Saints Row

So last night I bought the Saints Row double pack (and no, there is no apostrophe in Saints Row). I bought it specifically because I heard that the mechanics were far better than Grand Theft Auto X’s. I resisted the urge to start with the (by all accounts superior) second game and popped in the first. I then played it until my eyes basically wouldn’t focus any more.

The good: Holy Toledo, this game fixes just about every problem GTA has. Let’s go down the list.

Driving controls are tight; it’s possible to actually make a turn without a) having to brake down to 1/4 speed or b) hitting anybody or anything. This is aided by the fact that the streets are wide and both cars and pedestrians are less common than in GTA cities. Following another car is actually possible in this game. Plus, this game had a GPS system that would lead you to your target years before GTA IV.

You have a lot of health, and it regenerates when you’re not actually taking fire. Not only that, but you can carry around with you four health-restoring items at all times. This mechanic by itself means that I’ll almost certainly be able to beat this game.

Shooting is good (but not great). There is no lock on (though once you get the cursor over an enemy, the game will help you keep it there). There is no cover system (though you’ll rarely get into a situation where there’s nothing to hide behind). But like I mentioned above, you’ve got tons of health and multiple opportunities to break contact and recover. I’ve already played missions where I’ve fought through 35-50 enemies, and while I got smoked a couple times, perseverance and taking things slow and cautiously has always paid off.

The game uses a territory system like San Andreas; the more territories you take, the more money you find in your stash every morning. And yes, rival gangs can try to take back territories, which means you have to run over there and shoot their lieutenants so that the takeback fails.

Plus HOLY TOLEDO IS THERE LOTS TO DO IN THIS GAME. But I’ll get to the downside of that in a minute.

The cons:

This is one of the most puerile, juvenile games I’ve ever played. Penny Arcade was right. This is a game for 12-year-old gangsta wannabees.

The storytelling in this game is weak, even by GTA standards. Of course, if your story is weak, it helps to get someone like Keith muthafuckin’ David to narrate it for you. Don’t know who he is? Here, have a taste.

In order to progress in the story-based missions, you must perform activities that raise your respect bar. Once it fills up, you have one “charge” of respect and can then play one story-based mission. Of course, this is a good/bad, because most of the activities are actually pretty fun, although most of them are absolutely amoral (no “gangstas with hearts of gold” here). My favorites are drug trafficking, taking hostages, insurance fraud and mayhem missions. This was a dealbreaker for Sol_HSA, who just wanted to do the story missions, but I think of it kind of like the leveling system in Oblivion, which, while deeply flawed, forced me to try some skills I never would have before, which is where I discovered that I loved alchemy.

The story-based missions are also varied and fun. In one, you street race with three members of another gang…who are unaware that their cars have been fitted with bombs. Your goal isn’t to beat them, but to get your passenger close enough to them so that he can taunt them into using their nitro…which blows them up. In another, you attack a garage owned by a rival gang so that one of your fellow gang members (who has gone undercover with the rival gang) can “save” the garage owner and thus get in good with the gang’s leadership. And in a third, you help a singer who is locked in a terrible record contract (with a label that just happens to be owned by another rival gang) fake her own death.

Okay, I’m going to take it back. The storytelling isn’t that bad; it’s just that this game is a summer popcorn movie while GTA IV is trying to be Heat.

Which leads me to something I almost didn’t want to mention about Grand Theft Auto IV…but now I think I will.

WARNING: PSRD BREACH!

While playing GTA IV I got the feeling that the developers…well, they just don’t like America very much. Niko Bellic arrives in New York only to get stuck in Little Vladivostok, doing the same things he did back in Serbia for money – killing, mostly. No other alternative is presented. And of course, Roman’s fascination with America is only skin-deep, with most of that skin being on BIG FAKE AMERICAN TITTIES!

Instead of telling a story about an immigrant who uses the opportunities America provides to better himself, Rockstar chose to tell a story about a man who allows his past mistakes to rule him, to his eventual downfall, while blaming America for everything (and yes, this is in the dialog).

And let’s not get into Weasel News, the Rush Limbaugh satire and the Republican Space Rangers…gone is the political even-handedness of San Andreas (which featured a hilarious talk show where a couple, one liberal and one conservative, literally got off on ridiculing each other).

Here’s hoping for a Grand Theft Auto V that’s lighter in tone, has less political bullshit and, at the very least, has difficulty settings.

Oh, and by the way…I’m going to swear in this post.

Done with Grand Theft Auto IV

“What?” I hear you say. “Anthony, you bought Grand Theft Auto IV years ago!”

Yes, but I hadn’t made a concerted effort to actually get through it until this last weekend. And now it goes on the pile with all the other Grand Theft Auto games I could never get through (which, incidentally, contains all of them. Why do I keep buying these games?)

So what happened? I am at a point about halfway through the game. The missions I’m stuck on are, specifically, The Snow Storm and Holland Nights. Both involve fighting your way through a long area (a burnt-out hospital in Snow Storm, a project in Holland Nights) and eliminating a specific enemy. Once you do so, cops teleport to your location and you gain at least a two-star wanted level. You must now fight your way out of wherever you are, facing much better armed-and-armored cops (or even SWAT guys, in the case of The Snow Storm). Should you manage this impossible feat, you must then get to a vehicle alive and lose your wanted level.

In the end, I think the real problem is the whole “I’ve got a hammer, so every problem is a nail” thing. “We need a GTA IV mission.” “Okay, what does the engine support?” “Killing bad guys and/or cops, getting a wanted level and then shaking that level.” “Okay, I guess that’s the mission, then.”

And the thing is, with enough retries I know I’d probably get through one or both of those missions. But what’s the point? The next mission is just going to be the same thing, only harder. Oh, and of course, there’s no way to trade time for skill. There’s no way to gain more health, get better at driving or shooting, or get better armor than the stock body armor. You play the game their way or you don’t play it at all.

And this really pisses me off because I really would like to see how at least one GTA story turns out.

Plus, what the hell is up with the complete lack of checkpoints during missions? Saint’s Row had them, and it made that game much more accessible than GTA. I really expected Rockstar to steal back the improvements Saint’s Row made to the gameplay, but of course they didn’t. Because that would make sense.

Down the garden path…

Okay, so I’ve been playing some of the LD 19 entries. I think the best one I’ve played so far is Time Pygmy, a game where a pygmy from the neolithic era finds a time portal to 1989 and makes discoveries about the future.

It’s written in Flash.

Plus, Mike Hommel of Hamumu Software has seen his business grow this last year by making flash games and licensing them.

One of my goals for this coming year is to write more games…and writing them in Flash would help with that.

So expect me to start talking about FlashDevelop and Flixel soon.

Ludum Dare 19 Post 2: Yeah, I was crazy.

Okay, here’s a timeline of how my participation in Ludum Dare 19 went:

Friday, 8 PM: The theme, “Discovery”, is announced. I am not at my computer. Indeed, I have just sat down with my wife to see Tron Legacy. In 3D. Short review: the awesome parts are awesome but the movie drags at the end and I don’t like that everything on the Grid is blue except for CLU and his cronies. Still very much worth seeing. There are 48 hours left.

Friday, 11 PM: Arrive home, fall asleep. There are 45 hours left.

Saturday, 8 AM: Wake up. Find out what theme is. Write web post complaining about it. Start working. Get basic project for the program going. Decide I don’t have time to make Zeta humanoid, so I draw some simple “wheeled robot running left” and “wheeled robot running right” tiles. (Very reminiscent of Hamumu’sRobot Wants” games.) Start working on the map. There are 36 hours left.

Saturday, 1 PM: My wife points out that we need to do Christmas stuff, like, you know, buy a tree and decorate it and maybe get some presents too. I figure this will take 3-5 hours. There are 32 hours left.

Saturday, 4 PM: Arrive home with tree, decorations and presents. Take tree and decorations inside, leave presents in the car (just like my parents used to). Realize the living room is a mess. There are 28 hours left.

Saturday, 9 PM: Living room is now clean. Tree is now assembled and decorated. Children are ecstatic. I am exhausted. There are 23 hours left.

Saturday, 11 PM: Go to bed. There are 21 hours left.

Sunday, 10 AM: Wake up. Realize there are only 10 hours left. Spend the whole day playing World of Warcraft instead.

So yeah, crazy.

Holy Crap, Ludum Dare!

Holy crap, Ludum Dare! 19! Is! This! Weekend! And I said I’d compete! Am! I! Crazy?!

Yes, I guess I am. Theme voting is going on right now (my personal hope is that MAD SCIENCE! wins). I’ve got my framework ready for just about any game idea I might come up with.

So expect a lot of posting over the weekend! As usual, you can keep track of the compo by visiting the official blog and you can get more regular updates by visiting #ludumdare on irc.afternet.org.

PTFSD Update, 12-15-10

Current weight: 359.8
Previous weight:
Not applicable, since this is my first regular update.
Delta: Again, not applicable, but I was topped out at 375 when I got laid off from Stardock (I probably gained about 40 pounds of crunch weight while I was there).

My personal assessment of the past week: Pretty good. I’ve been following my diet pretty well and getting some exercise here and there. My incredibly long commute is now made even longer by slippery roads (we got snowhammered over the weekend) so finding time to actually exercise can be hard. But the weight is coming down, and I intend for it to continue to come down.