When I heard Fallout: New Vegas was going to offer a “Hardcore Mode”, the particular gland in my body that harbors my perversion for masochistic challenge swelled with anticipatory trembling. In HxC, the simulation of post apocalyptic survival becomes brutally accurate and unforgiving. Your character must be fed, hydrated, and well rested if they hope to survive their sojourn over the irradiated plains of the Mojave Dessert. Failure to sate these integral human appetites will result in crippling handicaps that leave you limping across the sands like a wounded fawn, the likely prey of any number of ravenous, disfigured, nuclear-abominations.
Shit gets real.
Naturally, this sort of masochistic dogma isn’t one the vast purchasing public subscribes to when it comes to how they spend their leisure hours, so HxC is optional. I contend, however, that anybody playing the game on “regular” mode is doing himself or herself a great disservice. Consider the following anecdote:
To ensure a nice humble onset from which you can enjoy the fulfilling process of character development, you begin your existence in the universe of New Vegas by GETTING SHOT IN THE HEAD. I awoke to the face of a man who had been kind enough to fish the bits of bullet out of my skull. I can only hope he was a qualified medical practitioner. After fending off a pack of invading bandits from the town of my savior, I began my virginal foray in to the Mojave Wasteland. I soon discovered that since I had awoken atop the good doctor’s table, I hadn’t eaten a single thing. I was weak from starvation and I was marching headlong towards the men who’d put one bullet in me already. Necessity drove me towards a den of coyotes burrowed in to a rock face. Rather than risking a frontal confrontation, one that my mal-nourished husk of a body would not likely survive, I crawled through the irradiated muck on my belly and picked them off from afar.
Their meat would suffice, but there was a chance that entering the den would yield further spoils. Rifle held tight, I stepped cautiously in to their acrid lair. As my sight adapted to the shadowy hollow, I heard the hushed baying of a much smaller creature. Coyote pups, born to a more harsh and brutal world than their parents I had butchered. Cowering in a corner, the braver of the bunch bore his fangs, snarling. I looked at them and I understood for a moment that we were alike. Both of us, wide-eyed and ignorant to what fathoms the evils of this world could descend. Would our fragile selves weather these trials and continuously emerge stronger and wiser than when we had begun them? Or would some roving giant crush us without thought or emotion in the common pursuit of survival? There we both stood, huddled together in a black pit, with the frigid wind of an unforgiving world howling just past the cave’s narrow mouth.
Their meat was sweet.
In any other game where morality is a factor, butchering infants is unanimously considered nothing short of nefarious, but in New Vegas… -in Hardcore Mode, we are humbled. Morality is shown to be luxury of the entitled. While there is a difference between picking the bones of a sacked caravan and pulling the trigger point blank on a 6-month-old blind orphan, it is a subtle one. I found HxC to be an examination of poverty and moral relativism. It allows the players to find their own answer to the question: in a nation of have-nots, is theft still a crime?
New Vegas has successfully created one of the most effective interactive story-telling experiences of the post-apocalyptic genre. You walk from your shelter in to a world where morality and ethics were vaporized along with the highways and high-rises of the old world. For the second time in its existence, America is once again a frontier; an untamed wilderness steeped in constant, un-sleeping peril. It is against this lawless backdrop that the game then hands the pen to you, the player, and bids you answer the question: what happens next? When civilization is erased and the contemporary human entity steps out to have their eyes stung by the dawn of a new day, will we prove that we have extricated ourselves from the destructive, base compulsions of our evolutionary infancy? Or will our delusions of reason as being the only definitive characteristic of our species be brought to a violent and humbling end?
New Vegas shows us that as a species, we are capable of both, but in our medium,
it all depends who’s playing the game.
Call Me Lameish will return next Monday with a fully illustrated review of Fable 3.