Downloadable content is a difficult thing to get exactly right. Sometimes, there's just not enough new stuff, and people will argue they're not getting enough bang for their buck. But if there's too much going on - particularly if they've fixed or modified too many central game elements - the developers will be accused of charging you for a patch, or purposefully releasing an unfinished product, safe in the knowledge that they can charge the consumer all over again once the problems are identified and ironed out.
Perhaps the safest route is that which the Fallout games have traditionally taken (if it can be a tradition after just one previous game): that of just adding a new chunk of action to the game that doesn't really impact at all on the main storyline. Like a spinoff that's not quite long enough or different enough to justify calling a new game, but that leaves the main drive of the original alone enough that there's not going to be widespread anger among fans.
And so it is with Dead Money, the first DLC for Fallout: New Vegas. When the courier answers a mysterious radio transmission on his Pipboy one thing leads to another, you get knocked unconscious and wake up conveniently ‘off map' in a ghost town surrounding the infamous Sierra Madre Casino. There's a mysterious questgiver, a new troupe of followers and a new quest: to crack the Sierra Madre's vault and, presumably, make off with the fabled treasure.
Film buffs have no doubt noted the familiar name of the casino in Dead Money, which perhaps takes a cue from "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", the old 1940s Humphrey Bogart movie. Well done, movie buffs! You're absolutely right. The central theme of the movie - one of greed between supposed allies, and how it can cost you everything - is echoed in Dead Money, although the rest of the story is very different.
The town around the Sierra Madre is different-yet-familiar to the rest of the Fallout world. A cloud of poisonous gas hangs above the cramped, winding streets, giving everything a timeless haze (that also happens to slowly sap your life force). The locals are - predictably enough - a bunch of complete and utter psychos. These aren't your usual Fallout goons, either. You can shoot them, stab them, or even blow them up, and they'll fall over sure enough, but give them enough time and they'll get right back up again and carry on trying to carve your ears off. The only way to keep them down for good is to dismember them - although, this being Fallout, that's not particularly rare. Dead Money is supposed to be played with a high-level character, and might be a bit tough if you're not up to scratch with your combat skills, but assuming you're a level 30 combatmonster, though, the difficulty is about right.
On top of these baddies and the poisonous atmosphere, you're wearing an explosive collar, that is set off by proximity to radios or loudspeakers. And, of course, the bloody things are all over the place. I quickly got fed up with the annoying beeping noise which means my head is about to explode, but I concede that it is a pretty effective and fresh challenge.
To be honest, though, the important thing to Dead Money is the story. It feels like a story the writers really wanted to tell, and it's revealed slowly throughout the four or five hours it's likely to take you. Your companions are mysterious and engaging - from the mutant with the split personality to the scarred woman who can only communicate with hand gestures - and the multiple endings all have something interesting and worthwhile to say. The long-dead inhabitants of the casino, now nothing more than flickering holograms, manage to capture the ghostlike feel that the developers were obviously going for and a cloying, claustrophobic sense of jumpy paranoia is unavoidable. I'm not too proud to admit switching the game off after a particularly involved stealth section one night in the bowels of the casino, then freaking out all the way to the light switch.
There's a slightly increased level cap (now level 35) and a handful of fairly interesting new perks and weapons, and some new armour and crafting blueprints as well. Nothing that's going to dramatically change the main game, of course, or cause truefans to bellow in rage.
I'm happy with how this turned out. Adding significantly to something so loved as Fallout isn't easy, and the ‘old movie-inspired ghost tale of betrayal and redemption set in a hermetically sealed casino' was a brave and novel move that managed to stay loyal to the Fallout brand without feeling tired. If anything, I felt like the taste of Bioshock was on my lips throughout this dystopian art-deco wonderland.
Article by Damien Brailey (GD Journalist)
Published by Felix