Having played the previous two DLCs, Dead Money and Honest Hearts, one of which I adored and one of which I felt thoroughly ripped off by, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the third chapter in the Couriers extended escapades.
Honest Hearts had the exploration factor done quite well, but introduced no real storyline, lacked humour and gave you no real moral choice (So many opportunities missed to be morally ambiguous. It makes me weep at what could have been, instead you have one, rather abrupt and forced choice at the end)
Dead Money had little exploration, pretty much every area was required for the plot. It felt tight and focused. It had enough of the black humour Fallout is famed for without being corny. It had a great cast of characters and let you play how you wanted to, so long as exploration wasn’t your thing.
So Old World Blues. Is it a Honest Hearts walk in the park with no depth to it’s plot or characters, or is it Dead Money, a tight, fun, story driven, linear ride.
It’s both, and neither. Old World Blues revels in the silliness of the Fallout Universe. Things like the K9000 Machine gun that has a dogs brain in it and barks when enemies are close by. Things like the floating brains in a jar that mistake your toes for penises, with all the skin crawling innuendo that follows. This is Adam West territory we’ve strayed into. It has more Camp than George Michael and Elton John sharing a Tent at Glastonbury and whiffs more than a bit like Futurama.
And my god do they talk. I had originally intended this to be another Questionable Quality video showing the first half hour of play, but it would just have been me clicking on dialogue. You’ll spend the first 30 minutes of the game exhausting the conversation options with the Think Tank and that’s before you even get to speak to them individually (each one has another 2 or 3 minutes of dialogue each and a few quests). It consists of about equal parts Exposition, Ham Acting and Penis jokes. I did feel myself getting very VERY bored of it by the end. Not that the writing was poor, it was just very. very. long.
ON the flip side, the setting is small, very small. Bigger than Dead Money, certainly, but not as big as Honest Hearts (which even I found to be quite cramped if I’m honest) but is crammed full of nooks and crannies, with doors and doors and more doors. Lots of places to explore and secrets to find, and uses a device upgrade to allow you to access even more parts that you had to bypass the first time, adding to the longevity somewhat.
It’s characters are memorable, if not deep, with the main six spouting enough hamtastic vitriol at their compatriots inbetween bouts of Ego stroking bombast to make Tim Curry look like a field mouse. Each one has it’s own distinct personality ranging from pompous to introverted to genocidal to downright letcherous, yet still remain distinctly hammy.
Then there’s the supporting cast, including, but not limited to, a sleepy automatic doctor, a genocidal toaster and two warring light switches. That’s right, they’re totally inanimate. Even the main cast. Not a single human character besides the player is present.
It’s quite possibly an attempt to ride the wave of popularity for human-acting robots that began with the endearing co-op partners of Portal 2, but to say that would be too cynical. They’ve not really been heavy on the marketing of your robot buddies. Fallout 3’s engine (and by extension oblivion) has never been one for showing us a range of character animations, however, it’s a strange irony that our floating robot overlords of the Think Tank show more emotion and expression than any human character in the series. Their three floating monitors showing anger, surprise, joy, ecstasy and more besides by changing their angles, distance and position. They still pale in comparison to the depth of feeling you get from Atlas and P-Body’s mute but comical Laurel and Hardy action, but it’s definitely a step up for the Fallout Series.
The plot takes you through a series of fetch quests, much like Honest Hearts, and it’s the weakest part of the game. There are a couple of curve balls near the end, like the school test and the stealth-suit trial, but by and large it’s go here, kill three robots, grab an item, more spawn, run away.
The Lobotomite enemies are your pretty standard raider fare. Some shoot, some stab, aim for the head and take them out. Robobrains and attack dogs are similar. The only really difficult enemies are the Roboscorpions, if you get the chance to run from them, do it. They’re real ammo sponges and they hit like trucks in large numbers.
I mentioned earlier that there’s no real decision making in the game, and I’m not kidding. The endings are mainly tailored around completing the various side quests, like upgrading the stealth suit, or getting all the Hub-room AIs activated, or finding all the secrets. I’ll warn you now there are spoilers ahead. If you still plan on playing I’d skip a couple of paragraphs.
I wanted to join with the bad guy, and I was fully expecting him to turn out to be really a nice guy, not a genocidal, roboscorpion building, megalomaniac. When I found him, he wasn’t that. He wasn’t nice either. He was schitzophrenic, drug addled and batshit insane. I still wanted to join his side, for the lulz. But it wouldn’t let me. I went through and exhausted all availible options, probably 5 or 10 minutes worth of dialogue, to be left with one choice “I’m here to kill you.” He explains his motives, however twisted, and how his plan failed. I wanted the option to join his side not for the lulz any more, but because I felt sorry for him and wanted to help him. But no. I had to kill him.
I remember Dead Money let me join with the bad guy as one of the options, and in the ending it had me and him spread death and destruction over the mojave. Not so here, even less so than Honest Hearts. It’s a straight out genocide at the end, leaving you as sole survivor.
With no real control over the ending I have no real reason to play through again. I could reload before the boss and get all the secrets and extras before the ending, but I’m not that interested in what would have happened if I’d found the book dispenser’s upgrade. I’ll quite hapilly go hunting after the fact.
In the end, it’s a solid piece of gaming. Short, sweet, a little exposition heavy. It’s a nice mix of linearity and open sandbox but a lack of moral choice and side taking marrs an otherwise fun slice of gaming pie.