I’ve apparently forgotten how to write. So, here’s a video review of Rise of the Tomb Raider!
I’ve apparently forgotten how to write. So, here’s a video review of Rise of the Tomb Raider!
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?
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.
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.
It’s 2054. You are Jack Mitchell, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. Your advanced weaponry lets you jump over tall buildings in a double bound, paint enemies with threat grenades, and control remote operated drones. You are the manliest of men. You’re sent to Seoul to battle North Koreans along with your brother in arms, Will Irons. Will is a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy, United States Marine. When you first met him you were a little jealous that he had an even better sounding all-American manly man name than you, but you got over it and now you’re best buds. The mission in Korea ends in tragedy and you are honorably discharged from your military duties because of injuries sustained. But your story is not over.
The Illusive Man Kevin Spacey can rebuild you. He has the technology. Jonathan Irons is the CEO of Atlus, the most powerful private military force in the world, and there’s no way that can end badly. On your first mission you’re paired up with Gideon, a stoic, well-muscled, permanently scruffy…
Snark aside, I actually quite enjoyed the game. The fact that I’d never played any CoD game before likely increased my enjoyment. Advanced Warfare is the 12th Call of Duty game (14th if you count the ones released on handheld/mobile) released since 2003. The fact that increasingly shiny versions of the game are pumped out every single year never inspired a whole lot of confidence, and I’m sure that if I had been a fan of the series all along I’d be getting burnt out on the whole concept by now. But for a first time player, it was a lot of fun.
First of all, it looks absolutely gorgeous on my XBox One. Close-ups of people look almost photo-realistic. There are often dozens of enemies on-screen, along with allies, civilians, and vehicles. The environments look equally great and there is so much variation in the 15 mission campaign that nothing ever feels stale or reused. AW takes you from the high rises and neon lights of Seoul, to icy arctic crevasses, to blue skies and traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge.
Likewise, your combat specialization changes from mission to mission, giving you access to novel abilities so gameplay changes and evolves throughout as well. In some missions you can grapple up to rooftops, or climb walls. In others you can send out a remote-controlled drone to deal with enemies, and block incoming attacks with your exo shield. Some levels require stealth, so you’re given a cloaking ability and mute charges for silent kills. It says a lot that I found the stealth parts of the game very enjoyable, because I’m generally far too impatient for subtlety in action games. Gameplay is fast, fun, and the controls are responsive and smooth.
The highlights of the game are the action setpieces. One of the standouts had me running through traffic, then jumping on the tops of buses as they sped down the highway to get to an enemy vehicle. Another had me crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on foot, weaving through abandoned cars, taking out enemies with sonic pulses, and ended with a rather spectacular explosion.
However, the reliance on setpieces also brought about the game’s biggest weakness, as it made many levels feel very much on the rails. There was a definite feeling that I should just be going from point A to point B as fast as possible and, though the game does have collectible Intel that is slightly off the path, exploration was discouraged. I often saw a huge message “You are leaving the mission area” message displayed across my screen, which was jarring considering how clean and HUDless the UI was. Likewise, AI squadmates do everything they can to keep you moving forward quickly, which often involves repeating an order over and over if you don’t carry it out fast enough. “Mitchell, set the charge,” “Mitchell, take him out,” “Mitchell, open the door,” “Mitchell, change your socks.” That got annoying fast. This is where I really felt that CoD was catering to the lowest common denominator. As a player I couldn’t be trusted to pay attention to the mission details at the start and carry out the objectives on my own, or figure anything out myself. The game felt it needed to tell me to run here, duck, put up my shield, open the door, use the grappling hook, shoot, press X to pay respects.
The story and characters of AW are rather trite but, even as someone who has never played the series before, I knew this is not a game you play for the story. Twists can be seen a mile away. Characters are not memorable. At the beginning of the game I was dismayed that I couldn’t tell any of the characters, including my own, apart because all the white male soldiers (90% of the characters) have the exact same facial hair. Does military regulation enforce permanent 5 o’clock shadow? Eventually I realized that not knowing who anyone was didn’t really detract from the experience and I stopped worrying about it.
There is a dearth of women in the game. I went through a full 1/3 of the campaign before I saw a woman up close and talked to her. A very important scene that fleshed out Mitchell as a character was unfortunately deleted at this point, but here’s how it was supposed to go:
Mitchell tensed up as he saw Ilona. He didn’t know what to do. It had been six years since he’d seen a woman up close and that had been his mother. “Oh my god, a girl. Don’t fuck this up,” he said to himself as she approached. He tried complimenting her boots because had heard that chicks dig that. She looked at him sideways and told him they were standard issue. He made an excuse and ran back to his bunk as fast as he could without betraying his cool exterior. “Stupid, stupid Mitchell” he chastised, slapping himself on the forehead repeatedly. Maybe once he proved his prowess in battle she would learn to love him.
Thankfully, Ilona does become an actual character and is with you for a number of missions but as far as female representation, she’s pretty much it. Considering 15% of military forces are female now, and AW takes place 40 years in the future, I hoped to see more than one woman (especially in Atlus which is presumably not beholden to US policy). Disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. You can play as a female in multiplayer. Apparently, CoD:Ghosts was the first entry in the series that had this option. Ghosts was released in 2013. Is this real life? Of course, since multiplayer is completely first-person, your gender doesn’t matter a whole lot as you can only tell the difference when you get shot and start breathing audibly. But it’s nice the option was added after 10 years.
I did play a few hours of multiplayer, and while I prefer the campaign, it’s quite fun too. I haven’t had a chance to try all the different modes, I mainly stick to team deathmatch or confirmed kill. The mode I really like is Survival. This is a co-op mode with up to 4 players and the goal is to survive waves of bots. There are also some objective based waves thrown in to mix things up a bit. As someone who does not have much experience playing FPSs online against other people, Survival mode offers a bit more leeway and I found it much easier to get into. It’s good practice before jumping into real matches where people who have been playing online CoD for the last 10 years will frag you repeatedly until you give up.
Rating: 8/10 – Advanced Warfare is not a game you play for the story or to inspire deep thoughts, but it delivers what it promises – a slick, fast-paced, first-person shooter with outstanding setpieces. The amount of hand-holding the game gives starts getting tedious around 2/3 of the way through but the campaign ends at the right time, before this gets too annoying. Overall an enjoyable single-player experience, with good multiplayer content that will stretch out the game time as long as you want it to.
Contrast was first released late in 2013, but just came out for the Xbox One on June 27th. As someone who prefers to play on the Xbox, but has found the lineup of available games lackluster (Do you like shooting? Racing? Neither? Sorry, can’t help you), I was excited to see something a little different appear on the console.
In Contrast you play the role of Dawn, an acrobat who can travel between the 3D corporeal world and the 2D shadow world. The only person who can see Dawn is Didi, a little girl trying to keep her family together. Dawn is a featureless protagonist – she has no real character of her own, she never speaks or emotes – though she’s the one you control, this is really Didi’s story.
The gameplay revolves around Dawn’s ability to shift into the shadows, using them to get to places that would otherwise be unreachable. As the game progresses, you also manipulate lights and objects in the real world in order to create your own shadow paths. The mechanics are simple, and the few times I ran into trouble it was due to not understanding how the game physics worked. For example, the first time I encountered a box I could pick up and move I assumed I had to put it in front of a light source to create a shadow. Actually, I was able to pick up the box and shift into the shadows with at, turning it from a 3D object to a 2D one. I liked the idea here, but the execution was not great. There were a lot of issues with camera angles, collision, sluggish controls, and getting stuck. Luckily none of these were game breaking – I could usually get unstuck by shifting in and out or dashing – but it was a major source of annoyance. Based on other reviews, these bugs are not unique to the Xbox One port.
Dawn and Didi are the only characters you see clearly, the rest appear to you only as silhouettes against brightly lit walls. This led to one of the more compelling parts of the game. You’d see and hear a vignette play out and traverse the character’s moving shadows to get where you needed to go. Though these were the least challenging platforming parts of the game, I enjoyed them the most as they really married the gameplay and story together.
The story is simple and the characters are quite trite. Didi’s father Johnny is a hustler who’s just not very good at hustling. Because of this, he’s been kicked out by Didi’s mother Kat, who gets portrayed as mentally unstable when it comes to Johnny. Through the game Didi and Dawn are basically going around fixing Johnny’s mistakes to make sure his latest scheme works and they can be a big, happy family who can afford to pay their rent again.
Contrast has some good ideas and appealing designs, but it feels like a shadow of what it could have been. The game takes place in the 1920’s Paris jazz age and has some lovely aesthetics. There is also some beautiful music featured during certain scenes, but as you’re actually playing the game feels silent and empty. Shadows aren’t too exciting to look at and Act I in particular has almost no background music or ambient sound, which makes it feel unfinished. The whole shadow and light theme is a great idea, but not enough is done with it. The puzzles get repetitive by the end of the game. Many questions are raised – who is Dawn? why can she turn into a shadow? what is the shadow world? but few are answered. Near the end of the game you can find collectibles which reference these things, but don’t give any real insight.
Rating: 5/10 – The game looks nice and has its charms – a scene where you participate in a shadow puppet theater stands out as the highlight – but is marred by glitches, poor controls, and lack of explanation. Gameplay became repetitive even though it only lasted about 4 hours. On the bright side, if you love achievements this game showers you with them. I earned 840 without trying to be a completionist.