Fallout 4: Nuka-World
Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One and PC
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Out Now
Bethesda games are frequently criticised for casting their mute, often encumbered protagonists as the The Most Important Person To Have Ever Lived™. To some extent this argument has always held water, even if the overall medium's reliance on player agency is potentially a wider issue when discussing the creation of "living, breathing worlds", where NPCs refuse to put a foot out of step or inhale oxygen until a player avatar enters their vicinity.
For the vast swathes of converted fans however, Bethesda has almost always circumvented this problem by building expansive, finely-detailed open-world environments whose visual cues and designs tell a rich story that enhances the moment-to-moment narrative.
Fallout 4's final slice of post-launch DLC, Nuka-World, exhibits this attention to sometimes inane detail well, possibly even better than our muddled initial trip to the Commonwealth. The nightmare-Disneyland-stylings of the now raider-infested theme park promises the kind of oddball irreverence with a wry-eyed look at child-friendly cultural capitalism that the Fallout series can – and really should – excel at.
Plodding through the once-bustling Nuka-Town you'll meet an avid Nuka-Cola Cappy collector, still intent on willingly consuming gauche brand advertising despite living in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse, and you'll also hear whispered rumours pointing to the existence of a Nuka-Cola recipe – a reference to legendarily secretive brewing technique for Coca Cola.
On the surface then, Nuka-World is everything Fallout should be, but look under the fizzy, brightly-coloured, cheery facade, Bethesda's send-off for Fallout 4 only serves to satirise its own design tropes and its parent game's inescapable failings.
Things start well, as your would-be-saviour avatar is unwittingly tricked into making a Half Life-esque tram journey into the dilapidated theme park. Nuka-World's introduction teases a shut-off, perilous battleground, only accessible after traversing a death-trap-filled gauntlet while the park's "Overboss" taunts you, over and over again.
Then it happens. After using your wits, firepower and perks to overcome a viciously hostile version of the Eliminator Challenge from Gladiators, you receive a radio call from the Overboss' right-hand-man, filling you in on the situation. The Overboss has lost the plot, you need to defeat him (with a water pistol, no really) and take his place to restore harmony to Nuka-World.
Nuka-World's threatening guise never recovers from this farcical moment. Equally, the strife and discord between the factions is played up by the DLC's monotone companion, Gage – an uninteresting stock raider with an eye-patch who, despite being so eager to betray your predecessor, is nothing more than a 'yes man'.
There's also a great deal made of the DLC's three disparate gangs – the savvy Operators, the spike-armoured, zealot-like Disciples and the almost feral, bloodthirsty Pack. Gage advises you that each faction will require a different approach. Clearly the last Overboss didn't employ a casual mix of sarcasm and the press-X-to-continue-button in dialogue. Want to play the sides off against each other? Afraid an angry, or downright rude response could cause a riot or spark a power-struggle for gang-land supremacy? Don't be, as unless you unload hot lead into a clan leader's face, the status quo will not budge an inch.
The end result is an exercise in box-ticking. Objectives and missions hold no sense of achievement, as the Sole Survivor is immediately catapulted into the limelight with in comical fashion. Stripped of all intrigue or care, Nuka World quickly descends into a shooting gallery.
Evidently, the 'hardcore' raider troops are too wimpy to rid Nuka World's various infested zones of their bug/Ghoul/robot residents. While Fallout 4's improved first-person shooting gameplay is capable enough to hold up to these extended sessions of running and gunning, the basic, run-at-you-until-you-die AI is not up to the task – in short, Fallout 4 is not Doom.
After you've mindlessly shot everything in sight and completed a few equally mindless collectable hunts, you're left to revel in the best of part of Nuka-World –the actual zones themselves. Be it the Western-styled Dry Rock Gulch or the entirety of the Galactic Zone, complete with spaceports and roller-coaster thrill-rides.
Once the main quests are exhausted, a not-so-climactic event occurs and you discover that the remaining side quests are almost solely of the "Radiant" variety, Nuka-World's end-game begins. With your unquestionably loyal raider army in tow, it is time to return to the Commonwealth to pillage, destroy and finally murder Preston Garvey (unfortunately you can't do the last one).
"Going bad" is something of an anarchic novelty, however. Claiming settlements (including those you already 'own') is nominally different from the usual population-management aspects of Fallout 4's vanilla towns, but there are no events or missions that allow you to revel in your new dastardly role.
Bethesda bids farewell to Fallout 4 with a final trot around the Commonwealth that epitomises the base game's glaring issues. Frustratingly inept AI, inconsequential decision-making and an over-reliance on adequate, but far from exceptional gun-play undermines Nuka-World's occasional moments of promise.
The minutely-crafted, faux-Disneyland environments pack a visual punch but the obscenely bland, zero-dimensional characters completely suck the life out of the DLC's multicoloured palette. Nuka-World gives ardent fans plenty more to explore, collect and shoot but don't be surprised if its flat delivery ultimately leaves a sour taste in your mouth.