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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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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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Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2013 by caseystorton

Image-A little late? Maybe, but I’ve kinda been putting this review off for a while now. I finished the game a few days ago, but I still wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it. Anyway, Blood Dragon started off appearing as an April Fool’s joke, but was eventually leaked and later officially confirmed by Ubisoft to be the real deal. An interesting thing about this game is that it isn’t a piece of downloadable content like many had speculated, but rather a stand-alone game for the low price of $15. So I thought, why not check it out?

-Our story takes place in the dystopian future that is the year 2007. A decent chunk of the world has been nuked to shit, and now we’re on some island somewhere. You take control of Cyber Commander Rex Powercolt, voiced by semi-forgotten 80s action guy Michael Biehn (Aliens, Terminator, Planet Terror). Basically there’s this big bad motherfucker named Sloan that’s trying to take over the world (of course!) and it’s up to Rex to stop him. While the story does rely very heavily on long cut-scenes to explain its narrative, the actual plot and style of said cut-scenes are funny enough that I’m willing to forgive the overlong delivery of some story cinematics.

Image-The gameplay is very similar to that of Far Cry 3, with many of the mechanics like performing melee take-downs to instantly kill unaware foes and the radial weapon selector intact. There are a few minor changes that all serve to streamline the experience to make it fit better for a project of this scope. The leveling system is now completely linear, with new abilities granted automatically upon leveling up. Syringes are entirely absent, with the exception of health syringes, but I didn’t actually think about that until now, as I never really made a point to use syringes in the original Far Cry 3. There are also far fewer weapons, with attachments unlocked through side-missions rather than simply purchasing them, but this actually wasn’t really an issue, as you get every gun for free, and the sci-fi look and feel of some of the weapons encourages experimentation.

Image-Something you may or may not be wondering about is the origin of the game’s subtitle “Blood Dragon.” Well, Blood Dragons are in-game enemies that roam around the island attacking anything and anyone that they come across. Fighting the dragons is never easy, even once you unlike the intentionally overpowered fuck-off laser thing for the last mission, the dragons can still present a slight-challenge if you don’t aim for their weak spot.

Image-From a visual standpoint, the game has a very fun sense of style to it. Everything is very hazy and dark, with bright, blinding lights coming off of the Blood Dragons and humanoid enemies to present the overly glowy aesthetic of an early-80s sci-fi movie. The loading screens feature some of the funniest “tips” that I’ve ever read, and the tutorial literally had me laughing out loud at the silliness of it all. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is one slick looking game.

Image-Overall, Blood Dragon is a great little distraction. The main story can be completed in about 4 hours ignoring side-quests and collectibles, but for only $15, that’s not bad considering what you’re paying for. 91/100

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Spoiler ramblings: Bioshock Infinite

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on April 17, 2013 by caseystorton

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-I’ve seen/read a lot of discussions dissecting the story/ending of Bioshock Infinite lately,  and I just wanted to throw in my two cents for those that care enough to hear it. I will reiterate, there will be plenty of spoilers all throughout this post, so if you haven’t finished the game yet, don’t read this, as I intend to discuss plenty of major events that you deserve to experience first-hand. Sound good? Okay, let’s begin.

-First, we’ll talk about the centralized plot-point of the whole game: the existence of an infinite number of alternate dimensions. Some have complained that there are a few choices early on in the game that end up having no bearing of the story as a whole (bird necklace or cage necklace, heads or tails, ect.) but I feel like this may have been part of the point of it all. The major assertion of the game is that since there exist an infinite number of alternate dimensions based entirely around Booker DeWitt or anyone else making a decision that differs at least slightly from a decision that they made in any of the other dimensions. Nobody really has control over anything since each and every dimension exists solely for the purpose of being different from all of the other ones. Choices really don’t have consequence because for every negative repercussion that occurs in whatever dimension Booker and Elizabeth currently inhabit, there are an infinite number of other dimensions where such repercussion does not exist and things are better for it.

-On that note, I’m still deciding whether or not the paradox of the ending was intentional or not. Even after Booker kills Comstock, he and Elizabeth decide that they need to stop him from ever existing, and as such this Elizabeth as well as many others drown Booker there in the Baptistery in order to ensure that he doesn’t become Comstock and create Columbia. However, since there are still an infinite number of dimensions, for every dimension that Elizabeth kills Booker to erase Comstock, there are infinite others in which she doesn’t, and Comstock still exists. I feel like this may have been one final assertion of the writers’ point that nobody in this existence really has any choice about anything, but I don’t think that I’ll ever know for sure.

-On the point of the ending, despite the fact that it doesn’t really “end” anything in the story, it was really the best ending that the player-character version of Booker could ever hope for. This becomes a little more apparent once you begin to examine the subtle similarities between Booker DeWitt and Father Comstock. While they are trying to be different kinds of people, they did both have to find ways of dealing with themselves after the horrible things they did at the Wounded Knee Massacre. The Booker DeWitt that you play as dealt with his guilt by becoming a drunk and a compulsive gambler who was so morally bankrupt that he sold his own daughter to pay off his debt, whereas the Booker DeWitt that became Father Comstock dealt with his guilt by trying to baptize away his past and change his name, and while neither of them are good people, both did at least make an attempt at fixing themselves for their future.

-Now that we’ve (mostly) covered the plot, we’ll talk about some of the other things. Most importantly: the Vigors. There really is no reason that the society that is Columbia would ever want or need Vigors. In the original Bioshock, it made perfect sense for the citizens of  Rapture to experiment with Plasmids and Gene Tonics given the nature of their existence there. The whole point of Rapture was to allow scientists and visionaries freedom from things like morality and societal norm so that they would have the means to pursue the perfection of the human form in every way that they saw possible. In that world, it made perfect sense that the citizens were quick to charge a heavily armed man with nothing but a bit of pipe, because all of their splicing had screwed up too much of their brain for them to think through such things. In Bioshock Infinite, everyone there is just an overly religious racist that holds contempt for anyone that isn’t an overly religious racist along with them. Flawed as they may be, they aren’t insane like the Splicers were, and it appears that Vigors don’t inspire such tendencies in people like Plasmids did, which continues to beg the question of why enemies bother rushing you with clubs there there’s a drink that allows them the launch fireballs at you sitting on the ground ten feet away.

-There’s been a lot of talk lately about how violence effects the narrative in the game, and I’m still not entirely sure where I stand on the subject. The main sticking point for most people is the executions that you can pull off with the sky-hook once a target’s health gets low enough. Violence has always been part of the Bioshock series, but it hasn’t ever been quite as in-your-face as it was here, excluding a couple of gorier moments from the first game that were intentionally grisly in order to achieve a reaction, which I never considered a bad thing given the context in which they were used. Bioshock Infinite, however, allows you to tear the throats out of hundreds of generic foot soldiers with a series of dull hooks. I personally never really got used to seeing it, but that may just be because melee combat was never really viable in the context of the gameplay. The main question is: does the borderline sadistic violence in Bioshock Infinite detract from the seriousness of the story? While I personally didn’t have that big an issue with it, I will admit that the executions did not need to be as ridiculously graphic as they were.

-It’s hard for me to think about everything that I want to say about Infinite at any given moment, so I’m sure there are things that were left out of this post that I wanted to cover. So, here’s my deal: I don’t post that contact info at the bottom of all my posts for fun, I do it so you can contact me with questions, requests, or whatever else you want to say to me. So, if there’s something you want me to address that I didn’t mention here, send me an e-mail, tweet it to me, post it on my Facebook page, or just write a comment here on WordPress. Okay? Okay.

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Far Cry 3

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 3, 2013 by caseystorton

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-This right here is the reason that I didn’t finish Bioshock Infinite sooner. You see, I was on Spring Break last week, and I was scheduled to work 38 hours that week at my old job. However, I only had this game at home, and I couldn’t take it back to college with me, so it got most of my attention even after Infinite came out. But was it worth it?

-You play as Jason Brody, one of a group of 7 kids right out of college who are on a sky diving trip or something out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean somewhere. Basically, you get captured by some crazy pirate slaver named Vaas. After a bit of intense scenes with Vaas, you and your older brother Grant manage to escape from your cage. After a bit of stealthing around the camp followed by Grant’s death at the hands of Vaas, you escape and wash up in a nearby village run by a resistance group that’s fighting Vaas’s organization. You and the village leader Dennis start working to get your friends back, but as time goes on, it becomes increasingly clear that Jason will have to lose a big part of himself in order to get his friends back and destroy Vaas’s organization once and for all. For a game like this, there’s a surprising amount of weight to Jason’s character development. It’s clear that he knows he’s slowly turning into a bloodthirsty monster, but thinks that maybe this is the only way he can get what he wants.

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-On the gameplay side, Far Cry 3 is a lot of fun to play around with. There are a lot of RPG elements to the game’s progression, but they feel very central to the design, so it makes sense that they have the opportunity to take up so much of your time. A big part of the game’s progression involves hunting animals in order to acquire the  skins necessary to upgrade all of your various holsters for ammo, weapons, syringes, ect. On the note of the syringes, a big thing about Jason’s character is that, while he’s always been a bit of a daredevil, all of this stuff has him very much scared out of his mind from the beginning, and he must eventually grow into his role as action hero by way of constant, life threatening danger and taking a whole lot of drugs. Yes, really.

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-While the story progression never really stops, you’ll want to take a break from it every now and again in order to make progress in other ways. Areas on your map aren’t visible until you’ve activated a radio tower in the vicinity, so it pays to run around and just activate all the radio towers pretty early on so the entire map is visible. There’s also the continuing mechanic of liberating outposts from enemy control by killing all of the inhabitants. While it is possible to eventually win by simply running in and shooting everything in sight, you get a significant XP bonus for clearing it out before the enemy sees you. Sometimes, though, this can lead to some rather strange occurrences. On at least two separate occasions, I was crouch-walking around outside of an outpost, marking all of the enemies so I could keep track of them, and just when I was about the move in a freaking tiger strolls on in and murders everyone in sight. It is a little weird, but the random, uncontrolled nature of this sort of thing is a nice change from the over-orchestrated set-pieces of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

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-Overall, Far Cry 3 is a great game. It’s got plenty of fun, open-world action and randomness and a surprisingly personal and engaging main-character arc for Jason Brody. It’s a great value for what you’re getting, and the open world means plenty of collectibles for those that desire them. 89/100

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Bioshock Infinite

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

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-I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. The original Bioshock is possibly my favorite game of all time, with the major competition being Resident Evil 4. Bioshock 2 wasn’t bad, it just had only a few rudimentary upgrades to gameplay while taking a severe hit in the story department and suffered for it. With Bioshock Infinite starting off fresh with an all new story and setting, I was interested to see the franchise evolve beyond its roots in the underwater city of Rapture.

-You play as Booker DeWitt, a mysterious man with an equally mysterious debt that can only be paid off by going to the flying city of Columbia and bringing back a girl named Elizabeth. The first major difference you will notice between Infinite and its predecessors, is that unlike Jack and Subject Delta, Booker DeWitt has both a face and a voice, as well as an actual personality that evolves as the story progresses, with more than a little help from Elizabeth. On the note of Elizabeth, developers, this is the new standard for a secondary character in an action game, and any future game that can’t do escort characters this well is automatically getting marked down for it. Once you first rescue Elizabeth, she follows you around wherever you go. As soon as you get her, you see a message that says “You don’t need to worry about Elizabeth in combat, she can take care of herself.” I was skeptical about just how true this was, but ultimately, they were right. Enemies don’t ever bother with her, and in the midst of a battle she will toss you health, ammo, and salts, which are fuel for Infinite’s version of Plasmids called Vigors. She also has the uncanny ability to open “tears,” which are basically holes into another version of reality. These can yield things like weapons, health kits, and friendly turrets to aid you in battle.

-There is also one initially interesting thing about when in the city’s lifespan Booker makes his journey there. In Bioshock 1, Jack accidentally enters Rapture some time after the city has gone to shit from the drug-addicted splicers going crazy and breaking everything. In Bioshock 2, Subject Delta comes back to life long after Rapture should have by rights been completely destroyed by both the ever deteriorating structure of the buildings and the destructive tendencies of the Splicers. In Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWitt ascends to a city that is still in it’s youth, teeming with life, promise and goodwill, without a murderous, disfigured addict to be seen. This interesting change in scenery goes a long way into seeing what Rapture may have looked like in its prime, as well as give us a picture of a utopian society in a remote location that doesn’t suck.

-The combat in Bioshock Infinite feels radically different from that of Bioshock 1 and 2. Given the underwater setting of the first two, areas were generally pretty small, and necessitated small scale fights with only a few enemies at a time. With Infinte taking place in a city in the sky, levels are much more open and expansive, which permits battles with larger numbers of enemies. Another omission from the previous games is the ability to carry first-aid kits on your person, but there are now much more health items scattered around the level, and you have a small, rechargeable shield that protects you for a bit before taking more permanent damage. There is also one very major change that actually got quite annoying throughout the game. Previous games let you keep every weapon you found and switch between them as you saw fit. Infinite sticks to the more recent practice of only letting you carry two guns at a time. While there are a lot more guns this time around, a decent portion of them are just more powerful variants on more common weapons, and were these extraneous guns eliminated, there would be 9 weapons, which while that is a lot for a recent game, it would still be freaking awesome to be able to carry every gun at once, which is just one aspect of the previous games that I really enjoyed. Here, it just feels unnecessarily restrictive, especially considering that you can have every Vigor in the game equipped at once.

-Storywise, the game is a little odd. Initially this is just an extraction job, but as you go on, Booker gets more invested in the fate of Columbia and Elizabeth, and starts to take it upon himself to get rid of “Father Comstock” or as I liked to call him “guy that wishes he could philosophize as well as Andrew Ryan.” Still, he’s better than Sophia Lamb from Bioshock 2. An interesting story point involves Elizabeth’s ability to find tears that lead to alternate realities where one thing or another is how you need it to be, at the expense of something else possibly being different. With this ability, you can go through to different versions of reality that exist alongside our own, and all kinds of things can happen. It sounds odd, but it surprisingly manages to not be confusing and serves as an interesting device that could have otherwise been employed simply as a Deus Ex Machina to get the writers out of a corner.

-Back to Elizabeth as a character, she’s certainly one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in a video game for a long time. For someone who’s spent their entire life locked in a tower guarded by a giant mechanical bird, Elizabeth is much more than a simple damsel in distress that just goes along with whatever Booker, her knight in not-so-shining armor, wants her to do. She actively makes decisions that alter the story for both better and worse, just the same way that Booker does. Again, pay attention developers, THIS is how you write a female character.

-Just a bit of an interesting thing to note here: if it weren’t for the existence of the Vigors, this could have pretty much passed as an entirely different game, totally separate from the Bioshock brand. None of the weapons from the first two games are here, it’s in a different time and place, with different combat, no Big Daddies, no Little Sisters, no Adam, no Andrew Ryan, and no carrying every weapon ever. The thing is though, it would still feel at least tangentially related to the first two games by way of the old-school health system, steam-punk aesthetics, and philosophical antagonist.

-While there will always be a special place in my heart for the original Bioshock, Infinite does a great job of breathing new life into a property that was showing some age around Bioshock 2. The story requires no knowledge of previous games, so returning fans and newcomers alike will find something to love about Bioshock Infinite. 90/100

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