If it wasn’t for our esteemed editor Steve, and the twenty-odd hours we needed to kill on the way to QuakeCon last year, I may never have sampled the delights the Fallout franchise has to offer. After admitting I’d never played it in any incarnation and seeing the incredulous look stamped across his face and raised fist rapidly approaching, I thought, now just might be time to take the series for a test drive. 75 hours later, in the Mojave; you could say I’m a convert, borderline stimpak-addict, and jumped at the chance to level up and take another irradiated trip down the Sunset Strip in this first batch of DLC for Fallout: New Vegas, Dead Money.
After picking up a mysterious broadcast, beckoning like a siren’s song, you find yourself in a secret bunker in search of the fabled fortune and glory of the Sierra Madre Casino. A face full of gaseous Rohypnol robs you of your companions, weapons and leaves you naked as a jaybird with only a newly administered dynamite bit of jewelry wrapped around your throat. You’ve been forcibly recruited by Father Elijah, Ocean’s Eleven style, for the heist of the century. But this isn’t New Vegas. The Sierra Madre has its own unique dangers, adversaries and security. Looks like both you, and Papa’s got a brand new bag.
Immediately Dead Money feels completely different and separate from the rest of New Vegas. You’re companionless, weaponless, cut off from the rest of the world by a purple toxic cloud and no fast travel, and held at bay by an explosive charge embedded in the collar on your neck. You’re at Father Elijah’s beck and call, and he’s gonna make you work for your freedom.
You’re tasked with working through the labyrinth-like Villa on the Casino’s outskirts to recruit three eclectic companions (a ghoulish entertainer, a mutilated mute tech-whiz and a bi-polar super mutant) to help you break into the vault, each with their own motivations, quirks and explosive ring around the collar. The twist is that all of your collars are linked, so if one dies, you all die. That’s one way to build teamwork now, innit? Not only do you have to keep your offsiders onside to stop your head going boom, but outside factors also come into play.
The sensitive nature of your necktie means that radios and speakers mess with the frequency, leading to your head popping like a zit. This is no run and gun Fallout adventure. This is tense, tight and stealthy. Bursting in guns blazing is not the best option. Approaching any speaker is accompanied with a beep, beep, beep of increasing frequency until you’re clear, and bears some similarity to the motion trackers in Aliens. Death always feels mere moments away, so you’ll want to keep your wits about you if you want to keep your head on your shoulders.
If that wasn’t enough, there are traps everywhere, invincible security holograms (unless you kablammo their emitters) and a creepy race of dwellers or ghosts that harvest the toxic cloud that envelops the Sierra Madre, and worship the holograms as deities. These don’t go down easy (giggedy!) and if you’ve leveled up melee or unarmed, you’ll have an immediate leg up, as bullets are scarce till about the halfway point, and they have a tendency to soak up a lot of them. Even after you take one down, they lay unconscious until you crack them open like a piñata and end their sorry existence.
I’ve purposely avoided too much detail on the plot, as, as usual, the true strength of Fallout is in the rich tapestry it weaves, and while Dead Money is fairly satisfying, it leaves too many questions unanswered at its conclusion, which was disappointing to say the least. The patches New Vegas has received since launch have minimized the bugs, though I did have a few crashes throughout my travels.
Putting aside these gripes, it is well worth a look as it sets a particularly different tone, and raises the level cap to 35 giving grinders a whole new mess of skill points to muck around with. While you could rush through it, I suggest you grab your scavenger’s cap and explore every nook and cranny, and suck the marrow out of the bone of this spooky little batch of DLC.