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Saints Row IV: One Hour Review

Within an hour of playing the new outrageous Saints Row installment, doubt of their triumphant return were laid to waste. Considering this is a franchise building since 2006, when most series’ lose their luster within a few short years, Volition didn’t disappoint. In fact, as it seems so far, Saints Row IV does everything and anything it can to pander to the belligerent decadence of pop-culture nerds. From old school movie references to the modern Golden Globe nominees, Saints Row offers itself almost as a parody…almost. Deep down there is an actual story being told boarding on the serious. How so, you ask? Serious is, believe it or not, accurate… to a point. In the previous games, the player confronts and eliminates rival gangs, while in Saints Row IV the player takes on an alien invasion as the President of the United States on a rage embedded quest for revenge. So lets take a look at this beast point for point!

The Opening (there’s going to be some spoilers up ahead. If you wish to avoid reading details regarding a game you have not played but plan to, you should probably avoid reading reviews in general, just saying):

Per a quick run in over at GameStop, as the purple endued disk began to turn inside my soon to be old generation 360, I pondered how Saints Row IV could out stage the opening air drop sequence from predecessor, Saints Row the Third. Lets be honest here, the Third had one of the best game openings ever to grace the video game industry, especially coming from a dick and fart joke studio. Over-the-top laughs backed with emotional tugs (i.e. Johnny Gat…you know…sad panda face) and plenty of 1980’s-esk action (run and gunning you’re way out the back of a cargo plane during mid-flight). How could Volition out-stage their own previous game? I’m sure really that they did, again, the Third was an amazing opening, but # IV was still awesome. The best part was in its honesty. The opening sequence showed you what to expect throughout the rest of the game: smooth action, plenty of explosions, punch-drunk jokes, one-liner dialogue, hilarious movie nods, violence, and actual characters; not charactures.  And then there was the reverse Dr. Strangelove, as The Boss (your character if you haven’t guessed) jumps on the side of a nuke as it skyrockets, pulling wires and dodging falling debris, all the while your faith crew are giving you their sad farewells. By the way, if you don’t know who or what Dr. Strangelove is, SHAME ON YOU!!! Watch the clip below:

My Reaction:

The Boss (you) survive, duh. After pulling out the last bit of wiring, the character kicks off the nuke just before exploding during ascension. Looking a bit like Issac Clark (see Dead Space) your character plummets back toward earth, giving the viewer a triumphant thumbs up, as if saying (in my humble opinion): “Sure, we’re not jumping and shooting our way off a plane, but we did just parallel surfed a nuke.” The screen cuts and reopens with your dude or dudette or trans-dude drop landing into the Oval Office, signaling: “this is how you became President.” My reaction? Pure utter ecstasy! Saints Row has this strange ability to balance non-sense with seriousness. Nukes, terrorism, and war are all serious things, and Volition takes those serious things and mixes them with the humor of a college undergrad. In what other game can you be full blown patriotic, while equally non-conservative? Saints Row IV, while at the same time teases American patriotism, also exhorts it. Only one hour into the game and I can already see the replayability potential!

Character Creation:

One of the better aspects of Saints Row is being able to craft your own hero. With the fourth installment, you can literally create whomever your diabolical heart desires! From She-Hulk to Doctor Manhattan to any other beloved media icon and everything inbetween. My personal favorite (for some twisted reason) is the tranny with the deep British accent: which is by the way, pure hilariousness. The options are near-limitless. The only aspect holding the creation station back from perfection are, once again, the clothing and hair choices. Those areas, thus far (one hour into the game) need more attention. If your a Who fan, clothing and hair for the 10th Doctor is available, but good luck finding anything resembling Smiths take on the Time Lord.

The Powers:

The newest addition and most oddest is the inclusion of super powers. How does this work? Well, technically, your character is inside a simulation per Matrix-esk. Once unlocked during the story, you can collect Crack Down looking blue “orbs” to expand upon your new found abilities, such as: super sprint (no more need for cars) and super jump. Giving long time fans what they really wanted, players can now dress up like Neo or Trinity and bound from roof top to roof top. The best part…well…one of the best parts in having super powers is being able to sprint attack mundane foes, instantly killing them via various special attack moves. Boss fights still require a little finesse, allowing players to strategize their plan of attack (normally with a freeze-shotgun blast combo).

Missing in Action:

So far, Saints Row IV has been richly entertaining. Plenty of laughs, plenty of choices, and plenty of action. But the one thing i’m missing (one hour in) is having a place in the world to call my own. Looking at the game as being an actual person playing a simulation within a simulation separates me even further from making this game “my world.” So far, there are no cribs. The old world your character once knew and loved is no more, the dreaded Zinyak has wiped away all traces of what once belonged to the Third Street Saints. Even though I never did spend much time inside the walls of my custom designed homes in the previous games, I knew they were still there, a place to hang my virtual hat. As I understand the game thus far, home is outside the simulation, inside the ship you commandeered with Kinzie and Keith David. I’m still only an hour into the game, but this is the one nagging feeling that’s got me missing the old games.

Verdict:

Buy this game! Wait…allow me rephrase. Buy this game…if you have a sense of humor and enjoy games with absurd comedic tropes. Buy this game if you like over-the-top action combined with tons of awesome movie references. Buy this game if you enjoy customizing your own hero. Buy this game if you think debauchery, non-sense, lewd, and obscene dialogue are entertaining. Running out of reasons? Nope! Buy this game if you think fervent patriotism and non-conservatism can coexist in the most hilarious kind of way.  The greatest thing to love about Saints Row is how they’ve become their own genre. Back in the day (2006), folks wrongly compared them to Grand Theft Auto, while in actuality, the Saints had branched away from the very beginning. Grand Theft is pure drama, while good, it takes itself way too seriously. The Saints have no issue in not taking themselves seriously; while some of their subject matter can be serious, they have fully embraced the so-wrong-it-feels-good vulgarity of comedy. Saints Row IV is more than worth its weight in purple dildos, so what are you waiting for? Throw your hard earned money at Volition and go buy this game!

Saints Row IV

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Will there be a new Mass Effect?

Its been well over a year now and many of us (nerds) have already been asking for sometime now: “Where oh where has my Mass Effect gone?” The buzz on the web has both confirmed and non-confirmed the fate of the Mass Effect franchise. From what i’ve gathered, it doesn’t seem as if BioWare (at this point and time) has any plans on continuing the series. One rumor floating around is that they are actually planning on crafting an entirely new space odyssey. Why? Because the ending of Mass Effect 3 was so confusing and drastic they had to add a free DLC to help explain what happened. Plus, the two out of the three “choose you’re own adventure” ending didn’t help matters…leaving the future of the organic races in the Mass Effect universe questionable. Obviously, plenty O’ gamer became ticked that the series they had been following from the beginning and all the choices they labored over actually didn’t matter in the end. But does this really mean BioWare couldn’t continue the series? Absolutely not and i’ll tell you why.

For one, just because M3 gave the player the option of three different endings doesn’t mean a new Mass Effect game couldn’t pre-select one ending as the foundation to base a continuation from. Basically, in my proposal for a new Mass Effect game, i’m cutting out the two dumbest endings: synthesis and control. Personally, after everything Shepard and his (or her) team had gone through, and the juxtaposed relationship between the Reapers and everyone else (minus the Geth), the only rational ending would be Destruction. Why? I’m glad you asked! The Reapers were (supposedly) immortal amoral beings whose sole purpose was to protect the galaxy by keeping organic life in a drastic cycle of checks and balances…IE exterminating all organic life once they reached a certain point of evolution. The Reapers wanted to keep organic life from destroying the galaxy, which they saw as an inevitable probability, unless advanced organic life could be kept in check through extermination. This is the nuts and bolts of the story, as i’ve understood it.

So, again, why choose the Destruction ending as the foundation? The problem with amoral beings is that they cannot take change into account. Shepard faced similar arguments with the Reaper known as Sovereign, who explained to Shepard during their conversation that the Reapers “impose order on the chaos of organic evolution. You exist because we allow it, and you will end because we demand it.” According to the in-game history, the Reapers had already gone through several cycles of extermination. We don’t know how many. But we do know the Prothean’s were the last dominate organic life before what now exists (humanity, Asari, Turians, Krogans, Salarians, Quarians, and many more).  Without getting into a huge long drawn out discussion, let me be frank and just say that the biggest difference between the Prothean’s and the modern races was that the Prothean’s were not a peaceful race. They controlled power through a tyrannical government and were reportedly very oppressive to the other races during their time. So much so, we never even hear about the other guys. What little information exists in the game regarding the old races are simply about the Prothean’s with little mention of anyone else. The modern races, represented in the Council and through Shepard’s efforts, while not perfect, made the effort to work together, even more so in the third installment. The Reapers ignored the diplomatic change in civilization.

Convincing an amoral being that you’re not going to ruin the galaxy for everyone else is nearly impossible. In their eyes, organic life is organic life, and must be kept in check. This is why the Reapers should have been Destroyed. My proposal is built from the following ending captured beautifully in Admiral Hackett’s narrative:

A solid Mass Effect game could definitely spring board based on the above ending. The new game should start in the near future, say ten years or so from the events that took place during M3. Why ten years? I think ten years gives a good enough time to allow the worlds damaged during the Reaper invasion to rebuild. Cities could be rebuilt in that time frame, memorials, museums, and military strength as well. The Mass Relays could also be repaired and a new Citadel Council could be established with added races that helped during the war. I would include a Krogan and Quarian representative on the council for obvious reasons. Would the Quarians be “unmasked” now that they have a home world and could stop being vagabond germaphobes? I’ll leave this bit open for debate. It would be interesting to see how the Quarians assimilated into a more broad society.The Krogans would also make for an interesting addition among the civilized galactic community, and they have most definitely earned their place on the council. The Geth should still be on the fringe. Some things cannot be healed with time and the Geth are unpredictable. I would imagine folks surviving the war with the Reapers would have some hostilities toward sentient beings.

More details could be added regarding the other races not included on the Council and some detail needs to be relieved regarding the destiny of past characters. These folks do not need to make a cameo, but the importance of their role in shaping the future cannot be ignored. I think a memorial for Shepard, Anderson, and the Normandy should be a visitable location on Earth in any future Mass Effect game. The one aspect of the previous games they must continue on into any future game is the music, especially from the first game. If your not sure what i’m talking about, check it out below:

My proposal  for the hero is to have a full fledged Spectre story! As “Spectres are not trained, but chosen. Individuals forged in the fire of service and battle—those whose actions elevate them above the rank and file,” the Reaper Invasion would have forged many new recruits across several worlds. The best part in doing a spectre story is being able to craft a hero based off a multinational foundation: the spectre’s work for the council and using the back story similar to the one above, you could create a character from the six council represented races. Could you imagine having a playable Krogan character?!? Mind = blown!

This would also be similar to the way BioWare has established some of their other games in the past. This story would be set up similar to Dragon Age: Origins. Each race would have their own origin story which would then funnel into the main spectre story. You could go as detailed as you wanted. Similar to DA, each race would be better suited for different specializations, such as: a Krogan would not be adept, but would be a dangerous solider. Salarians or Quarians would make great engineers, Asari lethal adept or infiltrators, and humans could play toward a more versatile character.

I’m not sure where the story would lead, but considering the vacuum the Reapers left in their wake, there could be plenty of options to choose from. One could be about Cerberus in the aftermath of the Illusive Man’s death. A company that big and shady wouldn’t go quietly into the night. The Batarian’s could also be a good major story, especially considering they no longer have a home world and are struggling to find their place in the galaxy. The Reapers left plenty of scars to base future story’s on and whatever direction BioWare decides to take with it, they will need to be more down to earth than with the original trilogy. The worlds end doesn’t necessarily need to be a factor in every story told and after the events of M3, i’d prefer something a little more mundane. We just saved the entire galaxy; lets work on maintaining the promise of galactic unity.

Whatever happens, we know that Shepard’s story has ended, but the entire Mass Effect lexicon shouldn’t have to end as well. BioWare scribes have spent some considerable amount of time crafting Mass Effect’s rich universe and there are still many things left unexplored. And to be honest, another reason why i’d hate to see this series end is that Mass Effect is as close to a Star Wars console game we’re going to get. The “force lift” and “push” make the adept character the most enjoyable playable class in Mass Effect, hands down!!! For now, the best we (nerds) have to look forward to is the upcoming release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. After that….just maybe we’ll get our next Mass Effect game. Fantasy is great and it has its place in time, but Mass Effect was a truly unique space odyssey.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition

Say what you will; BioWare makes one hell of a American RPG!! As far back as Knights of the Old Republic, in our sweet land of liberty, RPG’s had already begun leaving behind the classic Japanese styled turned based game for something entirely new. There was a time and place when Japanese RPG’s ruled the roost, we all loved and still cherish Final Fantasy 7, but those days are long gone. What makes American styled RPG’s so special is that the game becomes something completely our own, we craft our own heroes, make our own moral choices, and shape the world as we see fit; some more than others. This was the biggest upset for Mass Effect 3; BioWare took away our control we had in the previous two games and forced a controlled story down our throats. Countless nerds who had been creating something unique since Mass Effect first hit shelves back in 2008, reacted to the so-called three “choice” ending of M3 with obviously outrage.

Understandingly, we’re all feeling  jaded and apprehensive with BioWare. Will they make the same mistakes with Inquisition? Considering the pitfalls with Dragon Age 2, its fare to say we are indeed nervous. Now, Dragon Age 2 wasn’t entirely awful, the combat system for one and story, for me at least, were both spot on (though the story wasn’t as deep as Origins, it was still excellent). But because Dragon Age: Origins was so amazing, so awesome, and so deeply detailed, BioWare had some big expectations to satisfy. What I didn’t like about Dragon Age 2 was the limitations in character stories. The choices you made did effect the overall outcome, but even those were limited, especially considering the total of six (seven if you count in the Awakening DLC) origin stories in the first game. In Dragon Age 2, you were either a mage or not a mage, and this simple choice set the foundation for the story you were about to play.

Notwithstanding all the past issues with BioWare, i’m actually excited and looking forward to the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Ever since Origins, there has been this underlying issue between the mages and the Chantry regarding freedom, control, and the use of magic and forbidden magic (aka blood magic). By the end of Dragon Age 2, the issue between the two groups had caught fire and spread into an all out war. According to the official Dragon Age website the new story will be driven by a cataclysmic event that happens during the turmoil. The void, separating the fade from reality, has been ripped open by a group calling themselves the Agents of Chaos, and it will be the heroes mission to hunt them down and restore order…or not restore order. If you are new to the Dragon Age universe, the following videos will show you some of the background that has developed throughout the story thus far. Now, because Dragon Age has a huge universe, i’ll only be showing you the mage version of the story with the most obvious choices nerds have made while playing.

The above clip gives you a little preview of the opening mage story and a peek into the main problem regarding mages and the Chantry: control. Through conversations with other characters throughout the story, you’ll discovery some of the history of the game and why the Chantry imposes on the magi. Because of a few bad apples in the past, they fear anyone with the ability to control magic. And as Master Yoda had taught so many years ago, fear can lead to a lot of nasty things. Understandably, the magi ar’nt so keen on being controlled, and a lot have already begun to break ties with the Chantry, becoming, as the games calls them, apostates (illegal users of magic).

This clip shows you the ending for Dragon Age 2, if you decided to side with the mages. The problems between the Chantry and the mages developed deeper in Dragon Age 2 than it did in Origins. There were a lot more choices to be made, both positive and negative. Brother turning against brother, sister against sister, lines drawn in the sand, and finally when the unthinkable happens, when Anders sets the blaze and the Knight Commander looses control, with not just her city but herself as well. The final cut gives us a little preview of the beginning revolution, the mages have risen up! Personally, since day one, I’ve sided with the mages and made their story, my story. Probably because the mages have the most tragic and most human backgrounds. Past histories shaping future events is a very real and common way to give a tale depth and substance.

Dragon Age: Inquisition has plenty of background to make a fine story indeed. Hopefully, the developers have heard the cries of wounded nerds and have taken them into account. Looking at their website, BioWare is making a lot of promises with this new addition, such as: an open multi-regional world, coordinated group dynamics during combat, being able to physically transform certain aspects of our in-game environments (bases and what not),  deep and complicated characters, an extensive customizable hero (from boot color to race and everything in-between), and having overall control of our destiny through choice throughout the story. Here is a video showing us what we all have to look forward to:

Release date for Dragon Age: Inquisition has been set for sometime during the fall of 2014 on the PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One and PC. Many of us have already begun throwing our money at the screen. Despite past mistakes, it looks like we’re ready to forgive BioWare in anticipation of Inquisition. And our curiosity with the outcome with Morrigan grows stronger each day. What happened with her love child? How will she effect the games story? Are you friend or foe? Personally, i’m more than a little optimistic for how well Inquisition will turn out, especially considering that it looks like BioWare are taking more cues from Origins than the second game. Only time will tell and so now all we have to do is play the waiting game…….

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The Birth of the Worlds Greatest Detective

April 9, 2013, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment announced the upcoming release of Batman: Arkham Origins, ushering a third installment in an amazing franchise. This begs the question: can Warner Bros. Montreal (the new developer) deliver? Games are always intended to be linear; getting better with time. However, most of us gamers known all too well that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes things just go bad. Back in 2008, there was a lot of doubt surrounding how well Batman: Arkham Asylum would do. Superhero games are some of the hardest to pull off successfully. But oh Nelly!!! Asylum blew all our nerdy expectations out of the water! Still today, five years later, Asylum is very much re-playable and still very much enjoyable.

The same could be said of Arkham City, which released in 2011. The same voice acting carried over and was top notch for both Asylum and Arkham City, with Kevin Conroy as the caped crusader and legendary actor Mark Hamill as both the Joker and Scarface.  The graphics were stunning. The combat smooth and nontechnical. And all the gadgets a budding detective would need in taking down Gotham’s villainy. The only thing missing for me in Arkham City was a continuation of the Killer Croc sub-story that had developed within the pits of Asylum’s sewer. I’m sure there have been other complaints, but for the most part its all nit-picky stuff, nothing fundamentally upsetting. The only thing really nagging me, regarding if Arkham Origins will rock, is that, as mentioned above, WB Montreal are taking the helm, instead of Rocksteady, who had developed the two previous games.

According to Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment website, “Batman: Arkham Origins features an expanded Gotham City and introduces an original prequel storyline occurring several years before the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. Taking place before the rise of Gotham City’s most dangerous villains and assassins, the game showcases a young, raw, unrefined Batman as he faces a defining moment in his early career as a crime fighter that sets his path to becoming the Dark Knight. As the story unfolds, witness identities being formed and key relationships being forged.” Thus far, all the press releases following the announcement for Arkham Origins, makes everything seem very hopeful that the game will be one of the best, maybe even perhaps better than Asylum (big maybe).

Some of the new features in the game include new enemies, such as: the Enforcer and a more nimble martial arts experts. The Enforce is as it sounds,  a tank, who will need to be dazed and then dearmored by a special attack move before they can be hurt. The latter is more agile foe, with blocks, evades and counterattacks, prompting the Dark Knight to switch tactics more vigorously between all the different enemy types. The new gadgets seem to involve a deeper level of detective play, such as: recreating a 3D crime scene. There are also some new interesting ways of taking down goons, such as with the remote claw, allowing players to aim between two different targets. The new story looks even deeper than the previous two games, with the Black Mask set as the main antagonist. Not much else has really been said regarding all the new features, though I’m sure there will be a few more announcements sometime soon. The trailer/short film recently released showcases some of the games visuals, as well as some of the subtext that will carry the mood of the game. If you haven’t yet watched it (where have you been?), check it out below:

Batman: Arkham Origins is set to release October 25th, 2013.


Dead Space Goes Fan Fiction

Few games have ever truly terrified me.  Dead Space, however, has proved to be one of those games in the long history of survivor horror in which I was really, honestly, unequivocally freaked out. Sure, the twisted forms in the fog lands of Silent Hill and those cute little dobermans jumping through the looking glass in Resident Evil (Directors Cut) were both frightening, in their own time. But those scares are trivial compared to Dead Space, the only game I dreaded playing with the lights off, but in some strange way, couldn’t help but to play in the dark. The following film was produced by fans of the series. This honestly proves that a live action film could and would work. Can you imagine if Carpenter or Barker or even Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead reboot) got their creepy little hands on this franchise? Mind = Blown!