Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Butchers of Arizona



Wastleland 2 is set to officially release next month for the PC, but has been in Early Access for some time now, which is where I first encountered it. The project began on Kickstarter and has been moving steadily towards completion ever since. I've played it on and off after each update just to see how the game has evolved and I must say that it appears to be coming along nicely!

History




The original Wasteland was released in 1988 and it is the precursor to the Fallout franchise. In fact, it was made by the same developer, Interplay. Following the success of Wasteland as well as a few of their other games(like The Bard's Tale series), Interplay found that they had enough money to begin publishing independently. However, since Wasteland was published by EA, they didn't own the rights to the franchise. Rather than spend a bunch of money to buy the rights to their own game, the team at Interplay opted to take the lessons learned from making it and apply them to a brand new game. Thus, the Fallout franchise was born.

Unfortunately, the years were not kind to Interplay following their success in the late 80s and early 90s. The company eventually shut down, with the rights to Fallout famously being bought by Bethesda Softworks. The rights to Wasteland were eventually acquired by inXile Entertainment, a company founded by Brian Fargo who was one of the leads on not only Wasteland 1, but all of the early Fallout games as well. Fargo had left Interplay to found inXile some years before their closure.

In early 2012 they took the project to Kickstarter, asking for $900,000 in funding. By the time pledging closed the game had received $2,933,252, easily making it one of the most successful video game Kickstarters ever. Fargo and his team have been diligently releasing updates and generally keeping fans in the loop ever since as the project has moved forward.

I'd say there were a few more people interested in the game than they thought.

Story

So, the setup for the Wasteland universe is this: In the late 90s a larger meteor shower set off hostilities that had been brewing between a number of different countries for years. When the meteorites fell, a few nations assumed they were being nuked by their enemies, and they launched their warheads in retaliation. This misunderstanding would spell the end for the world as we knew it. The nuclear holocaust wiped out most of the world's population and destroyed much of its plant and animal life while mutating many of its survivors into horrible abominations that plague the Wastes to this day.

A group of US Army engineers who were stationed in Ariziona when the bombs began to fall took over a newly-built federal prison in the area in hopes of surviving the fast-approaching apocalypse. They kicked the prisoners out and eventually invited a few survivalist communities to join them once the dust had settled. This group would go on to form the Desert Rangers, self-proclaimed protectors of the Arizona Wasteland. Meanwhile, many of the exiled prisoners that managed to survive in the Wastes went on to form Raider gangs that would become the bane of every honest person trying to eke out a living in the harsh new world.

Ultimately, at the end of Wasteland 1, the Rangers led an assault on the local Cochise military base to destroy a rouge AI. This AI had designated humanity as its enemy for some unknown reason, and it had begun producing robots to hunt and kill any humans found surviving in the Wasteland. In the end the Desert Rangers defeated the Cochise AI, but suffered heavy losses in the process.

Wasteland 2 takes place 15 years after the first game, but you don't need to know anything about what happened there. The new game does a fantastic job of dolling out the backstory as you go along; there's ample opportunity to ask the Ranger vets about the old days and how they came to be. The Rangers have spent the last decade-and-a-half shoring up their numbers after repurposing the Cochise military facility into their new base of operations. And now it's time for the Desert Rangers to reestablish themselves as the law in Arizona.

Always respect General Vargas, he's your main line of communication as you traverse the Wasteland.

You play as a squad of brand new recruits, and your first task is investigating the death of a veteran Ranger named Ace. You're told that he was sent to install some signal boosters so that Ranger HQ could more clearly pick up a series of unknown radio broadcasts they've begun receiving. The massive radiation clouds in the area have begun to recede, allowing for radio signals to travel farther and even people are beginning to venture further out than they'd been able to since the bombs dropped..

Your mission is to finish the job Ace started and find out who killed him. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that you're going to have a lot more to deal with than just a few sporadic groups of Raiders and mutants.

The game does an outstanding job of creating a grounded world with believable characters and interesting scenarios. It also strikes a decent balance between drama, mystery, and even comedy to keep things fresh as you explore the world around you.


Gameplay Impressions

The first thing you will do in Wasteland 2 is create your 4-member party of Desert Rangers. These will be the most important choices you make when starting a new game; the skills and attributes you choose will greatly affect how and even if you can solve certain scenarios. 

You can choose from a list of pre-made characters with all of their stats and skills already assigned:


Big Bert don't take no sass from nobody.

You can edit these character's if you'd just like to make a few adjustments, or you can create your own, fully customized characters from scratch, assigning all of their skills and attributes as you see fit:

Needless to say, you'll have a lot of choices to make.

The sheer number of options you have to choose from can be quite intimidating. This is as it should be, however, since the choices you make here will determine you effectiveness in the game to come.

You will also have access to a vast array of options to customize the look of each of your Rangers. You can even type up your own backstory for them and then save the character off to be used in subsequent playthroughs.

With the character creator, you'll be able to make the Wasteland weirdo of you dreams!(or nightmares)

Having a balanced and versatile party is key to success in Wasteland 2, and the game will not hold your hand! Didn't bother to give anyone the "Field Medic" skill? Then you won't be able to use any of those first aid kits your find. The only person with the "Surgeon" skill went down in the last fight? Well, now there's nothing you can do but swear vengeance as you watch them bleed out. And death is permanent in this game. So now, that character is gone forever and you've got to pull a replacement from the new recruits back at Ranger Citadel. You can recruit other companions for an extra hand in combat, but these characters will never be full-fledged members of your team and can even go rouge in the middle of a fight and throw off your careful planning.

Wasteland 2 drops you right into the thick of it and the game expects a lot from you. However, if you have an appreciation for the PC RPGs of old like Baldur's Gate or the new wave of savage games like Dark Souls, then W2 will definitely scratch that same itch.



The game's combat has you spending Action Points to do everything from moving, to shooting, to using items. Managing your AP effectively can mean the difference between life and death, so every action requires a great deal of thought so that you don't screw yourself over in the middle of a fight.



Nearly every battle feels like a real threat; nothing can be taken lightly. If you do you will find your squad hurting in a bad way, very quickly. This lends W2's combat a highly tactical feel, and the satisfaction you get from making it through a particularly tough encounter is very rewarding. It's that sense of accomplishment that really pulls you through the game. The team at inXile have created a very addictive formula that can keep you playing for hours on end.



Conclusion

With the finished product just on the horizon my anticipation is at a fever pitch. I can hardly wait to see what the full game has in store for me and I hope that this article has gotten you excited too. Wasteland 2's success could be instrumental in continuing the recent resurgence of computer RPGs that respect the player's abilities and truly challenge them to beat it. Keep an eye on Steam for the final release, the Early Access version is currently available for $60 and includes some cool extras(like a copy of the original Wasteland), but the developers have said that the final version will likely be priced lower than that.

Happy hunting Rangers, and I'll see you in the Arizona Wasteland!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

I'll Huff and I'll Puff!


The Wolf Among Us just released the final episode of it's first season this past Tuesday, so it's about time I give you my thoughts on it as a whole.

I chose to play The Wolf Among Us strictly because of its lineage; it's another episodic adventure game made by Telltale in the same vein as their excellent Walking Dead series. I knew nothing about the graphic novels the game is based on. In fact I knew nothing about the plot or characters at all before playing it. So it speaks to the strength of that world just how quickly I was sucked in.

The Wolf Among Us takes the world of fairy tales and merges it with our own to establish an intriguing setting. And these aren't the Disney's versions, mind you; the characters in TWAU are based on the original stories; the dark, twisted, and often disturbing versions that some people may not be familiar with.

Back Story




The setup for the game's universe is that all of these fairy tale characters existed together in their own world, known as the Homeland. However, they were driven out of their lands and into ours by an evil force a few hundred years ago. After the Great Exodus the Tales decided to go into hiding together in New York City.

TWAU strikes a fantastic balance of characters, from the universally recognizable to some you may have heard of and even some that will be completely new to you. Seeing these characters revealed and getting to witness how their personal histories and reputations interplay with one another is simply captivating.

As pure as the driven Snow...

In order to not expose their existence to the Mundies (their term for human beings) the less humanoid Tales are required to use Glamours, magic spells sold at a premium that can make even the strangest of Tales appear human.

Just another seedy bar patron, right?

If a Tale can't afford a glamour or is caught outside without one they are at risk of being shipped off to The Farm, an isolated community for Tales from which they aren't allowed to leave. Needless to say, many Tales view being sent to The Farm as a prison sentence, a sentence the more "privileged" Tales would never have to deal with. 

Meet Colin, one of the Three Little Pigs. He's not so little anymore
As you can imagine this policy, as well as a few others, causes some serious drama that drives everything in the game's universe. But that's all back story.

The Game

Nice tats, bro.

In The Wolf Among Us you play as Bigby Wolf, AKA the Big Bad Wolf. Back in the Tale's Homeland he was one of the most feared creatures of them all. And yes, all of the old fairy tales about the Big Bad Wolf involved him specifically. He was an almost unkillable monster that preyed on vulnerable Tales at every opportunity. However, in the events leading up to the Great Exodus, Bigby managed to redeem himself by saving many of his fellow Tales. And when the Tales arrived in our world everyone was given a clean slate, a chance to start fresh in this strange new world.

Since Bigby was so powerful he was given the duty of Sheriff; he is responsible for the safety of all Tales, many of whom still despise and fear him. This makes for an incredibly complicated character; Bigby struggles to keep everyone in line while also trying to show compassion. He wants to prove that he isn't the same monster they cowered from years ago. And the choices you make over the course of the season influence how well Bigby pulls this off as well as how people react to him.

Get ready for a Bloody good time.

The main plot revolves around a series of brutal murders where Tales are the victims. Bigby is tasked with finding out who is responsible and bringing them to justice. However, with the complicated class politics and sordid histories among the Tales, this is no easy task.

The game love to put you in the middle of heated exchanges between characters, forcing you to deal with the situation. You can side with one while alienating the other, or you can attempt to play diplomat and find an amicable solution. But sometimes that just isn't possible and you can wind up pissing off both parties instead.


The game's strong plot and outstanding performances drive you along toward it's conclusion, but it's the art style that really steals the show. The game's look is obviously similar to the team's Walking Dead series, but it's setting affords the developers a chance to use a wider range of color palettes compared to TWD's mostly brown or otherwise dark and grungy aesthetic. The Wolf Among Us's universe also gives Telltale a chance to play around with more fantastic character designs beyond the human and zombie cast of their other series.

Well aren't you just adorable!

Conclusion

The Wolf Among Us is a fantastic series and now that the entire first season is available there's never been a better time to jump in. You can pick up the entire season for $25 on Steam, XBox Games Store, or PSN. You can even get it for your iPad if that's what you'd prefer. Also, if I haven't convinced you yet, you can download and play episode 1 of the series for free on most of the platforms I've listed above.

If you're a fan of great stories, fantastic worlds, and beautiful visuals, then The Wolf Among Us is the perfect place to find all of that and more.

The investigation awaits.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

E3 2014 Impressions

Well, E3 2014 is in the books. What was the overall impression from the show?: Meh. It's not that it was a bad E3, there just wasn't anything Earth-shattering to come out of it.

Usually you expect a ton of news and at least one mind-blowing revelation to come out of the expo, and that just didn't happen this year for a couple of reasons. First of all, it seemed like a lot of companies decided to try and get out ahead of the show proper and they made their biggest announcements a week or two before the show started. The reason for this is obvious, typically there is so much news coming down the pipe that it's easy for a lot of things to get lost in the shuffle, and then no one hears about them. Secondly, the biggest complaint/running joke that arose from this year's convention was about how it seemed like the vast majority of games being shown aren't due until at least 2015, if not beyond that.

This chart disproves that sentiment, but that doesn't change how the show felt.
Either way, the show's over. And that means it's time that I give you my impressions of it. Since the press conferences themselves weren't that interesting, I'm just going to share my thoughts on a few topics and then I'll talk about some of the games that caught my eye, and I will accompany them with their respective trailers. So, without further ado:

Biggest Disappointment




I suppose I should just get this one out of the way up front, there was no Fallout 4 announcement. Not only was this disappointing for me as a fan who is dying to play a new Fallout game, but I honestly feel like Bethesda really dropped the ball on this one. Because there really wasn't anything that stole the show this year, Fallout 4 could have been it. Hell, it would have been it. There is so much anticipation for this game that all they would've had to do was show a teaser trailer at one of the press conferences and then do a short gameplay demo during the show. They wouldn't even have had to make it public; just allow some media guys to play it or watch someone play it so they could write up a preview or two and, BAM, game of show. Oh well, I guess Wasteland 2 will just have to tide me over for now, but that a subject for another blog.

Coolest Trailer/Most Interesting Games

In no particular order, here are some of the things I feel like you should see that came out of the show. Some of these game I doubt I'd ever be interested in playing, they just had some very creative trailers, and the rest are games that I can't wait to get my hands on!

Inside



The next game from Playdead, the creators of the critically acclaimed Limbo, Inside looks just as dark and brooding as the game that put them on the map. Watching the trailer you definitely get the sense that these games came from the same minds, but there's enough about Inside's visual style alone to set it apart.

Limbo had a monochromatic color scheme and the game was all silhouettes. Inside makes use of color, but it's all very desaturated, lending it a very ominous tone, similar to what worked so well for Limbo. It also seems to emphasize depth in a way that Limbo didn't. The way that a number of shots in the above trailer use negative space to create a sense of scale in the environment is truly striking.



Dead Island 2



I don't have any particular interest in playing the Dead Island games; the first one seemed like it had some cool ideas, but was very messily put together. However, this was, without a doubt, one of the funnest trailers to come out of the show. I legitimately found myself smiling and chuckling over how ridiculous this trailer is. If the final game can hit this tone and tighten up the gameplay and hammer out the glitches, than Dead Island 2 may be worth a look once it's released.

I can only imagine that the name on the gilded dog tag is "Douche"

Tom Clancy's The Division



The Division is a third-person shooter set in a post-apocalyptic New York City following a mysterious viral outbreak that wiped out most of the city's population. Not the most original concept to be sure, and the game itself may wind up being another run-of-the-mill cover shooter, but the trailer that Ubisoft put together for this year's show was certainly one of the most artfully done. It's difficult to describe, but it's message is conveyed clearly; give it a watch and just enjoy the show.

Even if the game ends up being forgettable, at least it has one of the coolest in-game maps I've seen.

Alien: Isolation



I love the Alien movies! They are some of my favorite films of all time. That being said, I've never been a big fan of any games based on them. Most of them have been first-person shooters, and even the decent ones just didn't seem interesting to me. And, following the tragically bad Aliens: Colonial Marines, this game needs to be good in order to save face for the property as a whole. 

At the very least the team at Creative Assembly is trying something different. Rather than make another rote, mindless shooter starring space marines, Alien: Isolation is trying to play up the horror and slasher flick tone that the Original Alien film nailed so well. You won't be mowing down hordes of Xenomorphs with plasma rifles; there's only one in the whole game, and you stand no chance of fighting it. Instead you must hide and use a combination of wits and patients to throw the predatory beast off of your trail.

If the guys and gals at CA can pull this off without the game devolving into frustrating trial-and-error gameplay, we may have one of the best Alien games headed our way this October.

I'd say it's time to shit. I mean hide! Time to hide.

The new Mass Effect game



Ok, I need to talk about this one simply because I'm such a huge fan of the series. At E3 Bioware and EA put out the above video that they called a teaser trailer, but it was really more of developer diary. It's mostly a video of some of the guys at Bioware talking about their ideas for the next Mass Effect. They do show a few images, but they made sure to label them as "conceptual prototypes", meaning that a lot of what they showed may change significantly in the final version, or it may not be in there at all.

I wasn't really surprised by this, I know the next ME is a ways off. What did surprise me, however, is the fact there was no announcement of some sort of "Mass Effect Trilogy: Ultimate Edition" that'll be coming to the new consoles and PC with all of the DLC included and updated graphics. It seems like a foregone conclusion that they would make that, and I am just surprised that they didn't announce it; especially when you consider how bare-bones EA's press conference lineup was.


Dragon Age: Inquisition



Speaking of Bioware, Dragon Age: Inquisition looks fantastic! This is my most anticipated game of the year and, after finally getting to see a real gameplay demonstration, I have to say that the game seems to be coming together nicely. You can check out some of the gameplay below:


Hopefully DA:I will live up to expectations and be the Dragon Age game that fans of the series want it to be. Speaking for myself, October 7th can't come soon enough.

Well that's not a good sign...

Mortal Kombat X



The action in this trailer is nothing short of bad ass! Personally I could do without the dumb rap song that in no way, shape, or form fits the game but hey, marketing. Either way, I am pumped to see what NetherRelam Studios has in store for the next iteration of this legendary fighting game franchise. And, thankfully, we got to see some real gameplay of it at the show, check it out below:


 I think this would hurt so bad, your brain wouldn't even let you feel it.

Rise of the Tomb Raider



After playing last year's excellent reboot of the classic Tomb Raider franchise, I've been very curious to see what Crystal Dynamics has planned for the indomitable Lara Croft next. Well, this year's E3 marked the announcement of the upcoming sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider. A lot of people have been pooh-poohing the name, but whatever; if the game can meet the high bar set by the original, than they could call it Rise of the Fart Raider for all I care.

There wasn't any gameplay shown, but I was still excited to hear the official word that the game is in development.


Far Cry 4



Ok, as long as I'm making a list that includes amazing trailer, this one had to make the cut. The Far Cry games have really hit their stride over the last couple of games, with Far Cry 3 receiving much critical and fan acclaim for it's open world and engaging gameplay. FC3 also introduced a captivating villain in Vaas. Unfortunately, most people agree that his potential was squandered early in the game.

Hopefully that won't be the case this time around with FC4's new villain, Pagan Min. The above trailer makes for one hell of an introduction to this psychopath and leaves you curious about not only the player's relationship with him, but also how far he will go and what his motives are. If the game can hold to it's current release date, we'll be discovering the answers to these question this November.

Honorable Mention

Just to wrap this up before I find myself talking about every trailer that debuted at the show, I should go ahead and list a few final trailers that caught my attention, click on the names to see their videos:

The Order: 1886 (Stylish 3rd-person shooter with an interesting setting.)

White Night (Creepy-looking horror game with striking visual style.)

Mario Maker (Looks super cool. if Nintendo can flesh it out and give creators the tools they'd want, it'll be spectacular.)

Destiny (The latest from Bungie, the team responsible for the Halo franchise. Looks really great so far, hopefully it can live up to its creator's legacy.)

Final Thoughts

So, maybe E3 2014 wasn't a mind-blowing event. We still got to see some fantastic looking games coming from talented people, ranging from small indie dev teams to massive AAA-title making factories.

If anything, this year's show proves that the video game industry is alive and well and will be pumping out cool stuff for years to come, and I couldn't be happier to be along for the ride.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

E3 2014 Preview

The Electronic 3rd is nearly upon us!



E3, the biggest video game convention of the year, is only a few short weeks away. That means that it's high time I start talking about my expectations for what we may see this year. 

2013 felt like a bit of an off year for E3; the show was mostly focused on Sony and Microsoft hammering out the final details for their consoles before launch. Which was famously followed by a lot of backtracking on Microsoft's part due to the backlash they received over a number of their proposed policies regarding the Xbox One

Meanwhile the games themselves seemed to take a backseat. It just felt like the really cool stuff that's going to justify the existence of this new generation of hardware simply wasn't ready to show yet. Granted, that is pretty typical of a launch year E3, but it's also the reason why this year feels so exciting. Now that the new consoles are out of their "launch window" we should start to see the real next-gen games coming to the forefront. The one that aren't simply uprezzed versions of 360 and PS3 games. There will obviously still be some overlap, but it definitely appears that the newer machines are the lead platforms for these games, and they're being ported down for the old consoles, instead of the other way around. 

And, with that, I will run down a brief list of the games I'm most interested in seeing. Some of these have already been confirmed to be at E3 and some haven't, so please bear that in mind.

Fallout 4


Will it happen? God I hope so. And I am pretty confident that we will see the next Fallout at this year's show. The timing feels right and there's simply too much evidence that it's coming for the game to be a no-show again... right?

Let's run through all of the evidence that points to a new Fallout being announced this year:
  1. Timing: its been 3 years since Skyrim was released, and about a year and a half since Bethesda finished the final piece of DLC for the game, Dragonborn. There was a post on Bethesda's official blog in April 2013 talking about how they were finished making new content for Skyrim and that this will free up the team to work on their "next major project". The Elder Scrolls Online just released earlier this year, so it would be silly of them to step on their own toes by even talking about the next proper Elder Scrolls release so soon. Fallout is the other big franchise that Bethesda is known to develop in-house and, assuming that it's being built on a modified version of the Skyrim engine, 3-4 years seems like the right amount of time it would take to make this game.
  2. Sightings: Back in mid 2012 there were several stories claiming that Bethesda employees had been spotted scouting locations in and around the Boston area, leading to speculation that this would be the setting for the next Fallout game. It also helps that Boston makes a lot of sense as a place to set a Fallout game. The Commonwealth, which was mentioned several times in Fallout 3, is the in-lore name for the state of Massachusetts in the post-apocalypse. The fact that FO3 was developed by Bethesda makes these off-handed mentions feel like hints to the future of the franchise.
  3. Leaks: Then, just a few months back in December, Kotaku ran a story detailing a script that had been leaked from a casting call. Although this script never mentions the word Fallout, it does refer to a number of places in the Fallout universe and even includes the infamous tag line: "War. War never changes."

Combine this evidence with a rabid fanbase that has been absolutely chomping at the bit for a new entry in the series, and it seems that Fallout 4 is a shoe-in for this year's E3.

Dragon Age: Inquisition


Okay, let me start this one off by saying something controversial: I liked Dragon Age 2. Now, before you raise your pitchforks and light your torches, give me a moment to contextualize that. I liked DA2, I didn't love it. The game definitely had it's flaws, mainly stemming from the fact that it seemed rushed out the door entirely too quickly. However, there were a lot of things that I enjoyed about that game. Things that I'd like to see return for the next game in the franchise, Dragon Age: Inquisition.



First of all, I loved the combat in DA2; some would argue that it was dumbed down from Dragon Age: Origins, but I honestly felt like it was simply more streamlined and focused; that it made the combat feel better overall. And I will be a sad boy if the Force Magic specialization doesn't return; fewer things are more fun than using gravity itself to smash your foes around the battlefield.

Secondly, I really enjoyed having the snarky, smart-ass dialog choices as your third option within the dialog trees. Usually in games like this, including Bioware's own Mass Effect franchise, you have a choice between "good guy" and "bad guy" dialog with at third "neutral" option thrown in as well. The problem with that, is why would anyone choose the boring-ass neutral response? There's never any real reason to. But in Dragon Age 2 the third option was actually valid and fun to use. These options would have your character respond with a joke, or some sort of sarcastic comment, and it lent an entirely different tilt to his/her personality. This felt like a really unique thing that no one had pulled off properly before and it would be a shame if Dragon Age: Inquisition leaves it on the cutting room floor.

Here's to hoping.


All that being said, what they've shown of DA:I looks amazing. And the way that the developers speak about the game and how they're approaching it makes me think that this team is in the proper mindset to deliver something truly spectacular. The team has said that they've taken a lot of inspiration from Skyrim, and that this game will be quite massive in scope. Considering the amount of time that they're taking to make it, almost two years already and the game isn't due until 2015, I'd say that Bioware and EA seem to be giving this game it's due attention, and I can hardly wait to see it in action at E3.




New Mass Effect


If you know me or follow my blog, than you know that I love Mass Effect. It is my favorite video game franchise of all time; it speaks to me. Mass Effect embodies all of my favorite things about gaming and sci-fi: spaceships, futuristic guns, choices with consequences, an intense story, and sexy alien ladies.
"How you doin'?'
So I have to at least mention the possibility of a trailer for the next entry in the series. I doubt that it'll be much more than a teaser trailer, but maybe they will have at least put an official title on the game. That is assuming that there's anything ready to show at all.

(Not official screenshot, fan art by Baolong Zhang.)

Witcher 3: Wild Hunt



I never played the original, but The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was the first big game I bought after getting my first real gaming PC, the one I still use today. It's one of the reasons that I've done most of my gaming on the PC since then. Witcher 2 absolutely blew me away; the world was so twisted and dark compared to most games and movies that use the medieval fantasy setting.



That's why I'm excited to see what's next for this series. They've release a few trailers, and it looks stunning. If the team can hit the same level of quality and polish as the previous game, then The Witcher 3 will be a game for the ages. They're saying that this will be the final game in The Witcher series, and it certain looks like CD Projekt Red is aiming to do it justice.

Something tells me that thing ain't friendly.



Destiny



Destiny is the next game from Bungie and, while I never played much of their Halo games, something about their latest venture has caught my attention. It could be the art style reminding me of Mass Effect, or maybe I'm just hungry for this type of game. Whatever it may be, Destiny looks pretty spectacular and I'm excited to see more of it at the show.




Everything Else!

When it comes to E3, more often than not, the most exciting things to come out of the show are things that you didn't see coming at all. I'm excited to see what new games get announced and what new features are going to be coming to the PS4 and Xbox One. Will Microsoft announce a price drop in order to increase their install base and try to catch up to Sony? Will Nintendo or another company steal the show from the two heavyweights with something truly mind-blowing? Only time will tell and, thankfully, we don't have long to wait.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

When the Saints Go Marching In

Happy Birthday, Mr. President.


I recently finished Saint's Row 4, and holy crap was it an amazing experience. In my last blog I expressed concern that SR4's sales might suffer with it being released so close to Grand Theft Auto 5 since they're similar games and some people my feel the need to choose one over the other. Well I'm happy to report that, after playing it, those fears seem unfounded. Saint's Row 4 is so far removed from what the GTA series is that it's hardly worth the comparison. SR4 is more in line with games like Crackdown or Infamous; its a super hero game at heart.

The new Saint's Row still has many of the gameplay mechanics you associate with GTA and earlier entries in the series: the ability to jack cars and planes, etc. However, within the first hour or so, you'll find that you will almost never have to set foot in a vehicle except for when the game's story requires it.

The reason is, early on in the game, your character earns the ability to run faster than any car in existence and jump incredibly high into the air. And, soon after, you'll be able to run up the side of any building, leap off at the top and glide across the city like some foul-mouthed flying squirrel.

Weeee!

The breezy, fluent traversal controls are easily one of the funnest parts of the game. It's simply a blast to get around the city, and the game provides more than enough collectibles to give you an excuse to just criss-cross the city of Steelport like a drunken Superman. Scattered all over the place there are more than 1200 "clusters" that function as a secondary currency that you'll use to upgrade your various super powers. There are several other types of collectibles as well, including audio logs and statues begging to be destroyed.

Enter the Simulatrix

Welcome to Virtual Steelport! Brought to you by the Zin Empire.
If you haven't been following SR4 up to its release you're probably wondering why you have super powers to begin with. The Saint's Row franchise, while becoming increasingly ridiculous over the years, has always been somewhat grounded in reality. So where do these powers come in to play? To explain that we'll have to dig into the story a bit. So, if you're planning to enter SR4 spoiler-free, you should probably stop reading here. Just know that the game is amazing and you should absolutely play it if what you've seen or read has interested you at all. However, be sure to play it on PC if that's an option for you; I hear the console versions suffer from some serious performance issues.

When the game opens, the leader of the Saints(your character) is in the middle of foiling a plot to nuke the United States. Despite your best efforts the warhead launches and you're tasked with climbing the missile and tearing out its navigation systems as it builds altitude. You ultimately succeed and dive off of the missile just in the nick of time. This event propels you and the Saint's from international celebrities to patriotic heroes. And, being the ambitious bastard you are, you parlay the public adoration into a run for the Presidency. And you win.

Choices...choices...
Things aren't all rosy for your administration, however. You're facing resistance from other political groups and all the major decisions being left to you have begun to take their toll. And, just when it looks like the leader of the free world is considering hanging it up for good, fucking aliens bust into the White House and abduct you and your cabinet members(your friends and fellow Saints.)

You wind up in a crazy virtual world based on Steelport from Saint's Row: The Third, But this place is designed to keep you in line and break you. To make a long story short, a couple of your homies help you break out of this digital nightmare and steal an alien ship to call your own.

Complete with futuristic shitter!
However, a number of your friends are still trapped inside this network of cyber prisons, known as The Simulation. And the only way to get them out is to plug yourself back in, track down where they're being held, and force them to snap out of the illusion. You'll also need to weaken the Simulation overall in an attempt to bring the whole thing down. But these are just the steps you must take to get your shot at Emperor Zinyak, architect of The Simulation.

It's basically a mix of The Matrix films and Mass Effect games, with tons of references to other games and movies thrown in for good measure. You'll see nods to everything from Terminator and Men in Black to Streets of Rage and Combat, and everything in between.

Hmm, I know this reminds me of something...
SR4's story is very well written, but it's ultimately just an excuse to give you ridiculous powers and the designers a chance to throw you into increasingly ludicrous scenarios that couldn't exist in a more realistic world.This lends the game's story missions a wide variety of settings and mechanics for you to play around with. And, since you're entering simulations that are based on your trapped homie's worst nightmares, it provides insight into these character's backstories, giving you a better sense of who they are. It makes you care about them, which makes you want to help them out.

After rescuing one of the Saints, you can speak to them aboard your ship or call them into The Simulation to aid you in combat. More importantly however, you gain access to a loyalty mission involving them. These missions are all unique to that specific character and are the source of some of the best and funniest moments in the entire game, especially if you've played the earlier Saint's Rows. Your reward for completing the mission? That homie becomes super powered within The Simulation and dons an incredible hero outfit, all of which are perfectly fitting for that person.

One of my only complaints with the game is that I wish there were more interactions with your homies. Aboard the ship you have two options with each of the Saint's, "talk" or "romance". The "talk" option just has them throw out a few lines related to what's going on, and the "romance" options leads to an immediate, and often awkward, romance scene which are consistently funny because of how abrupt they are. When you think about it though, that's hardly even a complaint; I like what they did with the characters so much that I just want there to be more of it.

Cue the mood lighting.

Let the Playa Play

Saint's Row 4 is clearly built on the same engine as SR:TT and it reuses a lot of assets from that game. However, almost the entire world has been re-skinned to fit the new motif which makes the setting feel new, yet familiar. This feeling applies to the gameplay as well; the shooting feels the same as the previous entry in the series, but your new found abilities make the combat, and especially the traversal, feel completely fresh.

There is no adequate way to describe the feeling of dropping from the sky next to a group of enemies, tossing a Freeze Blast in their midst and then shattering their frozen bodies with you automatic shotgun. To put it lightly, it feels gooood...



I can't stress enough how fun running, jumping, and gliding around fake Steelport is. It's so satisfying that Blazin' quickly became one of my favorite activities in the game. It's a new take on an activity that's been in SR since the second game. It used to be called Trail Blazin' and it's basically their version of checkpoint races. In previous iterations you'd perform these side quests on an ATV but, in SR4, you're on foot using your Super Sprint. I always enjoyed Trail Blazin', but it was never my favorite thing to do in the game. In SR4, it's a damn close second to the mainline story and loyalty missions.

Music to My Ears

I will be the first to admit that I am not the most musically inclined person. Very few games have music that serves as anything more than background noise to me; I almost never notice if it's any good or not. That's why I have to make special mention about the soundtrack in SR4, it's absolutely wonderful. I firmly believe that this game may have the best use of licensed music of any game, ever. There are just so many moments that are made ten times funnier by the games choice of song.

I don't want to spoil these moments, so the only example I'll give is one of the earliest. In the opening sequence I mentioned earlier where you're climbing the nuclear missile as it flies through the air, the Saints that were with you assume that you're not going to make it and start giving your their heart-felt goodbyes over the radio. And while this touching moment is happening, Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" begins playing in the background. It's so utterly perfect that I could barely keep playing because I was laughing so hard.
I think I might actually tear up.

When the Saint's Go Marching Out

Everything about Saint's Row 4 makes it feel like the perfect send-off for this series. Nearly every fan-favorite character from the previous games returns in some capacity and, as someone who's played every SR game to completion, the feelings of nostalgia were undeniable as the game tossed out references to some things from the past that I remember vividly, and other things that I'd forgotten about. You don't need to have played all of the previous games to enjoy this one but, if you have, your experience will be even more fulfilling.

That's not to say that there's nowhere else that this franchise could go. Personally I couldn't have imagined where else they could take it that would be crazier than space aliens and virtual realities, but the game's ending actually plants a pretty amazing seed that would be mind-blowing to see them follow through on. That being said, the people at Volition stated that this would be the last game in this version of the Saint's Row universe, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them move on to something else for their next game. Even if it's only to give them some breathing room before jumping back into this series.

In conclusion, I absolutely adored Saint's Row 4; it's easily one of my favorite game this year and I would recommend it to anyone. 

Game on!