us New Vegas fanatics.
Verdict? The humour is wild enough and combat challenging enough to make up for the sameyness of the main thrust. And the payout is rather magnificent. Who doesn’t want a house filled with anthropomorphic miscreants, all as barking mad as they’re useful? This Courier’s traded up from the Lucky 38 and is never looking back.
Fallout: New Vegas and its add-ons Old World Blues, Dead Money and Honest Hearts are available now on XBox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.