Just like Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas is technically a terrible game. New Vegas' engine is incredibly buggy — enough that the game sometimes feels like a step back from predecessor, which already felt dated two years ago. On top of that, the game isn't particularly pretty: Like an ugly guy who's really funny, New Vegas grabs your attention even though a closer inspection may cause you to feel ill. But I've fallen for a few ugly guys in my day (hi, exes!), which may explain why I'm more than 20 hours into New Vegas and still enjoying myself.
Even stranger, I find New Vegas' technical shortcomings rather charming, even though I know they're a sign of lazy programming and a rushed product. Chalk it up to brilliant design (or just manipulative programmers), but I feel obligated to make excuses for all of Fallout's flaws.
New Vegas is glitchy as hell…but in a charming way.
Less than an hour into playing the game, I encountered my first bug — a scorpion, funnily enough. It started chasing me, so I ran away and tried to get in a few shots. Then something strange happened: Just as the battle heated up, the scorpion fell through the ground, with only his stinger visible to taunt me. I walked away as the annoyed scorpion try to attack me, oblivious to the fact that it had fallen into the quicksand of a bad game engine.
In addition to odd enemy behavior, New Vegas' non-playable characters regularly enjoy running into fences, poles, or anything else sticking out of the ground. Why they do this, I don't know, but it never fails to trigger a Benny Hill-esque song in my head while I watch them try to find the correct path.
I'd classify most of these experiences as quirks rather than game-breaking bugs. I guess that's why I'm able to put up with their weirdness — and even enjoy them occasionally.
New Vegas is ugly…but huge.
New Vegas is not a pretty game to look at. Though the game world may look OK from afar, up close it appears most everything has been covered in a thin layer of Vaseline and dirt — perhaps we're to believe that radioactivity has that side effect? NPC faces also suffer from that blocky, stiff quality that defined early Xbox 360 games and late PS2 games. (Fact: When you create your character at the beginning of the game, it's 100-percent impossible to make a non-ugly character.)
Despite this, the game is capable of inspiring awe, provided that you've found the correct vantage point. Viewing the wasteland from a hill or cliff is incredible. The visuals in this game are definitely greater than the sum of their parts.
The shooting mechanics are terrible…which makes V.A.T.S. really satisfying.
If you try to play New Vegas as a shooter, you will be miserable. The guns are a nightmare to aim, and they feel as if they have no weight. Anyone who has cut their teeth on shooters like Halo or Gears of War will feel entirely out of place.
Somehow though, the terrible shooting mechanics of Fallout work to its advantage — and that's because of the V.A.T.S. system, which freezes play and allows you to target specific body parts. If you're being attacked by a group of wastelanders, you might try to take them out with a few regular shots in order to save AP, the currency used in V.A.T.S. Once you get tired of the game's awful shooting, you'll use V.A.T.S. to zoom in on someone's head and blow it right off — in super slow motion, of course — and it will feel amazing.
In other words, the game cripples you in one aspect so that another seems amazing by comparison — and the trick totally works. It's really pretty cruel.
With all of these technical issues, why is New Vegas still spinning in my disc tray?
Part of the reason is the immense satisfaction of seeing the edges peek out from the illusion of a "game world." People like breaking games — and New Vegas is broken right out of the box.
Another part is that New Vegas' exploration experience is unrivaled. There's something just plain fun about discovering all of the nooks and crannies of an entirely alien world.
So I'll continue to make excuses for New Vegas — even though I know it kind of sucks.