Oh, don't say that. You look fine! I think you were doing fantastic all throughout last year and your future is looking incredibly bright right now. You're putting out some great sequels, some exciting new franchises, and just generally being awesome right now.
...Okay, I'll admit it. I am buttering you up a bit. We really, really need to talk about some of the decisions you've made recently. I like seeing you thrive and put yourself into the limelight even more. But you've done some pretty boneheaded things recently. I mean, I want you to continue your success, so why are you making it so difficult? I'll break it down some more.
Saints Row The Third, not only were you a joy to play, I'll admit it...I'm PROUD of you.
Yeah, I'm proud. I noticed your potential early on when your series was first starting. Then you amped it up for the sequel. But The Third? WOW. You got that brand new physics and graphics engine and looked sharper than ever. You got a new writer and were funnier than ever. You cut out most of your pointless filler and got more enjoyable to play than ever. I know I chewed you out before for missing things that you had before, but it doesn't change my feeling that you were the best game to come out in 2011. So why haven't I bought you yet? Well, you see....
-That online pass. I don't remember that being there before. In fact, why is it here now? You don't have a multiplayer mode anymore.
...You say I need it to play co-op modes? Well, that seems a bit silly...was this your idea? You know how I feel about online passes, right? I know you might disagree, but I won't support them. I'm already paying for Xbox Live to play online. And what about my friends who want to play with me but can't afford a $60 game, why are they being punished? I don't support the online passes, and as petty as I might sound right now...if I keep "putting up" with the passes, they won't stop. I'm just not cool with that.
-The season pass. Seriously, did someone put you up to this?
You haven't had great DLC in the past...to be brutally honest you've been terrible with it. But now you want me to subscribe to an online pass for three pieces of content? And you're releasing a TON of new clothing, guns, and homies...why aren't those in the online pass? Are you really expecting me to buy all of this stuff separately? When you've got less content than you used to but you're trying to sell more...that just doesn't feel right, you know?
-I won't go over it too much again, but you know what you did. You left out a lot of cool stuff you used to have like mission selection, clothing options, hell, even a good day-night cycle! I want you to succeed but you're making a lot of dumb choices in how you present yourself.
I can't put my finger on why, but I want to play this game!
I didn't care for Final Fantasy XIII that much. The gameplay is cool but the story and characters were not. Call me old-fashioned but not caring about what happens to the characters in a lengthy RPG campaign kills my interest in finishing that game.
Yet, I want to play XIII-2. The gameplay got even better and more complex from what I saw in the demo. Shaking up the way the game progresses interested me too. Even if I still don't give a damn about what happens to these characters...this game looks cool.
I'll admit that you had a rough start, Mass Effect. Your first outing was...awkward to say the least. Things vastly improved by the second, but you still felt a little strange to control.
But now! You've finally figured it out. You've grown into a perfectly competent shooter with minimal awkwardness and a truly exciting cast and story. I can't wait to reunite with some of my old space buddies for one last push against whatever evil aliens are threatening us this time.
-Why do you have multiplayer? I know you're trying to appeal to more people, and I'll admit that your systems are much better than I expected. But they're not perfect. In fact, I'm a little bored when I play the multiplayer. It stretches on for too long with no visible end in sight. The maps feel a little cluttered, and the whole experience is more than a little unfair if until you've reached a high enough level...or used a cheesy enough class.
Is this another bright idea to add an online pass? What was wrong with the Cerberus Network? I thought that worked out well, to be honest.
-What's going on with the DLC everywhere? DLC codes on bad figurines, art books, soundtracks, clothes, every piece of Mass Effect merchandise under the sun! Throw in some pre-order DLC and retailer exclusive goodies for good measure? Sure, why not? And if you had so much time to add a multiplayer mode and develop all this bonus DLC...what's up with the Day 1 DLC? Not quite understanding the logic behind that.
To be honest, this massive amount of DLC makes me want to wait for you. Wait until it's all collected in one place so I can experience the "complete" Mass Effect 3. I'm conflicted though. I don't wanna wait because I'm excited about playing. But why would I do that when I can be assured that there will be a ton of cool guns, extra squad members, and expansions available if I just ignore you for other games this year?
So, games. We're still cool. Sorry if I made you think we're not still cool! But all this stuff you're doing, the unnecessary DLC, the pointless season passes, the removal of content to sell later...not cool. I wanna support you and I want you to succeed, but it's just tough when you keep doing dumb things!
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm getting kicked out of Best Buy for talking to these game boxes.
When you hear the phrase "video game hero", what images come to mind? Do you think about a superhero in skintight spandex punching out supervillains? A dark-haired man wisecracking throughout his explorations through the world and through his female companions' erogenous zones? A woman wearing revealing outfits as she kills horrific monsters in the name of feminism?
Of course, these poorly-veiled references to Spider-Man, Nolan North, and Bayonetta (or Lara Croft? Juliet Starling? Whatever.) are heroes in their own way. But a hero greater than all of them is an overweight, middle-aged photojournalist who watches too much professional wrestling.
(Note: listen to this as you read for the full experience. Then go look up the lyrics after you realize you can't understand the vocals.)
Frank West isn't a remarkable man. He's not particularly attractive, is kind of a smartass in the non-endearing way, works a low-paying job, and has an odd affinity for dressing in women's clothing. But all his quirks make his acts of heroism shine even more brightly.
(Our best weapon against the impending zombie apocalypse?)
Frank West's backstory is vague: we know he's a journalist and we know that he allegedly covered wars at some point. What we do know about him is that he is a self-motivated individual: he hired a helicopter pilot to take him to Willamette, Colorado in DEAD RISING so he could report a potentially dangerous situation to the world. He's definitely not the type to rest on his laurels and hope fame and fortune come to him; he goes out and seeks glory himself.
Frank West ends up in an incredible situation: stranded in a city overrun with zombies. Instead of curling up into a ball and crying, he does what most sane people wouldn't do. He continues to seek the truth behind the zombie outbreak with the side goal of saving every living being he can find. Zombie outbreaks will inevitably cast the world into a brutal place where everyone only cares about their own survival. Frank knows this, yet he tries his hardest to keep both himself and every other human being he meets alive and safe.
Even after suffering through events that would make most people lose their minds, like being attacked by psychopathic murders, seeing horrifically mutated humans, and being called every 5 minutes by Otis, he survives and becomes one of the key developers behind the anti-zombification drug, Zombrex.
Whoever puts up with this without killing Otis deserves a medal.
Somehow Frank keeps a cool head while dealing with nearly being killed, escorting a slew of survivors with such immense issues with basic motor skills that they cannot walk in straight lines without getting lost, and pretty much getting no respect for his efforts. It's because he's a true hero that he deals with all of this and saves everyone he can anyway.
Not to mention that he's a badass. This is a guy who's beaten up government-trained secret agents and military commanders with his bare hands. He has no super powers, yet he survived injuries and zombie attacks for numerous days with just good ol' fashioned strength...and use of whatever weapons he happens to find lying around. Oh, and orange juice. Keep drinking that Sunny D if you wanna be like Frank one day!
Frank West is a hero we can all relate to. In the end, he's just a hardworking guy who uses his ingenuity and street smarts to survive in extraordinary circumstances. He shows that you don't need to be rich or superpowered to be a hero, you just need to have the motivation to do the right thing.
Also, he's totally gonna be Mega Man X in the future. That's pretty cool too.
I'm not a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series. I've played a grand total of five games in the series, XIII being the fifth. I'm not too familiar with these games, so I can't really relate to the comments about XIII being "not a true Final Fantasy game" and to be honest, the linearity didn't bother me because I don't have the perspective of a long time fan of the franchise.
However, I picked up Final Fantasy XIII recently because it was $10 and played it through until the end. While I'm not very good at RPGs, playing FFXIII was a real learning experience for me. It was a combination of education and entertainment that I like to call "edutainment". In playing this game, I got a few good ideas about what keeps me playing an RPG, and the things that make me want to put it down.
So here's what Final Fantasy XIII taught me about things I like in RPGs, and things I don't like so much.
I hate post-battle recovery. I'm pretty sure this was in every other Final Fantasy game I played. After battles, you go through the same ritual due to fear of death. Go to item menu and use Potions to heal up your wounded characters. Use Phoenix Downs to revive the downed characters. Use Ether to refill magic. It happens far too often in far too many RPGs and it's really just a pointless time sink. Final Fantasy XIII is nice enough to refill your HP after every battle, and there's no limit on MP at all. The reason why they can get away with a seemingly over-generous system leads to the next point...
I love when every battle is a challenge. There are more than a few stretches of Final Fantasy XIII where you can just mash Auto-Battle to win. In the early game especially, I was wondering why the battle system was so highly praised when I was getting through by basically letting the AI do it all.
This isn't the case for most of the game, which manages to be challenging almost all the time. The Paradigm system is fantastic, making buffing/debuffing important in normal battles and absolutely imperative in boss battles. If I'm playing through an RPG for an extended period of time just steamrolling every enemy in my way, I'm gonna get bored of it! Final Fantasy XIII's difficulty is always spot-on, and even challenges that seem insurmountable at first glance can usually be overcome if you just reconfigure your party and class setup. It's always a challenge, and that made me want to keep playing.
I hate useless equipment AND upgrading it. I think a good 75% of the equipment I picked up in Final Fantasy XIII was trash. There are TONS of accessories that raise your resistance to status effects and certain types of damage. If you use a healer in your party (which is pretty tough not to do) or spend a few Gil on items, these accessories become meaningless. There are weapons with fantastic abilities like "makes your magic weaker", "makes your physical strength weaker", and "+100 HP which you can already get from the ten +100 HP items you got earlier". They're worthless.
Even if these weapons got some kind of FANTASTIC ability when you upgrade them all the way, I can't tell. The game's upgrade system is so poorly explained in-game that I ended up looking up a guide to find out how to upgrade the few pieces of equipment that have an immediate good effect. It's not worth leveling up this "Enfeeblement" staff to see if it evolves into The Godlike Killing Staff of Pure Death if I could just upgrade the "Better Healing" staff and beat the entire game without changing it.
I love checkpoints!! Exclamation points mean I'm really serious about this. The checkpoints in Final Fantasy XIII are fantastic. Since nearly every battle includes the very real possibility of you getting your ass blasted off in seconds, they checkpoint the heck out of this game. Failed a battle against one of those Behemoth guys because he stood up halfway through and decided to kill you in one shot? You get a "retry" right on the spot which spawns you outside of the battle and gives you time to change your tactics. I've played a few RPGs where you would get kicked out to THE MAIN MENU after losing a battle and have to retry from the last save point, which means you could be losing a ton of progress. I hate that. I love checkpoints.
I hate anime. I don't hate the entire medium in general, but I hate the common themes that seem present in anime. Final Fantasy XIII is full of them throughout the story: you've got your whiny kid, stoic hero, chronic backstabber, Green Power Ranger (who seems evil at first but eventually joins your squad), and evil overlord who you will definitely have to fight multiple times and might be the final challenge. As a result, I couldn't find myself getting attached or caring about most of the characters or the story at large. I spent a lot of time reading the datalog to find out more information on the characters because the game is definitely not gonna tell you straight out. Everyone's too busy angsting to actually let me know why I should care. The whole story in general felt like something I've seen way too many times in anime before: ragtag team bands together to save the world. And they literally invoke the power of FRIENDSHIP in the end to do the impossible and win. Boring.
I love good post-game content. When I play a game, I try to get the most out of it. It's a bummer finishing a game and having nothing to do afterwards but start a new one. Final Fantasy XIII unlocks a ton of cool things after you beat it. New missions, new areas to explore, and the opportunity to raise all your characters to their maximum potential. New Game+ is cool, but I think I like post-game additions in RPGs even more.
I hate not having fast travel in a large world. Once I got to the point in Final Fantasy XIII where I could do sidequests, I set out to do ALL of them because I like sidequests. I quit about two hours later because it was taking too long. There are a few missions you can complete to unlock fast travel spots. But this world is really, REALLY big. The fastest travel option you get is a Chocobo, but this option is hidden very well and requires you to do a lot of legwork on your own to finish a few loosely-connected sidequests to unlock. And even when you get the Chocobo, you can lose it easily because there's so many wild enemies running around to knock you off. Which means you'll have to walk quite a while to get on another mount. Which you'll probably lose again. Oh well. If you're gonna put in a huge overworld, have a good fast travel system!
So thanks to Final Fantasy XIII, I know what my ideal RPG would be like. I don't know if I'll find a game that's consistently challenging yet forgiving in the battles and not too anime'd out as far as the plot goes, but I'm glad I finished the game and got a better sense of what I really appreciate as a gamer.
The following blog will contain story spoilers for Saints Row 2 and The Third. Don't read ahead if you don't wanna be spoiled!
All of the advertisements I've seen for Saints Row: The Third built it up to be completely over-the-top in the most insane way possible. The first trailer I remember seeing of it was a clip of a man getting punched in the dick, and that was it. Then I heard more details about the game trickle out, and the game sounded even more interesting: there's was a button dedicated to groin attacks! You go into cyberspace and ride lightcycles like Tron! There's a catapult car that shoots pedestrians!
And of course, who could forget about the Penetrator? It's basically in every piece of promotional material THQ has ever released for the game.
Seriously, I've seen that screenshot more than any screenshot for any other game. I'm not even exaggerating.
So, great! I'm a fan of the Saints Row series. Saints Row 1 was just OK, but I put tons of hours into Saints Row 2. I enjoyed the variety in missions and Activities in the game. I always felt like there was something fun to do in Stilwater, like jumping into the Fight Club activity to beat down thugs, surfing on airplanes, and my personal favorite pastime: picking up trash cans and street signs and beating pedestrians with them. I was ready for new Saints Row that had all of the things I loved about 2, but more!
So why did I feel no desire to keep playing Saints Row: The Third after the credits rolled?
I suppose one reason is because there's just less to do compared to Saints Row 2.
Several of the Activities and Diversions are just gone for no explained reason. And while I can do without stuff like Zombie Uprising, Fire Truck, and Taxi missions, it doesn't mean they should just be gone. You should keep them and crank them up, if this game is supposed to be so crazy and over-the-top.
Even worse, some of my favorite Activities in SR2 are just gone. I would've loved for them to keep FUZZ and crank it up to the game's alleged crazy level. Let me kill a bunch of fursuiters with a Flamethrower!
Why take out Fight Club when you just added a bunch of running takedown moves and new "brutal finishers"? Actually, I'm not sure if Fight Club would work well anymore, considering the multiple fighting styles and hand-to-hand combo system was completely removed for the Third. The game is full of cuts like that.
Racing events are gone, even though the game's vast amount of vehicles could've made for some interesting racing situations. How about a 5 man hoverbike race downtown, where everyone has to dart past skyscrapers and try to win without crashing?
I also found it amusing that Ho-ing (where you have sex for money) is gone. That's just too crass and offensive for the new Saints, I guess.
Another reason why I left The Third feeling a bit let down was the story. In Saints Row 2, the protagonist is one of the most interesting characters portrayed in an open-world murder simulator. This is because the protagonist is a psychopath. Over the course of the game, this character:
1)Kidnaps a rival's girlfriend and tricks him into crushing her with a monster truck
2)Helps a good friend bury a man alive
3)Sings along to "Take On Me" on the radio despite it clearly not being in their vocal range
And all other manner of villainy. It was interesting to see a character break the traditional "I used to be a criminal but now I'm trying to get out" mold in such a radical way. The Boss in Saints Row 2 was aggressively amoral and in ways, the biggest villain in the game. Yet, they still had a strong sense of trust and loyalty to the Saints, and was still likable despite being evil.
The story in Saints Row 2 was pretty easy to follow. You had three gangs to take down, and there were essentially three "arcs" as things built up to a climax where you killed the leader of each gang in an awesome way.
In Saints Row The Third, the story feels disjointed and has much less shock value than the previous game. Seemingly major events pass by with no explanation.
Apparently the Saints held a funeral for a fallen member at some point that got broken up by a rival gang. I'm saying "apparently" because your fellow gang members are pissed about it afterwards, but the game doesn't exactly show it happening. It feels like a cutscene is missing. Or maybe it was there but they cut it out. The Boss is content with sarcastic quips to his/her gang. This is the same character who broke into a nuclear power plant to steal radioactive waste to poison a rival's tattoo ink. What happened? Why was Shaundi redesigned to a humorless, annoyingly generic action girl with a perpetual scowl?
The rival gang leaders in the Third never feel threatening because they have no presence. They show up in a handful of scenes to call you a jerk, but the story gives you no drive to go after them except for "they are the enemy, kill them". Maero and Jessica in Saints Row 2 were a presence. You meet them and attempt to work out a deal. It fails and then you have an increasingly violent feud with them that climaxes when they torture a Saints general to death. Now that's motivation.
My last major problem with Saints Row The Third is mission variety. It takes far too long for the game to actually start. A large chunk of the missions are secretly tutorials, teaching you how to play the game's (now optional) Activities. It's interesting how you don't have to play Activities to progress in the story...except how many story missions are Activities in disguise.
They're somewhat justified in the story: you're selling merchandise to build up the Saints gang, or protecting a friend while they steal intel from rivals. But in the end you're still playing a slightly easier version of Trafficking or Guardian Angel. There are some fantastic, creative missions in this game. And almost all of them are at the end of the Act you're currently in. It's almost disappointing to see how creative the development team got with missions like HTTP://DECKERS.DIE with so many interesting sight gags and gimmicks, because these missions are only accessible after you play glorified Activities or bland "blow up all these tanks" missions for far too long. Oh, and you can't replay Missions at all this time around. Dunno why they'd take that out.
Saints Row: The Third is fun at points, but it's nowhere near as insane as the trailers would lead you to believe. In fact, it's pretty safe and inoffensive most of the time. There are some incredible setpieces and missions, but you have to slog through a lot of boring things to get to them. Instead of building on Saints Row 2's diverse set of Activities and Diversions, The Third chooses to remove many of them, but keep the least interesting ones without changing them significantly.
You'll be doing this more often than you'd think.
I appreciate streamlining in games. It was a smart choice to remove the Respect requirement for missions and let me go back to the story whenever I want. The issue is this game streamlined too much. Removing weapons and abilities the character could use in the previous game. Removing Activities and Diversions, essentially giving you less things to do. Removing customization options like the walk cycle and the option to wear clothing in different ways. The worst thing they took out were varied mission types. There's much more "drive here and kill them" or "blow up these targets" missions than the previous game, and it's just unfortunate to see them alongside the brief, incredible setpieces that the game shows it's capable of.
At points, Saints Row: The Third is the most over-the-top sandbox game I've played in years. It's a shame that these points are brief peaks breaking up long stretches of tedium and uninteresting gameplay.
2011 has been a blur for me. I'm a junior in college right now, and I've had to take on much more responsibility than I ever intended to finish my college career. My summer vacation didn't feel like much of a vacation at all. I spent so much time working, trying to sort out my finances so I can continue my college career, and losing too much sleep worrying about my future. My days on 'break' seemed to be just as stressful as college life continually is.
I always have played video games to relieve stress and forget about whatever's troubling me. Before this year, I would just play whatever game I had bought last: competitive online shooters, racing games, incredibly long and complex Japanese RPGs. It is a stress reliever to kill enough people to top the leaderboards in Monday Night Combat or finally beat a boss after spending hours grinding in Persona 3, but I wouldn't exactly call them "relaxing". I could forget about whatever was on my mind by devoting it to a challenge in those games, but I wasn't really relaxing.
This summer, I found a game that I can still put on and really chill out when I'm playing.
Red Dead Redemption is my favorite Rockstar game so far. It's a violent, brutal, and often depressing look at life in the Old West. It is also one of the most relaxing games I've ever played.
I have always been a fan of Grand Theft Auto games for many reasons, but they're different from Red Dead Redemption in more ways than just "it has cars instead of horses". I never get the feeling of isolation when I play them. Going for a late night drive with the stereo low and the windows down is calming; but only in real life. In GTA games it doesn't feel the same. GTA games always have something wacky or off-the-wall to make you laugh. Billboards, pedestrian chatter, even strange environmental effects that are constantly trying to draw your attention. It's always fun, but trying to relax to that is like going to a comedy club with the intention of getting a nap.
Red Dead Redemption is very different when it comes to the open world. There is no constant stimulation when you're galloping down a trail to your next destination. You might hear some ambient animal noises, but they're never distracting (unless you took a wrong turn and ended up surrounded by cougars!) If you look into the distance, you won't see billboards or UFOs or even airplanes landing. You'll see the sun rise and set, huge cliffs in the distance, rivers and lakes that you can't swim in (sorry!)...nothing but nature.
I spent so many hours in Red Dead Redemption just riding around, ignoring the story. I could go pick flowers, hunt animals, or just explore a new place I'd never seen before. I never felt the urge to go on a shooting rampage (unless I had to kill a bunch of animals for a quest) or piss off law enforcement. I would rather go for a ride on my horse and see the sights.
When I started the story, I was pleasantly surprised at how slowly it eases you in. The first couple hours of the game are basically a farm life simulator. The cutscenes are slow-paced as well as most of the gameplay, and I loved it. There's very minimal murdering in these early missions, and more focus on things like rounding up cows, breaking horses, and sometimes just going on a ride and talking to a friend. This slow pace seems to continue throughout the game, and the missions in Mexico stand out in my mind because many of them start or end with long commutes where you do nothing but ride (not drive, your NPC partner does it for you!) to a destination. It's like the game is telling you "chill out, see the sights"...before you get to killing some scumbags, at least.
Red Dead Redemption is unique because it's a game that I could turn on, accomplish absolutely nothing for hours, and still feel like my time was well spent. It gave me something I rarely get a chance to do in my real, stressful life. Ditch all my responsibilities and completely isolate myself somewhere I've never been before.
Last week, I was in a shop making a very important decision.
In one hand, Assassins Creed 2. I wanted to get started on the Assassins Creed 2 franchise (which is going to be its own trilogy once Assassins Creed 2-3 comes out...great.) before it ends.
This is the most original box art ever!
In the other hand, 1600 Microsoft Points. Both of these items would cost me the same, and I could justify buying both of them.
After a lengthy conversation with my brain, I made my choice to buy the Microsoft Points.
"Assassins Creed 2 has DLC that I'll get eventually. And there are plenty of full games on the Xbox Live Marketplace that I could spend these points on."
Then I got to thinkin', how much is my addiction to downloadable content screwing up games for me?
I purposefully avoided buying Mass Effect 2 and Assassins Creed 2 for a long time, both for the same reason: I knew they would have downloadable content available eventually. I don't get to buy many games during the year, so I want to get the most out of the few games I can get my hands on. That means if a game has add-ons available, I'm gonna buy them so I can keep playing the game as long as I can.
I've even heard from several people that Assassins Creed 2 has crap DLC that I don't really need to play. I still want it though! I want the "full" experience of the game: it would bug me to complete the main story and still see memory strands (or whatever the hell they call them) blanked out. I'm too much of a completionist to let that slide.
Downloadable content is not completely bad though. As you know, I have hundreds of songs for Rock Band. That game is the crowning example of how to do downloadable content. There's a full game without it, and you never really need to get any of the downloadable songs to have the "full" experience of the game. Still, people who don't at least get the freesongs should just sell their game back to Gamestop tbqh. I mean, seriously. They're free songs.
If you don't have this song, we can't play Rock Band together.
There is the other end of the spectrum of games with just too much downloadable content. I'll probably never play Castlevania HD because there is so much add-on content and I think I'd go crazy if I didn't buy it all. The problem is I'd also go BROKE if I bought it all. Also, I didn't like the demo that much.
Exciting multiplayer gamep-zzzzz
Still, my compulsion to own the "complete" version of every game has lead me to some stupid downloads. I probably own every free thing on the Xbox Live marketplace.
Am I ever gonna buy Marvel vs. Capcom 3? Hell no, but I have the first Shadow Battle pack!
Will I ever buy BlazBlue? Unlikely, but I have the latest system update- just in case.
Is Red Dead Redemption ever gonna drop below $20 so I can buy it? Probably not, but once Undead Nightmare went on sale, you bet your ass I bought it. Might as well, right? It's only on sale for a limited time, and I might be playing that game this year!
"Hey Perfidious," you ask, "Don't you already own every Sonic game, on like four different platforms each?"
And to that I say, "Yes, but Sonic and Knuckles was on sale for 120 points. 120 points! That price is BELOW STUPID!"
So, I'll fully admit that I'm addicted to Microsoft Points and getting downloadable content. All of this downloadable content I've gained. And it'll all be gone by the time the next console generation starts...sad.
But do you wanna know about a game that had no DLC and didn't need it because it was a classic?
That's right, Gears of War 2. 50 Cent doesn't need $20 dollars of extra maps to make a better game than you.