X360A Review: Fallout: New Vegas' Dead Money
Written Thursday, December 23, 2010 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Spare a thought for Fallout: New Vegas' poor courier... Not only does he begin the main game being shot in the head and buried, but he also falls foul of a raw deal in the game's first DLC chapter. As you'd expect with a title like Dead Money, there's more double dealing afoot as greed leads your character into being haplessly coaxed into a trap, having picked up a radio signal that lures you down into an old Brotherhood of Steel bunker. Here, you're gassed and fitted with an explosive collar along with three other subjects, who you must gather and team up with to snatch a legendary treasure from an ill-fated casino that never opened.
Working against your will at the behest of the shady Father Elijah, your Pip-Boy and collar are under his control, meaning that any attempts to escape or disobey are futile. Step out of line and your head will get blown clean off along with your three partners in crime, but that's not all. The streets surrounding the looming Sierra Madre casino are draped in an acrid red toxic gas known as The Cloud, which in Hardcore mode causes your health to very slowly decay. Run into a concentrated toxic cloud however, and the fatal levels of copper and sulphur mean that you're almost certainly done for, even in Casual mode.
Starting out with instructions from Elijah to assemble your crack team of fellow detainees to help crack the casino's vault, you’ll head out into the different districts where you'll encounter mysterious green-eyed 'Ghost People', who can't be killed in the normal way. Instead, you'll need to completely dismember them, to ensure they don't get back up, which with the first of your companions is made all the more easy. Wander to the police station in the Villa district and you'll find the wearer (or rather eater) of Collar 8 named Dog or God, depending on which holodisk recording you decide to subject him to. Either way, Dog is a docile Super Mutant who has another more intelligent personality called God, and both are of use.
Dog is able to devour any Ghost People you dispatch, killing them outright, whereas Collar 12, also known as Dean Domino is a more traditional companion with a silenced pistol and his own line in laconic sarcasm. You'll find him relaxing in the Residential district, but you'll discover Collar 14, Christine languishing in the Medical district's clinic. Rendered mute by a malfunctioning Autodoc, Christine is a strange character, with deep scars on her face and no means of communicating other than nods, blinks and hand gestures. Weirdly, this is all relayed in text rather than animations, which seems somewhat lazy on Obsidian's part.
Each companion character grants unique perks - just like in the main game – so, Dog or God each give you either a strength or stealth perk respectively, while Dean Domino can temporarily protect you when exposed to The Cloud, and Catherine can extend the time you have before your collar goes off when within range of radio waves. Ah, yes...radios and speakers: possibly the game's worst enemy. For some reason, the radios in this zone have been damaged causing them to broadcast at a frequency that causes the explosive collar to bug out, giving you a limited time before it detonates. Consequently, you'll find yourself desperately running, or backing away and scoping out your routes before advancing, lest your head go 'pop' like an over-ripe melon.
Add to this bear traps, trip wires and hostile inhabitants, and Dead Money offers a stiff challenge, without ever being overly frustrating. And things get even simpler once you've got the team together, although you'll then need to get them into their positions to activate the Gala celebration that should have happened when the casino was supposed to originally open. Instead, it's now simply a method of gaining entry, which is something Father Elijah's previous victims had clearly failed to do. You'll find the odd headless corpse in Dead Money jumpsuits lying on the floor at various junctures, including at the very beginning, where it's also worth heeding the warning that Dead Money is recommended for players at level 20 or above. We entered Dead Money at level 19, but soon found that with Dog's help, we were levelling up pretty rapidly and by the end of the DLC, we had gained almost five levels.
Handily, Dead Money raises New Vegas' level cap by five levels too, which is great if you want an easy way to boost your character. Of course there are new achievements as well, which are all remarkably easy to acquire. The majority are story-related and one requires you collect 500 Sierra Madre chips, which sounds daunting until you realise that they're scattered everywhere. Still, we'd strongly suggest steering clear of Dead Money until you reach the higher levels, or you're in for a rough ride.
Dead Money clocks in at a good five hours or so, and is well worth investing in if you're thirsty for more New Vegas action. There's plenty of what Fallout does best, with new melee weapons and guns to try out as well as several divergent conclusions to reach once you manage to successfully (or indeed unsuccessfully) pull off the Sierra Madre heist. But does Dead Money deliver on the same level as Fallout 3's DLC did? To a certain extent yes, but having played through the DLC episode, we can attest that Dead Money is absorbing while it lasts, yet you might still be left wanting more once the credits have rolled.