What comes to mind when you hear the word Vegas? Elvis? Showgirls? Marg Helgenberger swabbing semen off the underside of roulette tables? Or post-apocalyptic landscapes, warring mercenaries, plasma rifles and robot policemen?
Welcome to the world of New Vegas, where the house always wins. In fact, the whole place is run by one Mr House, a mysterious overlord who maintains order with the help of those robot policemen, known as Securitrons. They patrol the strip, which is just as brightly lit and busily populated as it ever was. Vegas isn't about to let a bit of war get in the way of fun.
In other words, we're not in Washington DC any more. The setting for the follow-up to Fallout 3 is altogether glitzier, trashier and generally less grey. Vegas wasn't as badly hit by nukes, it turns out, so the sky is still blue and the casinos are still open for business, offering all manner of services to those looking for a good time.
I got to try some of these out during a playtest of Fallout: New Vegas at E3. The finished game will feature a variety of themed casinos, such as the swank Ultralux and the seedy Gomorrah. But I only had time to visit The Tops, which seemed to be a pretty traditional place complete with slot machines, roulette wheels and blackjack tables.
You can play all these games in New Vegas, along with a newly invented card game called Caravan, which is played throughout the world. You might want to check how many luck skill points you've earned first, however, as this will directly affect your chances of winning. If things do go your way, you might want to quit while you're ahead, as the casino manager is likely to turn up and turf out those who win too often.
This may be Vegas, but that doesn't mean anything goes. There are those Securitrons, for starters, along with human security guards who will insist on searching you for weapons when you enter casinos. (Good job, then, that there are shady characters outside offering easily concealed items like switchblade knives for sale.) Wandering past a bottle of whisky left unattended on a bar, I idly selected the option to steal it - only to find myself under fire from several directions and being forced to leg it.
Cut to the Mojave desert wasteland, another location on show during the E3 demo. It's about the same size as the DC wasteland and just as desolate, but in a brighter, bolder way. Straggly bits of scrub poke out from between vividly red rocks. The sun beats down relentlessly, bleaching the wood and fading the canvas of the tents and huts in the base camps.
They're inhabited by members of the various factions featured in Fallout: New Vegas. These include Caesar's Legion, a bunch of well-organised fighters who are into slavery and generally doing as the Romans did. Also being introduced today is the New California Republic, one of the largest factions in the game.