Archive for the ‘ Review ’ Category

Saint’s Row: The Third: Initial Impressions: It’s Disappointing: But Probably Only For Me: So Buy It Right Now

Saint’s Row: The Third, had so much potential.

Maybe that potential gets fulfilled somewhere along the way, but so far, it’s a major disappointment. You see, I wanted to build a very specific character. I’m of the belief that gangster protagonist characters should look really intimidating, and my Saint’s Row 2 character managed to be pretty intimidating. She was taller than most characters, and while not as beefy as I’d initially hoped for, she managed to strike a nice balance between sexy and muscular, which ultimately meant she was still pretty awesomely intimidating.

I had hoped, with Saint’s Row 2, to finally create my ultimate gangster character: a Russian giant of a woman, the equivalent of Team Fortress 2’s heavy. I wanted her to be strong and intimidating and fucking different from all the supermodels we see running around in video games.

Instead, I’ve got a BBW, it seems. Sure, she looks healthy, but not in the “healthy like an ox” way I was going for. No, she looks more like “healthy in that she looks like she’s eaten too many oxen but isn’t fat” way. Ultimately, I just went with sexy.

Dammit, Saint’s Row, I was expecting better than this. Instead of some triangle slider and another slider that determines boob size, it would have been nice to determine the muscle tone/size/fat percentage of each individual major body part (torso, limbs, face). It would have been awesome to create, say, a giant of a man with a withered arm or a woman with an unfortunately fat face in proportion to her body (resulting in her wearing a mask and being some sort of Batmanesque villain character!). Also, the facial scars are missing the Glasgow smile, which is really weird, because that’s like the most famous facial scar ever.

The game? Oh. I haven’t played that yet. Could be great. Probably is. Everyone else seems to think so!


Review: Rage Really Rocks!

It seems like you can’t read a review of Rage these days without a mention of Borderlands or Fallout, so there you go. I’ve namechecked them.

Maybe I should expound: Rage was never going to be like these games, and to compare it to them is as silly as wondering why Alan Wake isn’t Silent Hill 2, or why Infamous isn’t Arkham City. The fact that they may share a few things (perspective, story genre) in common does not in any way mean that they are going to be mechanically identical. In fact, if you’ve been following Rage’s lengthy development since its announcement in 2007, you’d already know the kind of game Rage was going to be. I don’t remember a whole lot about the game’s announcement, not really getting into gaming until a few months afterwards, but what I do remember was this: it was going to be a hybrid racing game/shooter, like Doom meets Twisted Metal.

In a way, that’s exactly what we got.

But there was more: about a year before it came out, some people had said they hoped this engine could power Fallout 4, since New Vegas and Fallout 3 were both pretty ugly games. id’s response was that it wouldn’t be possible, as the engine wasn’t really designed for that kind of streaming open world stuff (that said, having played the game, I’m not really sure what they’re talking about). So, as much as a year ago, we knew exactly what we were getting, or, at least, I thought we did. I guess most people didn’t get the memo. They were expecting, it seems, either Fallout or Borderlands–one acquaintance’s expectations were so strong that they’ve actually taken to saying that Rage looks “identical” to Borderlands and has lots of cel-shading. Actually, I’ve met a lot of people who have been saying that.

By now, I’m sure you’ve read the infamous “creative intent” review from Gamasutra, in which Brandon Sheffield, the interviewer, basically demanded to know why Rage was a linear game and not more like Borderlands. If you haven’t, you probably should. The id guys did a really good job facing up against hostile (and downright silly) questions like “why is your game so brown?”

Rage, being brown.

Rage isn’t Borderlands, and it never was. In fact, it isn’t doesn’t even share the same genre with Borderlands, which is more of a dystopic cyberpunk* western story than a post-apocalyptic one (seeing as how Pandora is the equivalent of a planetary ghost town after a mining boom). Yes, they’re both inspired by The Road Warrior, which means that they feature both deserts and off-road cars, yes, they both have sci-fi technobaddies, and yes, you play them from a first person perspective, but that’s where the similarities end. I can’t even begin to fathom why people are complaining that it isn’t like Fallout, which doesn’t even have drivable cars. Fallout’s a blackly humorous RPG take on 1950s pop culture; Rage is a game about fighting against guys who have taken advantage of a natural disaster to rule the world.

I honestly can’t help but wonder if part of the reason Rage is getting the hate it does isn’t just because it wasn’t what people were expecting (and, because it was a shooter, they felt allowed to get mad; it seems as if any other game that defies expectations gets praised to high heaven), but because its title lends itself to a lot of tasteless article titles. Here, Brandon Sheffield defends his review in an article titled “Journalistic Rage,” with subsections bearing titles like “Anger Management.” It’s the kind of bad titling that would get my mother to giggle uncontrollably. It’s like people are being negative because negativity lets them justify using phrases like “I’m feeling all ragey about Rage!” Most of the reviews aren’t actually full of rage (not like the Duke Nukem Forever reviews were), but there are plenty with lots of silly bits of negativity that revolve around the kind of game Rage isn’t.

Oh god. I’m raging about that right now. I have become them.

Let’s change that.

By now, you might be wondering if I’m ever going to actually talk about the game, and I am, but judging by the reactions, it would be prudent of me to hammer home the point that Rage is not what most people were expecting. See, Rage isn’t Borderlands or Fallout, and it seems like a lot of people thought that it was and were very angry when it wasn’t. Before its release, I didn’t realize that this would be an issue because it was quite obvious that, aesthetic similarities aside, it was never going to be like those games. Despite everything that Rage draws from The Road Warrior artistically, it’s a very different beast mechanically.


See, Rage is really The Legend of Zelda, Twisted Metal, and Bioshock, with some RPG thrown in.

Rage is the shooter evolved. It’s everything a shooter should be combined with a number of things that a shooter can be. It’s a game that reminds us, after half a decade of fairly bland, console-control-oriented shooter experiences, what shooting used to be. At the same time, it doesn’t fall into the trap that games like Hard Reset, implementing foolish modern design choices like the absence of quicksave, nor does it ever include the elements that made old-school shooters bland. Rage is nearly everything you love about old-school shooters: lots of enemies, solid guns, loneliness, facing overwhelming odds, mobility, fighting without cover, and, of course, upping the ante of what it means to look good.

It’s an advancement of the shooter, but unlike its predecessors, which created new ways of doing things, Rage looks to other games, borrows the elements that work, and reworks those elements for its own end.

A typical mission in Rage flows something like this: you receive a mission from an NPC in a town, go to a store to buy equipment, and prepare to leave, just like most RPGs. From here, Rage takes Zelda’s overworld/dungeon concept and puts its own spin on things. The overworld is explored with your vehicle, with combat reminiscent of Twisted Metal. Rage’s vehicles are incredibly deep in comparison to Borderlands’, which are more of a way to travel between Point A and Point B than anything else. You’ve got a ton of ways you can customize your garage of vehicles, from weapons and accessories to powerups to more advanced mechanical stuff. Ultimately, that customization will hopefully come to your aid in the game’s overworld as you make your way to the dungeons. The dungeons themselves are linear shooter missions that usually loop back around to the entrance. Once you’ve completed them, you drive back to the quest hub, where you can turn in missions, play minigames, race cars, craft items (a la Bioshock) or obsessively take screen shots.

Rage is beautiful. It’s the best implementation of concept art in a game I’ve ever seen. Nothing comes close to this. Say what you will about the now-fixed (for me, anyway) pop-in, low-quality textures, or the fact that the game’s got a skybox rather than volumetric clouds, because it’s still an artistic achievement. Where previous games were all about using more polys or higher quality textures, Rage is all about paying attention to how that detail is implemented. The game rarely repeats anything–each room and everything in that room is laid out in a way that you won’t see anywhere else, whether that’s a giant, twisted windowframe, a collapsed skyscraper, or a Jackal clanmember’s shanty. Some people might think that games are only about gameplay, but Rage is evidence to the contrary. It’s absolutely stunning, and a good portion of my enjoyment stemmed simply from walking around taking screenshots of everything.

The game is mostly gorgeous; as you can see on the left, a rock texture hasn't loaded yet.

That attention to detail isn’t just in the modeling or textures, though. The stylized animations of the characters are a joy to behold–so much so that I nearly died once while watching two friendly spiderbots defend against an onslaught of mutants in an abandoned distillery. Talking to Halek Hagar, the shopkeeper in the first town you visit in the game, was a delight, because he gesticulates like a cartoon character. Actually, everyone in this game is incredibly animated. Everything that moves moves, but not like a traditional game. If I remember right, one of the developer videos said that the characters had something like several hundred animations each, and that they were all context sensitive. When a mutant comes through a door, he leaps into it, using it to spring towards you. In contrast, an Authority soldier is more likely to take cover and shoot at you. Everything moves in an extremely unique manner, leading to all sorts of combat encounters. It’s amazing to chop off a mutant’s head as he charges at you, only to have him stumble towards you and fall off a balcony, hands clutching at where his skull used to be. Personally, I cackled like a madman whenever that happened.

Speaking of enemies, the game has a lot and it uses them well. Compared to Halo, no, Rage doesn’t have the largest bestiary, and it seems like each clan has essentially three archetypes (footsoldier, melee, and heavy guy with a gat; some also have turrets, spiders, and R/C Cars), but each clan behaves differently, which requires you to change up your playstyle differently. The Ghost clan are acrobats first and foremost, flipping all over the place, making it hard to keep your crosshairs on them, while the mutants are all about momentum, leaping through doors and over walls, while the Jackals tend to be either suicidal chargers or guys who fire crossbows from a long range. This large number of enemy types brings a welcome sense of variation to the single-player beyond its impressive number of minigames and different racetypes.

That’s not all, though: Rage also offers up to four different types of ammo for most of its guns (the sniper rifle, off the top of my head, is the only gun that has just one). The guns themselves are varied, though they fall within the general archetypes all shooter fans are familiar with: pistol, rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and so forth. They feel right. They’re an absolute joy to use. It’s a game where you can have fun shooting things just because the guns themselves sound and feel incredible!

Why is there a stamp on his face? Best not to ask.

Then there’s the accessories: you’ve got various grenades, turrets, boomerangs, and powerups you can use. I love the spiderbots. They follow you around like puppies, but are totally lethal in combat. It always saddens me to have to scrap one for parts because it can’t come with me on an elevator or through a door or something. They’re fun just to watch. The stationary turrets are alright, but a bit too easily knocked over, making them kind of a waste; Roland’s turret in Borderlands was quite a bit better (plus, it offered you cover, but Rage doesn’t require cover, which is equally nice). The bandages are an awesome way to manage health–while Rage has a regenerating health system, it’s really more about not having to worry about healthkit placement than anything else. It’s not like Mass Effect 2, where you found that you were made of soggy toilet paper just because the developers wanted to force you into cover. The bandages, as well as the revival system, mean that you’ll stay alive in order to fight lots of guys who are doing lots of things.

See, Rage understands that you shouldn’t spend your time dying and having to replay things. Games can be challenging without resorting to murdering you every sixty seconds, and Rage strives to accomplish that. It succeeds, too; playing the game is actually somewhat stressful (though not nearly as stressful as it is fun) because of the sheer variety of enemies who are attacking you in all sorts of crazy, incredibly fast ways. I actually feel more frantic playing Rage than I do when playing Unreal Tournament, because the enemies just move everywhere. They dodge more in this game than any other shooter I’ve ever played. I should write an article on games that do non-traditional (Marathon/Half-Life/Call of Duty being traditional) health systems well. Rage would be on there alongside Halo/Halo: Reach, Bulletstorm, Bioshock, and Far Cry 2. This is one of the reasons Rage is such a great game: it understands that your time is best spent playing the game, not replaying old bits you’ve just been through or worse, repeating areas so frequently that your level goes down in history as one of the most tedious levels of all time (I’m looking at you, The Library).

You’ll notice a common theme in everything I’ve described: variation.

Rage is about discovering new things and facing new enemies. The game doesn’t want you to replay old sections, much less repeat them just because your armor is made of soggy cardboard. It continually gives you new guns, new items, new ammo, new enemies, and new areas to explore because it knows that repetition is one of the worst sins a game can commit. The game constantly strives to be interesting, so you never get bored or tired of anything. By now, you may be wondering if I have anything bad to say about Rage at all. I do, and this paragraph offers me a perfect way to segue into that.

Each level is repeated once. Whenever you finish a mission, you can go back into a slightly-reworked version of that mission for a sidequest (generally posted on the job board in town) that will net you extra cash. It’s only necessary once, I think, to move the plot forward, but it is the one instance in which the game veers away from its philosophy of giving you new stuff to do. Of course, playing the levels backwards is actually quite interesting, so it doesn’t feel totally cheap.

See how much it looks like Fallout! It's got those clear blue skies and crazy blue rocks!

The save system isn’t implemented quite right. While having quicksave is a blessing, it’s mapped, by default, to F5. To quickselect your robot friend/first aid kit/grenade/whatever, you press F1-F4. I’ve accidentally quicksaved while attempting to switch stuff. Also, the placement of that F1-F4 thing is a bit awkward–maybe using F or something to cycle through my available items would have been a better decision. It’s not just the key mapping, though..

Rage has some other issues too: the mouse support in the menus is a mess, texture pop-in post-patch is extremely rare but still exists, plenty of textures in the shooter dungeon bits are of rather poor resolution, and so forth. That’s really about it for the technical issues. I don’t actually know anyone who owns a copy of Rage for the PC, which makes playing co-op rather difficult, so I couldn’t tell you about the quality of the game’s multiplayer connections, and I do apologize for that.

Its story isn’t the best. Then again, the game wasn’t really interested in telling you a story–that’s all just window-dressing for the game. I honestly wish that id had been as good at telling a story as they had at everything else, because everything else was incredible. Chief among the storytelling complaints was the fact that I never really understood why I needed to dislike The Authority beyond “they are guys who are shooting at me.” Valve characterized the Combine really well in the first few minutes of Half-Life 2, with civilians being beaten, some guy being a real jerk and making you pick up a can, and so forth. In Rage, people just yell things like “man, screw The Authority!” Likewise, what do I know about the Resistance other than that they’re a group of five, maybe six people who apparently can’t do anything without me and who discovered where the mutants came from (it’s really no surprise when you find out).

Rage’s characterization is almost all visual, and while that’s GREAT, most people didn’t really feel fleshed out enough. Because I got to spend some time with the resistance leader, he seemed okay, but they really wasted potential with him. Apparently, he was an Ark survivor. Why, then, didn’t they explore that? The prospect of other survivors in hiding is a very appealing one, I think. Speaking of wasted potential, there were bits of the levels I really hoped to check out–the ship that sits high above the Jackal base could have been an awesome place to fight on, and the city atop Subwaytown looked awesome too. Why the mutants were created or what was planned to happen with them was never really explained, and where all The Authority’s soldiers came from was never made clear either.

I get that the game wasn’t about its story any more than, say, Half-Life 2 was (having such a simplistic story makes it seem like Half-Life 2 was really all about being a tech demo for physics in games).

Why are the bad guys so artistic HNNNNGGGG I DONT GET THIS IT IS THE WORST GAME

At this stage, I find myself asking… why don’t people like Rage more than they do? Again, look at Half-Life 2: it’s got cars, but they suck. Its pistol sounds like a cap gun, and most of its other guns sound lame and handle pretty poorly as well. You don’t have any extra minigames to play, quests to do, or anything of the sort–it’s a completely linear, guided experience (even moreso than the original game). It was pretty atmospheric before, but its art style was all over the place and rarely coherent, not to mention completely lacking in the level of differentiation present in Rage. Lastly, Half-Life 2 has a really bad ending. Basically, nearly everything that comprises the game we know as Half-Life 2 has not just been done in Rage, but it’s been done better. There is no silly plot about driven entirely by getting to the next place Eli is. There are no people wandering around insisting that you reload or giving you so much health that the game is impossibly easy. There are no stages where you stand around for eight minutes listening to people talking.

Rage does literally everything but characterization better than Half-Life 2. The comparison’s only a little unfair, because Rage is seven years older than Half-Life 2, but still, if the latter’s going to be considered one of the greatest games of all time, then there’s no reason the former shouldn’t be considered every bit as good, is there?

Take the endings of both games: Half-Life 2 has one of the most underwhelming endings of all time. All your guns are taken away except the gimmicky gravity gun, which gets a boost. You then run around zapping everyone to death and generally being invincible, while chasing Doctor Breen  and pulling energy balls out of tubes in order to keep him from teleporting to some other place. It’s the antiending. In most games, the ending is the toughest part, as it should be. Half-Life 2 makes everything so impossibly easy that you just breeze through and murder everyone. There is no final boss at all, just some old guy who yells at you a lot while you shut down his power source.

In contrast, Rage sends you to attack the enemy base, which, like Half-Life 2, has been built up to be some huge, dangerous thing. The only difference between the two games is that Capital Prime actually is (also: it has a cooler name than “The Citadel,” since citadels are just fortresses that keep towns safe and are in no way sinister). It practically vomits enemies at you, but makes you feel like a badass because you’re finally equipped with a BFG. The endless onslaught of enemies is still challenging, because they dodge and leap around like ninjas, but it’s balanced perfectly to the point where you feel as though it’s your skill as a player that makes you kickass, not the godweapon you’re carrying. There’s no final fight beyond being locked in a room with tons of enemies spilling into it, but you know what? I’m fine with that. I would have preferred to fight a massive enemy behemoth, sure, assuming it was better than the one fought about a third of the way through the game, but making my way to a computer, turning it on, and killing lots of guys in the process (which, as mentioned before, was extremely well balanced) was still a lot more satisfying than Half-Life 2’s ending, if only because it required me to keep playing, rather than just laze my way through.

Actually, I've got nothing to hate here. Her face is incredible, with its miniscule imperfections and stuff. It makes her seem more like a real human being. Also, her voice actress is amazing.

In Rage, I felt like a badass. In Half-Life 2, I felt like a guy who’d lucked into getting a gun that made all his problems disintigrate.

Ultimately, Rage isn’t just a remix of old shooters, it’s an improvement on the genre as a whole. Now that graphics have gotten about as photorealistic as our hardware will presently allow, it’s time to focus on other elements, like animations, environment detail, and game mechanics. Rage is also a tribute to id’s history, featuring a tongue-in-cheek “find the keycard” objective during one mission and equipping you with a BFG, among other things. It does falter on occasion, but, as demonstrated above, not nearly as frequently as one of the most beloved games of all time. Its shooting is solid and deep, as is its driving. It does more things right than nearly every other game I’ve ever played. Even System Shock 2, the game I firmly believe is the best game ever made, makes more mistakes than Rage.

If you want to play a great game, play Rage. If you have an ATI card and want to play a great game, go buy a good 3D card first. I’d recommend that you play it on your PC, even if navigating menus is awful. The game’s combat was clearly designed by people familiar with how shooters controlled by mice and keyboards ought to play, and the experience is incredibly rewarding as a result. You’re in for a surprise if you were expecting another Borderlands or Fallout just because the games share a few elements in common. Going into Rage without such foolish expectations can only hurt your enjoyment of what is one of the best shooters I have ever had the pleasure of playing.

Pick it up! Have fun! I’d love to co-op with you.

BONUS PIC! Coffer is actually my favorite character in the game. I don't know a thing about him, other than that he has an amazing voice and has a jiggly hat.

*you might not be a hacker in a city, but you do play a loner fighting against a megacorporation and lots of technology is involved. I’d call that a cyberpunk western.

BONUS PIC 2! I really like Crazy Joe too. His movements and voice are hilarious.