- Fallout: New Vegas: a post-nuclear Western (?)
(With apologies to every writer, director, and star of the Wild West)
EXT. THE MOJAVE DESERT
The one-horse town of Goodsprings bakes, silent, in the Nevada heat. One after the other, we see several POWDER GANG BANDITS approach, cradling baseball bats and crude firearms. The Powder Gangers are in high spirits, looking forward to the plunder of the town.
POWDER GANGER #1: Pardner, I do reckon that there town be as easy as liquor flowing at the saloon.
POWDER GANGER #2: Yee-haw!
The Powder Gangers laugh, twirl their moustaches. Suddenly, they hear a yell.
An armoured figure – not one of the townspeople, but our hero, THE COURIER – charges out from between two houses. The Courier winds back his arm and for a moment, time seems to freeze. When it flows again, something red and fizzing has landed at the Powder Gangers’ feet.
POWDER GANGER #1: … Is that… dynamite?
FADE TO WHITE.
I’m ten hours into Fallout: New Vegas, the most unique-feeling entry in the venerable Fallout line of RPGs. Its predecessors (#1 and #3 in particular) revelled in their post-apocalyptic setting: their mohawked raiders could have come straight out of a Mad Max movie, and their civilisation was a precarious, hardscrabble thing – ersatz Bartertowns scattered around the wastes, each surviving as best as it could.
New Vegas is a different beast. It patterns itself on the Western, with an aesthetic thatwould make The Man With No Name feel at home – check out the saloon and general store in the screenshot at the top! – and country music playing over every radio. But if we dig deeper, there’s an interesting twist. The Wild West of myth is every inch as anarchistic as, well, Fallout 1 and 3; its outlaws have an entire continent between them and the authorities out east. Not the West of New Vegas! There are not one but two Leviathans pushing into Nevada: the New California Republic, benevolent but bureaucratic and overstretched; and Caesar’s Legion, which makes its historic namesake look kind and gentle.
This combination works on several levels. Aesthetically, it’s a breath of fresh air: how many Wild West games have we seen? Offhand, I can only think of a handful, and only one really notable: Red Dead Redemption. Then we mix in the factions. The NCR vs Legion war provides conflict, which both spices up the world and gives the player something to do. The NCR being the force of law and order, meanwhile, allows the game to offer an interesting depiction of the emergence – or arrival – of a Hobbesian state. Various characters grumble about having to pay NCR taxes and toe NCR laws… but given what life would be like without those laws, they’re content to go along. And lastly, there’s the NCR itself. In Fallout 1, the capital of the future NCR is a tiny farming village, terrorised by raiders. The NCR’s future founding mother is a hostage. The player’s actions in Fallout 1 changed that, set the NCR on its road to greatness. Every khaki-clad NCR soldier in New Vegas is a reminder of that past triumph, and a nice homage to the earlier games in the series.
As for the Courier, he’s finally made it out of the desert and into the outskirts of the city of New Vegas. What will he encounter there? I look forward to finding out.