Dead Money: The real game

I’VE BEEN BUSY. SORRY. DON’T JUDGE ME GODDAMNIT. ANYWAY, GODDAMN GAME CRITIQUE CORNER ON SUNDAYS FROM NOW ON BECAUSE I SAID SO!

Downloadable content usually means a rushed little chapter that is pumped out for a quick buck or an overpriced map pack that millions buy and perpetuate a cycle of greedy corporations and smalltime indies. However, last year saw a change. Possibly one of the most important changes of forever, in that downloadable episodes or little bits and bats meant for downloading suddenly became… damn good. In fact, more than damn good, if you’ll let me explain myself then you’ll find one thing. Downloadable content is often building upon a game, taking it to new heights.

Around a year ago Bioshock 2 launched and was generally a lukewarm tribute to Ken Levine’s wet dream. I didn’t feel charmed or amazed or surprised that it was just what I expected. It was a watered down thing with some terrible design choices and other little bits that annoyed me. The general pacing lagged, the narrative wasn’t charged and was overall just a stagnant game. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t blown away as I was with the original. That’s what I expected, that’s what I got. So, imagine my face when the downloadable single-player campaign for it is not only better than the main game but rivals the original in everyway.

Minerva’s Den came out a long time ago in 2010, generally secretly too. None of my Bioshock buddies had heard of it, and so when I saw it get amazing reviews and said to give actual commentary on societal and philosophical issues as the original did, I jumped on it. All I can say is that you should go out, buy Bioshock 2 if you don’t already own it and download Minerva’s Den. Its narrative is beautiful, the design around it is phenomenal, the writing is fantastic, the ending is tear-jerking, the atmosphere is of Rapture, the commentary is more prevalent than perhaps the original. It is perfect.

I played the New Vegas downloadable content Dead Money this week, for review, finding it to be a very pleasant experience. In fact, in many ways, it rivalled the main game and went beyond its predecessor. It seems we’re having a bit of a LEGO affair with the Fallout series with each game post-Fallout 2 showing exceptional quality each time. Fallout 3 I didn’t like that much, New Vegas made me jizz my pants and now Dead Money is perhaps even more charming in certain areas. Except I do have a problem with it, it’s a small problem, but it’s something that has to be raised.

Downloadable content was designed to extend a game’s length, to build upon the building blocks and enrich the world. In rare cases it honestly destroys the main body and becomes what the sequel or successor was ever meant to be. New Vegas might as well be Fallout 3 given it has more ties to the series and is generally better in every single way. Dead Money then adds to the experience, but in a rather odd way. It’s a leap in writing and narrative pacing, but generally keeps the same gameplay principles. There’s no shake-up or changes.

What I want is even more expansion in other areas of New Vegas such as Hardcore Mode. Dead Money already had tweaks to Hardcore Mode (which in the main game made you starve, thirsty and tired). This time it poisoned you and drained your health as you played; but why not go one step beyond. Why not reduce weapon conditions, how much health is added via water and how much rads in general. Hardcore Mode should be both the worst and best choice I ever made in playing New Vegas – enriching but challenging. I didn’t get that vibe from turning it on in the main game.

In fact, the main problem I had with it is because it wasn’t enriching or challenging. There wasn’t any massive choices I had to made, there wasn’t any need to throw myself in front of my companions so they wouldn’t die. There was my story with Boone which wouldn’t have the same conclusion if I had Hardcore Mode turned off… but otherwise the whole playthrough wasn’t one with any charge or flair. It was an affair that was lacklustre only because I could fast travel to water, food and sleep at anytime. The bars were too lenient and in Dead Money it was pretty easy to find all of the above.

I mean, I ruddy enjoyed it and gave it 4/5 in my review. There were however some other things I didn’t like which almost felt like design hypocrisy. The main design objective of New Vegas is to offer the player numerous ways to approach any given situation, yet in Dead Money there are events closer to the finale when you’re forced to utilise stealth. Being a character specialising in speech, energy weapons and medicine (with a low sneak grade) it was frustrating to run around using up all of my stimpacks and hoping I wouldn’t be blown to bits by invincible laser-shooting holograms.

Design hypocrisy is somewhat rare in the gaming world. The original Fallout 3 suffered from it in some of its DLC, only offering linear corridor shooting as the only option. Although the main game reeked of this too, it was virtually impossible to complete the main quest without killing anybody. New Vegas was different in that you could finish the game without laying a finger on anybody. It was hard, yes, but not dumb hard like Dead Money‘s later design choices are. I’m attempting a permadeath no-killing runthrough of New Vegas soon, it’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Dead Money is an enjoyable experience, an add-on to an already massively enjoyable game. Its a stepping stone to the other DLC and has links to future DLCs so I would really recommend it if you want to enjoy future downloadable content of New Vegas.

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