Regular readers will notice that the following article is a slight departure from our usual preview style. For gamescom 2010 we've adopted a streamlined structure, allowing us to cover as many games as possible while giving you the important juice and info. In many cases we'll be running longer, more detailed previews upon our return to the UK.
What is it?
The follow-up to Fallout 3, one of the biggest titles of 2008. It's another post-apocalyptic sci-fi outing, but this time the setting has shifted from Washington to the deserts surrounding Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam. This time the development is being handled by Obsidian, a studio that is home to many of the people who worked on the original Fallout and its sequel.
What was shown?
Bethesda allowed visitors a full hour of hands-on time, but given the massive scale of the game this still felt like a drop in the radioactive ocean. The story kicks off with the player's character - a humble courier - getting shot in the head by a gangster in a chequered white jacket. You survive the attempted murder (it would be a pretty crap game if you didn't), then the game begins with you being resuscitated by a doctor in the town of Goodsprings; the recuperation process acts as a combined tutorial and character generator.
Once the player makes it through this sequence - which is far briefer than the 'growing up in the Vault chapter of Fallout 3 - they set out in pursuit of the guys who tried to whack you. After getting some combat tips from a female barfly named Sunny Smiles, I set out across the wastes, battling pale-skinned geckos. I eventually reached the town of Primm, where soldiers from the New California Republic were trading bullets with a band of escaped convicts. Primm is also home to a weathered old man by the name of Jonathan Nash; he runs the local branch of the courier company you work for and is able to shed a bit more light on the people who hired you.
Compared to the other big-hitters on Bethesda's list of upcoming releases, New Vegas doesn't offer much in the way of eye candy. Fallout 3's sprawling vistas were pretty impressive two years ago, but now the engine is looking pretty long in the tooth. That said, the retro/ruined future mash-up vibe is appealing as ever. There's a darker, meaner tone to the intro to New Vegas; Ron Pearlman provides the gravelly narration as the scene is set, detailing the growing conflict between the New California Republic and Cesar's Legions - a bandit army that has enslaved 86 American Tribes. Western and gunslinger imagery permeates the game's look and feel, but the interface and general appearance is largely unchanged from Fallout 3.
Most of the significant gameplay additions pop up under the optional Hardcore mode, which seems to be aimed at the long-time Fallout fans who took umbrage with a few of Bethesda's design choices. Under this setting your stimpacks will no longer instantly heal, but rather slowly replenish your health over a period of time; they also lose their strange, magic ability to fix crippled limbs - forcing you to visit a doctor if you come a cropper. Ammunition has a physical weight, so it's now harder to walk around like an amateur arms dealer. Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, playing a Hardcore game forces you to deal with the threat of dehydration. If you don't drink clean water on a regular basis, you can expect a visit from the Grim Reaper.
Another nod to the original games is to be found on the character creation screen, where you can now pick optional traits that offer some form of bonus strength and weakness trade-off: If you pick 'Four Eyes', for example, you'll gain +1 Perception while wearing glasses, but suffer -1 Perception when you're not. New Vegas may not win over the bitterest of Fallout 3's critics, but it seems to be doing a lot of things right - particularly in the mystery that surrounds the hero's initial near-death. After an hour I was certainly hungry to play for a few more - and that's surely a promising sign.
CORRECTION: We originally reported in this article that Mark Morgan, the composer who worked on Fallouts 1 and 2, was returning to work on New Vegas. This is not the case, although much of the game's soundtrack resembles his style. Apologies for any confusion this may have caused.
Fallout: New Vegas is set for release on October 22, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.