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.
Francince Garret, meanwhile, is a practical lady with obligations to her pocket-book. She sends us out to locate a trio of sorry gamblers with tabs to pay and promises us a cut of the caps - 50 per cent, after a bit of bartering - if we settle the markers.
Her first two targets prove easy pickings. Santiago is a smooth talker from the rubble-and-burning-barrels end of town, but he soon forks over the caps when we turn persuasive, while Lady Jane is a down-on-her-luck Californian who has the means but can't get to them. Fortunately she still has some caps. Fortunately for her, that is - we haven't dipped into our well-stocked arsenal for a little while now and the VATS targeting button is getting harder to avoid.
The third debtor is Grecks, a ghoul in a sorry state, and we're not proud of how this one goes. Having located him and reclaimed what he owes, we use the rest of the conversation tree to shake him down for a little extra, and then use our hyped up Speech skill to talk the clothes off his back as well. He thanks us for not killing him. "You're a very, very bad man," the game's producer tells us with a look of concern.
Speaking of which, elsewhere in Freeside we meet the Kings, a gang of greasers run by the King, a bored-looking crime lord nursing a poorly canine friend with an exposed robot brain. It turns out King is concerned that one of his enforcers, Orris, is up to no good.
We're invited to hire Orris to escort us through the hairier bits of Freeside and observe him work to figure out why his own brand of private security is proving disproportionately lucrative - assuming it isn't all down to his spiky get-up, reminiscent of Tom Savini's Sex Machine in Dusk Till Dawn.
As Orris proceeds down the main street he diverts us into a back alley to avovid some dodgy-looking guys up ahead, and then appears to dispatch a group of thugs with brutal efficiency, after which he schools us on why he is the only security in town worth a damn.
At this point we can choose to point out that he has just "killed" four guys with three bullets, which is a mite suspicious, but we reason that we could just let him go and then report him to King later, so we don't. Unfortunately the game isn't quite set up for this kind of thinking, and upon returning to King we're only given the option to say Orris "seems legit" - something the King, like us, very much doubts. He insists we repeat the exercise and look closer.
Cursing this apparent and very un-Fallout gap in game logic, we go back to Orris and pay another 200 caps to set off again. As we near the point where we ducked into the alley, however, he changes tack. "You didn't think you'd get away with that twice, did you?" he chides. "My guys saw you coming out of the Kings." It's a shame they didn't see our Anti-Materiel Rifle too, because it splatters Orris and his guys within a few well-placed rounds.
We go back to King and he doesn't seem concerned about our methods, although as it turns out he should be, because with 10 minutes of our allotted hour remaining we go a bit Natural Born Killer and try to wax King and his entourage, then perhaps make off with his beleagured mutt Rex as a companion, as one of our neighbours in the Bethesda press area appears to have done.
Alas, it is not to be, because King really does have a private army, and between them and Rex - who seems violently upset that we've decided to switch on VATS and target his daddy's face with explosive charges - even a dozen Stimpacks can't keep us alive for long.
Time's up then and we haven't even made it to the Strip, which we saw a little of during presentations earlier in the year. The game's producer Tess Treadwell tells us that Obsidian opted against letting the sand reclaim Vegas the way it did in the film Resident Evil: Apocalypse - now there's an unexpected reference - because the team wanted to retain the city's personality, which seems to be everyone hustling one another and fighting to take more than their share.
More on Fallout: New Vegas
Digital Foundry's latest time-lapse video showcase.
Face-off: Face-Off: Fallout: New Vegas
The epic adventure analysed on PS3, 360 and PC.
Review: Fallout: New Vegas
Roulette the dogs out?
DLC-infused edition out 10th February.
That's not a fair characterisation of New Vegas though, says Treadwell - the bombs may have fallen elsewhere, and morals may never have descended on Sin City, but there's still a sense of fledgling community among those in town. The major differences between New Vegas and Fallout 3 are the different factions at work, your reputation relative to them, and the fact that more of the local infrastructure is operable than in the Capital Wasteland.
There are some changes, of course - character customisation now has the double-edged Traits, like Four-eyes, which increases your acuity when you have your specs on but reduces it significantly when you don't - but even some of these are cosmetic. Character creation is less of a labour than in Fallout 3's Vault 101 - a product of a few barked questions and a Rorschach test - but the results are familiar, and it turns out the ability to adjust your character's age with a slider has no tangible ramifications beyond appearance.
It turns out, then, that one hour roaming New Vegas is less than enough time to form some conclusions about Obsidian's Fallout extension, although that won't stop us sneaking behind Bethesda's QuakeCon curtain again today to have another crack.
What's telling though is that we're not really looking forward to playing the same hour again, but are far more interested the five, ten, or perhaps one hundred that everyone expects to follow, and which on this evidence New Vegas will happily claim from Fallout fans without all that much difficulty. Never mind rebuilding society, Obsidian seems to be rebuilding Fallout 3 in a different place and the results are just as effective.
Fallout: New Vegas is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 22nd October.