“How long until the helicopter gets here?”
“Oh… about two waves of SWAT guys, I guess?”
That little exchange right at the beginning of Saints Row: The Third gives you an example of the tone, self-deprecating humor, and.. so very anti-Grand Theft Auto this game is. Not anti as in antagonistic, merely that it goes out of its way to show how different it is from what would be a possible natural first impression of the game. I know it was mine!
I played a lot of – but never finished – GTA:Vice City, wooed by its apparent comedy, completely awesome (to this child of the 80’s!) soundtrack and open sandbox gameplay. I skipped an installment and picked up GTA:IV upon release, and whilst I was agog at its visuals and scale; I was left cold by its story and niggling friend/cousin micro-management. So I barely played it at all.
So… in 2011 Saints Row the Third arrives on the scene with some completely “whacky” adverts on the TV and, most crucially of all (to my personal tastes), a full campaign co-op multiplayer mode! I love co-op in games, especially those with big story arcs to follow, it just makes such a difference to be able to play through a game with a friend in this way. This is exactly what SR3 allows you to do, but that alone doth not a great game make, fortunately it manages to be that too.
As I alluded to earlier, the game takes the basic gameplay style of GTA, (driving, shooting, gangsters city exploration), and does away with any attempt to paint it in any kind of gritty realism in favour of bright day-glo colouring, larger than life characters, story, and events.
The game allows you to play as male or female, (and um, change that if you so desire later in the game!), with full performances from the player-character for each. In fact, somewhat bizarrely you have a choice of voice-performance style to choose from at the start. (for female: default, Easter-European accented, or NEW YAWK accented !) These options are all defined about half-way through the (playable) intro with the usual character appearance customization, which is quite detailed in this particular game, I spent the usual half-hour or so tweaking it – I would later discover you can change your appearance in-game!
Now, I approached this game not having played any of the previous SR games, so I was initially a bit baffled by the characters and setting, but quickly warmed to it – especially when early on your co-gang member Johnny shouts “PROTECT THE BOSS!” – and I was all looking for the boss, until I realized it was me! This seemed all the cooler due to the simple fact that here was “Me”, the apparent female leader of this gang.
What follows is a rollercoaster action ride of the first 20 minutes of the game which forms the basis of an introduction, after which you’re in sandbox territory and, unlike GTA, the entirety of the city is at your disposal from the very beginning.
As you explore, your map populates with shops, services and notable locations. Want to fly a plane? Head to the airport. Want a change of clothes? Find a clothing store. Fancy a bit of plastic surgery, a tattoo or pimped vehicle? – Just find one of the many places on the map that offer the service you want, right off the bat.
You pick up the primary story arc through interactions with your homies via your phone (which doubles as your GPS/map) as well as sideline quests of the usual escort, assassination, and fetch ilk.. and some slightly more unusual events.
The basic premise of the story is that by this installment of the game The Saints Row gang are celebrities, not really doing much gang-work, more into public appearances and product endorsement. During a bank-robbery “stunt” featuring the star of a Vampire-related TV show, it all goes wrong. The Saints are locked up and then taken to the leader of a crime Syndicate who expresses their intention to take over the Saint’s assets. This sets the basis of the story, The Saints reclaiming their mojo, taking on the Syndicate, and taking over the City of Steelport.
This is an adult game, make no mistake, both in terms of language, content, and most certainly violence. If anything its more violent than GTA, with yours and other gangs at war with each other, the police, military and government. The violence is offset by the day-glo colour scheme, comedy, and sheer absurdity of it – but from a purely superficial standpoint it can look very violent, especially early on. Perseverance pays though, as you soon not so much get used to it, but are laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Weapons including a baseball bat with a huge purple dildo attached, the hilarious sound-effects of the Genki mind-controlling reluctant octopus launcher, (no, really), and the Land Shark launcher soon had me guffawing at it, not to mention the “car” chase played out with gimpsuited sex-slaves pulling carriages which, yes, as is customary, explode upon crashing! Did I mention this was an “adult” game?What really sells this is the tongue-in-cheek performances of the actors, as well as some really good animation, and I absolutely *love* the fact that the characters interact with you “the Boss” the same regardless of your gender, this makes for a really satisfying experience playing this as a female, much the same as Mass Effect, there’s really Zero instances of “hey, sweet cheeks” – and when there is it is there regardless of the character’s gender – as my male co-op mate found out to his dismay in one scene where you’re drugged and staggering about the place naked (humorously “pixelated” bits, of course!)
There has been some comment however on the other females as depicted in the game, and I will put my Feminist hat™ on and say that yes, there is a huge element of scantily clad “bitches and ho’s” who seem to be mere objects and scenery in the game, but I’ll say that this is offset by the strength of the primary lead characters as written in the game – the player, and Shaundi, your right-hand-woman. Its likely something that everyone thinks, but I can’t imagine the game playing out with anything other than a female lead as the boss, and this is a good thing™ . One thing that did bother me was in the character creation – for some reason the developers think that anyone over the age of 10 has some serious wrinkleage, when I put in my actual age I was horrified at the apparent wrinkley face I supposedly must have if my character was anything to go by. Perhaps its all that sunny weather. On the other hand I was all ready to be incensed about the “Sex appeal” slider being the Boob-size adjustment, but upon checking I found that the same slider affected the size of the male sausage compartment, ha!
Also, there’s a good share of male objectification in the game too. Another nice touch is that you can choose the “uniform” of your entire gang so if you want your girls and boys running around scantily, or sensibly, you choose so yourself.
I’d be lying if I didn’t mention the fact that I absolutely loved the whole “dress-up” nature to this game which is one of its selling points. You can inexplicably walk around the city green-skinned, with a mustache, wearing a space helmet, Lady GaGa-esque couture dress, and combat boots. The clothes shops are simply and comically themed (“Let’s Pretend!” – cosplay fun, “Nobody Loves Me” – Goth/emo fashion, “Leather & Lace” – well.. you can imagine)
As I’ve mentioned the game is very bright, colourful, and graphically very nice, though the characters suffer a lot from the “Uncanny Valley” – I guess we’ve been spoiled by other games recently with character emotion depiction as SR3 is definitely not the best at this, but it hides this with unsubtle exaggerated design.
The game itself was just a pleasure to play, and replay in single player as well as co-op. The winning factor is its sense of fun. I frequently found myself laughing or staring agog at the screen with incredulity.
I picked up the game not that long after release cheaply including a “season pass” to DLC, and the DLC has been a mixed bag of “costumes”, vehicles, weapons, and missions. The missions vary from being small little diversions, to fairly large chunks of standalone fun. I’ve seen the game only (no DLC) this week for sale online for £7 for the PC version (reviewed) which I bought as well so that my niece(teen) and I could replay it for this review.
If you can laugh at toilet humour, comedy sex, innuendo and tolerate people being shot (a lot) then I think you’ll enjoy this game very much. The game has lots of little nods to films, other games, and even ye olde retro text adventures at one point.
Special mention for the soundtrack, that whilst featuring the usual assortment of in-car radio stations (though not as full of character as GTA’s) also has some real standout work, including a song sung by the lead characters, a Michael Bay-esque orchestral score for a scene involving… Well, the shooting of a movie… and a totally left field (but oh so wonderfully appropriate) turn of music for the very unusual finale!
Finally, merely listing the keywords associated with the game should provide you some idea of its bizarre nature:
Guns, shooting, gimps, pimps, zombies, Burt Reynolds, sky-diving, toilet, gangstas and spaceships.
With all the AAA games being released at this time of year it can be easy to miss the smaller titles. It’s a shame because it can mean that more inventive or eclectic titles don’t get the attention they deserve. I think this is probably going to be the fate of El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron so I’m glad I got the chance to play it before I become distracted by Batman: Arkham City and Battlefield 3.
El Shaddai is inspired by the apocryphal Book of Enoch. Enoch is the great-grandfather of Noah and the book describes the story of the Watchers. The Watchers are fallen angels who created children with mortals; the Nephilim. The plot of the game is very simple. Enoch must defeat seven fallen angels and the Nephilim in the Tower of Babel in order to prevent God from issuing a great flood to destroy mankind. The Nephilim are odd yet cute looking creatures who have the unfortunate habit of eating one another until they become flaming giants. It’s difficult to follow what is happening at times. It doesn’t matter very much though. The truly stand out feature of this game is how it looks.
You can’t talk about El Shaddai without talking about the visuals. The environments of each level are astoundingly diverse. Each level in the Tower of Babel looks like it was pulled from a different game and all of them are beautiful. You will find yourself in realms that look like they were made from fireworks, levels that bleed cutting-edge future tech, places that feel like you’ve been transported into a candy-striped Super Mario World and worlds that are ethereally breathtaking. Seriously. Take a look.
The fallen angels that inhabit the Tower can create any worlds they want and each level is a reflection of them. Imagination runs rife through this game and the visuals are important. You won’t find a Heads-Up Display on your screen to tell you how much energy you have left or how close you are to gaining an Overboost attack – these things are also represented visually by how much armour you have on or how…on fire you seem to be. Every so often you’ll run into Lucifel (basically Satan before he stopped being on speaking terms with God) who is chatting away about how you are doing on his mobile phone to God. He acts as your save point and narrator. At one point he even cheekily tells you how long it’s going to take you to complete the game…if you’re good enough, that is!
The gameplay is split into two parts. You have your platforming segments and your combat segments. The platforming is a lot of fun. It feels like a throwback to games of 15 years ago and is varied and tricky enough to be enjoyable. Sometimes, however, the heady visuals of the game can impair how well you judge distances and you will find yourself leaping into thin air when you were sure you were going to land on solid ground. This can be annoying but most of the platforming sequences are well designed.
The combat is based on a rock, paper, scissors mechanic. You have three weapons – the arch (offensive melee), the gale (distance projectiles) and the veil (defensive shield) and will need to switch between them in order to defeat the enemies who will be weak to a specific weapon. However, you can only carry one weapon at a time. To switch you must steal your opponents’ weapons! You also need to keep an eye on your weapon’s “purity” because if the weapon becomes corrupted the damage of your attacks will drop to nothing. Despite Enoch’s attacks being basically mapped to only one button do not think that you can get through the combat simply by bashing. You will need to learn to delay, to combo, to counterattack and defend in order to exploit your enemies tactics. I hard won battle can feel extremely satisfying.
Unfortunately there is not much change in the enemies. You will meet the same ones through-out the game – in later levels there is normally just more of them. The boss battles are mainly a matter of observing the pattern and figuring out when to hit them and with what. The battles aren’t easy but it feels like there is a lack of imagination in the combat. This is a shame since it feels like the rest of the game is over-abundant in it. It doesn’t stop them from being fun but it does make the game feel somewhat lacking.
I would still highly recommend renting or picking up this game if you have the time (it’s only £17.95 at Zavvi right now). It’s a bit of an odd and disjointed experience (there is one particular boss battle I will never get out of my head!) but it will be an experience unlike anything else you’ve played this year. It’s not perfect but it is unique. And that’s worth a lot.
Final Fantasy continues it’s assault on the world “final” with more information emerging about FFXIII-2. E3 has given us an extra taste of the new game.
The story is going to be following a new character known as Noel (who looks very similar to FFXIII’s Fang – coincidence?). He’s dressed quite unpractically so should fit in well with the FF oeuvre. Noel and Serah (who spent most of the previous game as a crystal) are tasked with taking down a colossal titan called Atlas. The story seems the typical mixture of earnestness and fighting large monsters. I admit that it’s the fighting part that I’m most interested in!
I’m happy to see the paradigm shift combat system is still in place. It was one of the best new features of FFXIII; a battle system based on roles rather than actions that allowed a surprising amount of strategy formation. Now we have the addition of Cinematic Actions. This basically seems like the “press X now!” instructions seen in games like Kingdom Hearts 2. I hope the game will make you work in order to activate this mechanic rather than just gifting it to you after a certain amount of damage or time.
In addition to Cinematic Actions there is another new mechanic called Feral Link. When you beat monsters they may sometimes drop all crystal which will allow you to add that monster to your party. Which monster fights with you depends on which paradigm you shift into during fights. This should create tons of new strategy options during battle and I can’t think of another Final Fantasy game that allowed you to fight alongside monsters. It seems like a really fun addition.
In other good news, it appears that the game will not be as linear in nature as it’s predecessor. I don’t expect it to be fully removed from FFXIII’s horrible corridor system but it will be nice to have more than once choice on which corridor to take!
All in all, FFXIII-2 seems to be offering tons of monsters, lots of grinding and battles with enemies larger than air ships. If this is your sort of thing or you enjoyed the previous game then FFXIII-2 is shaping up to provide a first class gaming experience. I just wouldn’t expect anything ground breaking to be found here.
Xbox Live Arcade often has some fantastic indie games published on it, some of them showing more imagination and innovative gameplay than you can find in mainstream releases. Whilst that isn’t always the case, it’s good to keep an eye on Arcade to see what gaming gems may appear. As it turns out, it looks like we might get one later this year.
If you haven’t already, meet Fez:
Pretty to look at, no? And also pretty clever. 2D platform gaming taking place in a 3D world. By shifting the perspective you can rearrange the world, putting new platforms within reach and opening new paths. An idea that is so simple you wonder why no-one ever thought of it before and will probably put indie platform developer Polyton on the map as the M.C.Escher of video game design.
Fez has been in development for nearly 4 years now but it looks like all the hard work has created something sublime. I can’t wait to play!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months then you should already know about L.A. Noire. I’m really very excited about it and the release is just short of 3 weeks away.
That’s May 17th in NA and May 20th in the EU. Why there is a 3 day delay for the EU I don’t know. Surely 3 days won’t fit their normal excuses, but I think that’s a completely different conversation.
Let’s have a look at one of the gameplay videos before I go on.
Having watched many gameplay videos I can’t help but think of Heavy Rain. Not just the actual gameplay, but the story too. There is action involved, of course, but it seems to be heavily based on investigation and mentally challenging play. Also, from what I can gather, there are no really wrong answers. How you proceed shapes the game. Heavy rain had that same kind of feel and it was a success with gamers. Maybe Heavy Rain has cleared the way for the deeper gameplay many have been asking for, including myself.
Now for the technology behind the gameplay, I am in awe. Have a look.
The one thing that always seemed a bit off in games was the faces. Sure you could make the mouth move, but it never quite felt real. This though, just wow. Just imagine what this will mean for future games. Immersion can only get better from here.
Less than 3 weeks to go. I think I may need to book a few days off around the 20th…
(BTW Thanks IGN for having the best videos on YouTube)
I have a confession. I only bought AC Brotherhood recently. Like in the last month. I have a good reason, really I do. Back in November I had enough games to buy, I didn’t need this one on top of all of those too. Also I was under the impression that AC Brotherhood’s primary focus was on multi-player with very little single-player gameplay.
I was wrong though. So very very wrong.
About a month ago I read somewhere that the game had around 20 hours of single-player gameplay that continued on from AC2; so I thought I’d grab it cheap cause 20 hours wasn’t so bad an amount of time. I’m here to tell you that that estimation is wrong; it’s definitely more. Okay maybe it’s right if you only play through the storyline, but who’s going to do that?
I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m well past 20 hours. There are of course many side quests. As before there are the assassination quests, but now you also get the task of rebuilding Rome as the Borgias have kind of made a mess of things with their power hunger and Machiavellian approach. Of course the more you rebuild the more money you make and then the more you can rebuild, ad infinitum. Also once you get to a certain point in the storyline you have the ability to recruit and train your own mini-me assassin troupe. Actually that’s not fair, the assassin troupe is actually quite useful at times if you’re in a tight spot.
Let’s have a look at this video before I start in on the primary story and quests.
That video gives a nice little synopsis of the story without really spoiling anything. You also get to see Ezio call his minion assassins to aid him. So while it is a side quest to recruit and train these other assassins, they can be very useful if you’re in a bit of a pickle.
To regain control of the districts you have to destroy the Borgia towers in each one. This in itself could be considered side quests really. Yes you need to do it to progress the main story, but it’s not as simple as climbing the tower and burning it down. First you need to kill the district’s general and then you can burn the tower down. This sometimes is easier said than done. As the game goes on this gets more and more difficult so you need to learn to be clever and increase your own skill and maybe even the skill of your mini assassins.
Other bits of gameplay have changed while some has stayed the same though. Fighting is pretty much the same, as is climbing and running around. You do get a couple new weapons and gadgets, like Leonardo’s parachute and heavier weapons like axes. My favourite new weapon though has got to be the crossbow. I tell ya, silent and highly effective ranged weapon equals much awesome stealth killing.
The video covers the story pretty well I think, but when I say that AC Brotherhood picks up right after AC2, I mean that literally. I had heard the Brotherhood picked up at the end before I bought it. When I say literally I mean it. You are in the exact same spot as when you ended AC2. To me this made the 2 games flow together almost flawlessly. It felt like the same game to me.
So overall I’d say AC Brotherhood is well worth its cost and by now should be marked down in most game stores.
It’s been 6 months. As of last month over 10 million units sold. So there are at least 10 million people out there “being the controller”. That’s 10 million people doing spastic little jigs around their livingrooms. I mean the Microsoft XBox Kinect.
By all accounts the Kinect has been a huge success. The commercials are everywhere and judging by the sales the Kinect is too. And only 6 months after release people seem to still be interested in it. Games are still coming out for it.
What if I don’t want to be the controller though? What if I want to sit down on the couch and run across some roof tops with nothing more than the movement of my thumbs? Do I really need to insert myself into the game with more than my imagination?
Now don’t get me wrong; I think the advance in technology is awesome. When the videos of “Natal” first showed up we were all in awe of it. The idea of interacting directly with the games we’re playing sounded like a great concept. The games that have come out of the Kinect system really just feels like an extension of what Nintendo started with the Wii. Exercise and party games seem to be the primary focus.
Now I do own a Wii. I got it on release day. I love it, but I was rather happy when I realised that I could sit down and play the games with only the minimal amount of exertion on my part. The idea of moving around to interact with a game was a nice novelty but it wore thin fast. When it became clear that more mature games just weren’t on the cards I lost a lot of my interest.
Now I know that Microsoft is expanding outside of the exercise and party game market, but on the majority this seems to be the games they’re pushing. Sure I could always play these games with my husband, but neither of us really has any interest in them. What happened to the demo game we were shown in that Project Natal video? What happened to talking to the character in the game? Now that is something I’d like to do.
Can you imagine what could be done if the conversation ability we were shown was mixed with a standard controller? Some of us have no interest in doing that little spastic jig in our livingroom, but would really like to use this new technology. The thought of playing something like Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed without a controller in my hands makes me shudder. What I would like is to talk to other characters in the game. Can you imagine just how much more awesome Dragon Age could be if you could actually speak to the other characters?
Now this dislike of the idea of “being the controller” isn’t derived of anything so mundane as being fat and out of shape, cause I’m not. Really I just don’t want to interact with my games in that way. I have no urge to do a little jig in my livingroom.
And just for the record, I’m not terribly enamoured with the Playstation Move for much of the same reasons.