Tag Archives: Saint’s Row

When Music Makes the Game

Yesterday I started playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. I’ve never played a Far Cry game, but heard good things about this one so I wanted to give it a go. I get through the cinematic intro and the gameplay starts. I’m in a helicopter, with a laser gun, and Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally is playing. Boom, I’m instantly hooked. And I’ve never even seen Predator. A good song automatically gets me excited to play.

It got me thinking about how a good licensed soundtrack can really enhance a game. One series that uses music exceptionally well is Saints Row. Popular music is used enhance set pieces – in SR3, Kanye’s Power plays as you take over a rival gang’s penthouse apartment, and Holding Out for a Hero is the track when you race to rescue your crew near the end of the game; in SR4 Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing plays as you’re selflessly risking life and limb to diffuse a nuke and save the United States from an attack.

Music is also used to help you bond with your homies on their loyalty missions. Pierce’s mission is always a highlight in the games for me, with SR3 having him and The Boss sing along to What I Got, while it’s Opposites Attract that offers a bonding moment in SR4. It’s the music that gets me into the game, and performances of the voice actors that make the characters come to life.

Another game that uses licensed music in a spectacular way is Spec Ops: The Line. Vietnam era rock is a mainstay of the war shooter, even those set in present or future days. While The Line does deliver a few of these classics, such as songs by Hendrix, Deep Purple, or the lyrically relevant Nowhere to Run by Martha & the Vandellas, it also delivers some more diverse, though ultimately very fitting songs. Rather than stick to the 60s and 70s catalogues for the soundtrack, it ventures into more recent music that plays homage to the sounds and messages of the era, such as the Canadian rock band Black Mountain’s Stormy High, or The Black Angels’ The First Vietnamese War. More unexpected are the addition of Mogwai’s quiet RU Still In 2 It or Björk’s Storm. However, though they are unexpected, they fit the tone of the game perfectly. Spec Ops: The Line is a game that subverts expectations in many ways, not just musically but narratively. I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack, preferably as you play the game.

Good music can also be used to great effect in trailers, often making me interested in a game that would otherwise fly right under my radar. My feelings on the Call of Duty franchise are quite ambivalent. Advanced Warfare was the first game I played (and reviewed) in the series, and while I thought it was a solid shooter, it didn’t send me running out to pick up any of the other 700 games in the franchise. When the Black Ops III trailer released a few weeks ago, I thought it looked great. However, after thinking about it for a while, it occurred to me that the use of The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black was responsible for 99% of my excitement. The actual gameplay doesn’t look much different than AW. This is not the first CoD trailer to make use The Rolling Stones either.

Original soundtracks also often make a game for me, with Bastion being the soundtrack I always think of first, but that’s a topic for another post.


Is there any particular use of licensed music in a game that sticks out for you?

Kinzie Kensington and the Insufferable Genius

This post is actually the basis of my latest video, but if you’re someone who would rather read than watch, here you go!


Sherlock Holmes, Cloud Strife, Tony Stark, Dr. Manhattan, Rust Cohle, Gregory House, Franics York Morgan, The Doctor, Will Graham, Geralt of Rivia.

Robert Downey Jr.  as Tony Stark (Ironman)

All very popular fictional characters. All prodigies in their own right. And all, to put it bluntly, assholes.

The trope of the insufferable genius is a fairly common one in fiction. These characters don’t conform to social conventions, they’re misanthropic, and are often outright insulting to the people around them. They’re also all gifted in some manner. Whether it’s brilliant powers of deduction, supernatural ability, or amazing physical prowess, something makes these characters special and better than others. This lets them get away with being arrogant jerks. They don’t get kicked to the curb by their fictional counterparts, and the audience tends to outright adore them.

Also, in case it wasn’t obvious, they’re all men. (Also, white and straight but that’s a whole other discussion).

Insufferable genius is not a role that women get to play very often. While being antisocial and unconforming is often seen as charmingly roguish for men, it’s not something women can get away with so easily. Female characters can be brilliant or powerful but can’t be too arrogant about it or be too unfriendly lest they get labelled an unlikable bitch.

Gillian Anderson in The Fall

Gillian Anderson’s character in The Fall is a female character who comes close to fulfilling this trope. She’s a brilliant detective who’s not afraid to break a few rules or call out others on their bullshit. While she’s still generally respected, she does get more flack for it than a male would, as she’s always quick to point out. Kara Thrace is another character who could fall into the Insufferable Genius category. She’s a brilliant pilot who doesn’t like to play by the rules and doesn’t care what people think of her. However, to be fair Starbuck was originally written as a man. These aren’t the characters I want to talk about right now.

Kinzie Kensington from Saints Row 4

The character I do want to talk about is from a video game series. Saint’s Row. It might be hard to imagine a great, stereotype-breaking female character coming from a game series that started as a Grand Theft Auto knockoff, but hear me out. It’s true that Saint’s Row scores a solid “needs improvement” when it comes to background female characters, but with major female characters, they do a surprisingly good job. First, the game features enough female characters that giving them some negative traits doesn’t have the side effect of painting all females with the same brush. One of these characters is the brilliant hacker, Kinzie Kensington.

Kinzie’s a hacking genius who knows more than most people and isn’t afraid to say so. She’s a self-confessed misanthrope who doesn’t go out of her way to endear herself to people. She doesn’t care that people don’t understand her technical jargon, just that the job gets done.

Now, Kinzie isn’t the main protagonist, you could argue that she was in Gat out of Hell, but honestly that was a bit phoned in. However, she does play a major part in both Saints Row 3 and 4. In Saints Row 4 she’s the voice you’re always hearing, leading you through the story, telling you what to do every step of the way because the protagonist doesn’t really know what she’s doing.

I really like Kinzie because she’s smart and she doesn’t care what other people think. She just wants to do what she needs to do, she’s not particularly concerned with being nice. She does fit the Insufferable Genius role, which really, women don’t get to play too often. So I just wanted to give a little bit of love to Kinzie Kensington, along with Volition for developing her.

If you’ve got any feedback, or suggestions for future videos, I’d love to hear them.

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell (Review)

The Saints have taken over a city, become buds with Burt Reynolds, taken the White House (now the White Crib), and faced off against an alien invasion. Where can they possibly go from here?

To Hell.

In the early moments of Gat out of Hell the whole gang is assembled for the birthday of everyone’s favourite misanthropic hacker, Kinzie Kensington. Things with a Ouija board go awry and the President is sucked into Hell so she can be married to Satan’s daughter Jezebel. This doesn’t fly with The Saints so Johnny Gat and Kinzie descend into Hell to put one in Satan’s head and get their boss back.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Hell looks a lot like Steelport. It’s more run down, there’s some fire and brimstone, but at its core it’s an open world city. It’s filled with skyscrapers and neon signs. Rather than civilians and rival gang members wandering around, there are damned souls and demons. It’s all very familiar.

Your objective in the game is to cause enough chaos to get Satan’s attention, and the ways in which you do this are also very familiar. You level up in the same way as in SR3 and 4, the activities are much the same. Gat Out of Hell brings back Insurance Fraud (now called Torment Fraud), where you throw yourself into an intersection, ragdolling off cars, trying to take as much damage as possible. Also Mayhem, my personal favourite, where you just blow up as much stuff as possible in the allotted time. Survival puts you up against waves of enemies.

The game does have some new tricks though. For one, you can fly. Going to Hell grants you a big pair of wings so you can soar, dive, and swoop over the city. Once you get the hang of it, and level up your flight ability some (really, make Flight the first thing you level up), this is a ton of fun. Flying makes way for new(ish) activities, Hellblazing, basically a flying race, and Salvation, where you have to fly around catching falling souls. There are also 4 new superpowers to use in combat, from summoning minions to shooting Medusa-inspired blasts that turn enemies to stone. The plot is also presented a little differently as it is narrated to you, storybook style.

As expected from a Saints Row game, everything is fun. You’re powerful, you kick ass, and you crack wise while doing it. You have access to a ton of ridiculous weapons like the Armchair A Geddon or the Diamond Sting, a SMG that shoots coins. Figures from history like Shakespeare, who is now the hottest DJ in Hell, make appearances. But something is missing. There are no real missions. As you start out you try to gain the loyalty of certain figures who can help you, but all they ask is that you do a series of the normal game activities. Set-pieces, which are one of the biggest strengths of the series, are absent and they are sorely missed.

Also missing is a licensed soundtrack. Music is used so well in the Saints Row series, and its absence is notable. There’s no bonding with your homies over a song as you drive to your next location (actually with flying there’s really no reason to drive at all), never a “this is my jam!” sing-a-long moment. Without tunes, the game feels a bit empty, a bit quiet. Quiet is not what I want from Saints Row. There is a masterful musical number in the middle of the game, but this was released as a teaser a couple months ago. It would have been much more impactful had it come as a surprise.

Saint's Row: Gat Out of Hell - Gat and Kinzie

Saints Row has always been great about customization of your character – you can choose your sex, race, body type, voice, style – and though this game doesn’t let you play as your personal version of The Boss, you do get to choose between playing as Gat or Kinzie.  However, this isn’t implemented all that well and it’s very clear that this is Gat’s story. While you can switch between Gat and Kinzie at will, in the storybook narrative actions are attributed to Gat no matter who you are playing as. Activity intros show Gat, most other characters address Gat when they talk. The game is Gat Out of Hell and unfortunately, making Kinzie a playable character seemed more like ticking off a female protagonist checkbox rather than really integrating her into the story.

Even the way The Boss is used, being targeted by Satan as a perfect match for his daughter, seems to be written with a man in mind. Now, I could give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say that this is an attempt to be progressive and turn the trope of a woman being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love on its head… but that feels disingenuous. The more likely explanation is that they wrote this game with a male Boss in mind.

Gat Out of Hell took me just over 4 hours to complete, doing the main story and a few optional activities and collections here and there. Completionists could easily get 8+ hours out of the game. Overall, it was fun to play even if it’s not the best Saints Row has to offer.

Verdict – Recommended for those who like the genre. Gat Out of Hell is lots of fun. It has satisfying combat and flying mechanics and an amusing story, but many of the things that make Saints Row special are missing.

What I’m playing this week

With the long weekend, I’ve had a lot of time to relax and play video games this past week. Here’s what I’ve been playing:

The Last of Us

I never played The Last of Us on PS3, so I was really excited to start the remastered edition on PS4. There was so much hype around this game that would be difficult to live up to. I finished the game yesterday and I have many feelings, which will probably turn into a dedicated post. In short though, I thought the story, characters and writing were excellent. The dialogue is so natural, definitely some of the best I’ve heard in a video game. The relationships were believable and I really cared about Joel and Ellie. However, in terms of gameplay, I thought it was just okay. It’s probably my impatience talking, but I just didn’t enjoy the stealth elements very much. I’d be ducking around corners, and throwing bricks to distract clickers, then more often then not I’d decide “fuck this, I’m gonna start throwing molotovs now.”

Last of Us - Left Behind

I started the Left Behind DLC yesterday, and I’m really enjoying it so far. It has the same great writing, but so far a lot less of the less enjoyable gameplay aspects.

Resident Evil 5

My boyfriend and I are always looking for games we can play co-op, so he picked up RE5 for the 360. We played about 20 minutes before we had to stop. Resident Evil’s clunky tank controls worked okay in the first couple games. Those were horror games with fixed cameras, and having not particularly responsive controls added to the atmosphere and unease (much like they did in Silent Hill). However, now that the RE series is more about action, the controls ruin the entire experience. Want to go around a corner while running? Too bad (unless you have extra thumbs so you can use both analog sticks and hold down A).

Speaking of Resident Evil, it’s being remade for the newest consoles. This quote from the announcement is relevant to my interests:

The original “tank controls” remain, however there is also a modern option where the character moves in the direction of the analog stick.

Saints Row IV

Another title to try co-op, this time on PC instead of console. We played the beginning of this on the weekend, and oh my goodness, it is so much fun. I had never played a Saint’s Row game before. The format is very similar to Grand Theft Auto, except Saints Row is just off the rails ridiculous. The first mission of the game had us overcoming a terrorist threat and becoming the President. Then we shot down some alien ships. Then we were put into a 50’s style simulation, complete with music and characters that could have come from Leave it to Beaver.

Saints Row 4

I’m going to neutralize the alien threat, and look damn good doing it.

The game is filled with costumes, weapons, crazy side quests, and awesome music. The humour is totally juvenile, but I’m having too much fun to care.

Blackwell Deception

I got games 1-4 of the Blackwell series in the Steam Summer sale, and I’ve been making my way through them. I just finished the fourth game, and I’m looking forward to playing the last game in the series soon. Blackwell Deception, like the previous games, is a good, old-school adventure game.

Remember Me

I’ve been playing Remember Me for a couple weeks and I’m getting close to the end. I’m loving it. The futuristic setting reminds me of The Fifth Element (minus the aliens), it’s got a kick ass female protagonist, combat similar to the Arkham series and fun platforming elements. I’ll probably write up a full review once I’m done.

Remember Me

What have you been playing?