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Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Review

[As Read on GIO.]

“A Step Down, but in the Right Direction…”

Last year, almost exactly a year ago in fact, I reviewed Assassin’s Creed III- a game which I gave a pretty great score, unlike many people who condemned it for the glitches that every Assassin’s Creed game has had to date. However, despite that fact, I was able to have an excellent experience with the core game- DLC non-withstanding, and enjoyed myself immensely across the snowy plains and open fields of Boston, New York, and the Frontier. Connor’s quest, while lacking at times, was an interesting new evolution for the series in more ways than one. Therefore, although I was quite skeptically when I heard of Black Flag’s aim not too long ago, and of yet another now-yearly released title in the series trying to unsuccessfully out-compete Call of Duty, I was interested to see how the character of Edward Kenway would be manifested. Whereas some though Connor was a bland character, even he had a much deeper background than Kenway- one of his ancestors. I’ll admit, at first Kenway seems to be a very interesting character, however, I feel Ubisoft did a terrible wrong and did not flesh him, or many other characters in Assassin’s Creed IV out as much as they certainly could have- and for that reason, even many hours into the game, all we really know about Kenway is that he wants gold, and lots of it. Kenway isn’t nearly as ideological as Altair or as revenge-filled as the younger Ezio Auditore- he simply perfectly embodies what a pirate was during that time period: a murderer who plunders and kills for his own selfish gains. Now, that is interesting in terms of skillsets and gameplay and even a bit during the story, but it becomes really two-dimensional quite fast. Although it was a fun experience, and has been interesting so far, I feel more like I’ve played Pirate’s Creed: No Rules IV than a new Assassin’s Creed game. Sure, some of the similar elements are there, but hardly anything other than naval combat was fixed from AC3, and it feels like it is sailing into uncharted waters without first battening down the hatches.

Don’t get me wrong though after reading that first lengthy shanty of mine- Black Flag is a great game, it merely has its own set of flaws, as well as some old ones that have never quite been remedied. I am let down slightly by this sequel, as it had so much potential and branched out so much, but it simply did not make as much progress as it could have in the long run. I am interested to see where the series goes next, and have heard some interesting thoughts, but I just don’t know if- like Call of Duty, this downward spiral will persist, or if things will settle down for a while before getting better. I think what we really need with these annual series’ is a short break of at least two years so that the developers can harness some new ideas before resuming their conquest of sales numbers with sub-quality games and adventures. What we really need are fresh new ideas and better quality games that people will actually appreciate, but then again, I am sliding slightly off topic, so allow me to resume my original intentions here. In terms of actual core gameplay and missions, Black Flag is significantly shorter than III, despite having roughly the same number of chapters- a fact I am sure many who became bored with AC3 will appreciate. There is more freedom and side content than ever before, which sometimes ends up being more fun than the main adventure itself, interestingly enough- similar to Far Cry 3’s campaign.

It is increasingly apparent with each passing moment during the game that Black Flag is an entirely new chapter in the series, and not just some other subtitled adventure such as Brotherhood and Revelations were, despite them being okay in quality- well, except for Revelations maybe, which was shaky at best. Assassin’s Creed IV trades the towering renaissance structures of Italy and the frontier wilderness of colonial America for an even more expansive and tropical oceanic and island setting- persuading players to openly embrace the naval functions that lacked real interest in the previous game due to some of their mishaps and handling issues. Unsurprisingly, as Kenway is a pirate first and assassin next, you’ll often find yourself spending much more time on the high seas than setting foot on land- even going so far as to raid ships, sail out of storms, and hunt sea life down. The wealth of content to be found at sea alone easily dwarves that found on land in all the other games combined at this point, and offers some fine chances for upgraded items and loot as well. Add in some historical figures, events, and interesting Indies locales and further pirate-like interactions via Kenway’s personal flagship, the Jackdaw, makes for one memorable and exciting adventure. Dozens of hours in, you’ll still be finding new locations, hidden tombs and coves, and treasures to suit your piracy and self-serving attitude. Kenway is a character of ill-repute undoubtedly, but he isn’t without his own sort of code- despite the fact being that his code seems to involve throwing all other codes out the window.

Some of the game’s greatest moments come from some simple things sprinkled in the gameplay and combat activities, as well as throughout the sidequests and content. Leveling up your flagship by collecting various goods and plundering decimated ships is tedious at times, but well worth the efforts expended- especially if you do so earlier on in the game,as it pays off immensely much later in your adventures. The nearly endless supplies of money and more ways to obtain it than previous games makes for a great bargain-striker when deciding what new upgrades to pursue and what personal touches to collect, as you know you can always hunt down a  few more ships if you ever run low. Obviously, being a pirate has its benefits so long as you can avoid the noose for long enough. I, as well as everyone else who plays the game most likely, would definitely recommend boarding ships mid-combat in order to plunder them instead of outright destroying them if you have the opening, seeing as it is much easier to collect more supplies in doing so, and you don’t have to worry about your own ship being destroyed because combat sort of pauses when in the process of plundering ships via a boarding party. Plus, you can always recruit new crew members should you lose any, so it’s okay to lead an all-out attack at times. The only annoyance here is that boarding gets old after awhile, but becomes a necessary evil if you want to increase the spending capacity of your coffers and upgrade your ship faster before more difficult battles.

Ship navigation has really come a long way since AC3’s finicky controls and naval opportunities, and your offensive capabilities are much more advanced than before as well thanks to some minimal tweaking here and there to the controls. Naval combat still has its pitfalls, but it has been simplified enough that when you are only facing a few ships and not an entire armada, you can operate the controls well enough that you won’t find yourself being overwhelmed or frustrated. Firing your weapons is as easy and as complicated as facing in the direction you wish to aim, which is confusing often during large encounters, because you cannot look at another ship to see what they’re doing if you plan on attacking the one before you currently. Some fights can become quite a bit more annoying than they would otherwise be because of this, but thankfully the rest of naval combat and naval navigation as a whole is pretty well polished, or at least enough so that this is the only real standout problem I can see. Usually you’re just sailing between pit stops and particular locations, or simply hunting for easy raids and treasure troves, so you won’t have to deal with too much hardship until later on when you’ve amassed a much more sizable bounty upon your head, and must outrun the privateers and mercenaries after you.

Though you can undoubtedly spend much more time on water than on land, as is the name of the game, rest easy in knowing that Edward Kenway possesses most of the familiar traits of the trademark assassin, and can hold his own in personal combat as well as naval. Climbing, stabbing, and shooting your way through fights and chases works just as fine as usual, with the occasional bump and shuffle here and there simply because of a minimal glitch. Completing land-based side content often rewards you with special pouches, armors, and other upgrades- making the completionist in all of us simultaneously joyful and resentful of the sheer amount of choice in content before you. Although I have yet to complete everything to one hundred percent of course, in the days since the game’s release, I have managed to rack up about a good 75% of game completion, and that’s with over 800 gamerscore. So, trust me when I say there’s a lot to do, collect, and explore. A lot of new stuff makes appearances, but there is also the tried and tested elements of every other game, or at least in the last few as well. In terms of main story mission abundance and variety however, you are bound to be disappointed- as few missions have the impact or excitement as the side content does. If this game were merely a sandbox exploration game, it would probably have just as good a score as it does with the throwaway main missions, despite the fact that they add some further details to the story. Assassinations and other chases and contracts are still interesting, which is a plus, but the majority of main missions feature mundane tasks and assignments which makes for a drab overall impression in my mind.

I have no wish to ruin what little story there is in Black Flag, so I’ll be moderate with my musings on that portion of the review here, right now. As I mentioned earlier, I was somewhat disappointed that Kenway is never entirely fleshed out as much, scoundrel though it is clear he is, and that the only real supporting characters to be fleshed out at all are some of the famed pirate compatriots he consorts with such as Blackbeard and Charles Vane. Almost as bad as in the very short misadventures of Ezio in Revelations, the plot of Black Flag is all over the place- even for an Assassin’s Creed game, and isn’t nearly as memorable as one would have thought it could have been. There isn’t ever really one true antagonist, and there isn’t really one big catalyst for Edward’s ascension to the rank of the Assassin brotherhood, mainly because he continues on just the same as he did before his joining, and it doesn’t really change him much as a man or as a pirate at all. All of this lack of information and true fleshing out of many characters or events makes for an ultimately apathetic feeling towards the majority of the story, and a steering more towards other ports of calling side content, which is really a shame for the people who devoted their time to crafting said story. I was really hoping, despite my semi-interest in the present day affairs, that Ubisoft would just drop the present day story from the game and let us have fun in these time periods alone, but alas that did not happen. Now you play as a nameless and faceless Abstergo cipher, wandering about and hacking data clusters and entertainment systems. Literally, when I thought the present day scheme couldn’t get worse than Revelations’ it did. I mean, after concluding Desmond’s story in AC3, I was kind of hoping they would bow out and just say “we’re going through leftover DNA sampling of ancestors of Desmond’s in the Animus”, but no- they wanted so badly to screw up the present day story and make it as boring as ever I guess.

The plethora of side activities such as Far Cry 3-like activities of hunting down and collecting the skins of animals, unveiling secreted away relics of ancient times, and then even plundering ships for their riches really makes for a high replayability and also for a nearly everlasting first playthrough, as hard as it is to find one hundred percent of everything everywhere. The graphics of sailing and just the general world look beautiful on the current generation consoles, so I can only imagine what they look like on next-gen ones. I was constantly impressed at nearly every turn by something or another, trivial detail or not. The game fixes a few old complaints and bugs, makes some controls a little more convenient for on-the-fly choices to be made during combat and locomotion, and makes better use of fast travel options in the much broader world. However, the continual appearance of much more annoying glitches than in past games, as well as some previously seen ones, and a thoroughly disappointing and even boring story make the game go down in both score and opinion on my part. What was truly an ambitious enterprise and voyage ultimately loses much of its appeal and luster hours in due to repetitive gameplay and tedium, but still remains a largely interesting experience on the whole. I’ve deigned not to speak about multiplayer because, aside from some minor adjustments, it is largely the same as it has been in the previous titles offering it- with the exception being changes in characters and locales. There are a few differences, but nothing major.

Concept: Live a pirate’s life one big raid at a time, and forget all about the main story- instead, opt for a plethora of side content and leisurely paced treasure hunts to engross players.

Graphics: Somewhat unstable framerate changes and drops occur from time to time, but the vistas and open seas look and react beautifully.

Sound: From the realistic ballistics and sheathing of swords to the sounds in the background and melodic sea shanties, all is fair on the high seas in terms of sound.

Playability: There are still a few issues with naval controls and encounters, but by the by everything has largely been improved or at least stayed relatively the same.

Entertainment: The side content is impressive in amount and fun to troll through, but having to go through the ropes with your core encounters is often boring and out of sync with the rest of your misadventures.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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Battlefield 4 Review

[As Read on GIO.]

“Battlefield 4 wins the battle, but it remains unseen if it’ll win the War…”

You know, personally, despite some minor gripes with it, I enjoyed Battlefield 3’s single player and cooperative campaigns at least marginally so. While I don’t so much care for the campaign in Battlefield 4 and actually consider it to be one of the weaker ones in the series- a series, mind you, whose foundation lies solely in multiplayer anyway, Battlefield 4 is far from a terrible game. It’s campaign is not bad so much either, merely somewhat flawed in a few ways that add up to support particular grievances players might have with it. Now, of course, that is my opinion anyway. I honestly think Battlefield 3 was a better game at the time, but I cannot deny the fact that the evolved multiplayer here is much more balanced in the long run and has certainly learned from that game. It might be sooner than I expected, but I am pretty pleased with this particular project, even with its flaws. Battlefield 4 follows much the same or similar path as its predecessors, with a heavy emphasis on multiplayer, and a more throwaway campaign- although it tries to mitigate that by injecting emotional moments into the pretty short campaign, without much effect overall.

I will talk about the campaign a little bit first, seeing as it is easily the more forgettable component of the game- although from the achievements, you would not think so, considering there are only a total of five multiplayer achievements of the forty-two total. The script itself reads like a classic B-movie action film, which is alright I suppose for a shooter with a heavy emphasis on actions versus words, but still somehow manages to fall flat between explosions and collapsing buildings that mark the exciting set piece moments scattered throughout the missions. Instead of focusing heavily on Russia as the bad guys, this particular Battlefield portrays factions of China and surrounding countries as the enemies. The story focuses heavily on a squad of American soldiers tasked with escorting some VIPs from Shanghai to an American fleet off the Chinese coast, however, pretty much everything goes to hell along the way, and you see various locales from prisons to mountain towns as you shoot your way across the country. The story is so short and lacks so much essence of what should make up a story that it truly does feel like an action film, and never really grabs your interest. Therefore, when you get to the three choice ending, you’ll probably just want to hurry up and get things over with, and not really care who lives or dies. I’ll give it it’s dues- it tries to make players feel emotionally invested, but is much to short to successfully accomplish that, clocking out at about six hours total.

The campaign is presented in more of a semi-sandbox style, and a less linear approach to combat opportunities, which is a thankful and welcome addition. However, the enemy (and even allied) AI is so abominable in most instances, that it’s easy to wipe them out entirely before too many shots are fired, and it doesn’t present too much of a challenge until you play on Hard mode, in which case they all become one hundred percent accurate aimbots, killing the challenge by going completely one hundred and eighty degrees the opposite way. This kills the single player experience, but actually helps to get players more invested in multiplayer, where the true meat of the experience lies, adn where this game earns the majority of its points in my opinion. Not only is multiplayer Battlefield 4’s one saving grace, but it offers up a substantial amount of content and time, even with its own flaws that are present and unfixed as of yet.

A little personal touch that I really liked about Battlefield 4’s multiplayer, although I myself did not need it, being the Battlefield vehicles guru that I am, was the addition of a training ground for vehicles and machinery for players to experiment around without fear of serious repercussions. I’ll admit, the first time you take off in a chopper or other air-based vehicle, you’ll probably crash it if you don’t have the proper guidance and knowledge. Rather than report to your local airfield to learn how to actually pilot the thing though, you can simply boot up the training ground and figure it out without fear of that lone rocket or rain of bullets taking the wind out of your coattails. The only truly notable drawback to this proving ground experience is the fact that one person at a time is present on the training ground range, meaning you cannot coordinate with others as you would during combat to practice countermeasures or maneuvers together.

Another well-thought out re-addition to the winning formula in Battlefield 4 is the return of Commander Mode, which allows you to make tactical decisions and suggestions to your fellow players during matches. Of course, you can only do as well as your teammates allow, but if you can get together a winning squad, you will truly be a force to reckon with- sending out drones, launching EMP attacks, and more. The best part about it is you don’t have to worry about spawning and dying, as you serve as a tactical overlord instead of a regular soldier on the field of battle. You can also utilize this particular mode with tablets and like devices as well, as is becoming increasingly popular with other console linked applications and modes. If your team does fairly well, then you can even earn killstreak-similar packages such as AC-130 gunship strikes and cruise missiles or bombing strafing runs.

The majority of Battlefield 4’s multiplayer operates much like the already existing groundwork laid by previous games in the series, with some subtly woven-in innovations in technology and ideas as well. Instead of having to completely rely on your headset, when others may not have one on them at all times, you can use PC-inspired button prompts via the right bumper to request aid and ammunition and other items. Even the points system has been revamped this time around, more in favor of team-based objectives than lone wolves or anything else. You get points over time instead of winner takes all or all or nothing versions during objective capturing game modes. For example, if you are battling for a certain command post station, and you get blown up shortly before you would have taken it over successfully, you still get some points for what you had already done instead of being so close and getting nothing for your team-based efforts. Not only does this work better for teamwork than ever before, but it further encourages backup and teamwork as well.

The map selection is pretty good and has some fairly sized to giant battlefields to peruse during combat as well. Although I thoroughly enjoyed the maps of Battlefield 3 without complaint, I do have a few concerning maps that simply don’t work with every game mode. But that’s really my only major complaint, as they all look and play beautifully for the most part during the majority of matches. The so-called ‘levolution’ moments where something explodes, crashes, blows other areas up, or otherwise changes the terrain are pretty neat feats of technology, but are pretty much only gimmicks and cool scenes in essence. Although I’ll admit seeing that building collapse for the first time, or that previously far off air craft carrier ride on shore is pretty intense and epic. These moments work great on most maps, but provide more difficulty and cause for bugs and glitches in others- namely Shanghai’s tower of doom and the elevator glitch of overly awesome death.

There are the same awesome modes as have been present since the previous Battlefield games, and then there are two major new ones as well, that change up gameplay a bit and also provide some equally thrilling new challenges. These game modes are predominately explosives related and reminded me a lot of Search and Destroy and Sabotage from Cal of Duty, albeit much more objectives based than those counterparts. The first is Oblieration, which gives you a neutral bomb and three enemy objectives to light up across the rounds/time limit. Not only must you defend your objectives, but you must constantly be ready to switch to the offensive as well and push forward into enemy territory. This is quite thrilling and requires a lot more teamwork than one lone player venturing into enemy territory as it often occurs in Call of Duty matches. The other new mode is Defuse(d), which operates somewhat the opposite of Obliteration, and more like Search and Destroy. Teams of five have one life per player and must either kill the enemy team or detonate their bomb to win. This is one of the quicker and much more punishing game modes, but also one of the tensest and most exciting as well, as to be expected.

Deathmatch and Domination and Rush and other modes are still present of course as well, but some (TDM and DOM mainly) just aren’t as exciting and don’t have very well supported maps for their sorties. In the game modes without vehicles especially, there is really no point in having any class other than an assault oriented one, as engineers are virtually useless at that point, and that ruins the core of what makes Battlefield so fun and intense- large, open, vehicle-using (suggested) maps. Thankfully, to go hand in hand with multiplayer, there is one of the deepest progression systems I’ve ever seen in a game, with players continually earning random and rank-related awards and unlocks. Camoflauge types, new knives and grips, sights, and much more attachments show up in hundreds of forms and colors. It is quite astounding, especially when coupled with the battlepack or random items given every two or three levels or so. Granted, since these are random, you could get anything from something you’ve already unlocked or something you don’t have access to, but it’s still pretty game changing when you get a great attachment for a gun you already have.

I think the bottom line is simply this: there are several improvements to be found in Battlefield 4’s multiplayer that make it a worthwhile experience and a step up from Battlefield 3, but it would’ve been much better if it had decided instead to focus solely on perfecting multiplayer and bypassing the single player campaign. If we’d have gone back to the Battlefield 1942 days, it could’ve been so much more revolutionary than the finished product. As it is, the technological capabilities are still quite impressive to behold, even on current-gen consoles and computers.

Concept: Enrich the multiplayer experience further, at the ultimate expense of the throwaway single player campaign.

Graphics: Beauty unparalleled as of yet in a shooter, only occasionally marred by muddied textures here and there.

Sound: Only in Battlefield.

Playability: Some controls have been simplified a little bit, but it remains largely similar to those of Battlefield 3 and classic Battlefield games, with a few new additions to the mix. It might be hard to pilot some vehicles at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.

Entertainment: You’ll certainly be spending your hours playing the addictive and impressive multiplayer component, and not the standalone single player one.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 9.0

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Batman: Arkham Origins Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Arkham Origins may be the weakest entry in the series in terms of score, however that is not to say the game is without its own strengths as well. In some areas, where Asylum and City fell down and scraped their knees, Origins stands tall. It is in others however, where Rocksteady had no problems, that Warner Bros. finds themselves desperately treading water to stay afloat in the frigid sea. Although this game chronologically takes place before Arkham Asylum, with a younger, less experienced Bruce Wayne as its focal point, and without the hardened badass of Arkham City- there is really no reason why Origins shouldn’t have succeeded or at least broken even with Asylum and City. After all, look at other prequels such as Halo Reach- which is one of the best selling Halo titles to date and received mostly excellent review scores. Of course, that is not to say review scores are everything- but they are of course often helpful to go by, and critical enough to catch most flaws- both stand out ones and more subtle ones. As with the Gotham City setting of this particular Arkham title, the crowd has been quiet thus far- with only a few voices of dissent crying out either for or against Batman and Warner Bros.’ particular vision for the caped crusader. Only time will tell if Rocksteady will be back on the scene to set things right once more, or if Warner will continue the downward spiral or lift the cowl once more into its proper place. As the snowy setting shows though, and as Catwoman famously said not too long ago, there is a storm coming- and it’s honing in on Bruce Wayne and Batman…

Not only have the setting, time period, and developer changed, but the voices we once knew as the Bat and Prince of Clowns have changed hands as well. As with the majority of the game however, this is not a bad thing- as they have done a fine job rolling with it, rather a new and slightly different thing- especially for longtime fans. You might not know the difference so much at first, but there are a few noticeable changes here and there that become increasingly difficult to ignore later on as the game progresses. Sometimes it’s just personalities, while others it’s combat. It just depends. And that’s actually kind of refreshing, even if it doesn’t always work. Mark Hamill finds himself retired in favor of Troy Baker in the persona of the clown prince- by Hamill’s choice on the former. Baker does a fine job staying true to the character that Hamill has essentially helped to create, while adding his own twist occasionally as well. The clown is as lifelike and energetic as usual- which is especially refreshing after his encounter with death in Arkham City. More on that later, if you haven’t played that fine gem of a game. Stepping into the shadow of the caped crusader is Roger Craig Smith as well, who replaces Kevin Conroy as the gravelly voice of the law. Again, he does a fine job interpreting things as his won- while still retaining the main elements of Conroy’s Batman as well. All in all- this origins story is a finely tuned one, and only misses a few beats in terms of story and gameplay, but not much else.

The setting is Christmas-time, the snowy backdrop of the beautiful yet slightly decaying, black skyline of Gotham city is lingering and looming overhead constantly. This simultaneously cheery and foreboding sense will permeate the entire game, in a semi-ironic nod to the Joker who later orchestrates the majority of what was at first Black Mask’s rodeo. This origins story is as much about the Joker and Batman’s first encounters with the man as it is about Batman’s survival and crusade against crime itself. Things start off right away with Batman after Black Mask, attempting to save the life of the current Police Commissioner, Gillian Loeb. You can imagine how this is going to go, seeing as you probably know a bit of Batman lore at least from the Nolan movies if not from the comics themselves. I mean, how do you think Gordon became Commissioner in the next games, eh? But anyway, enough on that. Batman arrives at Blackgate Penitentiary and soon realizes that Black Mask’s schemes extend to killing the Bat as well. In fact, wealthy as his crime network is, he’s willing to pay a sizable amount ($1 million or so) to issue a nice hit on the caped vigilante. Eight special assassins receive the invitation to the hunt a la LucasArt’s Jango Fett Bounty Hunter game, and they eagerly accept. You can guess how that goes.

Not to attempt to spoil things, but the eight assassins are as follows: Bane, who unsurprisingly appears for the third consecutive time; Deadshot, making a larger appearance than in Arkham City; Deathstroke, DC’s Deadpool, who is playable with pre-orders; Copperhead, who hasn’t been seen in an Arkham game until now; Firefly, who has a certain affinity for being true to his name; the little-known Electrocutioner; the crocodillian (made that up) Killer Croc; and martial artist Shiva. Sure, not all of them are actually assassins, but they’re all quite deadly in their own rights. Shiva and Deathstroke are of course the two biggest threats it would seem. Now, this is a slightly different approach than we’ve seen yet in the previous Arkham games- instead of Batman being the predator, he is taking his turn being the prey…at least for some time until he gets a handle on the situation. He doesn’t have to like it, just accept it.

The only sad part about this situation, which sounds pretty solid from a central storyline standpoint, is that it never really takes off as it should. There are so many side-missions and convoluted storyline points going on around town, that they can’t be pulled off or integrated into the main mission as well as they could in Arkham City’s campaign. This lack of focus sometimes is acceptable with the story, as it shows Batman frantically searching for who he should really be focusing on, but that focus doesn’t stick around long enough to really take any sizable root either. Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin gets involved, conflict with the Gotham PD a la Amazing Spider-Man arises, the infamous Falcone family strikes a few times, and a rioting gang called Anarky gets involved like Spider-Man 3’s Arsenic Candy and other street gangs. Short answer is, Batman has got a lot on his mind, and little time to really deal with any of it, as he’s constantly fending off attacks from the elusive eight and Black Mask. These storylines are all interesting, and I can’t fault them for being action-packed, it’s just they don’t budget their time as well as the plethora of side content in Arkham City did and aren’t nearly as standalone or able to complete at your leisure. Just when all seems lost however, the bright, shining smile of the Joker clears things up and gets the story moving on the rails again- which is good for us, and most certainly bad for the Bat. Batman will need all of his gadgets and wits and skills to keep this grinning maniac away from him, and thankfully he has many at his disposal still- even in this prequel.

In the combat realm, things remain mostly unchanged in terms of combos, moves, skills, and enemy types. Attacks, counters, cape swipes and strikes, gadgets, and timing are all key here, as in the other Arkham titles. Now, as before, it is possible to chain together massive combos as long as you can avoid being hit or leaping the wrong way and not being near enough to a foe. Knowing when to wuit and to start a new combo adds an air of strategy to the mix as well, instead of the whole game being a min-numbing brawl. The animations are steadily holding the bar of standards and look just as good and as painful as those of the famous neck punches and face smashes of the previous games, all the while sounding as satisfying as ever. You soar across Gotham City much as you do across Arkham City, utilziing your diving, soaring, and gliding techniques in combination with the Batclaw grapnel and thumb sticks. You even manage to through in some detective vision combat moments, pinpointing weaknesses, and highlighting weaker structures as well. Of course, you’re free to use it during detective segments and exploration for secrets as well.

While the gameplay is much the same, and some moments seem ripped in all but name from the other two titles, there are still some sizable thrills to be had and awestriking moments as well. You’ll find yourself abusing the cryptographic sequencer, the batclaw, and the line launcher more than ever for pulling down vents, breaking codes, and getting across convenient chasms. Some new gadgets are thrown in as well, but even these scream Arkham City, and are the same as their counterparts in that vast arsenal. For example- the glue grenade is an exact replica of the freeze grenade from that game, mimicking it in every gameplay aspect, and even going so far as to create waterproof rafts as well. Something tells me glue would fall apart in water, and not be quite as reliable as it is in this game, but science be damned I guess. You even get your hands, or claws, on some gauntlets that send out electrical shocks like the armored edition version of Arkham City provided. If that doesn’t make you feel like the Electrocutioner, I don’t know what will. However, as much of a godsend as these gauntlets are, they also break the normal flow of combat by beating down any type of enemy within a few swift blows, with complete disregard for the strategy earlier employed to take out shielded bad guys and other special foes.

To go with gameplay, although not pertaining so much to combat, Gotham City’s immensity makes for one heck of a vista to travel about and explore. Because it is larger even than the expansive Arkham City, Gotham City offers plenty of easy to grasp ledges and batclaw clamping locations, as well as several fast travel destinations for the batplane and Batman in each major district or area. The one slightly tedious area to travel across in order to get to other areas without using fast travel options is the gigantic Pioneer Bridge- which seemingly goes on forever, and has some hidden spots and nooks as well. Suffice it to say, the architectural feats here are impressive to say the least.

Arkham Origins might not always beat or live up to Arkham City’s standards, but it does try to and somewhat successfully one-up its predecessor in that it boasts a large roster of villains- both in leading, and supporting roles. Black Mask, Deathstroke, Shiva, Bane, Killer Croc, Firefly, Deadshot, Copperhead, Electrocutioner, Joker, Mad Hatter, Riddler, and more show up to rain on the Dark Knight’s parade more than a couple of times. And that’s just to get the party started. Some villains are area specific or moment specific, whereas others have overarching stories, or items for you to search for throughout the game. We even get to break down a few more crimes in rich detail, utilizing the vast array of fantastic gadgets the Bat has at his disposal, and the intuitive skills he possesses. I mean, almost all crime scene investigations are like the Deadshot side quest of Arkham City or better. Isn’t that something to be grateful for?

Not all activities are area specific as I mentioned above. Riddler returns, this time with so-called extortion files as well, scattered about the city for the Bat to find. Even the challenge modes are full to the brim with new medals and new adventures for Batman, and presumably later, for his accomplice Robin as well. Two hundred and eighty-eight gold medals alone, unlockable New Game Plus after having once completed the story, and unlockable I am the Night mode after completing that also await challenge-worthy players. Suffice it to say, the game is as full of content as any in the past, and then some, and then some. It doesn’t lack for trying, and it isn’t all simply based upon interpretation. While it might not break too much new ground, and continues Rocksteady’s trend of good work and gameplay, Origins is a true origins story and while the Bat takes some falls, he survives the others.

Another little highlighted portion of the game, in addition to the excellent challenge modes and the excellent story mode campaigns, is the multiplayer. While this is by far the weakest part of the game, and shows the most lack of polish in terms of controls and gameplay, it is also an interesting prototype for something that could be much more refined in future installments, assuming it isn’t completely scrapped. Sort of like a darker version of Gotham City Imposters, multiplayer offers up intriguing matchups of 2 v. 3 v. 3 with Batman and Robin pitted against two team of three henchman- one from Bane’s territory and the other within Joker’s jurisdiction. Batman and Robin play fine, as they are the center of the game anyway and can stealthily take down enemies with ease, however the henchman really mess things up with their shoddy gunplay and terrible maneuvering. This is rarely the player’s fault, but the fault of the skillsets they have been handed. Getting good enough to embody Joker or Bane themselves is fun and interesting, but playing as the henchmen until that point is demeaning and horrible at most times. Now, that’s not to say it is terrible and impossible to be redeemed, just that it needs some significant work.

The Portable Perspective

Not only is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate an entirely too large subtitled mouthful, but it is a repetitive and uninteresting experience for well over three quarters of its storyline. Slow moving plotlines mirrored by slow moving gameplay hold this game back from at least anything better than mundane or mediocre handheld gameplay. The prison is pretty detailed, but it could use some color change at least every now and then to break free of the grey and gloomy. The sounds and voicework are the highlight of the game, as they seem to be the only two facets not in need of dire help at most times. The gameplay is okay, but hard to get a handle on in the two point five dimensions allowed and the handheld setting. It works, but just barely in some instances. Also, you’ll spend more time scanning areas than actually thinning the ranks of your foes. Exploration is fruitless yet required to progress, and that is the entirety of the game summed up in a nutshell. Pointless, yet required at times. My final score for this version of the game would have to be somewhere between a 6.0 and 6.5 at most.

Now, with this incredibly lengthy and detailed review almost at a close, I believe it is time to give you my final thoughts and the final breakdown for the console and computer versions of Batman: Arkham Origins.

Concept: Provide a pretty thorough and gripping account of the Dark Knight’s first encounter with many of his enemies and his archenemy, the Joker. This is most definitely an origins story, and as with its hero, it is gradually learning from its mistakes as it goes.

Graphics: The attention to detail is impressive, and as with the other Akrham games, it does not disappoint in character animations and models during both set piece moments and normal tasks.

Sound: There isn’t much error to be found in the new voices of the Bat or clown prince, and for that, I am sure many people are thankful. It is new and refreshing, but not alien in the slightest.

Playability: Take Arkham City and its elements and you essentially have the majority of the gameplay here in Origins.

Entertainment: Whether you want to complete the challenges of challenge mode, play through the story to see how things unfold, suffer through multiplayer mayhem, or just beat on some relatively defenseless henchmen, this game proves to be very entertaining indeed. Some achievements might require you to play through the story at least three times and be quite annoying, but as i can attest, it’s all doable and all exciting in the long run.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.25

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The Wolf Among Us: Episode One- Faith Review

[As Read on GIO.]

I’ve got to say, as hard as I am to impress- which I’ll readily admit to just about anyone, The Wolf Among Us: Episode One has me fully enthralled, waiting for what happens next. Sure, I’ve read a few of the Fables comics before- being the literary and motion nerd I am, but not on the same level as my obsession with The Walking Dead saga courtesy of Robert Kirkman. As with TWD however, it is not the writing that grips me, rather the circumstances of the characters. Needless to say, Telltale has done it again and made lightning strike twice with TWAU thus far- making episode one just as explosive as that of their first season of TWD. I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see them alternate seasons between these two universes for a few seasons or years at least. That way both worlds will remain fresh for us, and rife with content.

This goes way beyond your average twisted Grimm tale however, as TWAU shares a semblance to Telltale’s TWD not just in looks in some ways, but in desperation and setting as well. This tale might be even dark than cannibalism and zombies, if only just barely. And to think we tell our kids the bedtime stories this tale is essentially derived from- incredible. Speaking of curious resemblances between TWD and TWAU, it’s also intriguing to note that this particular adventure also begins with a car ride- though not one from the back of a police cruiser, notably.

The game is set within the gated (figuratively) community of Fabletown- deep within New York, where famous fairy tale characters conceal their identities with magical glamours and everybody has some deep, often dark, secret. These darker versions of the familiar fairy tales we mostly all know offer a more deeply riveting and gripping narrative that will undoubtedly absorb you from the offhand beginning to the intuitive end. From the literally explosive fighting in the beginning and carried on throughout, to the grim detective work of Bigby Wolf, to the fouler language of the credible heroes and hoodlums of fairy tale lore- TWAU breaks some social norms in order to achieve its ends. And I enjoyed it the better for it too, strangely enough. Heck, even Snow White drops her seven dwarves for the Big Bad Wolf, so it must be worthwhile enough. Sometimes, it’ll jerk you around so much (in a good way generally), that you might just think someone had stuck an axe in your head…

This particular story takes on a darker tone than previous Telltale exploits right from the offset- from disorderly conduct in the form of abuse to premature decapitation. As with Larry and Lilly from TWD, there will nevertheless be characters that irk you from the start- only to presumably redeem themselves or damn themselves even more later. I could certainly name at least one that really got to me this time around, and then surprised me further in the very same episode later on. Even the Woody Woodsman himself manages to shed a tear or too for some things it seems, despite his gruff demeanor.

One of the most intriguing and interesting conundrums facing characters (especially Bigby, of course) is the fact that the Wolf’s dark past firmly overshadows most of the good things he tries to do, and only promotes the darker aspects. I think that using force or being less gruff will go a long way towards the finale of the season, as some things did with TWD as well. Interestingly enough, your other problems manifest themselves in a  variety of ways other than simply changing your tune mid conversation as well. Choosing between prospective or actual crises is an interesting change of play- whether its something as simple as helping a friend or chasing a potential murderer down. You’re given a tiny bit of time to decide, but still marginally longer than TWD’s conversation only choices- which is a thankful and torturous addition simultaneously.

Regardless of your choice, yo can always be sure there will be some impact or unforeseen consequence later on. Not only does this fully encourage the player to replay things for different outcomes, but it essentially means that by the end of episode one alone, players could have experienced say ten or twelve endings. Now, just imagine how many there are over the course of a full season. Impressive- no?

As much as I enjoyed this particular aspect of the game, I actually enjoyed what action segments it had a little bit more, interestingly enough. I didn’t see fault with them for the most part in TWD, and definitely didn’t see any issues with the further honed brutality here. The QTE imput is the same- with the directional context, yet it feels a little more meaningful and even more brutal if possible. As with TWD, the action unfolds quite rapidly- often giving you little time to react well, making it more challenging as you go on throughout the story. I relished the increase in difficulty because of this, but do admit that it could prove frustrating in some instances if not carefully executed or paid attention to. However, the controls are as responsive as ever- cutting down on that frustration, whether you are doing the attacking with a club, or dodging blows from adversaries.

The not-so satisfying portion of the story however is the essentially wasted opportunity presented by the so-called ‘detective’ work. Far from that of the intensive collection of data in LA Noire, though following the same principles, this item collection and data fetching essentially only boils down to scanning the entire environment for clues like in some segments of TWD. While the point and click options are better integrated than in TWD for sure, I just felt as if Telltale could’ve done a little something more other than allowing you to catch lies from found data and objects- at least making it a little more intriguing and worthwhile overall.

Qualms with the linear gameplay aside, it remains true that the experience is highly enjoyable and also replayable multiple times over. Despite it’s grievances, it is an excellently written narrative experience first and foremost, although it does have some enjoyable and intense gameplay as well at times. The best part of the episode is easily the pretty unpredictable plot line, and the immersing world and culture it is based around. It opens strongly and closes subtly, but not before piquing your interest enough to leave you salivating for the second episode- Smoke and Mirrors.

Concept: Put the pen and paper of the Fables universe to a cinematic and enjoyable, playable experience- narrative revelations and quirky characters included.

Graphics: As with TWD, Teltale really has the cell shading and art stye here down pat. No complaints here, aside from the fact that it doesn’t run as smoothly on consoles as it does on computers- with notable differences in lag before fight sequences.

Sound: The voice work is well done and creative, and the background music and sounds really get that noir detective vibe across- even with the flamboyant and colorful cast.

Playability: While not necessarily the easiest controls to grasp at times, the contextual buttons are quite responsive to the touch amidst the action.

Entertainment: Certainly more exciting at times than TWD, TWAU is on par or more advanced than that particular project- though it does not yet have the feeling that Clementine and Lee elicited from players. Maybe with time, Snow and Bigby can persuade us to think otherwise…

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Beyond: Two Souls Review

[As Read on GIO.]

I’m going to try not to talk about David Cage’s or Quantic Dream’s past or previous projects such as Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain. I know that in some ways- and in more ways than one, Beyond: Two Souls resembles these games- mostly Heavy Rain, but it is a completely new ballgame in other ways as well. Sure, I might use a few easy to grasp examples from Heavy Rain- but that’ll be about it, as I do not wish to ruin that particular story for anyone who may or may not have played or finished it. However, I will say that I was not a particularly big fan of Heavy Rain, and I actually enjoyed Beyond  a little bit more than that game- if not for its storytelling, then for its overarching story and minimal on-screen prompts during gameplay. While I did not so much like the classic Cage contextual prompts in Heavy Rain as much, despite enjoying that story more- the opposite was true here, as I didn’t so much stick by the story as I did the better integrated prompts and controls. Despite their inherent lack of realism, I must admit that Cage/Quantic Dream games are quite good at what they do best- crafting a beautiful world and an engaging control scheme to explore it with.

I promise this is really the only direct line I’ll say about Heavy Rain in relation to Beyond: Two Souls, but it really must be said in order to explain the themes of this game- so, sorry. There is a massive feeling of parental guidance and lack thereof in both games- from Ethan Mars and, in Beyond, Nathan Dawkins. While one deals directly with losing his son and then (possibly) recovering him later, the inverse happens throughout the plot of Beyond: Two Souls, and Dr. Dawkins serves almost as a mentoring and parental figure to Jodie for some time. Many of the same themes carry over from Heavy Rain into Beyond: Two Souls, however, Beyond also manages to stand on its own shaky feet as its own unique story which can have several different interpretations depending upon your choices throughout. The main, significant and stalwart theme of the game is one that follows (erratically, mind you) the life of Jodie Holmes and her paranormal companion Aiden. While some would argue that she is being held as a psychiatric and physical captive by Cole Freeman and Nathan Dawkins- her two doctors and later friends, I personally believe that their eagerness to learn of her communicative abilities with Aiden and obsession with the nether realm (for each their own reasons) serves as a more interesting tale than captivity.

Without (hopefully) spoiling too terribly much for you, Jodie’s saga will take her from a child to a young woman, from the United States all the way to China, and from the deep sea to covert CIA deep cover facilities. In typical and slightly overbearing David Cage style, the story- or what there is cinematically told, I should say, is quite bizarre even for a paranormal, omnipresent, omniscient sidekick being in it- and is a globetrotting extravaganza that can be very confusing when taken out of order as it is. Then again, while I respect his ideas and games, I’ve never really enjoyed Cage’s writing style so much- or his abilities rather at all. He would be a better film and cinematic director than he would be a true author, which is basically what he is currently anyway. While he often nails the tone throughout the plot, the overly dramatic conversations that don’t need to be made so are often very awkwardly handled- although I can’t say Page and Dafoe and the other seasoned vets didn’t impress me, because that’d be a lie. The performances are solid, but some moments still fall through due mainly to the writing- especially the unbelievable ones. It’s truly a moving game- in terms of the speed with which it jumps around the plot, and the places you’ll go and people you’ll see. For example, Jodie and Aiden go from being interned at the DPA (Department of Paranormal Activity) to covert missions with special operatives of the Central Intelligence Agency, to coexisting with local Native Americans and exploring the otherworld filled with malevolent and benevolent spirits. Oh the places you will go…

Sorry, but I’m going to make another quick little allusion to Heavy Rain again here- bear with me for a moment. The basic gameplay components are quite similar to Heavy Rain’s analog presses and twists, quick-time button choices for decisions and actions, and worldly indicators as opposed to actual flashing prompts. While Beyond feels like more of a real experience than Heavy Rain due to its lack of on-screen HUD-like prompts, despite its less believable setting, it still has the occasional popup here and there as well, but covers most scenarios well enough by making players guess what to do. As usual, this provides somewhat of an incredibly challenging and semi-frustrating experience at times, but one I was ultimately, overall, pleased with by the finale. Don’t worry yourself too much about the scattered action segments and your reactions to them, as the game will slow time just enough briefly to allow you the appropriate time to react. Still, it’s a short window of opportunity, so take advantage of it before desperately lashing out or tackling your foes. All in all, that’s a pretty scarily immersive experience.

The biggest gameplay and game changer is the fact that you also have the ability to control Aiden, Jodie’s ghostly friend, at certain times throughout the story. Mind you, this isn’t a free choice to switch like it is in Grand Theft Auto V, but rather a documented and scripted changeover. Which is fine, because the gameplay elements themselves make it all the more interesting to compare two drastically different control schemes between Jodie’s and Aiden’s. You can possess enemies, float seamlessly through objects and walls, throw objects, move things a la Poltergeist, and even peer into the past memories of those you encounter. Needless to say, Aiden is a busy little fella, and a pretty handy guy to have around helping. Despite these thrills however, your experiences are bound to be limited in some ways in terms of puzzles and learning how to perform new tasks as the entity. For example, you might not be able to choke every single enemy out or possess them all because the game wants you to experiment and try something new each time. Thus, annoyingly enough, some enemies are immune to your greatest advances. Still, it’s a truly exciting experience even if it is flawed- kind of like the game.

Whereas it could have been truly artsy and not flawed in other ways, Beyond’s greatest mistake lies in its design choice and narrative choice to try to compete with the biggest action titles out there. The fact that it’s a paranormal adventure story gives it a leg up at first, but also serves as its greatest bar- holding the game back from ever reaching its true potential. Sadly, instead of relying- again, I’ll mention it- on the mundane tasks that got Heavy Rain’s points across, Beyond tries to hard to make you feel the tense action of covert attacks and assassinations instead of the simple things. The stereotypical CIA as the bad guy/good guy/can’t decide idea comes into play, the infiltration of some secret underwater base comes into play, and much more. As interesting as these action-y sequences are, and as much fun as I had completing the more action-packed memories and moments, I always had to remember to take the with the customary grain of sand/salt- a very large one in this case. Throughout most action segments, the conversation we’ve come to believe shapes the story is essentially nonexistent, or lacks the creative punch I was expecting. Some things can drastically alter you story, but not as many factors as I would have thought would in such settings and scenarios as I encountered with Jodie and Aiden.

Overall, the story is what gets the most confusing for me, and probably for most people. When I broke it down, and also referred to Wikipedia for the chronology of events, it was a lot easier to stomach. However, as it was- muddled, jumbled, and otherwise penned sporadically as Cage imagined it, it lacks the punch it would otherwise have delivered. If we could cut out some of the truly extraneous and meaningless parts, then sure, it’d be a bit shorter- but it would’ve been so much more meaningful to me as a player and it would’ve let me experience things relatively unbroken alongside Jodie and Aiden. It’s a really big shame, and weighs heavily on me, because the acting was superb in most cases, and there were some really tough moments to get through both emotionally and thoughtfully. I’ll admit, I could feel Jodie’s pain at times, and I actually enjoyed the two different endings I experienced- of the six or so main endings. There are some moments of power amidst the story, but as with a weaker gale, it just couldn’t topple any sturdy structures of video game worth.

Despite it trying its hardest to cajole gamers into agreeing politically (although quite subconsciously at times) with what must be either Quantic or Cage’s opinions on matters- such as the treatment of the homeless and natives, as well as the two-facedness of the CIA and intelligence agencies- Beyond was truly both an enlightening and enjoyable experience for me. As Matt said however, I’ll always remember it as definitely brilliant, yet incredibly flawed in some important ways. It doesn’t overall reflect too poorly upon it’s score, as it was enjoyable enough- but it’s still disappointing…

Concept: Tell the story of Jodie Holmes and her connection to the omnipresent and omniscient entity Aiden through a sporadic tale covering most of her life and bridging several worlds, uncovering some surprisingly deep revelations along the way. A true story of finding yourself as much as finding quality and acceptance in others.

Graphics: Excellently rendered animations and character models, only pulled down in some instances by weaker parallels in still models within the environments. The cinematic work is unparalleled in my opinion, for the most part.

Sound: Between the haunting and minimalistic melodies and the star studded cast, it’s truly hard to find fault with what is present for sound quality.

Playability: The quick time contextual sequences work out much more fluidly than in previous Quanitc Dream games utilizing similar sequences of control, however the action moments can often make players lost and disoriented- which, while somewhat intended, can still be quite annoying at times when wrestling with control and chaos.

Entertainment: Despite falling down in the story and gameplay department at times, the game comes together well and has its genuinely impressive and deeply thought-provoking moments of fear, bravery, trust, and sadness.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.5

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Saints Row IV Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Let me be clear- Saints Row: The Third was a game that I had thought did not require a sequel so relatively soon after its release, for more reasons than one. The first reason would be the sheer amount of content it already offered, and the premise that I’m sure much more could have been shoved into the already bustling and busting world. The second reason would be because of its witty and insanely comical storyline, dialogue, and antics- making for a very memorable and hard to top experience. And the third reason being that, with each iteration of the Saints series getting better and better, it only takes so many sequels before you inevitably fall down a notch in the process. Saints Row IV is a good game, but it is not a better game than Saints Row: The Third in many ways, although it might still top it in others. By no means does this mean that IV is not a worthy sequel, or that it is automatically to be trashed simply because it didn’t do as well as its predecessor. In fact, I’d still say that, in terms of the craziness and carnage we’ve come to expect from the Saints series, IV ranks second behind The Third, and is worlds better than SR2 and SR1. It is particularly interesting how Enter the Dominatrix became a full fledged title, and you’d expect that title to be a little barebones because of that, but it is surprisingly immersing instead. If you’re looking for a crazy, fast-paced, and exciting title, then this is definitely a game for you.

The extremely apparent reason for Saints Row IV being ten times more crazy than its predecessor lies in the fact that you are in a computer simulation, and therefore anything goes- from superpowers to supercars. The fact that these powers are given to players early on in the game is a double edged gameplay sword. On one hand, it is awesome to be able to be overpowered and already leap buildings in single bounds a la Crackdown, however, on the other, you never get to really appreciate your powers so much by building them up and enjoying their ins and outs also a la Crackdown. In fact, on a Crackdown note, Saints Row IV can be easily compared to the first title in that series (or the second,, if you think about it) in that you possess a special set of powers, you fight overwhelming odds often, and you also find yourself in an abnormally hilarious and over-the-top experience every step of the way. First things first though, before I draw many more parallels between games here- let’s get back to this review. You play as the President of the United States (or is it President of the United Saints? I’m really not sure…) and you have the power to veto bills or leap high buildings and run at dangerously fast speeds. Bear in mind, you can upgrade your skills and learn new ones, however, it is simply not as expansive and time consuming as it could be a la Crackdown, which is both good and bad. If you are looking for a more in-depth experience, it is a little disappointing, however, if you wish to level up fast and kick some booty, it is excellently paced.

One of the other double edged gameplay swords present here for and because of your super abilities, is the fact that your transportation methods are drastically affected. You’ll most likely only find yourselves utilizing cars or other forms of transportation in the missions that require them, whereas you would normally just fly, sprint, and glide around to your destinations otherwise. There are still some epic vehicles, and by all means you are welcome to take them for a ride, however, you are a lot less likely to when you’ve got the choice between flying and driving. It’s just a no-brainer. Now, going back to something I mentioned earlier about Enter the Dominatrix- the majority of the game is spent within said computer simulation, so expect even more shenanigans and hijinks than usual. The best thing about this is that those hijinks don’t just stop at gameplay and dialogue, but instead percolate into the entire world as well. There are several moments that parody entire scenes from well known movies, games, and books- such as, but not limited to, Tron, Matrix, MGS, and more. The humor that the series has become known for still elicits laughs here and there, but ultimately it is the over-the-top, insane gameplay that has you rolling on the floor, not the scripted sequences or fallback jokes.

Let’s talk about craziness and insanity for a moment here. No- not Vaas’ definition of insanity, although that is a very good one, both metaphorically and literally. No, what I am referring to are the innumerable moments where something insane happens in Saints Row IV, and you simply stop and marvel at them. From the dubstep gun to the inflate-o-ray to the lightsabers (yes, you heard me correctly) to the black holes and more, there isn’t a sane moment in this game. I mean, just take a gander at the picture above. That is the dubstep gun in action, and some of its finest work. Truly. Flying high above your enemies, descending upon them like a maelstrom, sucking them into a black hole, blowing them up with your mind, and much, much more is possible- and deadly fun(ny) as well. Some other craziness happens in the form of intentional (and unintentional) bugs or glitches. You might be walking (or flying) around, when suddenly the environment becomes all pixelated and wavy, or maybe you’re people start going crazy and walking into walls and stuff- it all depends. Then, of course, there are moments when you can’t tell whether or not the bug is intentional- such as one instance where I was flying around, landed near a bad guy, picked him up to give him a whooping, and he suddenly disappeared- or so I thought. Instead, he had teleported mysteriously to the top of the world’s sky, fallen for several minutes, bounced off of several hard objects, landed on the ground, sat there for two more minutes, and then gotten up and walked away like it was an everyday occurrence- which, in this game it very well may be. It’s the things like that that actually make the game all the more endearing, even if they are character flaws. The only true annoying glitches are ones regarding the usual freezing and loading issues games have every now and then, but aside from that- the game is solid.

For aesthetic gurus out there, be warned- the entire game takes place in a gloomy atmosphere, so don’t be expecting too much day to day changing world looks or locales. These night happening are made all the more interesting, but I could easily see how it could also irk people as it did our very own, beloved Dan Ryckert. Anyway, I for one, was not too miffed about it, seeing it merely as a design choice I would not have taken, but ultimately respect simply in the fact that it doesn’t in any way diminish the gameplay or graphics- merely the visual palette. Saints Row has always been a fun and crazy experience, and always had its few little glitches and issues, and on the whole, IV is not entirely too different, despite the change in ownership. It’s the same as the Metro sequel in many ways- from developer to the fact that some things have changed, whereas others have remained faithfully true. Solo, cooperative, or just time sinking are all viable options, and all with their respective personalities and gimmicks. Superpowers and superpowered enemies just make things all the more risky, fun, and insane, and I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to play with them for the world- or rather, for an animated Steelport simulation. The series has always been known for its customization abilities and upgrades, and those return in force this time around, with upgrades for everything from your techno weapons to your superpowers and looks. This might be the same old story as The Third, with controlling and protecting Steelport and your interests, but you can bet that it is far from the same experience as that of The Third- even if Johnny Gat does make a come back. (Sorry, had to spoil that- plus I’m sure you already knew anyway, and if not…oops.)

Concept: Simply put- Saints Row: The Third with more customization, more insanity, and more superpowers…well, actually HAVING superpowers, anyway.

Graphics: The graphics are slightly improved over The Third’s already pretty good looking graphical scheme, and the only slight inconvenience is the brightness or lack thereof present throughout your adventures. That is easily cured however by simply turning the settings and gamma up of course, so it is quite minor and not detracting from the experience.

Sound: The in-game radio stations and the soundtracks and scores themselves are as silly as the game is, and often quite fitting to the scenarios you find yourselves in. Sometimes the game tries to be dramatic, and it is usually all the more hilarious for it.

Playability: I wouldn’t have though there would be much more room in the controls for your super abilities and augmentations, but by golly, they sure managed to pack them in there anyway didn’t they? Now, not only can you curb stomp somebody, but you can inflate-o ray them, drop them off of a building, curb stomp them from fifteen feet in the air, AND toss them into a black hole for added measure.

Entertainment: Saints Row IV certainly shines in some moments, and it has quite a few solid times, but overall, it’s still just a close second to Saints Row: The Third, and seems too much like Saints Row 3.5 for me. But that’s just my opinion, and has nothing to do with the solid gameplay and tight controls.

Replay Value: Moderately High.

Overall Score: 8.0

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