Chris Capel had his brain, spine, and heart removed. Then he became a games critic
I wasn’t that impressed by the previous two DLC packs for Fallout: New Vegas. I loved the main game, but both Dead Money and Honest Hearts felt decidedly lacking. Consequently the latest DLC, Old World Blues, had to do a hell of a lot to impress me. The shocking thing is, it has done. Many times over. It’s not only the best Fallout DLC, but one of the best add-ons for any game ever.
Even the dead are out to get you
As usual, it starts with your character receiving a mysterious radio message (with jazzy undertones), this time inviting him/her to a midnight movie screening. You head to the drive-in at midnight, activate a weird machine that projects an eye onto the screen, and suddenly find yourself teleported to a place called Big Mountain a.k.a. the Big Empty. Here’s where things go from strange to totally bafflingly insane.
You find yourself staring out from a tall tower in the centre of a huge crater, filled with all manner of weird buildings. You have an apartment filled with interesting appliances (more on them later) although all appear deactivated. Heading downstairs you’ll find yourself talking to floating monitors attached to brains that seem surprised that you can talk. This is the Think Tank, formerly some of the greatest minds in science, now exactly the same just crazier and minus the bodies. They’ve scooped out your brain, spine and heart, replaced them with synthetics, and accidentally flushed the brain down the toilet to end up at the lair of super-villain mad scientist Dr Mobius.
This is the point where you realise that Old World Blues isn’t to be taken seriously, possibly just after the Think Tank say “penises” more often in ten minutes than any other game does in its entire length. This is also where my problem as a callous reviewer sets in, as every single thing I want to complain about has a “yeah, but” to counter it. For example, the beginning of the DLC is very, very talky and without skipping furiously it will take you a while to get to the exploring. “Yeah,” I say to myself, “but the writing is of such a high (and very funny) calibre that you won’t want to skip any of it”. It’s got some of the best comedy dialogue in gaming, without a doubt.
The Big Empty is an excellent place to explore, being a mixture of Rapture, Aperture Laboratories and Area 51, with absolute insanity thrown in at every turn. It really feels that the developers had a lot of fun making it, and it utterly shows. I actually started to get annoyed because the game threw so many cool and wonderful surprises at me I wanted to tell the world about, but couldn’t because it’d spoil things. Let’s just say if you have the Weird Wasteland perk on you’ll have the best time.
It feels like Obsidian were just told to go mad making this particular DLC, and have done so. They’ve aimed to be funny and ape ridiculous ‘50s sci-fi movies, but it definitely does have a hard edge too. As you begin to find out the background of the site there are horrors hidden away behind the funny. The disturbing Yangtze Prison Camp and the sad story of Gabe the dog are two examples.
Old World Blues is pretty sizeable, with many buildings housing large underground areas, and unlike Honest Hearts exploring is actually fun to do. There are many fun things to find everywhere and there’s an attention to detail here that is hugely impressive for a mere DLC pack (like a line of footlockers plotting the erratic journey of a delivery truck from road to final crashing spot, or a skeleton draped over a picnic table surrounded by empty beer bottles). There’s secrets and fun things scattered everywhere. I thoroughly explored the Big Empty, did all the quests I could find, and it took me about 20 hours, so there’s a decent size game here. Furthermore, I loved absolutely every minute of it and I’m sad it’s over.
The Think Tank may be the best and brightest, but they're one positron short of an electron
Another potential problem: a lot of the quests consist of fetching items. Boring right? Well firstly some of those items include a cool weapon upgrade that can deactivate force fields, a stealth suit with a humorous and insecure female voice, and your own brain. Secondly, basically every “go get this” is an excuse just to make you explore the wonderful surroundings, and will often lead to major and entertaining complications to overcome anyway.
C’mon Old World Blues, you’ve got to have something bad I can complain about. Aren’t most of the new weapons and enemies just re-skinned versions of current ones? To an extent, except that weapons include a Magnum-powered chaingun with a dog’s brain that whines if you put it away. Enemies include laser-shooting robo-scorpions of varying sizes, intelligent combat suits that don’t realise that their owners are long dead, and eyeless police cyberdogs that bark sonic waves at you.
Locations? Just copy/pasted from Fallout 3 and New Vegas as usual right? Mostly, but the imagination, variety, and fun in the exploration of these locations matches and beats most of the best areas in the main games. How about a stealth testing facility that gets progressively harder as you outwit the sentinels, a cyberdog kennel where you can create abominations of nature (and even recruit one), or the creepy Higgs Village where a character from Gremlins awaits you (and which seems to have been the model for that VR simulation in Fallout 3)?
Surely the characters must be dull then, like they mostly were in Honest Hearts? Nope, some of my favourite ever created, and most of them can be found in your own bedroom. The light switches that flirt and vie for your affections, the sink that’s afraid of dirt, the toaster that wants to destroy the world one slice of bread at a time, Muggy… oh god, Muggy. And there’s your own brain to chat with too.
Story? As you uncover more and more secrets of the Big Empty the more intriguing it becomes. The ending is carefully plotted, plays on your expectations, and really makes you wonder about your actions. Manage to get the good endings and you’ll feel like the most important person in the world – get the bad ones and you’ll feel the same, just a corruptive one instead.
Even after finishing, in the cold light of day, I am still struggling to think of anything bad to say about Old World Blues. I am utterly stunned by how good it was. In the 20+ hours I spent in the Big Empty I was constantly impressed, surprised, entertained, and challenged. It’s like Obsidian were allowed total freedom with its design and just went for fun all the way, at no point saying to any suggestion “no, that’s too insane”. This clearly was a team just having a laugh, and it very nearly got the full 10 out of 10 – and I never score games that highly even if I love them.
Yes, I'm using a phaser to shoot robotic dogs in the face. I love this game
In the end I knocked it down a little because yes, assets do get reused (no matter how imaginatively), it’s very talky in parts (no matter how good the talking) and to be fair there will be Fallout players out there who will hate it just because it chucks realism and grittiness out the window. You will love it though if you chose the Weird Wasteland perk, loved the Vault filled with Garys in 3, or just don’t mind playing through an extremely funny and well-written DLC pack that throws interesting surprises at you all the time, rewards exploration greatly, and packs more imagination and play-time in it than nearly every other full-priced game out there.
Oh, watch out for your brain though. He’s a dick.
FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS - OLD WORLD BLUES VERDICT
Oh, watch out for your brain though. He’s a dick.
TOP GAME MOMENT
The twenty or so hours between having your brain scooped out and going back to the Mojave. Or creating a freak of nature and getting an achievement for it.