During an intense struggle against boredom last spring, I visited my local Gamestop to pick up something to play. Since no new games were out that I was interested in, I figured I'd go back and play one of the many games on my “critically acclaimed but I never played it” list. So, I picked up Assassin's Creed II for cheap.
I enjoyed the first Assassin's Creed game in spite of its many issues with pacing, control, and poor mission variety. The story and setting of the franchise fascinated me but Assassin's Creed 1 was not a very good game. I heard that the sequel was better, and those reports were 100% correct. Over the course of 2012 I played every Assassin's Creed title, got very involved into the lore, and even attempted to get all the Achievements in the game. I would say that so far, Assassin's Creed is my favorite video game franchise of this current generation.
And because I enjoy the series so much, I am extremely worried about its future. I think Assassin's Creed III was possibly one of the worst Xbox 360 games I've ever played, and I have almost no faith in Assassin's Creed IV being good. So why did I dislike Assassin's Creed III so much? I can only explain that by first telling you what I enjoyed about the other games.
Assassin's Creed II
The most obvious compliment this game has been given is “it is better than the first game”, but I don't think that goes far enough. Being better than the heavily flawed Assassin's Creed 1 isn't exactly difficult. But what Assassin's Creed II did was build something really solid on top of the foundation already laid.
The story of Assassin's Creed II is much more impactful. You play through Ezio Auditore's birth and early life, seeing how good his life was and how tragically it all gets ripped away from him. Replaying the game recently, I empathized even more with him during a late cutscene. He's been chasing the men who killed his family for the majority of his life, but feels like he'll never get his revenge or worse, that it will not satisfy him. Ezio is much more humorous, charming, and emotionally tormented than Altair was in the first game. It makes you want to see him succeed and the sheer amount of his life that you see makes his motivations and actions incredibly clear. There are some moments where his rage gets the better of him, but it shows that he's a flawed, yet heroic character.
The big controversy about this game was the ending. It brought in the larger narrative of the series in a somewhat random-feeling infodump and ends on a cliffhanger. I found the ending oddly humorous in its absurdity, but there is more than enough foreshadowing about how things will turn out. The “Truth” segments in the game are optional, sure. But it's not difficult to do them and get some very revealing clues about where the main plot is going to go. Personally, I liked the ending just fine.
The gameplay received a major improvement from the first. Mostly, the free running is much more enjoyable and less prone to freaking out. In an open world game, having a significant amount of travel time can wear down on the player. However, if you can make the travel enjoyable in some way, you've solved the problem. I really enjoy how fluid free-running looks and feels in the Assassin's Creed series. I'd say at least half of my enjoyment of the games is free-running and observing the beautiful architecture. Also, there are sidequests EVERYWHERE to do, so I was frequently breaking up my travel time by stopping off to the side to do a race or pick up some flags. It never really felt boring to me.
The combat is much better but I find it difficult to go back to Assassin's Creed II because of how simplistic it is. The majority of enemies can be taken out by counter kills, and they attack you one at a time even when you are totally surrounded. Heavy enemies must be thrown off with a kick to open up for combos, or you can just fight them unarmed and win handily. I felt like the fighting itself got repetitive after a while due to lack of variation, but it stays somewhat engaging until the last stretches of the game.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood
Most people would call this game the peak of the franchise. I don't agree, but I see why it's so beloved.
The story might be why I don't care for this game too much. There is a goal (kick the Borgias out of Rome, get your revenge for your uncle's death) but it felt too much like a collection of random events than a plot. Mission threads lead you around seemingly unrelated incidents a lot of the time, leaving me wondering “when are we gonna get the Borgias?” There's some strange backtracking where you visit a major location for at least two missions and must enter it almost exactly the same way. It felt like padding there. Also, the end of the game locks you into a LONG string of missions that you can't quit from and barrels you toward the ending at an uncomfortably fast pace. I felt like Brotherhood lacked the emotional impact of II with the story of Ezio's slow build from a regular man to a trained killer. Sure, he becomes the Mentor of the Assassin Brotherhood in this game, but it is handled with little fanfare.
The ending of the game also felt like a cliffhanger for the sake of one. I can't complain too much because I was able to play Revelations immediately after finishing Brotherhood, but the cliffhanger ending felt nonsensical. Instead of making me excited to see the next game, I was just left cold and confused by this one.
The gameplay is quite an improvement. The combat has been made easier but more engaging. You can counter kill enemies in a row with one strike, but they are much more aggressive and force you to pay attention and time your counters better. You also get an absolutely HUGE amount of tools to use in combat like guns, poison darts, and the incredibly overpowered crossbow that you can use for long range stealth kills. I really enjoyed how the unique weapon classes let you fight how you want, and I switched between quick-but-weak knives or slow-but-powerful Heavy Weapons depending on what type of mission I was getting into. This missions have each been enhanced with optional objectives that really aren't good for anything but an Achievement, but are still enjoyable to pursue and give you reason to replay them.
The economy system was introduced in Brotherhood, and is much more engaging than my description will make it sound. You unlock new buildings around the area with money, and having more unlocked buildings lets you build cash faster. It's one of the few open world games with a very intelligently designed economy. I can't even call it “fun” to walk around buying buildings, but I also can't stop doing it. You want to have money to unlock new buildings or get new weapons, and so you do sidequests to get money, but then you spend it all again unlocking new buildings.
Brotherhood also adds Borgia Towers. You have to kill a specific Captain in order to “unlock” a tower/synchronization point to climb it. These made for some interesting experiences, because you can approach them several ways. Depending on how the area is laid out, you can either sneak in and assassinate the Captain, or hire a group of thugs to rush the front door and take out everyone. Because the layout of each Tower is different, it lets you experiment in completing them, making for some of the more enjoyable segments of the game.
Some of the worst segments of the game were Leonardo's Machines. You generally have to sneak into an area and destroy a paper before you're spotted. This part sucks because it falls into the worst mission type in stealth game history, the “Get Spotted and You Fail” mission. It doesn't help that every time you fail, you are subjected to a long loading screen. And the payoff for doing these missions isn't great; they all culminate with piloting the machine you were sent to destroy. The majority of these missions are not enjoyable because the machines are fragile and have very poor controls. It's an unexpected gameplay shift to go from third person stealth to piloting a mini-boat and sinking ships, but unexpected gameplay shifts are only cool when the alternate gameplay doesn't feel awkward and unfinished.
Basically, none of the Leonardo's Machine missions are as cool as the boat sections in Assassin's Creed III.
I didn't like Brotherhood as much as II despite recognizing all of its improvements. I enjoy these games mostly based on atmosphere and setting, and Rome just wasn't as nice to look at as Italy. There are too many large, open fields with nothing in them. The buildings don't look as impressive. The soundtrack is a major step down from Assassin's Creed II. And I didn't really care about the story this time around because it felt too impersonal and unfocused. I think Brotherhood is a better game in terms of gameplay, but I just didn't like anything else about it nearly as much as II.
Assassin's Creed Revelations
I'm in the minority here, but this is by far my favorite game in the franchise. Most people dismissed Revelations when it came out because it was the third yearly installment in a row. So I understand that they felt burned out. I probably view it more favorably because I paid less for it than most, but I also think it succeeds because it polished every previous mechanic from the series while adding a few more.
The story is much better than Brotherhood. Ezio is pretty darn old in this game, and you're playing through his last major quest as an Assassin. So there's an appropriate amount of references to previous events in the franchise, and some winks and nods at things only hardcore fans of the series will get. The main plot revolves around discovering a secret that Altair has hidden, and you do this by playing as him in flashbacks. These sequences give Altair more character development than the entirety of the first game and an accent that actually makes sense. Unlike Brotherhood, your goal is very clear from the start and the game does even more examination of Ezio's personality. It does nothing to advance the “main” plot of the franchise (what Desmond is doing in the real world), but it brings Altair and Ezio's stories to a close in a poignant way.
The gameplay does one thing very right off the bat by rejuvenating the free-running mechanic. Since Ezio is so old now, he needs tools to help him move as fast as he used to. The Hookblade not only makes climbing and jumping easier, it also lets Ezio climb faster than he's ever climbed before. If you make a bad jump, you can even hold the right hand button to extend your hookblade and save yourself. There are even ziplines to make travel even quicker. Free-running everywhere through three games in a row could potentially get boring, but the addition of this simple tool (and the new scenery) made it as enjoyable as the first time I did it. It also helps that Constantinople is much more visually interesting than Rome. The buildings are designed differently as well, so you have to climb them differently. The change of scenery really was welcome here, and I like Constantinople more than Rome or Italy.
The sword combat hasn't changed dramatically from Brotherhood, but the introduction of bombs lets you approach combat situations differently. I think the interface for creating bombs is a bit too clunky, but using them is worth it. It's tough to stealthily assassinate a small group of guards, but it's very easy to throw a poison bomb in the middle of them and kill them instantly. In the middle of foot chases, you can throw down spikes to hinder people chasing you and aid your getaway. You can even replace the old “Throw Money to distract guards” standby with a Gold Bomb that explodes coins everywhere! Not every bomb is useful, but using them tactically will make the game much easier and give you an incentive to approach situations differently than “run here and stab all these men”.
The mechanics behind recruiting and leveling up an Assassin hit squad to guard your back have been made a bit deeper, but not all of the change is for the better. The Assassins are linked to several strongholds you have on the map, and they can defend them from Templar attacks when fully leveled. You can also go on multi-part sidequests with them that have unique stories, which I did enjoy.
However, the interface for assigning Assassins to a stronghold is clunky. So is the one for sending them out to complete missions in “Mediterranean Defense” and assigning them to certain countries after you take them over. I won't get too much into that because the design of this part of the game is very poor, and I don't want to waste 1000 more words explaining exactly how it works. Just wanted to note how it's not very well designed.
The only gameplay in the Real World are first person platforming sections where you can spawn your own platforms to run across. I felt like these were the weakest parts of the game because the controls aren't fit for first person. It's especially jarring after playing Mirror's Edge. These sections were not worth finishing.
Despite those few quirks, I enjoyed Assassin's Creed Revelations. It's still my favorite game in the series after going back to replay them all. The new setting and revamped free-running gives new life into the basic act of traveling, the bombs open up a lot of fun options in combat, and the story has a very satisfying arc and conclusion. Even if it doesn't really advance the Real World plot that everyone wants to know about.
So why I just spend so much time describing my experience with the other Assassin's Creed games if this blog is about III? I need to convey how much III disappointed me. I saw the series steadily improve and add more mechanics to benefit the player over time, culminating in Revelations being one of my favorite games of this console generation. Then, Assassin's Creed III took most of the good in the franchise and threw it away.
Assassin's Creed III
Initially, I wanted to play and beat every game in this franchise in the same year. I finished Revelations in August 2012 and waited patiently for III. I avoided most preview materials to cut down on spoilers, and all I really knew was that it would take place in America. Sounds cool.
So in November I rented Assassin's Creed III and played through Haytham's prologue in a few days. I was extremely unimpressed. At launch, the game was glitchy as hell. I would frequently fly off into space during random jumps, clip through people, vocal/musical cues would stop working, the AI was idiotic, and I had two hard freezes. Not only that, but the prologue was just boring. I knew I wasn't playing as the protagonist and couldn't force myself to care about Haytham's story. I spent that part of the game just waiting for it to truly start. So I finished the prologue and returned the game to Redbox after two days, not wanting to play it any more.
At launch, I couldn't justify paying $60 for a glitchy game with bad controls. I waited until July 2013 for a good sale and gave it another shot from the beginning.
After playing through the game a few more times, I've grown to appreciate the prologue with Haytham. This is because Haytham is FAR more interesting than the actual protagonist in the game. He's certainly evil, but Haytham and the Templars in this game actually have motivations that are more subtle than “blow up the world”.
What I really enjoyed about the story is that it shows the shades of gray in both the Assassins and Templars. The Assassins want everyone to be free but are accomplishing it with murder. Connor isn't a clear-cut hero because he does many things for selfish reasons and is short-tempered and naïve. In fact, Connor is significantly less likable than Ezio for more reasons than that. He doesn't seem to have much agency in his life and is just being pulled from conflict to conflict. His duties as an Assassin are consistently clouded and ignored due to his desire to drop everything and save his tribe. He also has none of Ezio's charm or humor.
The speeches given to Connor by the major Templars he slays makes him appear even less heroic. The post-death in this series were always a little silly because the majority of Templars were gloating villains, but in Assassin's Creed III very few people are fully evil or fully good, including the seemingly heroic Assassins.
Connor's story has a bittersweet, but satisfying end after one of the most climatic and cool “boss” confrontations in the entire franchise. The same cannot be said for the end of Desmond's story in the real world. It rarely makes sense, is anticlimatic, and has a truly egregious sequel hook. Say what you will about Mass Effect 3. Bioware had a clear vision of how they would end the series and did so.
Ubisoft continues to make Assassin's Creed go on further, get more confusing, and push the conclusion further out of sight. Assassin's Creed games have to come out annually, so they're afraid of wrapping up the plot because they can't monetize it anymore if they do so. I felt for the first time in III that I had been had. I played through a pretty significant arc to see how they would handle the “end of the world” scenario and so far all I have is “we'll solve it later”.
The gameplay in Assassin's Creed III is almost as bad as the first game. I could go over the little things like removing the "walk and talk" feature where you automatically walk with a group you're blending with, or how the HUD doesn't label how to use some of your items, or the Notoriety system being busted, but there's no time. Let's just hit the two big ones.
Free Running. It has been simplified for the worse here. You hold the right trigger to jog or depress it fully to sprint at full speed. Also, you are in "climbing mode" whenever you have the trigger held down.
In previous games, you sprinted with Right Trigger and went into "climbing mode" by pressing a different button. It was more complicated, but it also cut down on the amount of incidents where you accidentally climbed a thing that you didn't want to. Because you're ALWAYS in "climbing mode" while sprinting in Assassin's Creed III, there is much more room for error. And holy crap did I run into a lot of errors. I frequently would climb structures I didn't want to, jump off buildings to my death accidentally, and lose targets around corners because Connor decided it was more important to run up some scaffolding than chase his target.
Combat. This is actually an area that I felt was improved. The counter system has been reworked, so when an enemy is about to attack you hit the marked "Counter" button. Time freezes, and you can choose to either disarm, throw, or instantly kill them. Due to the time freezing mechanic, the combat in general feels much easier. They ramp it up by throwing a truly absurd amount of enemies at you, and varying their types. Some enemies must be disarmed before you can kill them, some are more vulnerable to punches than swords, and some of them will draw guns and shoot at you, forcing you to act quickly before you take a ton of damage. Combat is one area that I generally consider better in Assassin's Creed III.
In Brotherhood and Revelations, one of the most enjoyable things to do was to call in your recruited Assassins. You whistle and wave your hand, and they materialize out of nowhere to stealth kill your target.
In III, you don't gain the ability to call in Recruits for a long time. You have to do a large amount of poorly designed sidequests to get them, and when you do, they're not very good. They have very low stamina and WILL be knocked out if you call them in a fight with two or more guards. It's nice that they are now only temporarily knocked out instead of killed permanently like previous games, but they are so fragile that it's not worth calling them. There are a few special commands to issue them like "Marksman" that works as a screen nuke or "Covert Escort" that allows you to sneak undetected into certain areas. The problem is that these skills are absolutely not useful. Marksman and Assassinate are for killing a small handful of guards, but the others either don't work as advertised or end up getting your recruits injured.
In the end, it's better to kill guards by yourself because Connor is so powerful. The recruits are little more than meatshields, even if you bother to use them enough to raise their levels.
Stealth. This game introduces more stealth elements on top of the old "hide in a haystack to escape" element. There are short bushes and shrubbery to hide in, and non-lethal stealth kills to lower your chances of detection. This is to support some truly awful stealth sections in this game. There are too many missions where you must tail a target without them seeing you, because if they do see you, the mission is over and you have to sit through an overly long load time to try it again. You have more options to hide because guards are much more vigilant in this game, sometimes initiating a chase against you if you were simply standing in the wrong place for too long. That is one of the larger issues in the game: being chased so often and for seemingly no reason. And despite the inclusion of more hiding spots, chases last much longer than they need to and can put you miles away from a mission you were about to start.
Economy. I don't want to spend too much time on this, because it's too much to speak about. The economy in this game is much more confusing and pointless than the previous games. You earn money by crafting and selling items with the worst user interface ever. You use this money to buy upgrades for your ship to do optional missions. If you don't enjoy the ship combat, then you have no reason to do this because there's nothing else to buy. Purchasing weapons is pointless because they don't vary combat significantly, and it is definitely possible to complete the game with your default weapons because combat is so easy.
The attempt to add complexity with the economy completely backfired because they made it too complex to the point that it's not enjoyable to use. The poorly designed menus and fact that there is nothing decent to buy only pours more salt onto the wound.
Sums up Assassin's Creed III very well. Doesn't explain how to complete it, isn't fun, and gives you a pitiful reward.
I could go into the numerous glitches I experienced while playing Assassin's Creed III, but those don't ruin the game. What did was the overly complex HUD, poor mission variety, frequent loading times, uninteresting story, and sequel baiting ending. I enjoy playing Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations all the way through, but there are a few pockets of boredom in them.
Assassin's Creed III is mostly boredom, a large chunk of frustration, and contains a few nuggets of fun gameplay. It went from a series that is possibly my favorite of this generation to one I don't look forward to anymore. What I've seen of Assassin's Creed IV seems that they improved the beloved ship combat mechanic and left everything else with the game alone. Will they get rid of the glitches? Will the Current Era storyline be wrapped up at all? Will the missions not be incredibly boring and contain "mess up one thing and you fail and sit through a long loading time" fail states?
I don't know anymore and I don't think I care. I have no faith in this franchise being able to produce a good game again as long as the current cycle of "turn one out every year" continues. People complain about an annual franchise like Call of Duty getting stagnant, but stagnation is preferable to releasing a game that is not only stagnant, but significantly less enjoyable than the last.
Out of all the currently popular fighting games available today, I've seen the most of Marvel vs. Capcom 3. You can watch streams for it pretty much any time of day and it is frequently one of the “main event” games at tournaments. So I've done a lot of homework on it and learned a lot of the core gameplay mechanics just by watching and asking questions.
Good thing too, because this game is never gonna teach you how to actually play it.
Before I get into that though, why is Marvel vs. Capcom 3 so popular? The premise is instantly appealing. Comic book characters and videogame characters fighting is a really cool concept that drew my attention and probably anyone else with even a slight interest in either field. Could Dante kick Captain America's ass? Who would win in a fight, She-Hulk or Tron Bonne? All very important questions that can be answered by Marvel.
So, I think it goes without saying that Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is incredibly fun to watch once you know what's happening. Characters shout specific one-liners related to who they're battling, Hyper Combos cause the screen to rip like a comic book page, and all kinds of pretty, LONG combos are happening when the game is being played at a high level.
It's understandable why so many people want to play this game. It just looks really cool.
Now let me tell you why I found it near impossible to actually get into it.
I started this series of blogs to find a game I liked and could get good at. I hope it has helped you pick a game that isn't too intimidating right off the bat. Due to the lack of tutorial and training options and how complex Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is, I don't believe it's a good game for newcomers to jump into. In fact, it might be one of the most difficult fighting games to get good at. It is difficult to learn and even harder to master.
Until recently, the majority of fighting games seemed to have very limited tutorial options. What that means is you'd have to spend as much time learning the systems of the game as learning combos and matchups. This game came out in 2011 before Skullgirls in 2012, a game with one of the best tutorials in any fighting game. So maybe Capcom didn't care to clue in new players on how to play the game?
So, here's what tutorial options you actually have. On the main menu there is “Offline Mode” which includes Training and Mission. Mission is what you're looking for. Each character has ten missions that teach you some of their special moves, some of their Hyper Combos, and basic combos.
I learned a couple things from this. Most characters have a basic combo that involves three ground hits, launcher, four air hits. It's generally Light, Medium, Heavy, Special, Medium, Medium, Heavy, Special. I played the Missions for every character and I'd say about 90% of them have this combo or some variation for it.
Here's where Mission Mode fails. It doesn't show you every special move, normal move, and Hyper Combo each character has, only some of them. There is no information given as to why one would use these certain moves. Some of the moves are Mashable, which means they can be extended and do more damage if you mash buttons or rotate the analog stick while you perform them. The game does not explain this anywhere.
When you pause the game to look at the command list, it takes you to a huge list of every character's commands in the game. Why? Just immediately link me to the character I'm playing so I don't have to scroll through this list. I'd like to see demonstrations for some of the Missions to see what I'm doing wrong, but it's not there. It really should be there, but it isn't.
In fact there are entire gameplay mechanics that go unexplained. There's no basic tutorial in the game to teach them to you. So X-Factor's uses aren't explained, but you have to do it to complete some of the Missions. Team Aerial Combos, where you do a combo in midair and tag out to another character to continue it, is never explained. I only know how to do both of these maneuvers because I asked friends, watched a lot of streams, and studied a wiki page.
There's a juxtaposition between the game appearing approachable but actually not being so. I like a few things it does. S (special) seems to be the universal launcher, and slams your opponent to the ground while they're in a your air combo. The “magic series” combos (L, M, H, S, air M, air M, air H, air S) are near universal so you have something to fall back on if you're trying a new character. You can save a favorite team as a “Reserve Unit” to quickly access during character selection, which is useful because there are a LOT of characters to scroll through. There are some neat bonuses for beating Arcade mode like new artwork, unique endings, and really detailed character biographies. And even though the menus are outdated, the HUD in game is very nice. Your assists are clearly marked with AI and A2 so you know which button will call them out. The Assist system is very simple. You tap one button to call an assist, hold it to tag to that marked character, hit both buttons to do a Team Hyper Combo, and snapping in is quarter circle forward + assist. It's much easier to learn than Skullgirls' more complicated, multiple button system for assists and tagging, and I prefer the assist system here over that game.
However, a lot of the game's presentation feels dated and very poor. To set a Reserve Unit, you have to go to the main menu, go to your “License” card, and set it there. Why can't I select three characters to save as a Reserve Unit during character selection in Arcade or Training mode? It would be nice if I could hold a button to go into “save” mode and create my new unit right there.
The menus move sluggishly and there's a lot of waiting while the game saves whenever you return to the main menu. The online options are very limited, as you cannot set a specific region for searching within. And on the same topic, the online netcode is poor. Compared to games like Persona 4 Arena which works with minimal to no lag even under bad connections, it was jarring to go to Marvel vs. Capcom 3 online and be able to feel a delay between inputting an attack and the attack coming out every single time.
I won't complain too much about the slim single player offerings, since this game came from the era where it was acceptable to have almost nothing to do offline. The distant year of 2011...good times. I will compliment the Heroes and Heralds mode, which I spent a good amount of time playing. You collect trading cards that give your team buffs and fight against the computer or online. The AI isn't particularly difficult, but I enjoyed fighting against weird shiny versions of the characters and making the most broken combinations I could with certain cards.
So, I don't have much else to say about the game, really. I don't think it's particularly fair or balanced. Getting stuck in long touch of death combos is a bummer every time, especially considering that the game doesn't teach you how to do them. I know we're expected to do some level of online research to get good at fighting games these days, but Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 doesn't even give you the bare minimum to get started. X-Factor is a cool idea: you gain a damage and speed boost that gets more potent as you lose more characters. However, I found it to be an unfair comeback mechanic because of the damage boost. It does some smart things like let you negate chip damage while blocking and works as an animation cancel. If you're in blockstun you can activate X-Factor and immediately counterattack. That's cool! But the damage boost makes it far too unbalanced. Just look at that video up top again.
The tiers in this game have a large effect on how well you'll do. In general, you will do better if you add a top tier character to your team like Wesker, Dormammu, Zero, Vergil, or Doctor Doom. I'm one of those weirdos who plays games for fun, and I was having more fun learning characters I had some personal attachment to than picking a top tier to make my life easier. But the simple fact is that the low tier characters have to work harder to win and if you're really into winning, you better throw one or more of them on your team to make your time a lot easier.
So I don't think I'll be getting good at this game. It's enjoyable to play with people who are my skill level (which is about zero out of 10 on the Skill Scale), but the amount of time and dedication it takes to get truly proficient at it is too high for me. Maybe I got into it too late because people online are so much better than me that I can't even learn from losses (too busy stuck in an unbreakable combo to learn!). But the fact is that the game won't ever teach you how to play it. If you're a new player looking to get into a fighting game for the first time, you might want to look somewhere else.
It's a shame, too. I really was liking my Tron Bonne/Frank West/Super Skrull team. I like seeing these characters in action and I still get a thrill of of spectating and watching on streams. I also don't want to put in the effort to learn a game when it's not willing to teach me even a little bit.
I see a lot of people getting excited about the upcoming release of Saints Row IV. But did you know that you are actually wrong?
Yes, it's true! The Saints Row series peaked at 2 and has been circling the drain since. I don't know if it's out of laziness or just plain contempt for their audience, but the developers made The Third a worse game and will probably ruin IV as well.
I know some of you were introduced to the series with Saints Row The Third, so let me explain why Saints Row 2 is the high point of the series that they will never reach again, ever. Prepare to get sad.
Stilwater is a more interesting city than Steelport
Stilwater in Saints Row 2 is one of the best open worlds in a video game, and I'm just talking aesthetically here! We'll get to the other good stuff later!
There are so many distinct districts and areas of Stilwater that it's crazy. You have a college campus with skateboarding students, a huge student center, and the "Frat Row". You've got a nuclear power plant island, Chinatown, the airport, factories, some high-class downtown areas that have totally different street textures, a trailer park...pretty much every traditional “open world city” setting is here. The cool thing is that they're all visually distinct and have different NPCs walking around depending on the area. You won't see gang members strolling around in baggy jeans in the downtown area.
In comparison, Steelport is a mostly flat, all industrial city that gets more boring to explore as they close off bridges. There's no variable weather or day/night cycle. You're looking at mostly the same scenery throughout Saints Row The Third and it gets boring. As opposed to Saints Row 2, where every location is visually distinct. It feels like a real town. Steelport feels like a video game fake city and really only has one "setting", lessening the joy in exploring it.
Basically, there are no cool hidden secrets like this in Steelport.
And this is only tangentially related, but the soundtrack in Saints Row 2 is the best in the series. I actually recognized a lot of the songs, as opposed to the soundtracks in Saints Row The Third and IV which are just obscure to get indie cred. Whatever, I'll be over here killing dudes to this amazing music.
More Customization in Saints Row 2
The city of Stilwater has LOADS of clothing stores, each catering to a different style. There's a hippy store, used clothing store, campus store with college clothes, and even separate stores for jewelry and cars. There's even a mall with a few unique stores and some secret shops.
Steelport in Saints Row The Third has like 20 Planet Saints (that all have the same clothes), and three specialty stores that are really far out of the way. I like the clothes in Nobody Loves Me, but why is there only one in the entire city? Am I gonna drive all the way through this boring city to get clothes there? Probably not.
I suppose there's a metaphor at play here. The Saints in The Third have grown soft and complacent, so they just monopolize the city's clothing outlets because they're boring now. And it makes shopping for clothes a boring time when there's 30 of one shop EVERYWHERE, and then three other shops that are out of the way. Why not spread that out?
Anyway, there are more glaring omissions to customization in Saints Row The Third. Stuff that was already in 2 that they removed for no good reason. You can't have custom walk cycles. You can't customize how you wear your clothes. In 2, if I buy a pair of jeans I can choose to wear them sagging, the type of wear they are (regular, battered, or acid washed for example), if I want a belt on, and many other options[u].[/u]
In The Third, that stuff is just gone. I can't customize my own walk cycle. Why? I can't customize how I wear my clothes. Instead of buying a pair of jeans and wearing them how I choose, I have to buy Baggy Jeans 1, Belt Jeans 1, Acid Wash Jeans 1...it's such a step backwards. For no good reason.
More Stores in Saints Row 2
Back in my day, Saints Row games had hella stores. In addition to the clothing options I already went over, there were some extra stores that most open world games don't have.
I'm talking about the liquor stores, mostly. In gas stations, liquor stores, and nightclubs in Saints Row 2, you can buy alcohol and weed. Now I'll admit, there's no reason for there to be several types of stores selling the same thing. And I don't even know what the alcohol and weed does besides be less useful than food powerups. They don't add anything to the game...except charm.
You know, the thing Saints Row The Third went very far out of its way to avoid? Having charm and personality? Saints Row 2 has that.
There's also record stores so you can buy songs for your portable MP3 player. That's right, you can listen to music from the radio even when you're not in the car. Another feature pointlessly removed by Saints Row The Third. I can't wait to not hear the soundtrack in Saints Row IV because I'll be running around with my super speed! Not using a car ever, because why would you? Seriously, why does that game even have a soundtrack?
There are car dealerships to buy cars to store in your garage in Saints Row 2. Which is...kinda pointless because you can steal whatever car you'll need. But that shows the length the team used to go through to immerse you in the game's world.
Saints Row 2 has regenerating health, but sometimes you don't want to just sit in a corner as your health recharges (which happens all the time in The Third). So you can go to fast food shops and buy healing items to store in your inventory. And even though every store has unique food items for no good reason because they all work the same way, and even though there's no real reason for them to offer multiple sizes of health packs because you should just buy the biggest one anyway...why take that out of the game?
It's a good idea and you just remove it. Great job.
More Side Missions In Saints Row 2
This one is a pretty big failure. Sidequests Fight Club, Crowd Control, Septic Avenger, Tow Truck, Ambulance EMT, Ho-ing, Taxi Driver, Tagging, Secret Areas, CD Collection, Drive-By, and Mugging are just gone from Saints Row The Third.
Why? Well, some could make the argument that a good deal of those aren't fun and don't fit into the story of a mogul who basically owns a city. And they'd probably be right. But find a replacement for them or tweak them to make them more fun instead of just cutting huge amounts of content.
I really enjoyed customizing your character with different fighting styles in Saints Row 2. You could pull off cool combo attacks in addition to using improvised weapons everywhere, like traffic meters and wooden barrels. And they take it all out in The Third for a worse melee system with no combos and the glitchy “finisher” button. I guarantee that the wrestling match would be more fun if they kept the old combo system.
Unlocking more rewards by completing Side Missions in Saints Row 2 was rewarding. It was admittedly annoying playing side quests just to progress the story. And even more annoying having character power-ups tied to some of the side missions, especially if the side mission wasn't fun. Why should I have to play Mayhem to make my character better? I don't like Mayhem. And Snatch is terrible.
Oops, I'm supposed to be praising Saints Row 2 here. Uh, just don't play that stuff if you don't want to! But then play them to unlock new missions and finish the game because you have to. Moving on.
This is the biggest reason why the Saints Row games won't be as good as 2. The story in Saints Row 2 was perfect. It's one of the few games to pull off the Playable Character being a villain. In their rise to the top, this character does some despicable things. They poison a rival with radioactive waste out of spite. They manufacture and sell hard drugs. They CONSUME hard drugs. They brutally decapitate another rival. They spray feces all over nice houses for some cash.
You do some ridiculous stuff in Saints Row 2, but there's also some story beats with true emotional impact. Like the infamous scene where Carlos is murdered, or when you kill your former boss for no good reason. The last one in particular shows how ruthless the Boss has become.
Each gang storyline has a buildup where you learn to really despise your rival, and a final confrontation where you kill them off in a satisfying way. There's buildup, and payoff. Even the sidequests have a small story behind them.
In Saints Row The Third, all of the gangs are a big conglomerate that fight against you. The bosses are defeated anticlimatically because there was no buildup. When Loren dies from having a giant ball dropped on him, I honestly don't know anyone who didn't say “That was it? The big boss guy just dies like that?”
Not only that, but the over-the-top elements of Saints Row The Third disconnect the player from any emotion. I really wanted to kill Maero after he tortured Carlos to death.
I didn't feel anything toward any of the bosses in The Third because the plot jumped around so much. It felt like there were large sections of story content cut out, giving the game a disjointed feel.
And now Saints Row IV seems to go in the direction of eliminating all the drama the series once had for sheer absurdity. That's not why I liked the game in the first place. The mixture of silly stuff and characters I actually cared for made it worth playing.
So, go back and play Saints Row 2. Ignore Saints Row IV and any future games in the franchise. They've peaked, and instead of improving on what they did right so many years ago, they'll just continue to get away from it and make strange “wacky” games with less and less content than the second game. But at least the gunplay and driving feels better, right?
Most new fighting games are trying to strike the elusive balance of “easy to learn, difficult to master”. Ideally, the game has mechanics that are intuitive enough to understand instantly, or have a tutorial that's so thorough that new players will understand. Then, the depth of the game emerges naturally through learning matchups, combos, and your own character's unique abilities.
This happens to be a game that I found hard to learn, and even more difficult to master. It'll kick your ass at the start, but once you start to understand how the game works, it rewards you every step of the way.
The first thing that immediately caught my attention when watching Tekken gameplay were the crazy characters. There's Black Disco Stu, a kangaroo, a bear, a robot maid, and so many other characters that are very far out of the traditional fighting game archetypes.
Really, seeing that Snoop Dogg has his own stage and wrote a song for the game was a big selling point for me.
The craft put into this huge cast of unique characters carries over to the rest of the game. Menus are very clear on what options they provide and load quickly, the graphics in game are incredibly detailed and even include small touches like characters getting dirt on them as they fight, and the soundtrack is a fine combination of rock, trance, and dubstep.
Watching gameplay for Tekken, especially commentated ones, was a bit daunting at first. I try to watch a lot of footage of people playing the game to get tips and learn the ropes, but I was lost. Thankfully, the tutorial of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 is long, detailed, and has the exact amount of challenge I wanted.
Note: If you're watching Tekken tournaments with commentary, 1 and 2 are Left Punch and Right Punch. 3 and 4 are Left Kick and Right Kick. Took me forever to realize that.
The Fight Lab is one of the best tutorial modes in a fighting game right now. If you want to get into Tekken but are afraid of the high learning curve, I guarantee you the Fight Lab will help you out.
It's split into multiple chapters, each one focusing on a certain element of gameplay and ending with a boss battle. There's also a lot of text boxes for the “story” of the Fight Lab that actually give more detail into when and why you need to use certain techniques.
For example, the guarding tutorial starts off with lessons on how to block high and low attacks and escape throws. Then you're thrown into a gauntlet of color-coded enemies who will either attack high, low, or try to throw you. The lesson helps, but the real importance is getting to use your experience in an actual combat situation right away.
The Fight Lab doesn't hold your hand, either. You have a health bar, and some of the mission constraints are very strict. So you can definitely get knocked out and have to retry a stage, but you are also rewarded with bonus Gold (for customization) if you do very well.
Even as I began to understand the game more, I frequently revisited the Fight Lab to replay older missions and hone my skills by shooting for higher ranks.
One of the most daunting things I've experienced as a new player to fighting games is “Who do I pick?” Especially in games with huge rosters such as this one. I want to try out every character and see if I like the way they handle, but it's not realistic with a lineup of 55 characters. So I took the advice of a beginner's guide and just picked who I liked.
What I would recommend doing first, unless you are 100% sure who you want to play, is going into Arcade Mode, choose Solo, and pick a character you think is cool. I started off with Lili and it happened to be a good choice. Something about the character just “clicked” and I felt like I knew how to play as them effectively in a short amount of time.
Once I found my main character, I jumped into Practice Mode and learned her key moves. You want to learn all of your character's launchers, Bound moves, and moves that allow you to tag to your partner after they connect. Luckily, there is a Command List that has an icon next to all of these moves. You'll want to practice their Sample Combos as well, which the command list also includes along with video demos.
I probably harp on this a lot but EVERY FIGHTING GAME SHOULD HAVE IT. Command Lists and move demos are invaluable for new players and even veterans who want to make sure they're doing the moves correctly!
Now, how do you actually play this game? To simplify most of what I learned...AIR COMBO. A lot. Here's your general game plan in Tekken Tag Tournament 2:
1.Launch your opponent
2.Do a short combo that ends in a Bound attack
3.Tag your partner in
Ideally, you want to do this as much as you can to drain your opponent's lifebar because they can't do anything about it. You can't block while you're getting punched in the air, you see.
In practice...it's not that simple. Speaking as a beginner, this game can be frustrating as hell. Advanced players will pop you up in the air, juggle you, and carry you into the corner where you get hurt even MORE. Air combos don't typically do a lot of damage, but they carry you towards the wall and wall combos HURT. So it gets disheartening to spend what feels like most of the round in the air: you can't do anything about it.
The emphasis on juggles is why Tekken was a game I initially overlooked because it looks like you spend too much of a round being helpless. I'll admit I was a little biased. Still, persistence pays off and there are ways to counter being juggled. If you don't have great defense or spacing, people online will BEAT it into you. So while the game looks crazy as hell, the spacing is so important. You can almost never just rush in and go crazy. Patience is the key to winning most rounds.
Backdashing is an important tool to establish space, but has a recovery period at the end that can be easily punished. One thing I didn't quite get the hang of was backdash canceling, which lets you get some breathing room but is much safer than a normal backdash.
I felt like sidestepping in this game was less useful than in other 3D fighters, only because so many moves track. They'll hit you regardless of your position, so I didn't feel a need to use them that often.
Tekken Tag Tournament 2 turned out to be a game where I spent more time than expected just working on movement: sidesteps, dashing, dash cancels, and jumping. It took some getting used to because it's very different from Virtua Fighter, but I think the controls feel great. I've quit playing fighting games before because the characters feel awkward or unresponsive to my inputs, but TTT2 does not have that problem.
There are a few minor issues have with Tekken. There are a couple of Free Moves (like God Hand!) that every character can do. On wakeup you can do a big springboard kick that has a lot of startup frames and covers a lot of space. If you can break into a full sprint, you can either tackle or do a slide that knocks down. Also, hopkicks are a universal launcher for everyone (I think everyone has it?) that you can do by jumping and inputting Right Kick. I don't know if everyone has these moves though, as the game or tutorial doesn't explain what they are or how to do them. Throws and how to throw break could have been explained in more detail because they are more complicated than they seem: each character has a 1+3 and 2+4 throw that you must input a certain button to break. Then there's air throws, wall throws, and tackles that require a certain input to break. The tutorial doesn't go in-depth enough with what seems like a pretty complex throw system!
Save yourself some grief and read this tutorial http://www.avoidingthepuddle.com/news/2012/9/5/ttt2-beginners-guide-unit-2-types-of-attacks.html, but I do wish they would explain these things in the game.
[u]What I Liked:[/u]
-A fantastic tutorial for beginners and experts. It teaches you all the things you'll need to know, and then gives you a tough pop quiz to make sure you know how to do them.
-Presentation. The music is great, the characters are cool, there's a huge amount of customization, the menus are smooth, and the character endings aren't even constrained by the game's art style.
-Very challenging to get into, but extremely rewarding once you begin understanding the systems.
[u]What I Didn't Like:[/u]
-Long load times in some occasions
-Random lag spikes online
-Tutorial doesn't explain some of the more obscure aspects like backdash canceling, free moves, and throw escapes
Tekken is a tough series to get into for a newcomer. You won't get any lucky wins here, you'll have to earn them. And while it's frustrating initially to just feel like you're getting juggled to death, the reward of unleashing your own air combos is very much worth it.
I feel like this is one of the few fighting game series that hasn't changed significantly over the years, so if you were good at Tekken before you will probably still be good at Tekken. I hear the movelists for characters don't change much between releases, so I'm probably going up against people who have been with their characters for years.
It'll take a long time to get to a position where I feel I'm truly “good” at the game, but I think it's worth it. The game does one thing very right: it just FEELS good when you hit someone. Like you actually hit them and not just a hitbox. There are a few strange elements with “flop” stuns where you're comboing your opponent's legs and not them, but it still feels pretty satisfying.
As a beginner, I'd recommend Tekken Tag Tournament 2 to beginners. It's rough at first, but if you stick with it it'll pretty much beat the fighting game fundamentals of better spacing and better blocking into your head. It's a long road to getting good at Tekken, but a road worth traveling.
All pictures from Xensin. I found the link at http://ufgtus.wordpress.com/. Check it out, they're really great! http://www.flickr.com/photos/xensin/sets/72157633637670661/
Last year, I bought Skullgirls and this heavy $200 arcade stick. I couldn't really play against many people online back then, but I kept myself busy by learning how to play each of the several fighting games that came out that year.
I've been able to play online with more regularity recently, thanks to getting a fiber-optic internet...thing. I have no idea how it works, I just know I can play fighting games online mostly lag free. So after training as well as I could, I got the crazy idea to go to my first tournament ever.
As I've said in previous blogs, the experience of playing online is hardly comparable to playing locally. I've had very few experiences playing games locally, and by that I mean “I have played Skullgirls against one of my friends a handful of times”. So the pressure of playing when you're sitting right next to someone, with a group of people behind you watching and talking is way higher than “if I lose, I'm gonna rank down”. So I'll go into each game I entered, and what it was like playing it against someone sitting right next to you.
Persona 4 Arena: I might have psyched myself out a little bit before playing this game. I saw someone else playing my main character Kanji, much better than I can play Kanji. So I knew this person was in my pool, and I really didn't want to lose to them and make a fool out of myself. I ended up only playing a handful of casual matches before my actual pool began.
First game, I took a few rounds but ultimately lost. It was against a player who was clearly WAY above my level and played a character I had a terrible matchup against. So I didn't feel too badly about it.
The next game, I won handily against a player who was clearly better than me, but I could tell that he wasn't on top of his game. I think he just played a game and lost, so he was a little rattled and messing up where he normally wouldn't. Of course, I'm not too great either and my win was pretty sloppy. I could hear the Kanji player behind me talking trash about my play, which kinda made me feel bad. I haven't fully gotten over tournament nerves, so I was dropping what little combos I knew. Still, I'll take it.
The last game, I was playing against a player who I recognized from the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 community. I've seen him on the internet! But I didn't get starstruck or anything, because that would only make me nervous and make my chances worse. By this point, I didn't care that people were watching just a few feet behind me. But I DID feel stupid when I lost...badly. Kanji works best at close range and has few options when far away. His character was Yukiko, a zoner who kept me at basically full screen and chipped away at my life until I died. I got frustrated while being juggled and comboed with no way to retort, but didn't give up. I think I took one round but was thoroughly beaten, and with that, I was eliminated.
Divekick: This game seemed to be incredibly popular throughout the whole tournament, and had an E3 style booth setup as well as a table to play casual matches. And while I've unfortunately heard a lot of complaining about this game online, I feel like everyone should play Divekick. It might change their mind on it.
Divekick is a simple game, but even with two buttons each character is incredibly unique in terms of special attacks, movement, and hitboxes. I played a lot of this game before and my pools to find which characters I liked. I ended up settling on Mr. N and Markman. There are character-specific matchups, but the tiers aren't so wide that there are “top tier” and “worthless” characters. What impressed me the most about this game is that it captures the essence of fighting games: reading your opponent. In most fighting games you want to get your opponent to do something, or wait for them to slip up so you can hit a combo and do huge damage to them. In Divekick, one hit ends the round. So you spend the entire game waiting for your opponent to slip up, or scaring them into a situation that's advantageous to you. It's tough to explain, but after a few matches I completely understood it. At their core, fighting games are about reading your opponent and trying to predict what they will do. Instead of every match containing multiple instances of this guessing game, Divekick rounds only contain one. It's really tense, and really fun.
Anyway, I did somewhat well in this tournament! Didn't get out of pools, but I beat a fair amount of people and even “frauded” two of them (when you win five rounds to zero). By the time I was eliminated, I got a good amount of experience, and even got some direct training on how to play Markman by the tournament organizer (Thanks Keits!). I'll definitely be picking up this game when it comes out.
Saturday[u]:[/u] Skullgirls: Holy crap, I did terribly in this game. I mean, I had an idea of how bad I was (because I lose every online match I play), but it was even harder to deal with in person. I played three matches and didn't take a single round from anyone I played. Didn't even get close. I did play a couple casual matches afterward, but didn't do any better or learn much from it. Then again, I didn't know where to start as "how do I get my ass kicked less?" doesn't tend to lead anywhere. Oh well.
BaraBariBall: I entered this tournament because of the free entry, and was pleasantly surprised when I finally got my hands on it. First of all, this game should have had some more exposure. Until the finals there was only one table with two setups to play on, in the back of the ballroom. It's a really fun game, a combination of Super Smash Bros and...whatever sport it is where you have to dunk a ball into the opponent's pool of water.
Luckily I shared a hotel room with two experts of the game and learned a lot of tactics from playing with them. I beat a few people in the tournament but was ultimately eliminated. Like Divekick, it's a game that's simple to pick up but takes a certain amount of skill to master. It is very accessible, but practice and character knowledge pays off.
Here's a video of the aforementioned experts playing to better illustrate what it's like.
Mystery Game Tournament: This was really special, and something that sets UFGT apart from other fighting game tournaments. There was a small setup of three TVs near the main stage where you entered into a tournament playing...something. At seemingly random intervals, the tournament organizers would switch the game to something different. I saw Sonic Adventure 2 Battle being played, Virtua Fighter Kids, weird, obscure fighting games I had NEVER heard of, and Hydro Thunder during my pool.
I had way too much fun and laughed way too hard while playing these weird games, and I will be entering the Mystery Game Tournament for sure at next year's Ultimate Fighting Game Tournament. Here's a video of the Grand Finals, where you can really see how most matches go: players scrambling to find out how to play before eventually figuring it out and putting on a really hype match.
Since I was eliminated from every game I entered by Sunday, here are some other things I just wanted to note.
CHECK-INS: Remember to be early for your tournament pools, everyone. Because sometimes they'll pronounce your name wrong and it takes longer for you to check in than everyone else. Most people don't use the term "perfidious" in normal conversation, you see.
MARVEL VS. CAPCOM 3: I watch a ton of streams, but I've never actually seen this game being played in real life. Holy crap, it is fast and flashy. The streams really don't do it justice. After watching some matches, I see why people get so into this game: it's like it was created specifically to draw attention and excitement.
People got REALLY serious about this game too. While I was in Divekick pools I heard some guy yelling at the station behind me. Turns out a full-on argument about the game/car ownership had broken out and he was getting REALLY upset. So upset that photographers rushed over to capture a possible fight breaking out. And during finals, another fight almost happened on the main stage!
Myself and a lot of other players talk a lot of trash about Marvel vs. Capcom 3, but I understand now why people get so into it and why it's considered the most hype fighting game out. I probably won't play it ever, but I understand.
FUN & GAMES: While I had some downtime, I checked out this fun little diversion. Located near the back of the ballroom, there were three $1 entry non-video games to play for fun and profit. Yes, games where you actually had to interact with people IRL.
If you won any of these games, you get a raffle ticket and a lot of “doubloons” to cash in for prizes at the prize table. To make sure everyone had fun (and kept giving money to play!) they even gave losers a small amount of doubloons. Basically, you messed up if you left this tournament without getting SOMETHING from that prize table.
I spent most of my spare cash playing Divekick 21, a blackjack variant where you basically have hit points and can pass undesirable cards to others. So while my first few games were pretty amicable, some people want to play a little rough. That means DIRECTLY BUSTING OTHERS BY HANDING THEM CARDS in blackjack. It was really fun, and I even won a game!
I played a friend in Balrog Ball as well, which I can't describe but reminds me of a similar ball-rolling game that I played at Magic Mountain years ago...plus Street Fighter. The important thing is, I beat him and got another raffle ticket and some more doubloons.
I didn't win any of the raffles but left with a cool UFGT9 mug full of candy, and a small, fancy glass (also full of candy). I hope the Fun & Games tables return next year, as they're a great way to kill time between your matches. Or just hang out...I swear I saw some people just playing these games the whole tournament and never saw them play a video game. It was that good.
THE CROWD: This is another reason why I want to go to more tournaments. You really can't get the same energy watching a stream than you can watching these players live while sitting in the crowd. These people were absolutely hilarious. A man of questionable sobriety with a funny hat spent $100 combined in character auctions for Injustice and Marvel vs. Capcom 3, only to lose immediately and get mocked by the announcer on stage. But he won a raffle later so it's all good.
Audience members pulled out money to bet on an impromptu rock-paper-scissors match. People not only react loudly to someone pulling off flashy combos in a game, but yelling along with the characters on screen as they did super moves! My personal favorite being a few upstanding citizens yelling “FUCK YOU!” as Lobo flips off his opponent.
I also noticed that after every match I played, a handshake (or fist/elbow bump if you're germaphobic) is customary. Even if it was the most rage-inducing match ever, you shake hands. It's just a video game, in the end.
This match is pretty incredible to watch, but being there and hearing the crowd lose their minds at the conclusion made it unforgettable.
There's so much more to add, but I'll wrap it up here. Next year, I want to go back, improve my game, and bring my own console to play Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown with others. I saw some people playing it in the Bring Your Own Console area but didn't have time to join, unfortunately.
Going to a tournament was a humbling experience, as I learned that I'm nowhere near as good in any of these games as I thought. I have a long way to go, and I won't excuse it by saying “well, I spread myself too thin by playing too many games”. Nope! It gave me the drive to learn more and compete even harder in the future.
If you're even remotely interested in fighting games, go to a tournament. It was expensive for me, but it was worth it. I can't say what you'll get out of it, but what I got was a renewed interest in the games, and the motivation to improve myself even more as well as attend local tournaments.
It showed me, for better or worse, what games I really want to put more work into. At this point I'm still playing Persona 4 Arena regularly, I've gotten back into Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown as pretty much my “main” game and am playing it a lot, and I got so discouraged by losing in Skullgirls that I haven't touched it since...I don't know about that one now. We'll see.
So, thanks to Keits and his staff for making the tournament run smoothly and providing TONS of extra stuff to do outside of competition. Thanks to all those Godlike Sundays guys for sharing a hotel room, being hilarious and fun to hang out with, and keeping me up at 4 AM playing Capcom games, damn it. And thanks if you read this. Hopefully I've sold you on seeing a side of the fighting game community most casual players don't see.
I'm still playing all the fighting games I can get my hands on, too. I've got Tekken Tag Tournament 2, Street Fighter X Tekken and Injustice to work through so one of those will be up next.
Even though I'm sure you're cool and already finished this game, EXPECT SOME SPOILERS HERE.
A few days ago, I completed a gaming goal that I was working on since late 2011. My goal was to get 100% completion on Saints Row The Third, including every single Achievement. It took a lot of time, more money than I expected thanks to downloadable content, and it was completely worth it.
I'm not really gonna talk about the process of getting 100% completion, because the end of that writing would be “and then I did donuts in an airport for 40 minutes”. That's not really the point. I want to talk about why I decided to revisit the game and finish those last few percentage points.
I've been a fan of the Saints Row series since the first game, and was completely enthralled by Saints Row 2 back in 2008. So I was unbelievably hyped for Saints Row The Third, so hyped that I broke a years-long streak of not renting games in November 2011. I couldn't afford my own copy until the next year, but as soon as I got it I literally did not want to put it down. I convinced friends to buy copies to play co-op, I downloaded and uploaded characters to SaintsRow.com, I even hunted down all the original music in the game and obsessively tried to find out who composed it.
Well, I say that last one as if I'm not still doing it every single day. But I digress.
So, I liked the game so much that I didn't want to play anything else. Why not play it to completion then? To the point where I could say “this is one of my favorite games ever, and I've gotten everything I can get out of it”. And after a couple of years, I did.
Due to the unstoppable train of games coming out and a growing backlog, I knew I couldn't realistically play the game forever, as badly as I wanted to! So after completing the main story mode at least three times, I've pinned down why I like Saints Row The Third so much. It's not just a great game, I think it's one that other open-world games should be taking lessons from. Let me explain.
The licensed soundtracks in open world games rarely stand out to me, just like the radio in real life. This one, however, grew on me in a way I wasn't expecting. The KRHYME station introduced me to rappers I'd never heard of like Yelawolf and Robert Raimon Roy. It made me search out what good, new rap was coming out in 2011.
I couldn't recognize any of the tracks on the electronica station by name, but they're all extremely catchy and great driving music. Continuing the trend from previous Saints Row games, the classical station is filled with the most recognizable songs of the genre. And Adult Swim has perhaps the best station in the game, spanning multiple genres and having genuinely funny ad breaks and DJ banter.
The radio isn't the best part though. The use of licensed music in missions is brilliant. This moment is made by the music: (open in Youtube, copyright won't let you watch the embed)
I was bored of Power by the time this game came out. Couldn't stand it anymore. It was in every movie trailer and every other video game trailer. This mission still gives me goosebumps because of how perfectly the music is used.
It isn't just the few setpiece moments either. As opposed to many open world games, the missions are neither dead silent nor “spiced up” by a radio song you've already heard one hundred times. No, there are original compositions everywhere in this game, from mission music to a large variety of store tracks to excellent end of mission themes. The music is used so well in this game, and the effort put into using an ORIGINAL soundtrack in this type of game is admirable. Well, at least I think it's original. I've been sleuthing around for a while to see if it's just a lot of lesser-known acts that were licensed out, or if it was produced in house?
Volition, please respond to my emails on this. The people want to know.
Every open world game gives you cash for completing missions, even if you don't know how or why you get it. What do you usually do with that cash? Buy more weapons and body armor. Saints Row The Third actually has reasons for you to seek out the cash, really good ones in fact!
It's easy to piss off rival gangs, so how about having safe spots everywhere? Buying stores gives you the security to call "base" whenever you jump into a store you own, getting all the heat off of you.
Buying stores also gives you an increase in the money you gain every hour, which lets you buy upgrades for your character more often. The steady increase in the amount of money you earn is balanced by the steady increase of prices for upgrades. Some skills are locked until you get enough experience, and since main story missions typically give you loads of experience, the game subtly nudges you to keep doing those.
You're encouraged to keep doing activities, build up your character, and drain your wallet all the time. It's one of the few games in this genre where money is really important, not just a way to get more ammo and guns after you die. The whole system is genius.
There's always something to do.
It's incredibly tough to put this game down, because there's something around every corner. A new sidequest, a building to buy, collectibles, enemy strongholds to bust up, in-game goals to progress toward, and so much more. Even if you're just wandering around aimlessly, you'll get calls to come help in a random turf war!
Again, many open world games give you your main quests and a few scant side missions. Saints Row The Third is stuffed with content, and most of it is fun to do. And if it isn't fun, it's at least profitable due to that great economy. I find it difficult to play the game in short sessions because of the constant allure of "one more thing to do" being around every corner.
If Saints Row The Third isn't the best open world game I've ever played, it's damn sure in the top 3. Forgive the cheesiness here, but I feel like completing the game fully is a way of showing appreciation. Like, “thanks for making one of my favorite games ever, Volition”. I rarely take the time to perfect a game and I've never been a hardcore Achievement seeker, but when a game is this special and still fun to play multiple times, it's worth it.
Getting that last Achievement was a little bittersweet. I felt a bit sad after uninstalling the game, but I guess it's natural to feel that after letting go of something that's been a part of your life for years.
I'll probably replay this game in the future, but it's time to move on to other things. I'm hoping Saints Row IV gives me the same feeling as this game did, but there's a lot to be skeptical about in the upcoming sequel. That's a discussion for another time, however.
If Saints Row IV misses what makes The Third such incredible fun, I'm hoping that other developers played this game and took notes. Because I'd love to play another game worth perfecting, no matter where it's from.