One day, somebody is going to make a game where humanity climbs into the bunker, waits for the apocalypse to pass, emerges from shelter and really does rebuild society, rather than clambering out and getting butchered by mutant wasps before anyone's had time to break ground on a new Millets. It probably won't be Bethesda Softworks, though, because games like Fallout: New Vegas suggest there's still lots more mileage in things going wrong at the end of the world.
QuakeCon 2010 brings with it the chance to play New Vegas for a whole hour without interruption - surely more than enough time to form some conclusions about how well Obsidian Entertainment is adapting the hugely successful model Bethesda repopularised two years ago.
Although it's apparently possible to start right at the beginning of the game and run off into the sunset, our hands-on puts us in the closeted hamlet of Freeside, where gangland twins the Garrets run a seedy back-street casino called the Atomic Wrangler and local security firm the Kings shakes down passers-by while ensuring "the peace". Like much of New Vegas, it's a place where the good make do and the bad make themselves rich in the meantime.
Our first encounter is with a white-suited veteran named Old Ben, who hangs out near to the exit to the Strip, where our quest log suggests we need to head. Ben comes under attack as we approach, leaving us to pick through the familiar Pip-Boy interface for a good weapon - ooh, an Anti-Materiel Rifle! - to assist.
A little later, while our mutual enemies nurse their geysering stumps, Ben advises us not to try to sneak past the nearby robot "greeter" onto the Strip or we'll be toast. As if to prove this, a Freeside randomer sprints past the greeters and finds himself torn down. We're told we must pay 2000 caps or present a passport to make progress onto the Strip. Alrighty.
We need funds, then, and James and Francine Garret are happy to oblige if we're happy to oblige them and not just rack up debts in their pokey casino, which lies behind a nondescript plasterboard door off the main drag. James is all about keeping the punters happy, and enlists us to locate a few escorts to suit his clientelle's more exclusive tastes. To this end, we head out into Freeside to locate a cowboy ghoul, a suave man who can role-play the boyfriend role convincingly and, if you hadn't got the picture yet, a sexbot.
We struggle to locate the latter within our prescribed hour - a locked door ends up in the way - but the suave guy turns out to be our friend Old Ben, who earlier regailed us with stories of his time as a butcher, a courier (the player's profession before he got shot in the head at the outset of New Vegas), and an escort. Ben thinks he's turned enough tricks to last him a lifetime, but that's nothing that our Speech skill, maxed out for the demo, can't handle.
With Benny in the bag, we head off to the nearby Old Mormon Fort, where doctors and nurses tend to degenerates and kids run around waving knives at each other, and where we encounter Beatrix, a sassy drinker who happens to be a Stetson-toting ghoul. With the (made-up) promise of a discount on hooch and with a spring in her necrotic step, she beats a path back to the Garrets.