It's a few months after the release of a major Fallout title, so you know what that means. It's DLC time! On 360 exclusively no less. Fallout 3 was famous for the variety of add-on content which was released for it, including Operation Anchorage and Mothership Zeta, starting a scant three months after it was released. Fallout: New Vegas follows suit, as the game came out in October, and its first DLC Dead Money hitting Xbox Live just before Christmas. It's an awfully short amount of time to get a quality expansion worked out, but does Dead Money overcome this and prove to be a worthy recipient of your hard-earned 800 Microsoft Points?
Dead Money has an interesting side-quest to the main New Vegas tale, activated by tuning your Pip-Boy into a new radio station that appears after downloading the DLC. You're beckoned to seek out the 'Sierra Madre' casino, but following the transmission only sees you kidnapped, stripped of all your gear and caps, and thrown into a villa outside the Sierra Madre with a Saw-style explosive collar around your neck that will kill you if you leave. Your captor wants you to break into the casino to steal its fabled treasures, but Ocean's Eleven style, which means you'll need to recruit three compadres to get the heist rolling.
The most interesting part about the story are the three companions who you'll be working with. Dog is a child-like Nightkin whose 'conscience' resurfaces as an alternate personality, the intelligent and sinister 'God'. Dean Domino is a cool ghoul lounge singer, who wants the Sierra Madre's treasure for himself. Christine probably starts out as the most fascinating. A mute with a scarred face who you find in an Auto-Doc, she can only communicate in actions (described in text, rather than actual animation), although we thought her backstory didn't quite live up to the mystery. As a matter of fact, that's the general feeling with the rest of the story as well. It starts off compelling, gets a bit boring in the middle, but improves a little towards the end with some cool twists. All up, it's a nice story, but a little stretched in the eight hours it took for us to get through the DLC.
As we mentioned, you're stripped of all your gear and assets upon entering the Dead Money DLC, so you're essentially starting from scratch. Sierra Madre exists in its own little in-game universe, with its own currency that you'll find scattered around the ground and in various lockers and chests. Scavenging is the name of the game in this DLC, as you take weapons off of fallen adversaries and piece together ammunition from components you find. We found it a little easy to find guns and rifles fairly early on, although you do learn to treat bullets like gold with their rarity.
The game advises you to be at least at level 20 before attempting Dead Money, and with good reason. The enemies you face are either invincible holograms or Ghosts, who are inhabitants of the Sierra Madre villa that have been mutated so much they can resurrect from being downed. This adds to the whole 'survival horror' vibe of the game, as often you'll not only have to kill a Ghost, but whack it a few times once its down to make sure its head jettisons from the body. They can't come back from that. It should also be noted that the game does raise the level cap to 35.
The main component that may make or break this DLC for punters is the whole 'survival horror' angle. Continuing the Saw theme, and just like that franchise's game adaptations, Dead Money has a huge number of cheaply placed traps waiting to cripple a limb or kill your character if you don't stay insanely alert or move at a cautious pace the entire game. Tripwires setting off shotguns, frag mines, bear traps, these are all things you will learn to hate. Theoretically, you can use them against the Ghosts, but in all the instances we tried they were barely phased, content to continue their mad sprint toward us. In addition to these traps, sections of the villa are swamped in 'The Cloud', which is a gas that will poison you upon entering it. And on top of all this, there are also speakers and radios which can interfere with your explosive collar, causing it to (guess what) explode if you come within range of them. There's a lot of stuff out to kill you or slow your progress in this game, and although your companions each come with perks which can help you out with one of the major threats in this game, there are parts where you are forced to go it alone, and it can get frustrating.
If you were expecting any visual improvements with Dead Money over New Vegas, then you're certainly an optimist. Stay that way, don't ever lose those dreams. But seriously, Dead Money looks about the same as New Vegas most of the time, except for some weird graphical glitches that seem much more prevalent than in the main game. It's a little sad when the game appears to be building up to an awesome fireworks show and carnival that ends up consisting of a few plain and short animations in the distance. Nevertheless the voice acting is quite good, giving your companions and your captor both their necessary amiability and menace.
Dead Money is a reasonably well-written expansion for Fallout: New Vegas, but it's one that comes with a disclaimer. If the thought of navigating traps, poisonous clouds, bomb-detonating transmissions and immortal enemies in a kind-of Saw/Ocean's Eleven hybrid sounds like fun to you, then proceed directly towards Xbox Live. If not, then this mightn't be the expansion for you. Hints are dropped in Dead Money about a climactic upcoming DLC pack which may prove to be more compelling, but for now you probably won't be missing anything by waiting for the inevitable Game of the Year edition of New Vegas.
Worth buying? Maybe
Downloadable content ratings system
We've given a 'buy' rating of 'Yes', 'Maybe', or 'No'.
Yes means that the content is either great value or brings some substantial additions to the game, or possibly both.
Maybe means that the content may be fun while it lasts, but may either be too short or not enough to fully justify the price tag.
No means that we don't recommend downloading this insubstantial content.