A couple of years ago, many thought the stars had aligned when Elder Scrolls developers Bethesda Softworks acquired the rights to the classic Fallout franchise, and even moreso when their Fallout 3 turned out to be something quite spectacular. You could be forgiven, then, for expecting a full blown solar apocalypse as Fallout: New Vegas takes everything that was fantastic about Bethesda's first stab at the series, and builds upon it. That means, more guns, more explosions, more skills, more options and more funny.
New Vegas introduces players to the titular city, which avoided the worst of the nuclear holocaust that was responsible for the barren state of the Fallout world. For all intents and purposes, it's a futuristic version of Las Vegas (although having the same retro influences as the rest of the series), powered by the still-running Hoover Dam. The game takes place in 2280, three years after the end of Fallout 3, and follows a different player character named 'The Courier'. At the start of the game, The Courier is shot and buried while delivering a package, but is rescued by a character named Dr. Mitchell. His mission then becomes recovering his lost package and finding his assailant.
Companions were one of the more interesting aspects of Fallout 3, and they return in a big way in Fallout: New Vegas. There are several more companions you can recruit and who can help you out throughout the game, and now thanks to a new 'companion wheel' it's even easier to command them and get them to do what you want them to do. Simply walk up to a companion and activate the wheel to choose from several helpful options, such as using ranged or melee attacks. Another update to the original gameplay is the slow-motion 'kill cam'. Whereas originally it was a treat reserved for kills made using the VATS system, now it's seen after every kill. This may annoy some people, and it can be turned off, but for us it was extraordinarily fun for such a simple addition. It meant we could do things like shotgun someone in the face and watch the giblets fly without having to resort to VATS, or plant C4 all around an unsuspecting character, then detonate it and watch them fly over a nearby house in slow motion.
However, there are some bigger additions to the gameplay of Fallout 3 such as the new power struggle between three factions in the game. The New California Republic (NCR), New Vegas and Caeser's Legion are all factions who are at war with each other over control of the city, and your actions on missions will actively affect which sides trust you or dislike you. It basically boils down to completing tasks for one side will obviously endear you to them, while carrying out missions against other factions will make you an enemy and a target in their eyes. For fun, we tried shooting the faction soldiers who were helping complete one of our missions, and sure enough they instantly turned against us and the game informed us that we had lost status with that faction. How this will affect the overall story at this stage, we are not sure, but it seems to add a new layer of strategy to the proceedings, forcing you to pick your battles carefully.
Of course, being set in the post-apocalyptic version of Las Vegas means that there are plenty of casinos, all of which the player can check out, by going inside and playing several of the games on offer, including blackjack, roulette and the slot machines. You can gain chips (one of several types of currency found in Fallout: New Vegas by winning in these games, and if you find yourself on a winning streak you'll find the casino reacting as any casino would - by offering you free drinks and trying to ensure you stay in the casino. However, you can't bring weapons into these venues, unless you purchase more covert weapons from a shady character on the main strip. Our favourite casino was probably Vault 21, a vault that was ultimately converted from its original purpose into a hotel and casino. However, the word is that its original purpose was to only admit gamblers in a strange sort of experiment, so perhaps its current state is fitting.
In terms of its basic gameplay, Fallout: New Vegas feels a lot like Fallout 3. It's perhaps best described as the Vice City to Fallout 3's Grand Theft Auto 3. You're given a new location to play with, as well as several gameplay enhancements that don't necessarily revolutionise the formula, but do serve to add new elements of strategy and fun to the proceedings. On the missions we played, we enjoyed ourselves just as much as we did in the Capitol Wasteland, although we were winning a lot more than we used to, thanks to the demo version's character invulnerability and ridiculously high AP. Nevertheless, fans of Fallout 3 will doubtlessly already have an eye on New Vegas, and will definitely have reason to enjoy it once it hits shelves later in the year.