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Favorite Games of 2013

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2014 by caseystorton

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-2013 was an interesting year for gaming. While I’m not exactly the perfect person to do something like this, I’ll give it a try. Before we begin though, I want to explain what I mean by “Favorite Games.” These games’ inclusion on my list is based on the amount of fun I had playing them, not necessarily how innovative they were, or even really so much about the plot, although a well-told story will help a game’s chances. In a controversial move, I won’t be giving any of the games an exact number on the list, as I don’t really feel like I should. Instead, I’ll just tell you what I enjoyed and why. With that said, I do have a favorite picked out, so feel free to complain about that to me on Facebook. Anyway, before the actual list, I’ll mention some other games that won’t be making the list. Not because I didn’t like them, but because as of this writing, I haven’t finished playing through them, and I don’t think it’s right of me to pass judgement on a game that I haven’t fully experienced yet.

Grand Theft

Auto 5

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-Even if I did finish this one off, I’m still not entirely convinced that it would have made the list. It is a pretty fun game, but I do have a few issues with it, namely with some of the character writing, sluggish story progression, and counter-intuitive control scheme, that I’ll give more attention to if and when I eventually pick it back up and finish the story mode.

Assassin’s

Creed IV:

Black Flag

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-I’ve had a lot of fun with this game, but the main reason I’m not finished is because there’s so much fun outside of the story missions that I find myself spending way too long playing it. It’s got a learning curve for anyone new to the series like me, but the combat is interesting, the gameplay is fun, and the story is engaging, when you can pull yourself away from the awesome pirate ship battles, that is.

Papers,

Please

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-A nifty little Indie game developed by exactly one person, Papers, Please is one of the most fascinating gameplay experiences of the year. The basic premise has you playing a guard at a border crossing checking people’s passports and such to make sure they are clear to enter your country. It sounds simple, but really comes into its own once extra documents, terrorist attacks, kidnapping schemes, and other obstacles add some surprising variety to the game. You’ll get a full review once I play it some more, but Papers, Please is not a game to be missed out on.

The Last of

Us

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-Heralded as one of the greatest games of the year by just about everyone that played it, The Last of Us is part of the reason that I bought a PS3, and now that I’ve played some of it, I can safely say that I don’t regret my purchase. The gameplay is intense and nerve-wracking as the characters have to contend with increasingly ferocious enemies with their very limited arsenal of weapons. It also has a great story, with some of the most human characters of any game I’ve ever played. This is another one that I’ll hopefully finish soon, but don’t wait around for my review, as everyone else seems to have been right about it.

Shadow

Warrior

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-This one kinda slipped past a lot of people, which is a shame, given how enjoyable it is. While I haven’t played all that much of it yet, Shadow Warrior is one of the most fun times I’ve had playing a game this year. It’s got tons of blood and guts to give impact to your gunshots and sword strikes, as well as some incredibly varied combat for a Shooter. I’d say give it a go if you can get it on sale.

-Now that we’re done with those, let’s get to the ones that I actually did finish.

Bioshock

Infinite

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-While certainly not my favorite game of the year, I did enjoy my time with Infinite. The story was interesting and engaging, if a little confusing, although I suspect that this was the point, the gameplay was fast and frantic, even with the limitations on your arsenal at any given time, and the characters of Booker and Elizabeth were both genuinely interesting to experience. I’ve already wrote a lot about this game, so check that out for a more detailed opinion.

Tomb

Raider

-Tomb Raider represents a nice trend in gaming that started last year with Spec Ops: The Line and Far Cry 3 of video games where the focus of the story is put on the main character. While the world Lara exists in is populated by other characters that are a driving force of many of the things that she does, she is on her own for a very large portion of the game, and is left with only you, the player, to watch over her and guide her through the impossible situations that she winds up in. This combined with the fluid controls and fun gameplay makes Tomb Raider one of 2013’s best.

Injustice:

Gods Among

Us

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-I’m not exactly an expert on fighting games, but Injustice was a fun time for me. It had a character roster that was extensive without being overwhelming, a fun and balanced combat system that only had one or two overpowered characters, and a story that, while a bit silly at times, gave a pretty decent context to all of the action. Definitely worth checking out for anyone that enjoys fighting games.

Far Cry 3:

Blood

Dragon

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-While far from the lengthiest entry on the list, Blood Dragon’s approach to comedy is a huge step in the right direction for gaming, and hopefully the start of a great new trend with AAA releases. As the great philosopher Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw explains it, “Someone wants to unwind after a big AAA project by taking all the tools and making a funny little ancillary game that appealed to them, because they didn’t have to take it so seriously. And then low and behold people like it because it’s fun and got a bit of heart that makes it stand out among the usual AAA releases.” I really hope this continues, mostly because it’s not too late to make “The Last of Us: Robot Monkey Space Adventures.”

The Stanley

Parable

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-While I’m still having trouble allowing myself to call The Stanley Parable a “game” in the traditional sense, I figure it’s at least close enough for me to put it here. If you still aren’t familiar with the phenomenon of The Stanley Parable, go play it for yourself.

Pokemon Y

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-I’ve been playing pokemon games for a long time now, but after Diamond and Pearl, I was skeptical as to how much they could really add in the future. I skipped out on the Black and White games, but decided to give this one a go to see if the change in platform would bring about any cool new features. One of the biggest advancements in the series’ history, X and Y add a ton of new things to the formula without sacrificing the familiarity that endears the franchise to its fans. Anyone that’s ever enjoyed a pokemon game really owes it to themselves to give this one a try.

And finally, the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The Casey Storton Reviews Game of the Year for 2013 is…

Saints Row

IV

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-Was it perfect? No. Is it the best Saints Row game ever made? Maybe, still not sure if it beats SR2. Are there plot holes? Yeah, sure? Does that matter? Absolutely not. Saints Row IV easily the most fun I had in a game released this year. The gameplay is tight and well-designed from years of practice from developer Volition, the story is fun while still providing a clear goal, the characters are entertaining, and all-in-all, it’s just a damn fun time to play. Get some background information from the earlier games before you start, but don’t miss out on Saints Row IV.

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The Stanley Parable

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2013 by caseystorton

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-Huh, well, this is different. Remember back when I reviewed Katawa Shoujo and I said that I was having trouble committing to really calling it a game? While it had all of the basic features of a game (animation, input from a controller of some kind, an options menu, a save function, ect.) it was lacking in any kind of real “gameplay” in the traditional sense, and thus had been classified as a visual novel. Conversely, while The Stanley Parable does include “gameplay,” the lack of any sort of real way to fail at the game makes me question whether or not it can actually be classified as a game. I’m not really sure what it is, but I’m having trouble accepting it being a video game in the sense that we think of today.

-I’m really not sure what to say in terms of backstory here, so I think I’ll take the easy way out and let somebody else do it for me. The description on the Steam page reads: “The Stanley Parable is a first person exploration game. You will play as Stanley, and you will not play as Stanley. You will follow a story, you will not follow a story. You will have a choice, you will have no choice. The game will end, the game will never end.” Are you confused? Feel free to stay that way, as the actual “game” only gets more and more weird. At its core, The Stanley Parable is a deconstruction of everything from narrative structure to the very nature of interactive fiction. Every moment in the game is an excuse for you to [attempt to] assert your control over the rules of the game, and for the game’s quirky narrator to [attempt to] assert his control over you, and even when it’s you that wins out, you’re never really sure if that’s what you wanted.

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-It’s very interesting the way that the game approaches the concept of failure. Yes, you will be presented with opportunities to kill yourself, but doing so doesn’t result in failure, it’s just a way of seeing a different ending, after which the game loads back up and restarts you in Stanley’s office to have another go at it. By the way, you will absolutely want to have another go at it, as there’s so many endings, each incredibly different from the last, that there’s basically no way to accurately predict what will happen next.

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-You really owe it to yourself to experience The Stanley Parable for yourself. While there are tons of videos of it you can watch on Youtube, it’s not nearly as effective if you aren’t in direct control of the action. It’s only 15$ on Steam, and the system requirements are low enough that it can run on just about anything. Enjoy.

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Saints Row Franchise

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 26, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I know I’ve already gotten two-and-a-half reviews out of Saints Row 3 and 4, but I recently sought out the first two and played the entire series from beginning to end (haven’t finished replaying IV yet, but I just really wanted to write something) and I thought it might be fun to do an overview of the entire series to give newcomers an idea of what to expect from it going in, as well as where they need to start. I’ll try to keep this one organized by game, but I may go off topic a few times, so bear with me.

 SAINTS ROW

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-Ah, the original game where all of this madness began. Things in the original Saints Row start off fairly quickly. After a brief bit of character creation, you’re thrown into a cutscene where your character ends up accidentally witnessing a four-way street fight between the four gangs fighting for control of the city of Stilwater: The Vice Kings, Los Carnales, The Westside Rollers, and the Third Street Saints. At the end, just before a surviving member of the Carnales kills you for witnessing everything, you’re saved by Troy, a Lieutenant for the Saints as well as Saint’s leader Julius, voiced by Keith David. They tell you where to go if you want to join the gang, and your character just nods in agreement. By the way, get used to that, as despite your character being right in the middle of the entire story, you only say four things in the entire game. The next day you meet the Saints at the abandoned church that serves as their base of operations. You’re then thrown into a brief “mission” where you’re canonized by the low level members of the Saints, which serves as a melee combat tutorial. After the Saints finish congratulating you on doing better than everyone else except Johnny Gat (more on him later), we’re introduced to our basic modus operandi for the remainder of the game. Julius decides that he wants the Saints to take control of Stilwater and eliminate the other gangs from the picture entirely, and he assigns a lieutenant to each of the three gangs in order to figure out how to take them down.

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-From here, you have an interesting level of flexibility in how you tackle the story. Each of the three rival gangs has their own individual set of missions and strongholds to conquer, and the game allows you to actively jump around between the plots of each gang as you see fit. That said, we’ve arrived at the meat of Saints Row’s problems. In order to unlock the ability to play a mission or clear out a gang stronghold, you have to fill up your “Respect” bar by doing side activities. The bar stacks, so you’re able to build up several bars of Respect before going on a marathon of missions and strongholds, but the amount of Respect that’s required to perform a mission is really high, and it brings any sense of pacing that the story may have to a grinding halt.

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-The second problem with Saints Row is the lack of mission checkpoints. A lot of the missions have multiple parts to them, and having to start all over upon death gets really annoying. For example, there’s one where you have to drive to a location, kill the driver out of a limo, drive to a drop off point, pick someone up, drive to a couple spots around town, lose some pursuers, drive them home, follow them inside, and kill a bunch of gang members inside. If you get killed during the shootout with the gang members, you have to go all the way back to the church to start over from the beginning. It’s frustrating to say the least.

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-Now that we’ve got the worst parts out of the way, it’s time to discuss some of the better parts of the game. While the button mapping is a little bizarre, the controls respond very well, and considering that this game predates GTA IV, this was a really big deal. The stories of each individual gang are told pretty well, with some solid writing backed by an all-star cast of voice-actors for the rival gang leaders. Seriously, considering most games just get random unknowns for their voice-overs, the cast of Saints Row is really impressive. The leaders of the Vice Kings, Carnales, and Westside Rollers are respectively voiced by Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP), Freddie Rodriguez, and David Caradine (RIP) with Mila Kunis appearing as a Lieutenant for the Vice Kings. All the stars deliver great performances, and it manages to elevate an otherwise pretty average game.

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-Saints Row is an interesting little novelty, and the celebrity cast is entertaining, but the frustrating and repetitive gameplay coupled with the damn near 20 hours it takes to finish the story make it a real slog to play all the way through. It’s not a terrible game, but for the sake of context for later games, feel free to read some plot summaries on the Saints Row wiki, and save yourself the effort.

SAINTS ROW 2

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-At the end of the original Saints Row, your character is on a yacht that gets blown up, leaving the player to presume themselves dead. The thing is, you were rescued just in time, and fell into a coma at the Stilwater prison hospital. You awaken from the coma three years later and escape with the help of Carlos, a fellow inmate who had a brother in the Saints. Interestingly, Saints Row 2 now allows you the option of playing as a female character, something I have fun with if only for a different perspective and different voice than usual. Anyway, you escape back to Stilwater and narrowly save Johnny Gat, definitely the most badass of all the Saints, from being publicly executed for “300 counts of First Degree Murder.” After you escape the courthouse, Gat fills you in on what happened in the years you were out. After you were presumed dead, it turned out that Troy was an undercover cop who’s now chief of police, another one ran off to join the Ultor corporation, and Julius disappeared without a trace, and three new gangs have moved in to Stilwater. After officially recruiting Carlos, as well as newcomers Pierce and Shaundi to help out the Saints, the setup becomes more familiar. Carlos is in charge of The Brotherhood, a bunch of muscled up dudes with monster trucks and tattoos led by the enormous Maero, Pierce is in charge of the Ronin, a Japanese gang that enjoys motorcycles and swords, led by a couple people whose names and don’t remember, and Shaundi is in charge of the Son’s of Samedi, a bunch of drug dealers with some new stuff called “Loa Dust” that’s really taken off, lead by a couple Rastafarian types and a white dude voiced by Neil Patrick Harris.

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-From here, gameplay is very similar to that of the original, although plenty of improvements have been made in order to keep the experience flowing. You still have to play side activities to earn Respect and play missions, but Respect now accumulates much faster, there are tons of new activities to play, and you can now earn little extra bits of Respect Points for killing gang members and doing some fancy driving skills, so it never feels like the game has to slow you down too much in order to artificially lengthen the experience. The button layout is still kinda funky, but it remains responsive and workable, and it isn’t too hard to get used to.

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-While the refined gameplay is nice, the story is easily the biggest improvement from the first game. While Saints Row’s story was pretty good, it doesn’t have teeth quite like SR2′s story does. It’s so incredibly rare to see a game where you play a villain, and I mean a real villain. Sure, there are games that let you choose the “evil” option in conversation and stuff, but they usually end up with you saving the day and being somewhat of a dick about it, or like Fable 3, a game that rather than actually letting you be an evil king opted to demonize rational thought for the sake of having “good” and “evil” options. Saints Row 2, on the other hand, makes no excuses and pulls no punches. You are a playing a bad person, and you revel in all the awful things that they do. You aren’t here to clean up the city like in the first game, you’re here to take control and have the city under your thumb because it sounds like a good time. You set a guitarist’s hand on fire just because Maero likes to get tattoos from him, you tricked a man into brutally murdering his girlfriend because he dared to try crossing you. The player character in Saints Row 2 doesn’t care how much his/her actions ruin other people’s lives, and usually neither do the other members of your crew, you’re all just there to run a city however you want, and aren’t afraid to commit some murder on the way there. It’s a hell of a story, and it makes for a great character study of “The Boss.”

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-Overall, Saints Row 2 is fantastic. It’s got a riveting, lengthy story, fun gameplay, and makes for a huge improvement over the original in every way. Definitely give this one a go.

SAINTS ROW THE THIRD

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-Saints Row The Third was the first game in the series that I played, and without the experience of the other two, I thought it was really good. With this being my third time reviewing it, I hope I can (finally) give it the review that it needs.

-Things pick up a few years after the end of Saints Row 2. Johnny Gat has better hair, Shaundi became less of a stoner, Pierce is now a well-dressed public figure, and the Saints have become elevated pop-culture icons, with tons of people asking for autographs, a successful energy drink, and even a movie deal for “Gangstas in Space.” The game starts off with you, Shaudi and Gat robbing a bank along with Josh Birk, an actor who’s researching his part for the movie. After the bank heist goes wrong and the crew gets arrested, it’s revealed that the bank belonged to a multi-national corporation called “The Syndicate.” Their leader, some Belgian asshole named Felipe Loren takes you onto his plane to talk merging The Syndicate with The Saints. Johnny manages tear out the bolts holding his chair to the floor and cover you and Shaundi’s escape, and after shooting his way to the cock-pit, suffers an off-camera death. Yeah, now that I’ve played the first two, I completely understand why loosing Gat was such a big deal. Anyway, you and Shaundi land in the city of Steelport, and after joining back up with Pierce and robbing the army, you start regrouping The Saints to take down The Syndicate and avenge Johnny. While there are a few interesting developments, the structure of the game’s progression sort-of limits the flexibility of the game’s narrative. You see, there are still 3 separate gangs existing in Steelport, each with their own leadership and such, but they all work together, so while you do still have to take down 3 gangs, you do so in a much more linear fashion than before, bringing in a few new faces to help you find your way around Steelport, including a Lucha Libre wrestler that’s voiced by Hulk Hogan, plus one of the lieutenants for The Syndicate is voiced by Sasha Grey. I’ll go ahead and let you figure out who that is if you don’t already know.

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-There have most certainly been improvements made to the gameplay in The Third, and most changes exist solely for the purpose of streamlining the experience, which given the wackier play-style that much of the game indulges in, a quicker pace seems to be the right way to go. While the side activities are still there, you no longer need to earn Respect from them in order to play missions, with Respect instead being used to level up your character, allowing you to purchase upgrades to your health, ammo capacity, and many others, if you have the cash to spend. The thing is, though, the combining of three gangs into one as well as the lack of necessity for the side activities means that Saint’s Row The Third is considerably shorter than its predecessors, clocking in at not quite 9 hours, less than half of either of the first two games.

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-The button layout has now been made much more sensible, but with 40+ hours of playtime with the bizarre setup of the first two, it was difficult for me to adjust to having a competent control scheme. Once I got it together, though, I was glad to see that Volition was able to learn from their mistakes. On another note, there’s this new mechanic wherein you’ll be presented with two different options, usually a decision between two different bonuses, although they grow in variety as the game continues, with one even providing an alternate ending. It’s a neat little mechanic, although some choices are most certainly bigger than others, and there’s a bit of an imbalance between the options from time to time.

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-While it’s by no means a bad game, Saints Row The Third is a bit of a misstep after the fantastic Saints Row 2. The fact that it takes itself much less seriously isn’t bad, but the shorter length, lower activity variety, linear mission structure and lack of a truly compelling story keep the experience from resonating like SR2 did.

SAINTS ROW IV

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-I was really excited the first time that I played this, mostly because I had so much fun with The Third before I’d experienced 2, and I was very curious to see just how ridiculous everything got. Well, very ridiculous is the answer. After successfully taking over Steelport by the end of The Third, The Saints are back to being a really big deal, and the game opens up with you, Pierce, and Shaundi on an operation to assassinate a military leader gone rogue after The Third that plans on destroying Washington DC with a nuke. After a fairly standard run-and-gun combat tutorial and a hilarious nuke destruction scene, we cut to 5 years later when The Boss has officially become President of the United States, with Keith David as your Vice President, not voicing you Vice President, BEING your Vice President, constantly assuring you and that he’s not like Julius, and Benjamin King as your Chief of Staff, now voiced by Terry Crews. After a few scenes establish that you’re basically running the country into the ground, aliens invade, kidnap all of your friends from previous games as well as Keith David, Matt Miller (one of the gang leaders from The Third, now an agent of MI6) and other MI6 agent Asha Odekar. After an incredibly hilarious section that, on reflection, I probably shouldn’t be spoiling, Kinzie, your tech expert from The Third, tells you that you’re stuck in a Matrix-like simulation being controlled by the aliens, and that you need to get out to get your friends back and save Earth from the aliens. For such a seemingly simple concept as “aliens invaded let’s stop them,” Saints Row IV manages to bring a surprising amount of depth to the story by way of the character interactions and excellent villain that is Zinyak, the leader of the aliens. Also, just in case you didn’t see any of the promotional material, Johnny Gat makes a return. I’m not saying how, but he’s there, I promise.

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-One more very important thing, by exploiting holes in the simulation, Kinzie is able to give you super powers. Yeah, superpowers in a Saints Row game. Super Speed, Super Jump, Mind Control, Freeze Blasts, and Telekinesis are just some of the awesome abilities at your disposal as the game progresses, and there’s some very Crackdown-esque hunting for Data Clusters in order to upgrade your powers, which makes for a nice little diversion in-between missions.

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-While just sticking to the story missions would likely see you plowing though the game pretty quickly, side missions take you through all the activities in the city and reward you with new outfits, powers, weapons, and plenty of other things, providing great incentive to play the side missions. Speaking of which, there have been some nice changes made to the activities to make full use of the new super-powered gameplay, and it’s all tons of fun to play around with, especially with some of the sillier weapons like the Inflato Ray and the Dubstep Gun.

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-I go into more detail in my full review of this game that I posted about a month ago, but I’ll just say that I loved Saints Row IV. I’m still not sure whether or not I like it more than Saints Row 2, but it’s still a great game with a gripping story, fun characters, awesome weapons, and loads of gameplay variety.

SERIES VERDICT

-I’ll try to sum up my thoughts on the series as a whole here, and let’s see if I can’t give some recommendations while we’re here. Basically, the original exists as a relic of a time long past. It was an open world crime game on a 7th generation console that predated GTA IV, had responsive controls for moving and shooting, and wasn’t all that bad, and in 2006, that was enough, but today, it’s merely a curiosity, and there’s no real need to play it.

-Saints Row 2 is a massive overhaul in every way, with an awesome story filled with dark, intense character drama, a great character study of you and your crew’s genuinely villainous nature, and a ton of fun to play. Start your Saints Row experience here.

-Saints Row The Third brings some innovations to the formula with the leveling system and optional activities, but came out a lot shorter than the first two and other than losing Johnny Gat, is largely devoid of any real drama. It’s still very fun to play, it’s just not the game that it could have been. Worth the ride, just don’t pay too much for it.

-And finally, Saints Row IV is an impossible crescendo to mark the apparent end of this bizarre franchise in the most ridiculous way that it possibly can, and if you can suspend your disbelief enoughfor all this sci-fi insanity to work, it’s a hell of a ride, and easily rivals Saints Row 2 as a contender for the high-point of the series.

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Saints Row IV

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2013 by caseystorton

 

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-I’ve been majorly excited for this game for quite some time now. While Saints Row The Third had a bit of a mixed reception as some enjoyed it for what it was, a silly, over-the-top action romp, others criticized it for what it wasn’t, a game with a bit of wackiness sprinkled over a serious plot, much like what I’ve heard about Saints Row 2. The fourth entry in the series looked to be continuing the silliness trend from its predecessor, but with a well-needed dose of hindsight with how to improve itself after the last game.

-We start off with a basic tutorial mission that has you teaming up with Shaundi and Pierce from the past as well as MI6 agent Asha Odekar in the field and Matt Miller back at base. Matt being the leader of the cyber-punk Deckers gang from SR3 now having done a bit of growing up and moving over to join the good guys. You run through a basic assassination operation where you have to stop commander Cyrus Temple from launching a nuke at Washington D.C. Afterwards, you land in the oval office and put up your feet. Five years later, you’re the president, with plenty of friends, old and new, to help you out with your new duties as Commander in Chief. As president, you really only make a couple of major decisions, some important…

Image-…and some world changing.

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-That doesn’t really last long, though, as not long after the earth is invaded by aliens. After a brief bit of you fighting them off, you and all of your on-hand crew (the four from earlier plus Benjamin “Motherfucking” King from SR1, Kinzie from SR3, and famous actor Keith David, who’s also your Vice President) are abducted by the evil alien overlord Zinyak. Next thing, you wake up in a 50s sitcom called “Leave it to the Saints” complete with a new outfit, although my previously created character kept some souvenirs from the outside world.

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-After messing around a bit, you break what turns out to be a simulation, and Zinyak drops you into a simulated version of Steelport from SR3, only now the Saints have no presence, and he runs the show. You soon gain the ability to escape and reunite with Kinzie and Keith. Then Zinyak blows up Earth. You may call that a spoiler, but it happens about two hours into a game that I spent about 19 hours on, so whatever. Now, your job is to use the simulation to mess with Zinyak’s systems and join up with the old crew again to avenge the Earth. Considering the not all that impressive narrative of SR3, 4 is a very pleasant step up. The story sees you fighting the Zin Empire any way you can as you attempt to reunite with your crew to show Zinyak why you don’t fuck with the Saints. There’s some very cleaver and well-done writing all throughout the game that actually sells you on the experience, rather than just being the glorified framework that we were given in SR3.

Image-The gameplay in Saints Row 4 is easily its greatest strength, and it’s easily one of the most raw, no bullshit, straight-up fun games that I have ever played. Through a bit of sci-fi technical jargon, Kinzie is able to harness loose pieces of code in the simulation that give you superpowers. Yes, superpowers. It starts off simple with just super speed and the ability to jump really high, but progression and upgrades net you some really awesome powers, from freeze blasts, anit-gravity ground pounds, mind control, running on water, telekinesis, and so many more.

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-The rest of the game has so much variety that I don’t even know where to start. There’s a few mainstay activities, but plenty have been added or at least altered to fit the new play-style more appropriately. There’s Crackdown style orb hunting for the code clusters that let you upgrade your powers, there’s destruction-derby style mayhem missions like before, but the new powers and vehicles make them feel fresh and new again. Then there’s the biggest source of variety, the side missions with your crew. Much like Mass Effect, once you acquire new crew mates, you can take them on loyalty missions to give them new abilities, in this case giving them superpowers when they join you in the simulation. Including *drum roll please* JOHNNY GAT!!!! Now, I haven’t played Saints Row 1 and 2, so I wasn’t quite as broken by his death at the beginning of SR3 as longtime fans were, but that awesome motherfucker saved my life in that game, and having him on hand to kill some aliens and avenge planet Earth felt completely right. 

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-Before you can do the loyalty missions, though, you have to rescue your friends, which is done by jumping into their personal simulations and breaking them out, which is usually completely different from anything else in the game. You see, each simulation represents the person’s worst fears realized, and each nightmare is presented in totally unique ways, from an old school text adventure

Image-to a battle with a giant monstrous soda can

Image-to a sidescrolling beat-em-up, with plenty of others making due with just giving you new things to do with the normal gameplay engine

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-Before I drift too far away from Mass Effect, there’s also a hilarious take on the Mass Effect “Romance” system, that allows you to have hilariously varied, and on exactly one occasion, an actual emotional personal encounter with the other members of your crew.

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-There is so much that I could talk about with this game, if I go on too much longer we’ll be here all day, so I’ll try to wrap things up. Saints Row 4 is absolutely fantastic. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and it’s lasting. There are some minor complaints, like the lacking difficulty if you pursue the super-power upgrades and the uselessness of vehicles once you get the super speed and jump, but it’s a great game with tons of value for your money. You will most certainly need to be familiar with a lot of the Saints Row back-story to “get” some of the finer points of the narrative, but that really doesn’t matter when the game is this much fun.

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Tomb Raider (2013)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on July 30, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’d like to personally dedicate the following review to the Steam Summer Sale. Good times were had, plenty of money was spent, and at the end of it all I had 11 new games to call my own, 13 if you count everything included in Doom 3 BFG Edition. Anyway, I’ve played a little bit of most of them, but Tomb Raider was the first one that I kept playing. Well, second actually, but I still need to play all of the DLC for Fallout New Vegas and there’s this annoying bug that’s halting my progress, so I won’t play that game again until it’s thought about how its action have consequences and decided to stop being such a little shit.

-Anyway, Tomb Raider is meant to be an origin story for the character of Lara Croft, taking place while she was still a young, bright-eyed, innocent archaeologist just out of college on her first real expedition. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, her expedition shipwrecks onto the island she was looking to explore and Lara is separated from most of the crew. It’s up to her to find her friends, fend off the evil pirates that inhabit the island, and figure out how to get everyone home safely. For a story that initially comes across as nothing more than “we’re stuck on this island and we’d really rather not be,” Tomb Raider shows a surprising amount of depth, with some solid writing complemented by some good voice-acting to make the experience feel much more meaningful than it otherwise would.

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-While there is plenty of story to be had with the other characters and the conflict with the island’s inhabitants, the main focus of the story is developing the character of Lara, as much like in Far Cry 3, we can see her slowly change from an innocent, civilized person just like anyone else into a hardened warrior, molded by her constant exposure to violence in its most raw and devastating form. I’ve heard complaints that Lara’s development feels wrong, as she’s supposed to be innocent and inexperienced, but can already climb and jump incredibly well, but again, Far Cry 3 made similar assertions, but Jason Brody was really good at firing automatic weapons and impaling people with a machete, so there are certain instances where the story must take a back-seat to the gameplay, but this is only meant to be in service of the player, so I don’t mind.

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-On the gameplay side, Tomb Raider is certainly one of the most varied games I’ve ever played. Gameplay flows smoothly between climbing and platforming through the jungle, solving puzzles to find the way forward, and dealing with enemies. Combat in Tomb Raider works pretty well, but the fact that the enemies often far outnumber you coupled with your not all that substantial health bar, even with regeneration, direct combat is often not the way to go. Stealth is usually the best option when dealing with enemies, and I like that the game doesn’t force you to kill the enemies if you think it would alert the others to your position, occasionally allowing you to sneak past potential threats to save your ammo for later. Also, here’s something that I really wish more games would do. You know how most third-person action games have you press a button that slaps your character against the wall when taking cover. You know how rigid and robotic that all feels, almost like you’re just fulfilling an obligation? Well, in Tomb Raider, you can take cover by simply walking up to it, and when enemies aren’t around, Lara won’t even bother. It’s little, but I really like it. It’s almost like this in itself is another angle of characterization, where Lara is learning to be more diligent of her surroundings and takes it upon herself to hide from potential threats.

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-There’s the by now pretty standard progression and upgrade system that has you using limited resources scavenged from the environment to upgrade Lara’s weapons and using experience points to upgrade abilities. It’s pretty typical stuff, but it manages to not feel forced, so while I could have done without it, I don’t begrudge it for being there.

Image-Overall, Tomb Raider is a great game. It’s looks great, it sounds great, and it plays great. Some of the combat instances can be a little frustrating, and the quick-time-events are a bit annoying at first, but it’s still a great deal on the whole. 

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Gears of War Judgment

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-After I was sufficiently disappointed with the way Gears of War 3 turned out, I was pretty apprehensive about how Judgment was supposed to work, especially with it being a prequel that basically spoils its own ending to anyone that remembers a few minor details from any of the first three games. That said, I had some time and disposable income last week, so I found it for $40 and gave it a whirl.

-Our story follows the previously unseen Kilo Squad, led by Lieutenant Damon Baird, the whiny engineer guy from the other games. And there’s your spoiler right there. The story sees Baird being accused of war crimes, and his current rank of Lieutenant puts him above Sergeant Marcus Fenix, the guy that he had to take orders from in previous games. Anyway, the rest of the squad consists of Cole, sadly much more quiet and less funny than before, and newcomers Paduk and Sofia, respectively a former member of an anti-COG resistance army that’s joined them for the sake of killing the Locust, and a new recruit to some kind of COG special forces, who also serves as further proof that for all their silly macho-man heroics flying everywhere, Epic Games is surprisingly competent when it comes to writing female characters. For a prequel that any series veteran with half a brain already has figured out, Judgment manages to achieve a decent level of engagement with its plot, as the writers wisely made sure that the final verdict of the war crimes tribunal is far from the only thing that we need to concern ourselves with.

Image-As for the gameplay, Judgment sticks to the tried-and-true formula of previous games.  It’s a third-person shooter with emphasis on using the game’s cover system to avoid the worst of the punishment being doled out by the Locust. Every new installment has brought with it new weapons and enemy types, and with this being a prequel, they actually justify the new stuff by saying the new stuff is left over from the UIR, the army that Paduk used to serve. Unlike Gears 3, however, the new weapons are actually really good, with a new kind of sniper rifle, a bolt-action rifile of sorts, a semi-automatic redesign of the Hammerburst, and a new grenade launcher. The fact that every one of these guns had me excited whenever I found them already puts them way ahead of the disappointments that came with Gears 3. In addition, new “Declassified Missions” have been added in campaign. They’re basically optional objectives that make the game a little harder in exchange for a higher yield of experience that can be used to unlock new modes and multiplayer characters.

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-The competitive multiplayer is relatively standard stuff. Playing Free for all mode is a bit of a joke, since the weapon system basically forces everyone to use the shotgun, but other modes allow more flexibility, and are actually pretty fun. It’s nothing too revolutionary, but fun nonetheless. On the co-op front, the entire campaign can be played with up to 4 people, and there are a couple new variants on the Gears mainstay Hoard mode to keep things feeling fresh.

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-Overall, Gears of War Judgment is a fun little game from a franchise that has lasted much longer than I thought it would. It’s hardly a masterpiece, but it’s a fun time with some badass guns and interesting enemies. 84/100

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Fable 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 2, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-Allow me to preface the following entry by saying that I would most likely never have played Fable 3 had it not been free to Xbox Live gold members recently. That said, I stopped paying for Gold almost a year ago, so I used some other trickery to get the free game by other means. 

-The game starts you off having to choose whether to play as a man or a woman. Ever since the hilarious opportunity playing as a female afforded me in Fallout New Vegas, I’ve always chosen a female character in RPGs on the off-chance that the designers decided to leave a present for players that took the road less traveled. Anyway, after that you wake up from an apparently rough night of having sex with your dog (seriously, it kinda looks that way) and your butler kindly informers you that your brother, king of the land has been a massive jerk face for a while now. So after some slow, boring tutorials and walks around the castle, you escape with the butler and your old soldier friend. There’s some more bullshit later, but eventually you get to the meat of the game: earning the trust of influential people in the kingdom so you can raise an army to overthrow your brother. It’s not exactly riveting stuff, and the absence of any real characters other than your old friend Walter makes for a bland time to be had doing odd jobs for stupid villagers just to earn upgrade points.

Image-Now here’s where things start to suck. One of the more important aspects of an RPG in terms of immersion is the interface design. The player will never feel like the hero of Albion if they have to spend tons of time navigating ugly menus to try figuring out how to equip their new sword or change clothes or whatever. That said, Fable 3 might just have the worst interface I’ve ever seen. Rather than a simple menu system, Fable 3 has a “Sanctuary,” basically a room with different doors that represent your weapon stash, clothing stash, map, story progress, options menu, and Xbox live store. It’s a mess, and having to physically walk around in what is basically a 3D menu just feels stupid and clumsy.

Image-Then there’s the combat. Dear lord, the combat. Let’s pause for a bit and discuss the role that difficulty has on a game. A game needs to present at least a minor bit of challenge in order for the player to feel engaged. If a game is too easy, the player will feel as though the game is a waste of their time, more of a chore than an actual game, so to speak. With that said, Fable 3 might just be the easiest game I’ve ever played. In my  entire time playing, I never once died. Hell, I never even used a health potion, or any of those other weird potions that the games puts in to help you with the hilariously easy combat. Melee fighting is a load of shit, with overly defensive enemies not so much making the fight harder as much as drawing it out, so you’re left with guns and magic. Both guns and magic allow you to blast enemies from across the screen with unblockable attacks, and it makes combat feel more like an obligation than an enjoyable experience.

Image-One last thing that I need to mention. The system by which you earn money is the most hilariously exploitable thing I’ve played in a long time. Some background: after you get enough friends, you lead a daring assault on the castle to overthrow your brother. After destroying most of a town in the battle, your brother simple gives you control and lets you become ruler of Albion. Oh, by the way, this big evil monster thing will show up one year from today to destroy the kingdom, and I was acting like a dick so I could save money for an army to fight it off. Now you have to choose between spending the castle’s treasury on keeping people happy only to have them all die in a year, or breaking your promises and making life shit for another year so that you can save all of their lives. These two options are rather stupidly referred  to as “good” and “evil” respectively. That said, you can save everyone and still get the good ending. How, you may ask? Well, the best way to get money is to rent property and own stores which pay out to you every five minutes of real time. The countdown to apocalypse only ticks in between story missions, so basically buy all the best stores and houses, then leave the game running for several hours while you let the money pour on in. I mostly just did this to gain the satisfaction of giving a big fat middle finger to the designers that came up with this stupid “good and evil” nonsense.

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-Basically, Fable 3 is a massive waste of time. The story is dull, the combat is way too easy, and the overall execution can best be described as lazy. Even if it is still free, your time is too valuable to be wasted on something this pointless. 34/100

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