Archive for the Blast from the past Category

The Saboteur or A Nazi Killing Sandbox Gem

Posted in Blast from the past, Revisited with tags , , , on April 14, 2013 by Rabidgames

The Saboteur definitely is an underrated game, probably one of the category “good games you’ve never heard of before”. It’s also Pandemic’s swansong (also responsible for the superb yet flawed Mercenaries games and the insane Destroy all Humans series), just before the real pandemic, EA, killed off this ingenious studio. Beware Bioware, it has happened before, and you might be next in line.

First off all, when you first play The Saboteur, it is not a good game. The control are clumsy, climbing is slow, driving is weird, shooting feels weightlessly, there are some glitches, and the graphics were not exactly well done even for years ago. The German voice acting is sometimes good, but sometimes it is even worse than the awful German in Die Hard (“Schiess das Fenster, Karl” is grammatically wrong on more than just one level). But if you start playing the engaging story, you quickly forget about it.

The Saboteur takes place during World War II in occupied Paris (actually, there’s some geographically twisted surrounding areas of France and then, there’s also Saarbruecken which looks nothing like the real city). Paris looks pretty similar to the real town; there are the typical houses and the contorted roof tops, and there are many of Paris’ attractions to find in the open world.

But that’s not the real charm of The Saboteur. This game has two charms to captivate you: The first one is the black and white (sprinkled with yellow lights and red blood and red nazi flags) setting in occupied areas. This innovative art choice adds immensely to the atmosphere; walk through a dark and rainy grey world and you feel the oppression of body and mind, emphasised by loudspeakers blaring propaganda and fortified checkpoints where nazis just wait to tear you to pieces. It feels good to bring colour back to those areas.

Charm number two is the sandbox aspect: In The Saboteur, you earn contraband (the in-game currency) by destroying thousands of nazi targets, basically like in Just Cause 2. There are also car jump ramps, postcards near monuments and of course, you can also climb the tallest buildings of Paris. Climbing is actually one nice challenge in The Saboteur; if you want to reach the top of, let’s say Notre-Dame, you first have to find the correct spot to climb the first part, then follow to the second one and so on. Thanks to some lights showing you the way, it’s not that hard to find, but sometimes it still involves some turning around and risky jumps. There are also useful perks you unlock during your stay in Paris; from an inconspicuous melee stab to powerful weapons, it’s all there.

But there’s more to the gameplay than just destruction and climbing. If you want to walk around unharmed in restricted areas, it pays off to wear a disguise (yes, this handy element has been imported yet tweaked form the Mercenaries series). Just melee kill one of the bastards and take his clothes. Provided you walk slowly and keep your distance from the real nazis, you can wander around and play the silent killer/place bombs without catching attention – if you play it right.

So the gameplay is fine, what about the story? It’s alright. The Saboteur features a classic B movie narrative; you’re an Irish outcast named Sean Devlin somehow entangled in a love triangle between a grieving French girl and a British spy. Your best friend gets killed by the evil nazi bastard you swear to kill, and on your way there you board huge zeppelins, infiltrate castles and cemeteries or defend your HQ. Side missions are usually on a smaller scale and they are often a bit quirkier. Most missions can actually be played any way YOU like – stealth and cunning or all guns blazing through the front door, the choice is yours most of the time. Oh, and one mission even has a pretty cool Indiana Jones easter egg (just watch the last minutes. By the way, some guards in this mission also talk about one of their aryan pals who’s currently in Nepal …):

From time to time, The Saboteur reminds you of its guerilla theme: Kill too many nazis, and you’ll be relentlessly hunted down by heavily armored squads wielding heavy MGs and flamethrowers, tanks, fighter planes and zeppelins … usually, poor Sean dies pretty fast in open combat. But don’t fret, there are several ways to escape the nazis. Run out of the red circle à la every other game, hide in special spots, fend off a nazi onslaught together with the resistance … or go to a brothel or do this:

As said before, it’s the various technical weaknesses that are holding The Saboteur back. Yes, they shouldn’t have been in there from the start, true, and they are the reason why the game has disappeared in metacritic mediocrity hell.Who knows, maybe they primarily are the results of Pandemic’s demise …

But you learn to work around the issues quickly. The reward is an immersive sandbox adventure where you can take your time watching the attractions of Paris, relaxing in your strip club safe house (moody jazz and half-naked women included) or driving through the countryside inbetween the occasional mission and plenty of blowing up nazi equipment left and right and above.

Rabidgames diligently sabotages: If you liked Just Cause 2 chances are you’ll love The Saboteur. It’s a big playground, there are many toys at your disposal, just go out and have fun. We need more games like these! But The Saboteur is also the Obituary to Pandemic. Way to go, lads.

Okami or Are Games Art These Days?

Posted in Blast from the past, Gaming these days ... on February 8, 2013 by Rabidgames

Remember that recurring discussion “are games art”? Well, these days, they’re clearly not … mostly. It is not artistic vision or “artistic integrity”, it is not about finding a way to express yourself, it is not about elevating entertainment to more, oh no. 9 out of 10 times, it’s all about money, cash, and stock prices.

Admittedly, it is unfair to say today’s gaming world is devoid of art; there are games like FEZ or Journey, there is the subtle approach of using well-known patterns and then ripping the layers away as in Spec Ops: The Line, and sometimes, games dare to ask big moral or philosophical questions (think of Assassin’s Creed’s questioning of freedom or Mass Effect’s big dilemma “is synthetic life actual life?”). And yet, Spec Ops, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect are way to gutless gutless; at the end of the day, there are some aspects of transcendence beyond entertainment, but ultimately, they are AAA blockbusters, easily digestible for mass consumption, “enhanced” by multiplayer and easily accessible genre conventions. While this is not a bad thing per se, it clearly diminishes the aspiration of the video game industry to finally become a serious form of art. On the other hand, we have Journey or Dear Esther – they might truly be art, but they are not traditional games in a way playing FIFA is not real football … mimicking an idea might resemble it but it’s not the same.

Now, let’s have a look at Okami. This gem is definitely art – and it does not compromise its Japanese approach and outlandish gameplay style by catering to the biggest audience possible. The vision is pure. This is what games must be if they want to be considered art. And this is a game which is fun to play, fun to watch, and fun to think about. Okami is a true masterpiece of gaming design, of including all those important little details, it is childish and mature, playful and thoughtful, and it immerses you into its colourful world with ease. Sadly, Okami is one of the last Japanese games with a focus on their local strengths – instead of leering at the wallets of Western Markets and blindly copying trends instead of relying on its own rich fountain of ideas.

Now, the big question arises: Was gaming healthier back in the PS2 era? Not from the monetary perspective, and not from the publishers’ view, of course! Let’s talk about developers who were free to do whatever they wanted to. Let’s talk about gamers who could be sure to get a complete game. Let’s talk about variety – where is the Okami, the Final Fantasy XII, the Freedom Fighters, the San Andreas, the Onimusha, the Beyond Good and Evil, the Ico or the Shadow of the Colossus of this generation (which is already riding into the sunset)? Where are the games full of uncompromising ideas, where you can feel the amount of lifeblood injected into them?

Rabidgames contemplates: Is the pinnacle of gaming a thing of the past? Are games declining again? There is a glimmer of hope hidden away deep between the piles of cheap Michael Bay special effects, marketing lies and PR blunders. The only question is – will the flame of creativity, of uncompromising ideas be allowed back into the hearts of all of us – meaning, will there be big titles which dare to go unbeaten paths?

Rabidgames’ Week of PlayStation 2 – The Conclusion

Posted in Blast from the past with tags , , , on July 24, 2012 by Rabidgames

Alright, the week is over, and Rabidgames has delved into the past to throw a glance at the PlayStation 2 era.
Yes, the games were different. And not just the games. Just take a look at the PS2 Memory Card – 8MB and pretty huge – and we were happy about it. Anyway, let’s examine the games Rabidgames has played:

Final Fantasy XII: Yes, that’s the last decent RPG from Square Enix. Quite ironically, the feedback from parts of the fan base led to the abysmally linear and outright boring Final Fantasy XIII. It’s a shame, the Gambit system, the huge open world, the adult story about  politics and free will were 10 times better, that’s for sure.

Freedom Fighters: As said before, it’s a classic. Simple as that.

Mercenaries: The subtitle “Playground of Destruction” says it all. Never before – and never again.

NHL 2K5: Well, it’s an ice hockey game. It’s fun and easy to get into – way easier than later ice hockey simulations.

Pro Evolution Soccer 6: It still is the best football game ever. Period.

Smackdown: Here comes the Pain: While it feels way to arcadey these days, the season mode is still the best ever.

True Crime: New York City: It’s one of those games where you don’t care about stories or missions. Simply cruising around, solving random crimes or frisking pedestrians was enough for the most part.

There are countless other classics which ask to be considered next time: Dark Chronicle, Final Fantasy X, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, Suikoden V, and of course, Metal Gear Solid. Next time.

Rabidgames deems: While gaming was different, it’s hard to say it was better. For once, animations and graphics have aged rather badly. On the other hand, games were complete back then. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if you play a good game on a PS2 or a PS3; Rabidgames can enjoy Mercenaries or Freedom Fighters as well as Dragon’s Dogma or Just Cause 2.

Freedom Fighters or Ahead of the Times

Posted in Blast from the past with tags on July 18, 2012 by Rabidgames

It’s as simple as that: Freedom Fighters is one of the most enjoyable games. Ever.

Graphics, animations, story … they’re not that great. It’s true. But in terms of gameplay, Freedom Fighters managed to combine tactical depth and a strong AI with fun: Did you ever want to command up to 12 Freedom Fighters? Yes, there are only 3 commands (attack, guard, follow), but if you order them around individually, it’s just pure fun. Why? Sometimes, less is more. You don’t need 12 commands when it’s done right. The way you play the game is almost completely up to you (there are some missions where you’re on your own): Do you want to be at the front line or do you prefer to play Freedom Fighters as a RTS? Your choice.

You can tackle missions differently as well – one mission in Freedom Fighters is usually divided into 2 or 3 zones – while you must liberate all of them, you can make your life easier by eliminating tactical position such as fuel depots or helipads. The tactical components come to life in the huge levels where you can approach either quickly (aka more dangerously) or rather slowly. Taking cover behind walls is mandatory. And you must be careful – those damn enemies try to flank your crew quite often.

So why has Freedom Fighters not earned the merits it does deserve? As mentioned above, there are flaws: The graphics weren’t great back then, same goes for the animations of all characters. The narrative itself is an alternate reality Cold War story where the Soviets invade the US, yet a plumber from New York becomes a national hero. It’s classic B movie stuff.  Also, while the protagonist isn’t a sharpshooter, just a mere plumber, for Stalin’s sake, the shooting mechanics should have been better! Auto aim is a matter of luck, and pressing L3 for your manual aiming when moving the reticule with the right analogue stick ain’t fun. Your Freedom Fighters tend to shoot better though.

Another problem is a technical one – Freedom Fighters had great ideas but it was simply ahead of the times. Imagine a game such as Battlefield 3 with the ability to light-heartedly control 12 soldiers – a dream! And after Kane & Lynch (the original one, not the second piece of garbage), which tried to revive the spirit of Freedom Fighters yet failed halfway, no one has tried to develop a game like this. It’s a shame!

Rabidgames recommends: Just give Freedom Fighters a try, whenever you can. Rabidgames promises you won’t be disappointed. And why the fuck ain’t there a sequel to one of the most underestimated games of all times?

In Love with the Dying West

Posted in Blast from the past with tags , , on May 15, 2012 by Rabidgames

Two years ago, Rockstar set new standards with Red Dead Redemption:

The open world game combined a huge, immersive world with a gruel ecosystem, amazing weather effects and amazingly crafted horse riding with a compelling story about the slow demise of the frontier, the old Wild West American way of life, clever and diverse missions – and let’s not forget our tragic protagonist, Mr. John Marston.

And the intriguing gameplay set an incredibly high bar for any games ever trying to follow Red Dead Redemption into the Wild West – while horse riding and gunslinging could have been expected (but were well done nonetheless), who would have ever thought you could implement classic Western themes such as lassoing, breaking in horses and herding cattle into a game?

Red Dead Redemption certainly is Rockstar’s best sandbox game in this generation – which is not really an achievement that great considering L.A. Noire was hardly an open world game and GTA IV failed to offer more than a compelling story in its open world. However, Rabidgames argues Red Dead Redemption outclasses GTA IV in all aspects: The gameplay feels less clunky, the shooting is tighter, the story is more original and makes more sense; and above all, it is the world itself which excels. You can enjoy the concrete jungles in GTA IV, yes, but you simply cannot immerse in Liberty City like this:

Rabidgames can spend hours wandering the plains of New Austin, the deserts of Nuevo Paraiso, or the forests near Blackwater. You can ride cross-country to hunt wild game – or get hunted by those vicious cougars, follow roads, meet friendly and hostile strangers at camp fires … or you just slowly ride into a thunderstorm, watching the virtual displays of nature in awe. And it’s all the small things which add so much, too – a flag, a cable or the grass waving in the wind, dust and tumbleweed, the sounds of animals close to you, flashes of guns, flickering campfires or steady electrical lights at night … While other games have a similar level of diversion (Skyrim comes to mind), they can’t give you the feeling you get when you play Red Dead Redemption, partly because of the untamed wilderness, partly because of the unique setting: mortality.

Rarely has a game stunned Rabidgames the way Red Dead Redemption did – everyone who followed John from his humble beginnings at the McFarlane’s farm to the civil war in Mexico to his own ranch knows what Rabidgames is talking about: The demise of the Wild West, the end of the era of outlaws, the frontier and of a certain kind of freedom (which Red Dead Redemption gladly addressed as ambiguous at best) are perfectly symbolised by one of the most intense moments of gaming ever: The death of an outlaw. The entire game is filled with a forlorn longing for a fragile peace in the wilderness, yet the end of the West is foreshadowed by circumstantial objects like electricity, telegraphs or one automobile in the game … and then there are the clear-cut agents of change such as the government trying to “intervene” on all levels. The city of Blackwater serves as the best example for the cold winds change in Red Dead Redemption: Instead of dusty roads and dirty saloons, we find clean, paved streets and tidy establishments. The biggest buildings in Blackwater are agents of change: A bank and the town hall. When we talk about the question if games are art next time, Red Dead Redemption is the perfect example that games are a form of art indeed.

While Red Dead Redemption is an amazing game, it also comes with some flaws: The balance seems a bit off sometimes: Marston can easily swallow 3 or 4 bullets, but 3 bites from a wolf in his arm kill him. Seriously? The Euphoria engine was still in a adolescent stage back then – Marston moved rather strangely and climbing stairs to enter a house could become a tedious task – especially in heated battles when you were looking for cover (usually finding death instead). On the other hand, it allowed impressive features such as these:

Unfortunately, Red Dead Redemption shares its weakest point with GTA IV; while the protagonists are on rather personal quests, they always seem to find time to help dubious people with dubious agendas – why would anyone do that? It doesn’t even help them on their quest most of the time, yet those missions are mandatory. And don’t get Rabidgames started with those “I’m tired of violence” and “I’m a better man now” antics … we’ve killed thousands of criminals, cops and civilians in both games … please Rockstar, give us protagonists who actually are outlaws and don’t give a fuck about collateral damage!

But honestly, those minor gripes may make you curse Red Dead Redemption once or twice, but that’s about it. At the end of the day, it is the sheer grandeur of this interactive Western that lures you in and won’t let you go, not even after finishing it once. When Rabidgames watched the first gameplay trailer for Assassin’s Creed 3, it all reminded him of Red Dead Redemption – at once. Reason enough to enjoy the vast scenery once more!

Rabidgames dreams: Rockstar definitely succeeded in redeeming itself. After the stale Niko Bellic, the umpteenth version of New York and the lacklustre open world of GTA IV, Red Dead Redemption delivered everything we could have hoped for. And let’s hope Rockstar will once decide to continue the Red Dead series – what about a game set during the civil war?

Mass Effect or A promising start

Posted in Blast from the past with tags , , , on January 22, 2012 by Rabidgames

Although Mass Effect was published roughly 4 years ago, it feels like forever. You don’t believe Rabidgames? Mind you, barely 7 years ago, we were all playing GTA San Andreas, wondering about the incredible size of its map …

Anyways, in order to prepare for Mass Effect 3, Rabidgames had to play Mass Effect again … wait, had to? Yes, because our dear Krogan friend Wrex only lives when you import a save file where you saved him. Of course, you could also buy Mass Effect Genesis (the comic which told the story of Mass Effect to the PS3 newcomers before starting to play Mass Effect 2) … but fuck that! Yeah, thanks EA for making us pay for that DLC.

In fact, Mass Effect was definitely worth the playthrough. It might have one of the last games when Bioware was really independent. It is also a game where the story shines. Throughout 90% of the game, you have no clue what’s going on, but in the end, all pieces fit perfectly. Another great design decision was you could convince the final boss not to fight you RPG-style … sort of, at least …

However, Mass Effect is not perfect. There are some minor gameplay flaws – and a huge one. Rabidgames is not rambling about the awkward combat – that’s actually quite fine. In the beginning, you cannot shoot straight – seems dumb when you’re an elite squad, doesn’t it? But hey, it’s an RPG, so we deal with it. However, Rabidgames cannot deal with the Mako. It’s crap, incredibly fucking awful crap. The controls are awkward and not really responsive, and climbing steep hills is way too sloooooooooooooooooooooow … To make it worse, Bioware chipped in an abysmal world design. Who the fuck enjoys mountain ranges with that unresponsive Makos? Your QA? Damn! Also, Bioware gave us a strong stinking flavour of things to come: All interiors were recycled from 3 or maybe 5 different models. Sounds familiar?

But those issues and the famous long lift rides aside, Mass Effect is a great game. Bioware created a huge and credible universe from scratch – it is both, good science fiction and an allegory to many issues earth has to deal with these days. Just think about the hardly hidden xenophobia many humans still have. Or about all the discussions “what does justice really mean?” – we could ask the Krogans about it … Bioware also did a great job about some of the alien races being really alien: The Rachni singing throughout the galaxy (and possibly victims of the Reapers), the Asari concept of mating, and of course the Reapers who are completely different … that’s what Science Fiction (or Fantasy, for that matter) should be about, and that’s where Mass Effect does an awesome job. Furthermore, while the main story develops in good pace and is definitely great, virtually all important story planets have their own micro-plot which are still related to the main plot. The countless side quests follow their own little stories, too.

Also, thank you Bioware for making achievements useful in-game. Rabidgames cannot believe why virtually no developer uses this option. It makes achievements worth hunting (well, at least more than “LOL, I got 34.454.665” gamerscore points, I am Da Man!). Complete Mass Effect game with certain achievements unlocked, and your next playthrough will be a breeze (unless you play on Hardcore or Insanity of course, but every little help counts there).

However, it is impossible to reach level 60 within one playthrough (unless you cheat exploiting a well-known glitch for hours). Why? Why would anyone play Mass Effect with the very same character again? For instance, Rabidgames finished a playthrough with his level 55 Paragon do-gooder – so one playthrough to get 5 levels (and it’s a big gap from 59 to 60)? That’s not roleplaying, it’s dumb. There are no new extra missions, no hidden conversations, nothing. And all the hassle just for one achievement and some negligible goodies (in Mass Effect as well as in Mass Effect 2) is certainly not worth it. Shame.

Rabidgames says: This game was the perfect start for a trilogy: It started a great story arc with more to come, it introduced interesting characters and decisions with possibly far reaching consequences. 4 years later, Mass Effect has certainly aged well. Of course, there was room for improvement in the gameplay department (especially combat); but to relive the beginning of the story of the first human spectre alone is well worth it. It is also an opportunity to honour Bioware as the RPG giants they once were …