Fallout: New Vegas - Old World Blues review (Xbox 360)

Old World Blues is the third volume in the series of Fallout: New Vegas’ downloadable content. Each of the DLC packs has had their environments range from a casino trapped in a poisonous fog filled with zombies, to a canyon that holds a battle of ideologies stemming from Christianity. But now Old World Blues is here. This episode is set more along the general Fallout aesthetic, taking us straight into the heart of the trapped 1950s mindset that makes the overall game so visually distinctive.

It also happens to be one of the finest downloadable content offerings of the past few years. It’s as good as The Ballad of Gay Tony, it’s as good as BioShock 2: Minerva’s Den, and it may be a contender for game of the year in its own right.

Old World Blues takes place in The Big Empty, Big Mt., a crater housing a large offering of science centres, research centres, botanical gardens, weather stations and all manner of sciency-wiency-type stuff. As seen in the official trailer for this DLC, it is built around a very peculiar plot device: your own brain. You’ve been taken into this facility, against your will, and are now asked to work with your kidnappers in "saving science!"

Also seen in said trailer are the kidnappers themselves, brains in jars connected to three monitors (eyes and mouth) that hover about. There’s a whole array of these pre-War Doctors milling about with their own agendas. All of them have their own problems, quests and ties to Big Mt. that the player can crack open and indulge in through dialogue trees and running about the environment. This is a type of experience that rewards exploration, and not just physical exploration.

Each of the "Think Tank" characters carries a whole new personality, voice actor and special twist of language that makes them so unique and memorable. One of them thinks your toes are penises, another is obsessed with the human body to a creepy degree, another doesn’t know its own name, one has lost its voice, and another sounds like the narrator of '50s sci-fi movie trailers. Putting EMPHASIS on random WORDS such as TERROR and HORROR for EFFECT!

The story centres around you getting your brain back by fetching equipment and doing odd-jobs for the Think Tank lot. One of them, Dr. Mobius, has actually stolen your brain, after it got "lost" through the kidnapping process. He serves as the main antagonist and constantly throws stuff at you to keep you busy, like Robo-scorpions, rogue Securitrons, "Lobotomites" (all of the Think Tank call you a lobotomite) and skeletons in spacesuits, too.

The story, characters and atmosphere feel so lively and real. There’s a real weight to each line of dialogue and every time you enter a new area you feel it filling up with a unique sense of exploration. There’s one location in the game that shows each of the Think Tank characters’ homesteads when they were human. It’s possibly the greatest exercise of environmental storytelling I’ve ever seen, and little items like Mentats and teddy bears take on a whole new meaning in this section. It becomes this tragic, almost heartbreaking story about a love of work turning into crazed devotion.

The exploration that so viciously drives the main game returns to a more pinpoint effect. Every single locale in the Big Mt. houses some sort of upgrade or new weapon or gadget to acquaint yourself with. Your base of operations in the crater is called The Sink, which has appliances with personalities and functions dedicated towards the player. There’s a jukebox voiced by a Barry White soundalike, a toaster wanting to take over the world, light switches caught in a bitch-fight, and many more. All of them are distinct characters with some superb voice acting.

In fact, the whole of the voice cast easily out-perform any of the core New Vegas lot and give a real spice of delight to your time in the Big Mt. The Sink’s appliance upgrades and personality chips have to be found out in the crater-wasteland and there is literally one or two hidden in every single location. It’s the ultimate in encouraging exploration, because it’s like uncovering a whole new character.

Did I mention how funny this whole thing is? The story functions as this trashy '50s sci-fi tale with touching moments and a real pace to it all, but ends up being one giant juxtaposition. The Think Tank members, The Sink appliances and even the clothing found in the Big Empty all havd hilarious dialogue. The final confrontation with Mobius itself contains one very surreal yet knee-slapping sequence which I won’t spoil.

The entire episode functions around the sci-fi vein but manages to venture into an absolutely unparalleled amount of pop culture references. It’s possible to dress as Joss Whedon’s Dr Horrible, the dialogue with Mobius slips in one clever Futurama nod, there’s a subtle poke at The Wizard of Oz along with the Wild Wasteland perk from the main game bringing up whole new wonders. At one point the DLC manages to reference the work of C.M. Coolidge (go ahead, Google it).

From the pop culture reference machine trapped in '50s sci-fi, to the hilarious and Portal 2-quality level of writing, to the persistence carried by the new system of exploration rewards, to the tragic and heartbreaking character stories, to the giant winks at the wider tale, to the environment and weapons, to the voice acting and to the best environmental storytelling I’ve ever seen (gasp), Old World Blues is an absolute tour de force. This is a type of downloadable chunk of content that comes about very rarely: it’s the type that rivals the quality of the first game and goes beyond to still deliver a fresh experience off the back of its predecessor.

There is one last road to conquer for the Courier, the hints dropped by Old World Blues show that it is one that surely isn’t to be missed. If it is anything like Old World Blues then we are in for something which goes beyond the entire Fallout series itself.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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