Fallout: New Vegas Dead Money DLC review

DLC as we know it is still in its infancy and Bethesda has been at the forefront in both its rise to prowess and its much ballyhooed disdain from sectors of the interwebs over the last five years. Thankfully, both Bethesda and the industry at large have come a long way from horse armor, as Fallout 3's line of well-made and game-changing DLC cemented the Maryland-based developer as a leader in the burgeoning digital field. It's a pedigree that Obsidian now has the task of maintaining after their successful (albeit somewhat buggy) first go at the franchise in the form of Fallout: New Vegas. Unfortunately, while Dead Money is full of great dialogue, it's about as fun as running around a bear trap infested town while fighting ghosts with a pea shooter, which is exactly what you end up doing in Obsidian's first crack at DLC.

Above: Do those buildings look cool to you? We hope so, because that's all you're going to look at for around three hours

Upon booting up New Vegas after downloading the $10 pack, you will be treated to a soothing new radio broadcast telling your apocalyptic traveler about the wonderful new Sierra Madre casino located in a sewer pipe in the middle of nowhere. Once inside, your character is immediately gassed and you awaken in a town square right outside of the casino, where the hologram of one Father Elijah asks you to rob the casino, which never actually opened.

Don't want to? Too bad, because there's a bomb attached to your neck a la Battle Royale, and any act of insubordination causes your head to go on a quick holiday from the rest of you. However, in a thoroughly unnecessary move, he also takes away all of the guns, stimpaks, ammo, and armor you have accumulated in your travels. Why exactly did he do this? He strapped a bomb to our neck, so we're not going to run away or try to kill him. Doesn't he want us to succeed? Wouldn't a vast arsenal of weaponry better our chances of completing his diabolical scheme? Apparently not, as Elijah sends you out in your underpants with a pseudo tranquilizer gun in hopes of pulling off the heist of the century.

Before entering the casino you need to go recruit your crew, and it is here where Dead Money shines, as your interactions and dialogue with your three fellow forced partners in crime are easily the highlight of the entire package. Convincing each member of the team, whether they're a mute or a “legendary” lounge-singer-turned-ghoul, involve some of the more interesting dialogue sections in any part of New Vegas. It adds to the generally darker tone compared to the rest of the game, which helps Dead Money feel very distinct. It's a shame the rest of Dead Money distinguishes itself from New Vegas by not being fun.

Above: Does that guy look cool too? As was the case with the buildings, be prepared to fight nothing but that guy for the first three hours of Dead Money

So 75% of Dead Money involves collecting the three crew members, bringing them to the town square individually, and then also individually taking them to another part of town to help initiate the break-in, which leads to a high level of deja vu. The entire town looks the exact same as you walk through one Spanish-inspired house to the other, all with the same walls and tiling, thus causing you to become lost more often than one would like.

While running through the town, you'll be bombarded by the same gas mask wearing enemy that cannot be killed with the one gun you're given, as it only knocks them unconscious. There's a plethora of melee weapons around to help finish the job, but if you're like us and didn't level up your melee skills worth a lick while playing the original game due to all the guns lying around, this proposition gets a little trickier. The game recommends that you don't start Dead Money until level 20, and believe us when we tell you to heed this warning. Dead Money is already highly frustrating, but without being skilled in lock-picking, science, computer hacking, melee fighting, and/or intelligence skills, that frustration may equate to a broken keyboard or controller.

ABOVE: Meet the brilliant criminal mastermind that sends his minions to do his bidding without thinking to allow them to maybe bring some medicine or the occasional mini-nuke launcher. Nice work Mr. Capone

However that's just the start of the things likely to piss you off while playing through Dead Money. You see, that bomb on your neck is wired throughout the city, and if you stand too close to a transmitter, it'll start to beep. Let it beep for too long (which isn't long at all) and it's goodbye head. There's also an absurd amount of bear traps, landmines, and tripwires lying around, which forces you to tip-toe around every corner to avoid accidentally getting your leg chewed off. Finally, half the city also happens to be contaminated with toxic gas, so imagine running through a gas-filled house while your collar is beeping only to hit a bear trap, which causes your character to run slower, and thus causes you to go boom. Once again: not fun.

Dead Money has been available for a couple of months on the 360 thanks to an exclusivity agreement, but it's now available for the PC and PS3. All three versions run through New Vegas, which means that they're all buggy. The game crashed on us a couple of times during the four hours it took to complete, and at one point we were talking to an NPC who decided to mysteriously vanish during mid-conversation, which got a haughty chuckle. There weren't any noticeable bugs exclusive to a certain platform, but the PC version is the one to get if you have the rig, thanks to drastically shorter load times, a better framerate, more definition in the textures, and the developers’ ability to release a patch instantaneously via Steam instead of waiting around through the consoles' respective certification processes, which were all true of the original release of New Vegas as well.

ABOVE: Okay we know questioning videogame logic is a slippery slope, but how does a hologram shoot frickin' laser beams out of its head?

It's evident given the more hostile setting and the lack of supplies that Obsidian was going for a survival horror type experience with Dead Money. While this is admirable, the game itself just isn't fun. Their attempts at breaking the New Vegas mold come off as annoying rather than innovative, and all of the cheap deaths and frustrating moments end up squandering a really fantastic story and premise. If you're all gung-ho about playing every bit of New Vegas that's available and a 5 level cap increase interests you, then you may be able to squeeze some enjoyment out of it if you also happen to be somewhat of a masochist. For everyone else, hopefully Obsidian's future attempts at DLC will be far more successful.

Mar 11, 2011