Catching Up

This website kind of fell to the wayside, but don’t worry — it has nothing to do with lost interest, and yes, I’ve been gaming.

The lack of updates stems from:

  • Not finding too much “new” to mention following the completion of Sonic Chronicles. My last post pretty much nailed the majority of my thoughts on the game. The only things I can add are that I never frequented stores, level-ups never made me feel more powerful, I enjoyed turning into the golden Sonic for the boss fight, and I was less excited about the game starting over after victory and realizing nothing had changed. Overall, I enjoyed the title and would probably check out a sequel.
  • Playing Saints Row 2 — which wasn’t really any different from the first Saints Row. SR2 is pretty much a clone of SR1. Same bugs, same balance issues, same problems, but… same fun missions and gameplay, and a whole lot more of it. It’s definitely one of the most fun games out there to play. I think the only thing that felt different to me between the two games is that I had a lot more respect earlier on in the game, but that might just be a result of knowing how important respect is and focusing on it. I will say that I prefer SR2’s crib-focused respect over SR1’s clothing-focused respect.

Now that I’m caught up, it’s on to… Dragon Age: Origins!

I’m currently playing Dragon Age: Journeys, a fairly decent web game that ties in with the main title (DA:O) on a promotional level, but also unlocks some additional items and perks. It’s only supposed to be about 2.5 hours but I’ve been playing in such tiny doses that it feels like I’ve been playing for weeks.

As for Dragon Age: Origins, I ordered a copy for the Xbox 360 and I just received a notification that it has been shipped and will probably be here with 3 or 4 days. I can’t wait to get started onto it! 🙂

Saints Row – Completion

I finished Saints Row. Woo!

The run of missions near the end amped up the difficulty a bit and caused me some frustration – but it was the “I’m having fun and even though I can’t do this and I keep cursing I will keep trying again until I do it” frustration (also known as the good kind).

Of course, that reminds me that, like GTA IV, re-doing missions is annoying at times because you’re often forced to re-do the boring parts before you can re-try the challenging parts. Some missions force you to drive two or three minutes across town before you get to try the mission. That’s no fun. Well, when that happened in GTA IV it was no fun. I liked the driving a lot better in Saints Row so it was a small amount of fun that was at least more fun than GTA IV. :p

I think the hardest mission, for me, was one where I had to blow up a parade of cops cars – which instantly raises the threat level to maximum (meaning the FBI and everyone else comes after you). You’re tasked with driving yourself and a buddy to a “forgiveness” station while helicopters shoot at you and spike-strips are laid out at every corner and SWAT trucks block every road and FBI vehicles smash into you from all direction (even from behind when you’re going full speed). It’s just about a guarantee that no one car will give you the ability to move from Point A to Point B, so you need to get out and into a new car along the way – which is quite difficult with the police force that’s after you. Not only do you have to keep yourself alive, but you have to wait, once you get into a replacement vehicle, for your partner to hop in with you. Move even the slightest bit and he’ll stop, wait for you to stop, and then re-align himself with the door before trying to get in again.

Of course, Saints Row is pretty good about letting you “meta game”. Play through a mission a few times and figure out all the basics, and then you can re-try the mission with better planning and strategy – like driving straight to the destination and waiting for someone instead of following them in a high-speed chase along a meandering route. I think I was able to successfully complete the mission by using a Big Rig. Sure, you’re slow and an easy target, but you can take – and dish out – a ton of damage.

Unfortunately, while Saints Row is pretty good about letting you do things like this – it doesn’t always grant you such freedoms. There are more than a few missions when you’re forced to do exactly one thing and you can’t “out think” the game.

For example, I once failed a mission because I was goofing off after doing the hard part. After completing two or three legs of the mission, my only job was to drive back to collect my reward. No time limit, no bad guys chasing me, nothing to think about except counting the money. Along the way home, I spotted some gang members are decided to take them out – which I did! But a nearby explosion caused my car to tip up and then over in the process. As I finished off the rivals and spun around, I spotted my car explode and – then I failed the mission. *sigh* I guess I wasn’t allowed to drive back in any other vehicle.

But because the game is generally good about letting you do things however you will, I didn’t stress that moment too much. In fact, that’s sort of my recurring theme with this game: because it’s so fun, I overlooked an awful lot of bad. Bad missions. Bad graphic glitches. Bad AI. Bad bugs – oh, dear God, the bad bugs.

I laughed when I watched the end credits; the sheer number of QA on the project was staggering. I can’t imagine none of them spotted the bugs I spotted, so I have to believe that the dev team simply did not have the resources to fix the issues. Well, except for the TYPOs in the credits. That’s pretty unforgivable. And embarassing. Well, it would be if anyone ever paid attention to the credits (not that I really ever do either, to be honest. I paid attention just enough to notice the two typos).

Yes, the game was a ton of fun, despite a feeling that there may have been an effort opposed to that fun, like a few people buried deep within the company making a subversive effort to prevent fun – but failing. I’m more curious now for Saints Row 2 so that I can see how it compares to Saints Row 1. I like to think they started by fixing the bugs from the first one before creating new missions and content for the sequel.

You’re going to have to wait for my thoughts on Saints Row 2, though – as I have a slew of other games on the horizon. But my final verdict on Saints Row 1 is that it was very enjoyable and well worth the time spent on it. It was a sincerely good first effort for the franchise.

Saints Row – Bugs

I just cleared the 20-hour mark in Saints Row. And what stands out to me the most? It’s a fun game. I’m really enjoying it and I always look forward to playing. That said, bugs are a major nuisance – so I’m taking a moment to comment on the first seven issues I would have bugged if I were on their QA team:

  1. The Main Menu defaults to New Game, not Continue. When you click New Game, you jump to a loading screen which then takes you to character creation. If you wanted to Continue but accidentally hit New Game, it’s going to take you a little while to get back to the menu. If the game defaults to Continue, then all it does is bring up the available saves. No load time necessary. And most likely, that’s what you want to do.
  2. Audio volume levels start at maximum, then shift to the user settings. Every time I jump into a car, start up a game, go through a cutscene, etc. – the radio kicks in at full volume before dipping down. Annoying.
  3. There’s some strange stuff happening with the car physics, but it’s usually nothing too bothersome. Sometimes I drive under or over a car. Sometimes I hit a car head-on and we both come to an instant stop – with no damage or collision impact. Sometimes my car cannot drive over a short curb. Etc. Wonky as they may be, sometimes it makes for interesting happenings: like driving over a car and making it explode, resulting in my car soaring through the air. I launched over a bridge and crashed into the sea. Fun!
  4. The x/y-axis for the controller [LS] seems a little tight. That results in the character occasionally walking in a direction even though I’m not even touching the controller. This happens a lot and can be irritating. I’ve actually been killed a few times because of it. For example, I’ll attempt to dive into a car to get away from trouble. I hit Y to enter, my player races to the door, opens it, and then slowly walks away. This happened three times in a row the other night!
  5. There have been a lot of graphic glitches. Sometimes they scare me. I’ll be driving along and my car will disappear or the road will disappear. Other times, it’s just the standard “popping” where it jumps from low-res to high-res textures.
  6. Pathfinding is generally bad. During one mission, I tried to lead my gang up a set of stairs and past some metal railings. They weren’t able to handle that and I actually had to take a round-about way to get my gang to the proper location. Another time one of my gang members couldn’t get past an open car door and I had to jump in-and-out of the car a few times before she could successfully leave the car. Behavior like this is fairly normal for the game.
  7. As you play, you claim neighborhoods as income-generating territories. Occasionally, a rival gang attempts to steal one of your territories, forcing you to kill a certain number of rival gang leaders. Unfortunately, the leaders are often placed right on the border of the territory or just outside it, or placed in a way that you have to leave the territory to get to their location. Every time you step outside of the territory you get a warning telling you that you have 30 seconds to return to the combat zone. There really should have been some effort made to center the gang leaders within the territory.

I’d have been tempted to file “inconsistent difficulty” as a bug, but that’s sort of an accepted issue when dealing with games of this nature where anything can and will happen. In other words, some missions seem impossible because of how events proceed. But after a dozen tries, everything works in your favor and you get through the mission without a sweat.

For example, I came upon a combat zone and was having difficulty getting past it. After a series of tries, I accidentally struck a critical area with a rocket, as I was approaching the area – resulting in a series of chain reaction explosions that wiped out the entire resistance. Go figure.

The game is buggy and it does require some patience, but fortunately it’s also very fun and that compels me to overlook the issues as I play. Maybe for the next post I’ll update my impressions on the game as a whole.

[edit #1] I had an awesome sequence just now. I think it was the last West-Side Ballerz mission. I had to chase some guy named Prince on a freeway/bridge. He was driving away in a car-carrying truck. While he throws bombs at you and random goons hassle you, you have to shoot cars off the truck to damage the truck. Once you dislodge him from the carrier, you chase the cab down and blow him up.

I tried and failed maybe 3 or 4 times, but despite the difficulty and bad frame rate I was enjoying the challenge. But then, on my next effort, the truck’s cab jammed into the ground, forcing the carrier behind it into a vertical position – kind of like a mech. And it was stuck. So instead of a tough driving sequence, I just had to circle around the truck, fighting goons and taking shots at the attached cars. Once the truck had sustained enough damage that the cab dislodged, it fell down through the bridge. Because I was on the freeway, there was no way for me to go to it. I couldn’t jump down to the road below without dying. I couldn’t drive back to the connecting road without abandoning the mission.

After killing dozens of hassling goons, I spotted that the freeway has supports on its side where I could stand and stay away from the goons. I figured maybe I could line up some shots from there on the cab. I hopped over the freeway side and it worked perfectly – except, the map where the cab was had never drawn in! It was just empty black space. I could hear the cab but I could not see it. I waited for a moment and then a screen popped up – success! I won the mission! Hahaha. Go figure.

Buggy!

[edit #2] During the mission “The King and I”, you’re told to lead three separate groups into an ambush. It’s pretty simple. You drive up to the group, shoot at them or something to get their attention, they hop into a car, and then you drive just fast enough to keep them close to you while leading them to the target location.

The mission was going fine until I hit the third group. I got to the location and waited. And waited. And waited. I had lots of goons to fight but the car that was supposed to follow – wasn’t following. Finally, I got out of my car and looked around. I found their car stashed nearby beneath a bridge, and a group of two running away from their car. But! They were running away from the car and into the underside of the bridge. Or, in other words, it looked like they were stuck.

Fortunately, the group was tagged as immortal. So to resolve the situation, I ran back to my car, hopped in, lined myself up with the two guys, and then plowed into them full speed. It launched them away from the bridge area and seemed to re-set them, as they then ran back to the car and properly hopped inside to let me complete the mission.

[edit #3] I was racing back to home to complete a mission and I did a power slide through a turn a little too late. The right-side of my car smashed into a brick fence. One of my passengers vanished, as did the car.  My character and the two remaining passengers were all posed as if they were sitting in the car. They even occasionally stood up as if they were firing over the roof of the car. At one point, a police officer ran into the dead-center of where the car would be, standing between the driver and the front-seat passenger, before getting shot by the back-seat passenger. I waited for about 30-to-45 seconds before deciding to re-load the mission – when the car popped back into existence, along with the missing passenger, and we were going full speed as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever happened.

Saints Row – First Impression

I’d been wanting to play the second Saints Row for a while now – since I’d heard it compared very favorably to one of my favorite titles, GTA: San Andreas. But then I spotted the first Saints Row (SR1) “for cheap” and decided to pick it up instead. The comparison to San Andreas probably tells you all you need to know about the game, but if not – GTA (and SR1, from what I can tell) is a game where you drive around a realistic city performing various activities – such as driving from Point A-to-Point B, high-speed chases, high-speed escapes, and other variations on stuff you can do while driving. It sounds simple, but it’s an awesome genre of fun gaming. And that brings us back to SR2 – the game I wanted to play because people said it was like a sequel to San Andreas. How would SR1 differ?

Upon starting the game, my first thought was “I have to make my own character? I don’t want to do that!” I always get a little annoyed when I’m presented with a thousand ways to customize my player. I want to play the game and giving me that many choices is effectively a road block. I’m being facetious, by the way – though I did sigh heavily when I realized I’d be tinkering with the look of my character for a while before actually playing. And I was only allotting myself about 45 minutes to play.

Despite wanting to just pick a default and start playing, I ended up taking about 10 minutes to customize an Asian avatar with short, green hair, a long mustache, and devil-spiked eye brows. He has a very slightly muscled build.

And then I dove in. Here are my first five thoughts:

My first thought was in regard to character movement: responsive! Unlike a lot of games that deliver realistic animations – Saints Row delivers accurate motion. In other words, I press forward and then immediately press back – in GTA, my character will transition from a run to a slow-down, then play a turn animation, then transition from stop-to-walk-to-jog-to-run. In SR1, you go from running one direction to immediately running in the other direction with only a quick turn animation between. Arcade-like. Fun. I dig it. I hopped into a car and found it’s much the same – almost exactly, if not exactly, like comparing the driving physics from San Andreas to GTA IV. Again, I dig it.

Second thought was that combat was sloppy. I don’t have a mouse to ensure pin-point precision. I have an analog stick. When I aim my shots, I often jump the targeting reticule past my opponent, then swing it back past him again as I try to aim. Then the opponent moves and I have to start over. That’s why games like GTA employ an auto-target mechanism. Unfortunately, SR1 does not have that. It also does not have cover mode. A thought creeps through my head that combay may become frustrating. We’ll see.

Third thought was that I couldn’t get used to the controls. While driving, it’s (and we’re talking Xbox 360 here) [X] to reverse and break, [A] to accelerate, and [LT] to pull the emergency break. What? Seriously? Why not go with the industry standard? [RT] to accelerate, [LT] to break/reverse, and something like [X] or [B] to pull the emergency break.

(Note: didn’t find out you could grab this exact set-up by selecting a control profile from the options until my next play session; remember, I was only playing for 30 minutes and I wanted to run around a little without worrying about things.)

Fourth thought? Running around punching people in the back of the head is fun. How awful is that? But seriously, rag doll physics make everything better.

Fifth and final thought for this opening post? I dig the graphics. In a lot of ways, it is like San Andreas – but with the power of the Xbox 360 (versus the original Xbox or PS2) behind it, everything is brighter and sharper and cleaner and the frame rate is smoother. A lot of people will say it does not at all compare to GTA IV, but anyone who knows me knows that I’d rather see a dev team focus on the game play and not worry so much about the graphics; keep them clean and don’t worry so much about hyper-realistic fidelity. In that sense, SR1 takes the engine in the direction I’d have rather seen of GTA.