Archive for the Played & Explained Category

Monster Hunter: World Beta or From “What The Fuck?” to “Nice!”

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , , on December 11, 2017 by Rabidgames

So, imagine you’re a total noob from Noobsville, and you happily start playing the Beta of a complex and deep game like Monster Hunter: World. Oh, there is only a less than bare-bones tutorial. What could go wrong here?

The start was easy enough – creating a character, creating one’s Palico (a feline companion, isn’t THIS what we’ve always wanted, guys), a few explanations, choosing a weapon (bow, not the best of ideas, but more about that later), starting the quest … the first monster of the Monster Hunter: World Beta could easily be beaten by just randomly shooting at it, so fair enough. Now onto the second monster … well, it ended in epic fails and big monster hunter tears to say the least. The idiotic 20 minutes time limit did not help at all, and the limited explanations of the different weapons, controls or functions neither. With no clue what was happening and why, rage quitting was the safer option given that controllers are so fucking expensive these days.

The next day then, Rabidgames tried some Monster Hunter: World again – this time, choosing the Insect Glaive but kinda neglecting the insect part. Why? Well, you can use the glaive as a pole and then jump onto monster to attack them while riding them – sounds great. Soon after, the second hunt was done. The third hunt however proved to be a challenge, but after diving into the multiplayer – it took too many tries to get a stable team together (not because of the players, because of the awful connections) – the last hunt was quickly dealt with, too.

It seems perfectly fine to go solo in the game – or take your feline friend with you, who fights, has tips and heals if necessary, but multiplayer might be a good option if you want to watch, participate a bit and learn how to attack the bigger hunts in Monster Hunter: World. If Capcom actually monitored the Beta, they better prepare more servers though, otherwise there won’t be much fun in multiplayer …

Just to show how others do it and what happens when you “git gud” (Disclaimer: it is only used to provide this example and not as judgment, as everyone knows folks who use this expressions are usually douches and assholes), here’s a video of some lunatic going crazy in Monster Hunter: World’s demo, pardon Beta:

Interestingly enough, it really makes sense to compare the beloved Dragon’s Dogma to Monster Hunter – not only because of riding monsters and a completely different feeling depending on the weapon you use, both share that awkward and strange gameplay as well as controls that feel a bit clunky at first, but when you keep playing them, you can use them to your advantage. In Monster Hunter’s case, it means knowing your attacks and the attacks of the monster, and knowing when to evade and when to attack.

Now, once has to wonder why the fuck Capcom has been actively trying to make the series more appealing to a wider audience, but then delivers with a Beta that is a haven only for Monster Hunter experts, while telling noob to piss themselves and then go crying or try some more. It doesn’t make any sense and might have lost them sales, too. So, did the Beta do a good job of highlighting Monster Hunter: World’s strengths once you overcome its weaknesses? For those who persevered and learned a few things, definitely. Here’s to hoping the final game will include more tutorials to really understand how weapons and the dozens of gadgets work – from slingshots with different ammunition, bombs and traps to gillies and more. Of course, the main motivations will break parts off monsters and kill them, loot them, craft better stuff, take on more dangerous fiends, rinse and repeat, etc.

Now, will that be enough in the long run? The Beta showed a promising game, but we’ll see. After all, the gameplay could be very, very repetitive, and it might become boring after a few weeks. Like Dark Souls, for instance. Then again, if you get Monster Hunter: World for PS4, you can (more or less) play as Aloy, and you even can have a feline robot companion!

AloyMH

Fuck, how can one resist now?

Rabidgames waits for now: Well, let’s see. So far, Monster Hunter: World looks promising. But so did Shadows of War or Battlefront 2 until loot boxes destroyed their reputation. So for the time being, knowing how Capcom can be especially with their murky DLC politics, why not do what a hunter does best – lie in wait?

 

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Diablo 3’s Necromancer – Overpriced Body-Stripping or Bone-ripping Fun?

Posted in Gaming these days ..., Played & Explained, The Latest with tags , , on July 30, 2017 by Rabidgames

Well, if the Necromancer has just been the class you’ve been waiting for in Diablo 3 and you enjoy nothing more than tearing a screen full of enemies to shreds with exploding bodies, it’s hard to answer that question objectively of course.

Sure, 15€/12£ for one character sounds fucking expensive, but it’s nothing unheard of – look at all the fighting games or shooters where you shell out 10 quid for a map or two. Just as an example, there are DLC characters in Injustice 2, each costing 5 quid. Any outrage there? But to be fair to Blizzard, it’s not just the Necromancer, his character models and animation, balancing and voice overs being implemented into Diablo 3, it’s also the unique sets and set dungeons that come into play.

Besides, Blizzard has been very generous since abandoning their failed auction house and always-online shenanigans of the failed launch of Diablo 3 – from the PS4’s launch onwards, there have been quite a few free updates giving us bonus dungeons, Greater Rifts and now Challenge Rifts, the Horadric artefact Kanai’s Cube, seasons and more. Always for free.

Plus, the Necromancer is one of the best classes to quickly rise through levels and to quickly raze enemy hordes. It is deadly early on and you can easily switch to Torment from level 50 onwards. It is also one of the most versatile classes in Diablo 3; you can play it as the lord of the undead, telling your minions who to attack – and here’s the big difference to the Witch Doctor, who cannot order his minions around – you walk around dressed in a Bone Armour throwing around Bone Spears or you spend your own life force to create deadly explosions while you replenish your HP by devouring corpses (every slain enemy leaves a corpse). Oh, and you can also temporarily raise up to 10 Skeleton Mages attacking enemies …

But the real beauty is what you do with corpses (not THAT, you perv!) – will you devour them or revive them? Or detonate them? You can. But the most fun is having sharp bones ripped out of corpses flying and destroying everything on screen in a heartbeat! Corpse Lance is surely one of the best skills in Diablo 3 – if there wasn’t a problem on higher difficulties: Sometimes, there are no corpses lying around, and they’re never enough. Until you get skills that create corpses for you or an item that makes sure your golem shits a corpse each second … well, it doesn’t say it literally …

So, is the Necromancer worth it? Let’s have a look at it from this angle: For speed-runs, be it in a season or (Greater) Rifts, they’re very viable characters with the right skill set and items. Even without that, reaching level 70 is a breeze as especially the first 40 or so levels can be slow grinding with other classes, e.g. monks, whereas the Necromancer can summon an army early on. So objectively, the Necromancer is a decent addition to Diablo 3. Subjectively though, well, who knows? Read about the class or watch some videos. Some classes might not be for you, others are perfect for you. But hell, who doesn’t like exploding bodies across the screen, right?

Rabidgames raises his thumb: Right off the bat, the Necromancer is now Rabidgames’ 2nd favourite class. Wizard is still running supreme, especially after finding that awesome Firedbird’s Finery set that makes everything burn within seconds, especially bosses! Oh, anyway, Necromancer is already a close second though! At least here, it was 12 pounds well spent for .

Nier: Automata or Do Robots Dream of Beauty and Tragedy?

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , on March 1, 2017 by Rabidgames

Sometimes, a game comes across as more than a “mere” game. Life is Strange comes to mind there, of course. And sometimes, a game plays with its own medium and then transcends it by tearing apart conventions and asking simple questions such as “what is life?”, both on the game level as well as on the meta level. Mind you, that question is simple, the answer isn’t. Not here. Nier: Automata is a game that has you “complete” the game twice before further advancing the story, and yet it is rarely boring as you explore new nuances. But let’s start from the beginning …

If you’ve played the demo, you know what to expect from Nier: Automata. At least when it comes to the gameplay part, and at least a bit of that. The story part gets really weird just a few minutes in, and that’s just the start of a fucking crazy (at times literal) roller-coaster experience! It starts epic, becomes more epic, and then everything comes crashing down on you and everyone in the game. Hard. Brutally hard.

But first things first – the first Nier, released years ago, was the post-apocalyptic story of a father/brother trying to find a cure for his sick daughter/sister (the relationship depended on the version, but that’s a whole different story). You got help by a speaking book (Gimoire Weiss) and fought another speaking book (Grimoire Noir). And that was before things went completely bonkers, culminating in an ending where you only found redemption by deleting your save file.

So it won’t really come as a surprise that the premise of Nier: Automata is as lunatic – after aliens invaded earth and humanity retreated to the moon, you are part of an android force that returns to earth to destroy robots made by aforementioned aliens. And again, that’s before things go really crazy in a mix of hope, betrayal, hatred and insanity. Of course, there are a few twists along the road, some of them changing your entire perception of the game. And at the very end, you literally shoot the credits!

You’ll find no crucial spoilers here for all the crazy shit happening (you need to experience the game yourself), but just one thing: the more you go towards the end, the sadder and bleaker Nier: Automata becomes. And we’re not talking regular gaming sad, where talking Aerith dying and the end of Red Dead Redemption sad here. Brutally sad. And Chuck Norris kick in the nuts brutal.

Gameplay-wise, Nier: Automata is also as strange as its predecessor – the style and core mechanics of a JRPG, a bit of an action.adventure, side-scrolling, top-down action and twin-shooter parts are all part of the experience, and more. But thanks to Platinum Games, the mechanics are now damn pretty solid and fighting is very precise and fluent, and once you get the hang of all the aspects, fighting a dozen of robots or a giant boss seems like a stroll in the park. It’s worth mentioning you control different androids throughout your journeys, and they also have different strengths and weaknesses.

But there’s one very important aspect to Nier: Automata that is briefly touched during the prologue – your chips. Throughout your journey, you’ll find more and more chips, and fusing (upgrading) and equipping them can make a major difference. You can also upgrade your melee weapons and your Pods (pretty much your guns and/or missiles).

After finishing the game, you can revisit each and every sequence via Chapter Select, which is almost necessary to get all the endings – and Nier: Automata has 26 endings in total; 5 major ones and 21 minor ones. There’s also a debug mode to play around with. It should take exploring players around 40 to 50 hours to finish Nier: Automata, and if you want to do everything, you can easily add another 20 hours to it.

There’s also some rather pricey arena-style DLC where you can test your skills. While each arena requires a different approach, there are mostly cosmetic rewards to get in each, except for items that lower your level … well, perhaps of interest for people who want to finish the game on level 1, who knows …

While story and gameplay go very well together most of the times, the Nier: Automata is not without its flaws: Not only is there lots of backtracking (it takes a while until you can fast-travel, and fast-traveling also only takes you that far), but you replay at least half of them game again. From a slightly different perspective, yes, but it’s still a lot of seeing the exact same things once more (story-wise, it’s fine, mind you).

Another problem is hacking: In Nier: Automata, hacking is a mini-game that goes from very easy at times to devilishly hard. And there are times when you have to solve 6 fucking tough hacking fucking puzzles in a row without even the option to conveniently save in-between! Ugh! Sure, it is not a deal breaker (rather a controller breaker), but mini-games that are in the way of fun are one thing – making them mandatory is just sadistic.

Anyway, these minor but at times annoying nitpickings aside, the main problem with describing Nier: Automata is that you can’t really talk about much, because any spoiler would take away the fun. But one thing is certain – not many games will deliver, or have delivered, such a philosophical story about what life actually is. As you might have guessed, AIs, pre-determination vs free will and self-consciousness are a central theme of Nier: Automata. It is a rewarding experience that needs to be experienced for yourself, as it goes from frantic action to insanely weird cutscenes, from deep sadness to incredible scenarios – and at the end of it all, it still all makes sense.

Rabidgames smiles: It is great to see Nier: Automata is selling well, as the game certainly deserves it. Once in a while, you get a game that asks questions and answers them in sometimes unexpected ways. Nier: Automata is such a gem. Buy it, and treasure it!

 

 

Farming Simulator 17 or Farm, Plough, Sow, Repeat

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , , on October 30, 2016 by Rabidgames

There are games we don’t get. For instance, Rabidgames sees hardly any appeal in the artificially tough and overly repetitive Dark Souls games and even less in the hectic Devil May Cry antics of Bloodbourne, while the majority, or perhaps a very loud minority, praises these games as a  the one and only true saviour of gaming. And then, there are games hardly anyone gets, games like Farming Simulator 17.

First, it is kind of hard to get into the game. There’s a bare-bones tutorial that covers the basics, and then you’re out in the world of farming, either in the US or in Russia, and it’s good luck to you from there on. But there’s more than mere farming, Farming Simulator 17 also offers logging wood or being a rancher if that’s more up your rural alley. And then there are mods. It’s mostly just new tractors or other farming equipment, but new maps should hopefully be up soon, too.

But be it crops, cattle or wood, it becomes crystal clear very quickly that you need a special mind for a game such as Farming Simulator 17: Not only is the game insanely repetitive as you get to drive up and down and down and up fields all day long (in-game and real life, if you play a long session), and nothing else happens. Well, it’s a simulation, so that’s to be expected, right? Sure, but the eternal cycle of sowing, fertilising, harvesting, ploughing, sowing and so on that needs to be repeated for several fields every in-game day feels tiresome after even one hour. Just have a look and remember – you do this over and over again:

You do all of the above to earn money you then can invest into – better equipment to do the same chores a bit more effectively. That’s it. Farming Simulator 17 does not offer anything more than what you can see in the first hours. So when you feel like giving this game a try, make sure you’re fully aware of the repetitive nature. Now, it seems quite some folks enjoy the rural virtual life, because Farming Simulator 17 is not even the only (bi)annual farming simulator available on PS4, as Professional Farmer 17 proves. To each their own …

The open world of Professional Farmer 17 is also pretty boring – you can find 100 gold nuggets per map, but otherwise it is not impressive, diverse or worth exploring. If you’re used to games of a more violent nature, it’s a natural instinct to take a vehicle and test the physics. Well, Farming Simulator 17 is pretty … basic if you give that a go; pedestrians are just ghosts without substance and if you ram a car, the tractor bounces back – the tractor, not the car! But if you want to, you can still have some fun with the physics as the video below shows:

Rabidgames sighs: It takes a special mind to enjoy farming simulators, and yours truly does not possess such a mind. Repetitiveness is fine when you can blow things up, but ploughing, sowing or harvesting is pretty much almost all there is to the game. But there must be an audience, as yet another other farming franchise on the PS4 proves …

F1 2016 or Poles, Crashes and Glory

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , on August 23, 2016 by Rabidgames

Great games always use their engines as backdrops for the stories we can write. F1 2016 tells a lot of stories, and yes, even the first racing weekend of the season can include all the twists and turns Formula 1 has to offer. But let’s cover the basics first, let’s come back to that race later.

Remember F1 2015, the tech demo lacking content? While last year’s instalment felt like a crash just after the start, F1 2016 easily goes the full distance, although there are a few safety car sessions in there as well …

First of all, content-wise, there are no more previous season or classic modes any more, but F1 2016 comes with a massive career mode at its heart, making you really feel like a F1 driver – and you’re not just living the triumph and victories, the crashes and technical failures, you’re also having to work hard for it to make your success happen. Oh, and sometimes, spectacular, yet physically not absolutely correct crashes happen:

If you’re like Rabidgames and you pretty much suck at racing games, the game actually poses quite a challenge even on easy and with all driving assists activated – you really need to focus throughout the circuits, and in races, one tiny mistake can mean ruined tyres and being 10th instead of on the podium! F1 2016 is a game that asks you to study the tracks hard before you can reap the rewards.

While you can create your driver, the creation suite is a rather sad state affairs – maybe 12 face models with hardly anything to change, a few helmet designs, and that’s it … a bit sad for 2016. But hey, at least you can lead small countries such as Luxembourg or San Marino to their first ever Formula 1 victory! Afterwards, you can choose your team freely now in F1 2016 – but be careful, a top team Mercedes expects you to become world champion while Manor is happy with you grabbing perhaps a point or two …

But as soon as you created your driver and go through the first tutorials, the depth of F1 2016 shines through – while you can simply jump straight into your first free practice session to get to know the track, you can also play around with the settings to get to know which car settings suit your playstyle best. As a nice and well-integrated bonus, you can also earn points by fulfilling certain conditions throughout the weekend – from learning how to get your tyres working to outracing your dedicated rival, those points will help you developing your car throughout the season, so it is highly recommended to do so.

Back to the first race weekend of the season – after using the free practice sessions to get accustomed to the circuit and the gameplay of F1 2016, and after noticing the AI drivers have never heard about making way for faster cars the hard way, Rabidgames managed to qualify the Toro Rosso on the pole – which is quite easy with a somewhat decent lap on easy difficulty.Choosing 25% of the original distance, which equals 15 laps in Australia, felt long enough for the first race.

The formation lap went a bit wrong though after getting overtaken by a few cars that didn’t make way which is part of the regulations, yours truly failed at the start and ended up 4th … Only to get back to 1st within a few laps, unfortunately damaging the front wing so when boxing after lap 8, the front wing had to be changed which kicked Rabidgames’ Luxembourgian driver back to 7th. After a few overtakings and a few cars boxing though, it was back to first place.

But then came the rain. Visually beautifully looking rain, and rainy conditions is where F1 2016 looks stunning. Problem is, rain and old tyres aren’t exactly a fun combination, and while Ricciardo could be fought off after he made a mistake and left the track after a collision, Räikkönen felt comfortably fine with the rain. Fortunately, the rain became so hard that the box recommended putting on intermediates in the final lap, which was insane as Räikkönen didn’t pit so with both cars struggling, Rabidgames managed to somehow slide the car to the chequered flag, meaning a historical first race victory for Luxembourg!

Truth be told, doing all of that on easy and with most assists activated might diminish the feat, but for a racing noob, it still felt hard and challenging. F1 2016 asks quite a lot from inexperienced racers on easy difficulties, where mistakes are punished quickly. Yes, you can rewind to before the accident, but that’s really cheating now!

As you can see, lots of things can happen in F1 2016, and that was just one race! However, the A.I. is far from perfect and while you pretty push a car off the tracks, sometimes you get punished for leaving the track although lost time and positions … which seems odd.

Apart from the career mode, there’s a season mode with all current drivers (feeling kind of superfluous), a custom race/season mode, time trials which let you race against others players’ online times, and then F1 2016 also offers multiplayer (single races or an entire championship, that’s up to you) with up to 22 drivers. One weird thing is that A.I. cars become transparent during online races, which is a very weird design choice … But apart from this and some lag that can appear at times, it is actually lots of fun to just watch online races, too, as quite a few pan out like the one below:

So, who should play F1 2016? The obvious answer is Formula 1 fans, of course! What better way to start into a race weekend than power on your console and get to know the track yourself so you can laugh at drivers making mistakes later? Or maybe just spend a few races crashing into that one driver that always gets you mad?

Furthermore, the game should also be suited to racing pros who prefer Assetto Corsa, Forza or Gran Turismo, but then again, it’s hard to say how hardcore F1 2016 is when you’re not a big racing fan yourself, and it’s also difficult to judge the flaws of this game (A.I., punishment system, online lags) against the competition.

One thing is for sure though – for the best experience of F1 2016, a racing wheel is almost mandatory – while it is okay in the dry with new tyres, as soon as you have wet conditions and/or older tyres, the controller just feels inaccurate. Obviously, you should be a die-hard racer who keeps playing racing games for a long time …

Rabidgames admits: For amateur console racers, F1 2016 offers a lot, but it may offer a bit too much as well – if you don’t really know the tracks and just want to play the game in short bursts, you won’t go too far with the game. If you have patience and you’re willing to learn every nook and corner of the F1 business though, this game and the drama, the victories and the defeats of Formula 1 should be yours. And please, for the love of Ayrton Senna and the other greats, let’s have another team but Mercedes win races!

 

 

Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness or What a Shame

Posted in Played & Explained with tags , , , , on August 22, 2016 by Rabidgames

Sometimes, games can feel like friends indeed. Some, you’ve known for decades, and some always stay close, some however, grow distant or disappear. And while Star Ocean: The Last Hope was the first sign that this friendship was changing, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness emphasises that sometimes, friendships can be hanging by a thread.

First of all, Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness … wow, what a title, right? What poetry, how philosophical. Yet after finishing the game – wow, what a pompous, vain, almost flatulent title! It’s meaningless. Utterly devoid of meaning. Two words combined just because. True, some characters show more integrity than others, but faithlessness? If you look deep, you might find a hint of it somewhere, perhaps. But you could do so with each and every game. For instance, Trevor feels betrayed by Michael in GTA V, or just remember the end of Red Dead Redemption. See? But at the end of the day, it’s a meaningless title.

Sadly, the characters are entirely meaningless and forgettable, too. You have two guys with swords (this time, no teenagers at least), two girls with magic powers, one space dude with a cross-bow or a laser gun (yep, both, and no one seems to care) and a female martial artists fighter, and then, there’s a little girl hanging with you most of the time who is the key to the events of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness. The problem – there is hardly any character development going on, and the bit that is happening is mostly happening in Private Actions, a series staple that has never felt that meaningless before: You have to circle the hubs to talk to your party members, and mostly, it’s small talk about trivial shit. Perhaps it’s an allegory on how small talk is a waste of time, but come on, it shouldn’t literally feel like you’re wasting your time in the game! Why do them, you ask? Well, after some random Private Actions, new roles can get unlocked. Hooray!

And then, the story of Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is as hollow – there is exactly one nice twist that took Rabidgames by surprise around the middle of the game, but the rest of it is foreseeable, dull and often boring. It doesn’t help most of the cutscenes just is the characters talking in-game, with horrible lip-sync from the 90s and an adjustable camera that hardly captures any emotions or importance.

But hey, there are emotes you can unlock to comment on the things said. No one wanted it, and yet it’s there. 95% of all the cutscenes in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness are just fluff and too long, and guess what – there is no fucking way to skip them! Honestly, this game expects you to play it several times in different difficulties, but with these shitty cutscenes that last way too long too often, no fucking way!

So, we have a meaningless title, hollow characters, dumbed-down non-skippable cutscenes and a flat story – and the world design is as bad! There are around 10 maps you constantly have to run through back and fort, forth and back and back and forth. The amount of backtracking in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is utterly ridiculous! The maps are okay though, enemy variety is alright (they change as the story progresses), but graphically, some environments clearly look last-gen. And the handful of hubs aka towns are tiny and lifeless as well. Furthermore, there’s a huge in-game glossary you can read … or you could if it was any useful. (Hint: Assassin’s Creed is the prime example how in-game info can be provided in a humorous way.)

So far so bad. Thankfully, fighting in Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness is fun. It’s more Till the End of Time than The Last Hope, but that’s fine. Having up to 7 characters on-screen can be a bit hectic when there’s explosions and flashes all over the screen, but it’s still fun, the kind of fun battle system Star Ocean is known for.

Plus, there is some depth to customising and upgrading your characters’ equipment, levelling up roles and finding out which work well together will keep you busy for hours, and as in every other Star Ocean title, crafting and synthesising are well worth experimenting and satisfying. The game gives you plenty of room to find out many things for yourself, which is a nice change.

The playtime is also alright, albeit a bit short if you’re used to the 100+ hours of the past just for the main story. For RabidgamesStar Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness the clock showed 45 hours when the final boss fell, and there still the obligatory and pretty tough post-game dungeons to explore.

It’s clear by now there are a shitloads of cons and only a few pros when it comes to Star Ocean: Integrity and Faithlessness, but it’s still worth checking out if you have an itch for a JRPG; not for the story obviously, but for the gameplay, which keeps things interesting! But unless you’re big fan, don’t buy it for the full price, or you’ll be disappointed.

Rabidgames wonders: After completing the game, it just feels like this friend might get another chance – while times have changed and it falls flat in many regards, you can still see why you wanted to hang around with that friend in the first place. But after two disappointments, it’s now Last Chance Hotel for Star Ocean! Which is a sad thing to say if you once thought you’d love Star Ocean Till the End of Time …

 

Saints Row or Fun Trumps All

Posted in Gaming these days ..., Played & Explained with tags , , , on December 2, 2015 by Rabidgames

The throne of “modern times” open world/sandbox gaming is a heavily contested one – while GTA V has the most publicly accepted claim now, there are two more series also asking for the crown – the Just Cause series, hellbent on chaos, explosions and beautiful sceneries (although thematically a bit different), and the Saints Row series, that rose from a humble beginnings to the most outlandish and batshit gaming experience ever.

So, in case you haven’t played any of them, let’s have a look at how it all started, shall we?

Saints Row – Humble beginnings in the shadow of San Andreas

True, the first Saints Row kind of earns the title “GTA clone” – not only do you play the from rags to criminal riches story, Saints Row is also dominated by different gangs fighting for control. Even more enervating for San Andreas veterans, your gang is dressed in purple …

But it is definitely the best San Andreas clone – and the first Saints Row already added a few activities that are now trademarks of the series, e.g. the amazing Insurance Fraud where you have to throw yourself in front of racing cars to ragdoll around in a most hurtful manner to proceed, or Mayhem where you just have to rack up points by killing and/or blowing up everyone and everything – weirdly enough, the best way to get points has always been vandalising fences …

The story deserves some mention as well – in Saints Row (as well as in the next two games), you would battle three different gangs in three different story arcs – and there was always an end game with yet another story to tell!

If you wanted more San Andreas and then some, Saints Row was your game. And yes, some originality was already there, but the game and also the cliffhanger ending with a few decisive twists served mostly as a blueprint for the sandbox revolution:

Saints Row 2 – Fuck your cousin, let’s blow shit up – literally!

Remember this hilarious ad for Saints Row 2, mocking Rockstar for the less fun and mayhem yet more going bowling with your cousin approach in GTA IV:

Actually, this trailer describes Saints Row 2 perfectly – crazy missions and crazier side activities (septic trucks, streaking, being a bodyguard and brutalising people), insane depth of customisation, immature, dark and savage humour … plus, you have a story that ends up connecting all dots in a clever way (big, bad corporate crooks involved) … hell, there are some disturbing and emotional moments in there – Saints Row 2 ticked many boxes, but above all, the game wants you to have fun while playing it. While the first Saints Row copied Rockstar’s formula, part 2 refined it, added bits of insanity and scat. Yep, Saints Row 2 sat comfortably on the urban crime sandbox throne.

Another reason was the honesty of Saints Row 2 – while CJ in San Andreas was still somehow a nice guy, the protagonist was a ruthless son/daughter of a bitch, showing no mercy or regrets akin to Tommy Vercetti in Vice City. And yet despite dealing with drugs, thousands of homicides, the protagonist still was some sort of good guy compared to the corporate nightmare visions of Ultor!

Hands down, Saints Row 2 is at least one of the best games of the last generation, and perhaps the best in combining a convincing story and an urban sandbox. So yes, it is fair to say Saints Row 2 beats GTA IV in the urban crime sandbox competition! As we witnessed a few years later on, combining is the key word here!

Saints Row The Third – A few steps forward, quite a few back

Sadly, the third Saints Row couldn’t live up to its predecessor’s fame and glory. Customisation got severely crippled (no more layers, no more customisable cribs), the serious undertones vanished, the story had absolutely no depth and neither had the characters, old or new.

The missions? Fragmented, sometimes even disconnected, plus the introduction of activities counted as main missions. Yep. The big villain? Dies in the first half! Johnny motherfucking Gat? Dies off-screen in the beginning, and then that’s it. What the fuck, Volition?

Another ugly byproduct of Saints Row The Third was the abundance of shallow to useless to shameless DLC pieces of worthless junk – even advertised as “40 weeks of DLC” – paying money for cheat codes is still a bad fucking joke! Pretty much the only worthwhile minor DLC is the Shark Shotgun!

But Saints Row The Third isn’t a bad game despite all these flaws – gameplay was refined with more fluent controls and the “awesome button”, the action was more explosive, the graphics were overhauled as well, and at least weapons could be customised. And yeah, while the James Bond villain dies early on, the second half of the game develops a completely new dynamic at least, a pretext to the aliens and sci-fi in its successor!

And if you look beyond the flaws and at the fun factor – hell yeah, it is lots of fun to create havoc in this game! You have the tools – from stink bombs to airstrikes and tanks of today and tomorrow, you have the opportunities, pretty much every minute you play the Saints Row The Third is tailor made for our amusement, be it missions or the open world. From a sandbox perspective, THIS is one of the greatest – and even more so in co-op.

So yes, the game is still fun and gained a lot of new fans, but just as GTA IV was a let-down to many fans who enjoyed the size, the crude, immature humour and the general hilarities of San Andreas, the new direction of Saints Row The Third felt a bit shallow – depth was sacrificed for over-the-top action, the humour was just silly at times … But that would change soon …

Saints Row 4 – The best of virtual and virtual² worlds

How can the crazy insanities of Saints Row The Third be even crazier and more insane? By mixing in an alien invasion and the Matrix, of course! This stroke of genius solved the problem of limitations to the over-the-top approach as well as not connected story arcs in next to no time! Two birs with one stone – in Saints Row terms, it’s rather two planets with one death star!

By explaining it all (well, most) happens in virtual Steelport, everything was permitted and the over-the-top attitude culminated in a game full of super powers – including a nuke bomb from high above – the most outlandish weapons ever (black hole launchers, rectifier probes, inflato-ray guns – to name a few and leave them to your imagination), batshit-crazy missions full of easter eggs, nods (from Metal Gear Solid to Mass Effect to They Live) and Keith David as himself aka Vice President! Oh, and Johnny Gat is back  in Saints Row 4 – fuck yeah!

You even get to recruit some of the Saints’ departed antagonists as virtual homies – and they even have a back story to tell! And then there’s the most insane DLC ever – How the Saints saved Christmas is surely one of the craziest experiments in gaming ever. Plus, you can have 3 Shaundies at the same time! Enter the Dominatrix isn’t as great unfortunately, although the ending that is even crazy for Saints Row standard sis something that has to be seen to be believed! Oh, and that throne …

Now, Saints Row 4 certainly is the brawns of the series, while Saints Row 2 is the brains – but it is hard to establish which one is the heart and soul. Probably both, because they are deep yet entirely different.

What does the future hold for the Saints?

Well, no one knows. But since that’s a boring answer, chances are Volition could go for one of these three options:

  1. Time travel: In Saints Row 4, time travel is introduced, and certainly, the fusion of Assassin’s Creed and Saints Row could be mindblowing. After all, what’s left to do without the earth?
  2. A reboot: The easiest option. Let’s return to Stilwater and let’s re-visit the beginning of the Saints saga. While it worked for Tomb Raider, knowing we already know about the betrayals of Julius, Troy and Dex would mean the story would have to be completely rewritten.
  3. Wrestling Stilwater back from the Syndicate: While the Saints battle the Syndicate in Steelport, we could retake Stilwater from the Syndicate – and other gangs. Afterwards, the game could end with us getting honoured by the president …

Whatever will happen, let’s just hope the next Saints Row will live up to its big name and give us some good stories and gameplay antics. Or, as good old Johnny would describe what Saints Row is all about: “Let’s kill some shit!”