Falling for Fallout — again

Feelin' lucky? Fallout: New Vegas chases the apocalypse to Sin City

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Fallout: New Vegas

(PC, PS3, Xbox 360) Obsidian Entertainment/Bethesda Softworks

GAMER Despite the reverence it commands, the Fallout series has a tortured history. The first two games (both classics) were developed by Black Isle Studios and published by Interplay. Out of nowhere, Micro Forte and 14 Degrees East stepped in to produce a licensed spin-off in 2001. Interplay's 2003 financial difficulties led to the demise of Black Isle, and the publisher produced a fourth game in-house before selling the Fallout name to Bethesda Softworks, which released the mega-hit Fallout 3 in 2008.

The creative core of Black Isle, meanwhile, went on to form Obsidian Entertainment, which cut its teeth on ambitious-but-flawed follow-ups to popular franchises like Knights of the Old Republic and Neverwinter Nights. After the success of Fallout 3, the company got permission from Bethesda to return to its roots, producing a new game in the post-apocalyptic Fallout universe, superintended by series vets Josh Sawyer and Chris Avellone.

The result was Fallout: New Vegas. Though its outward appearance is defined by the wooden character models and awkward animations of the Gamebryo engine (a holdover from Fallout 3 and Bethesda's swords-and-sorcery smash OblivionNew Vegas feels and plays more like one of Black Isle's isometric 1990s classics.

This distinctive sensibility is most notable in the writing, which oozes dark comedy and pulpy, hard-boiled dialogue in a way that Fallout 3 never did. Questing and character creation have also been redesigned in accordance with the Black Isle games' core principles, necessitating difficult choices whose outcomes are not always immediately clear. The score, by delightfully named Israeli composer Inon Zur, deftly echoes the series' bizarre, dystopian musical tradition.

There is one element of the original Fallout titles that nobody missed: the bugs. Unfortunately, Black Isle's questionable quality assurance survived the name change, and New Vegas is not without its many hiccups. Given the sheer scope of the game, however, it's hard to complain too stridently.

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