Archive for the Revisited Category

Assassin’s Creed Reloaded or From Animus 1.0 To 4.0

Posted in Gaming these days ..., Revisited with tags , , , , on October 29, 2013 by Rabidgames

With Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag around the corner, why shouldn’t we take a quick look at how the series evolved from its not that humble beginnings? Well, let’s at least have a look at the console games … the handhelds don’t really count after all, do they?

Assassin’s Creed (2007)

Basically, the first Assassin’s Creed is a tech demo. On the plus side, it is a breath taking one. Three huge cities to climb and explore, a story that combines the middle eastern past witnessed by protagonist Altair with the dystopian present (the game was set in 2012), and awesome assassinations. On the other hand, the gameplay was repetitive to no end (9 assassinations, and the preparations played out all the same) and collecting hundreds of flags felt even more pointless than shooting pigeons. There was some gameplay depth missing, and the only things standing out were the interesting beginning and the amazing end of the game. But the game laid the foundations for the Assassin’s Creed series – from introducing the perennial war between Assassins and Templars aka Abstergo, the pieces of Eden to the mind-boggling reliving history through DNA arch we now take for granted.

Assassin’s Creed II (2009)

We switched from Altair to Ezio, a playboy turned Assassin. The second game did a much better job in progressing the story with many new gameplay ideas, and diversity in mission design. This time, we had 2 big cities, 2 towns and one village which doubled as home base. Above all, Assassin’s Creed II was fun; Ezio was more cheerful than the stoic Altair, there was a more fleshed-out backstory taking place throughout Italy, the gameplay included fighting, sneaking, silently assassinating to races, an economy system, tombs to explore Tomb Raider style and puzzles to solve to unlock “The Truth“, and of course this fourth wall breaking ending of the game:

Of course, it wasn’t perfect. There was some feeling of repetition in the middle of the game, and the removal of sequences 12 and 13 to be given back to us as DLC was truly disgraceful. But let’s be honest, that’s just nitpicking …

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (2010)

The bad news: We went from 6 locations to one, Rome. Although the city was huge, there was a certain element of freedom missing. The good news: The rest of Brotherhood. Be it commanding a full-fledged Assassin’s guild including the arrows storm and sending your soon-to-be Assassins across Europe, the many guild challenges, the Metal Gear Solid style Leonardo missions or the puzzles from Subject 16, the Desmond stuff in the present … Brotherhood had it all. Oh, and Rabidgames should not forget to mention that awesome cliffhanger at the very end of the game! That’s how it’s done.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations (2011)

For many, Revelations is the low point of the Assassin’s Creed franchise. Rabidgames agrees (actually, he never finished the game). Assassin’s Creed II.3 felt like a mere add-on to Brotherhood. Constaninople felt rather weak (different from other cities through architecture only), the Desmond sections went quickly from interesting to fucking boring as hell, the minigame Den Defense was one of the worst tower defense incarnations ever to see the light of virtual day, and the whole game felt a bit stale. If it hadn’t been for the exploring and the refined Mediterranean Defense minigame where you sent your Assassin recruits to missions across Europe once more, Revelations would have been completely boring. Revelations was not entirely bad, but it was several steps below the rest of the games, lacking innovation and surprises. Not exactly the revelation Revelations was hoping for …

Assassin’s Creed III (2012)

Goodbye Ezio, hello Connor. And Haytham first … Assassin’s Creed III was mixed box of entertainment: there was tons of awesome stuff, from hunting (bar the fucking QTEs), climbing trees, the entire frontier, the funny investigations, the decidedly grey story of the American revolution and the treatment of the Indians – and of course, naval battles, the highlight of AC3! Unfortunately, 2 protagonists meant 10 hours of tutorials, the game was full of bugs and glitches, the economy system fell flat on its face, and the missions were even more linear than before. Oh, and while the ending in the past was weak, the ending to Desmond’s story was fucking abysmal, especially because of a dea ex machina and not giving us a damn colour-based choice! At the end of the day, Assassin’s Creed II was a good game marred by questionable design choices and a rather bad technical side. Let’s hope Ubisoft learns from its mistakes.

Rabidgames is looking forward to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013): Why? Assassins and pirates, of course (let’s hope for ninjas, too)! Naval battles, a huge with many islands world to explore, several cities to freerun, a new protagonist and us being Abstergo agents promise an interesting experience.

GTA IV: The Good, The DLC and The 10 Things GTA V Should Do Better

Posted in Revisited with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2013 by Rabidgames

GTA IV was probably one of the most hyped games ever. Just look at metacritic to see the love it got (most of it deserved, make no mistake), and let’s face it, we all giggled like toddlers experiencing the new Euphoria engine for the first time. But the love for GTA IV proved to be a slowly fading one for Rabidgames … the game was nice to look at, but there was a lack of variety beneath the skin. But luckily for us, the younger sibling GTA V awaits.

THE GOOD

Simply put, GTA IV’s Liberty City was an amazing backdrop. You get the feeling of a nice vibrant city (more about that feeling later) that is full of life, opportunities, and of course tons of violence. The amount of detail put into the city is pretty much awesome. Niko Bellic is an interesting character with a troubled past, albeit not a perfect one (“I’m tired of killing, that’s why I keep killing” is all he is), and some other characters are pretty decent, too (although there are some mightily annoying ones, especially cousins).

GTA IV shines in one regards: satire. Be it the overall story arch of the American Dream, be it some hilarious missions (remember killing that lawyer?), the TV and comedy shows, radio stations and especially the in-game internet which made the most awesome fun of capitalism, consumerism, patriotism, and above all the war on terror … All this kind of stuff made GTA IV one of the best satirical observations of the contemporary USA, and it proved that gaming can pull off a Breaking Bad, too (you don’t have to like the protagonist in order to like watching or playing it).

The story of GTA IV itself was also pretty good; there were some emotional moments (most of them rather sad – sometimes, you have to kill harmless and nice guys), and the endgame picks up the pace perfectly. Plus, there are some memorable missions (bank robbery, anyone?). The important here is the internet again – you will be able to get the complete picture of the meta story of Liberty City’s criminal empires only if you read the news from the beginning and if you played all the DLCs. Nice touch, Rockstar.

THE DLC

The Lost and the Damned

Basically, GTA IV goes Sons of Anarchy. If you don’t mind death metal, dirty bikers and some nice middle finger anarchy, well, tough luck, brother. The missions are pretty team-oriented and pretty much fun. Of course, the horrible bike mechanics ruin the many, many group rides; what good are hardcore bikers if they are too dumb to stay in position? Yeah, morons with patches. Maybe the Angels of Death should have won …

The Ballad of Gay Tony

Finally, we leave gritty apartments and dirty motorbikes. Glamour is back! Even more, the missions are more varied and finally, we were able to blow shit up big time! However, the stupid fight club showed how incredibly abysmal melee combat was in GTA IV … If you look past that, The Ballad of Gay Tony felt like an old-time GTA where fun was written with a capital F!

THE 10 THINGS GTA V SHOULD DO BETTER (and the likelihood it’ll happen)

10. More than one damn city without anything else

GTA IV was just the city of Liberty, well, City. And New Alderney (industrial part, downtown, suburbs and the Leone’s old run-down mansion). Just a big city, no deserts, no forests, no proper waterways, mountains or even a proper beach … after the vast San Andreas, this felt like 3 steps back. Now the good thing is, GTA V will have all of this, and maybe more (don’t we all want to finally meet Bigfoot?).

Likelihood: 100%

9. No more collectible shit without any rewards

In San Andreas (and earlier games as well as the later Stories games), you had to find many different collectibles, and you got in-game rewards like free weapons and stuff. In GTA IV, you had to shoot dozens of fucking pigeons – to get a fucking stupid achievement for killing all of them (was it 666?), oh, and a helicopter … Let’s hope GTA V does a better job.

Likelihood: 50%

8. What about decent movement?

Oh, poor clumsy Niko! Remember when you wanted to climb some stairs or you wanted to walk though a door, but clumsy Niko decided to miss everything in sight? Even poor John Marshton in Red Dead Redemption suffered from some eye leg coordination hick-ups (albeit not as clumsy as Niko). And as mentioned before, melee combat was an atrocity!  Will we be able to walk like human beings in GTA V? We’ll see, we’ll see …

Likelihood: 20%

7. Remember San Andreas had RPG stats?

Okay, first: The getting fat or muscular thing went over-the-top. We don’t need that. But experience in driving, shooting, flying or maybe even fucking would be a good thing – and GTA IV delivered none of this. Zero, nada, nix. Thankfully, at least some basic RPG stats will be back in GTA V. Level up, boys!

Likelihood: 100%

6. Dynamic shoot-outs

So, a normal shoot-out in GTA IV was taking cover, waiting for enemies to leave cover, shooting them, rinse & repeat. In other words, boring as fuck if you weren’t a Gears of War fanatic. While GTA V will have the same cover mechanic, switching between the characters tactically should make the shoot-outs more fun.

Likelihood: 60%

5. We want planes

Yeah, we know Rockstar though the GTA IV map was too small to have fun with planes, and, oh, there was just one airport. First: Fuck that! We had plenty of fun with planes in Saints Row 2 in one city, didn’t we? Luckily, planes (and fighter jets) will be back in GTA V! Hooray!

Likelihood: 100%

4. No more scripted missions

Remember how the same vehicles crossed your path? Or even worse, how couldn’t kill that cunt on a motorbike you were chasing? Yeah, scripted missions were a big fucking pain in the ass in GTA IV! Dear Rockstar, we don’t want this shit!

Likelihood: 40%

3. Vehicles should not feel like dead weight on ice

Goddamn it, if there’s ever a GTA where the handling at top speed is shit, and braking in the dry feels like sliding on ice, well, play GTA IV. Driving was horrible and not fun at all. Let’s hope Rockstar learned from that dumb idea of “realism” …

Likelihood: 70%

2. Fuck realism, and fuck that cousin!

Realism in GTA IV meant the following: Horrible car mechanics (see above), cops pestering you after firing one shot, no cool vehicles like planes or tanks (yeah, Niko was not supposed to handle them, man, are we glad CJ could), no more outlandish missions (ah, that jetpack …), and then, those fucking friendship bullshit: “Cousin, let’s go bowling!”, “Niko, why haven’t you called me” or “Hey, let’s grab a bite!” For fuck’s sake, it’s GTA, not the bloody Sims! Dating to give a fuck in San Andreas was only worthwhile because of the extras, but in GTA IV, it was just annoying like hell, especially if you called a so-called friend and had to drive to the other end of the fucking map to meet that cunt! Let’s hope friendship in GTA V involves a shitload of killing!

Likelihood: 80%

1. Empty world with almost no exploration value or things to do

Remember the one cool easter egg in GTA IV? The heart? Good, then you know almost all of them. Exploring in GTA IV meant driving from one part of the city to the next one. That was it 99% of the time. And then, where were the interesting side missions, interesting activities, hidden stuff, the paramedic/cop/taxi/fire fighter missions? Nope. What about customisation? A dozen outfits, no hair, tattoos or car customisation! Safe houses, businesses or many cool guns? No, no, no. GTA IV was hellbent on denying us the very fabric that made San Andreas great. Fortunately, GTA V will include tons of stuff to do! Fuck yeah!

Likelihood: 100%

Rabidgames puts the rant into perspective: To be fair, this might feel a bit harsh. Yes, GTA IV was fun. But playing it a second time is not at times – you know the annoying missions, you hate the clumsy walking, the awful driving, you get bored easily when not on missions. Yes, GTA IV is one of hell of an awesome open world action game with a serious and strong satirical undercurrent. But it falls flat on its face as a sandbox game. And GTA and sandbox used to be synonyms – and who knows, they could be again …

The GTA Story: All Hail The Sandbox King – San Andreas

Posted in Revisited with tags , , , , , , on August 27, 2013 by Rabidgames

The year was 2004. The place was a PlayStation2. It was a good-sized step for Rockstar, yet it definitely was one hell of a giant leap for gaming: GTA San Andreas went from city to state, from action-adventures to RPG/sim/sneaking – all lite though, from the surface of a city to swimming and diving, flying huge planes and even something trivial like bicycles.

Back then, there were those incredible moments you cannot relive – leaving Los Santos for the first time, visiting the countryside and realising the massive size of San Andreas. Trying to San Fierro prematurely just to getting ambushed by fucking fighter jets out of nowhere who shot you down with a motherfucking rocket! The Hydra! The jetpack!

And then, there’s the San Andreas stuff that’s just always awesome! Cruising on a chopper in the desert listening to K-ROSE, flying planes underneath, using the hovercraft, winning one triathlon, getting laughed at because you were too fat or you couldn’t swim, or maybe trying to master the driving & flying schools of San Andreas once more (have YOU ever managed gold in the car driving school?) … who’ll ever forget this? Furthermore, the different climates, the red-smog Los Santos, the foggy San Fierro, the leisurely sunny Las Venturas, the barren forests and the dry deserts, from an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere to downtown L.S. – it was all there, and then, there was some more (the mysterious Area 69, the Resident Evil building in S.F., the weird wheelchair, the ghost cars, the U.F.O. bar and many more). San Andreas was full of sights, stuff and mysteries – and so far, no game has matched the size AND details.

Another milestone was San Andreas’ narrative: While Vice City was fun and tons of humourous nods to movies and TV shows, San Andreas was the story of the American Dream from a black man’s perspective in the early 90’s – racial tensions and riots, gang wars, corrupt cops, crooked government agents, drugs – name it, find it! It was both light-hearted and biting satire, cock jokes and playing with racist stereotypes, and even if you didn’t know or liked the Boyz n the Hood vibe or hip hop in general, it was still fun to get to know that culture (or at least the way it is perceived by many of us). Basically, San Andreas was the beginning of the Rockstar tradition of showcasing serious real-world issues in their games.

The rags to riches narrative easily spanned 50 hours, and of course, there were many betrayals and even more well-known faces: from Catalina and her new-found lover (Claude, the ever-silent GTA III protagonist), and our favourite lawyer Mr. Rosenberg. Will anybody ever forget Samule L. Jackson’s performance as the voice of Cpt. Tenpenny, the real antagonist in GTA San Andreas?

To this day, the epic scope, the diversity and the feeling of a complete game have been unmatched. In the first 20 hours in Los Santos, there’s Lowrider competitions, rescuing a damsel in distress from a burning building (you have to use a fire extinguisher) dancing, gang wars, working out and sneaking missions. Let’s add flying around aimlessly or simply diving near the shore, or maybe just eating until you puked … there’s always a way to kill some time in San Andreas

Of course, a game this size and full of content falls flat sometimes. Even San Andreas is not immune to it. Legendary are the tales of “that tree popping up after my jet exploded”, “there’s my car. Let me just turn around – oh, no it’s gone” and “where has my mission marker gone?” … It’s not all technical glitches, bugs or issues though; Los Santos takes too much place, while San Fierro feels like a rather late addition – imagine a wild car chase up and down the iconic hills of that city, and you realise something was/is missing in those areas.

And then, there was CJ … One good kid at heart, some wrong decisions, and always uptight (“I’m a bad motherfucker, I kill and maim and steal, but I don’t take no drugs, oh no, morality and shit!”). Compared to Tommi Vercetti, he feels weak, and the lacklustre family revenge/redemption storyline is pretty much your average soap opera level.

And then, there is that one fucking stupid Zero mission. The remote plane one. This one:

Worst! Mission Design! Ever!

But despite those shortcomings, San Andreas is still the unchallenged king of the sandbox. Just Cause 2 and Saints Row 2 came close, but the former lacked the size and everything-is-possible attitude and the latter one lacked details. And the best argument in favour of San Andreas is the following test: Pick a sandbox game of your choice, turn it up, it down in a vehicle and start driving around. Now, do the same with San Andreas. Rabidgames guarantees one thing: San Andreas will win.

If we talk about San Andreas, prudery forbid we don’t mention the Hot Coffee scandal! It was ludicrous. “The depiction of sex in a video game” Fox News and other intelligence-challenged conservative and demented outlets cried. “It’ll ruin our youth” … the very youth who was not allowed to play the game anyway, unless the parents so concerned about the f-bomb and sex but fine with the mindless murder of thousands of innocent pixels bought the game for their kids. But you know … it wasn’t even a feature in the actual game, because Rockstar had removed it. And if you didn’t know how to mod your PC version of San Andreas, you’d never seen the “sex”. By the way, that’s what the supersexy fuss was about … enjoy and wonder what the world had come to:

Rabidgames dreams: Nine years have passed, and San Andreas still occupies the sandbox throne. It seems rather ironic that GTA V, again starring (parts of) San Andreas, has the potential to finally dethrone the king.

The GTA Story – A fistful of 80’s Love – Vice City and Vice City Stories

Posted in Revisited with tags , , , , on August 21, 2013 by Rabidgames

GTA Vice City: Tommy The Motherfucking Man Vercetti

What’s the reason GTA Vice City is still praised by many as THE GTA, the perfect open world game, or as best game ever? Is it the 80’s feeling, including many references (from Miami Vice characters to the A-Team van to the obvious nods to Scarface)? Is it the ingenious assets gameplay element? Flying for the first time? The colourful and bustling Miami, pardon, Vice City?

It is all of the above, but Vice City’s main strength is the protagonist, Tommy Vercetti. As opposed to the good guy at heart CJ and the sad old veteran Niko Bellic, Tommy doesn’t give a shit about fucking ethics – why should he stay away from drugs, why should he pretend to care about anything? He’s in it for the money, for the fame, for the fucking violence! It felt refreshing just to play the ultimate badass, didn’t it?

True, Vice City takes shitloads of inspiration from Scarface: The big villa, the Malibu Club, Diaz aka Lopez – and of course a “from rags to riches” story were more than mere references, but thanks to the charismatic Lance Vance (for once, a character whose motivations were understandable, and it might be worth raising the question who betrayed whom), the best fictional band  ever, Love Fist, and good old friends such as Donald Love, GTA Vice City could free itself from the Scarface copycat stamp. Plus, Tommy talked less than Toni, becomes arguably less insane in the end, and his one-liners were usually spot-on. Yes, Mr. Vercetti was not designed to be loved or as a sympathetic character – but who cares? It’s GTA, and that means we want to unleash havoc and mayhem unto the city!

Besides Tommy, Vice City offered tons of stuff: We knew the open world missions, rampages and many diversions from GTA III, yes. But what about motor bikes, helicopters, one actual plane and changing clothes? All welcome, true. But one thing which will never be forgotten are the assets; from a certain point onwards, we could buy properties, do missions for them and then collect money in return. An ingenious system, and sadly pretty much absent in later GTA titles.

So, was Vice City perfect? Well, not really. It was a huge improvement compared to its predecessor, but falling into the water was still a nuisance, and that fucking mission “The Driver” is still a matter of dumb luck – and it ain’t the only one where it all boils down to luck in Vice City. Sometimes, you park a car in a mission somewhere, you turn around … and it’s gone. Pretty awful in a time-sensitive mission, eh?

GTA Vice City Stories: The Origins of the Vance Family

After Liberty City Stories, Rockstar decided to give us a second handheld GTA (later to be ported to the PS2 again). This time, we returned to Vice City, and this time, we got to explore the origin of Vance’s criminal empire. However, we weren’t allow to play as Lance Vance, but we had to settle with his unfortunately rather good-ish guy brother Vic. Which seems a rather unusual choice, since it is Lance’s brother who gets gunned down in the opening scene of Vice City

Vice City Stories aka VCS is a better and more polished game than LCS; also, Rockstar seems to make strange connections between black protagonists and the ability to swim – before GTA IV, only CJ and Vic were able to swim. Odd, isn’t it? While it manages to capture the spirit of Vice City (and there’s also a gang war style business control side to VCS), it cannot really compete with its bigger brother; the missions are significantly shorter, and Vic is simply not that interesting as a character, especially compared to Tommy!

Rabidgames pumps his fist: In terms of a dense atmosphere populated by over-the-top characters, Vice City is still in a class of its own. Nothing can compete with cruising through colourful Vice City listening to Slayer! Compared to that greatness, VCS is still a solid game … but it cannot really stand a chance against the behemoth Tommy Vercetti

The GTA Story – Big Apples 1.0: GTA 3 And Liberty City Stories

Posted in Revisited with tags , , , , , on August 11, 2013 by Rabidgames

GTA 3: THE Revolution

Aaaaah, remember playing GTA 3 (or rather GTA III, but who cares anyway) for the first time? Remember testing the awesome physics for 4 hours? Remember sitting there with friends trying out all the crazy stuff which you couldn’t do in games before (at least not in 3D)?

Grand Theft Auto 3 was a revolution! It might not have been the first 3D free-roam game (DMA’s (later to become Rockstar) Body Harvest or the competition from Driver did that before), but GTA 3’s wild mix of freedom, satirical over-the-top humour and the choice of playing a crooked gangster were just the right ingredients to define a genre. Mind you, there were also the 9 radio stations full of music, hilarious ads and Chatterbox FM with wacky topics to be discussed in detail. You could just sit in a car and listen to the radio for hours. In this regard, the GTA series remains unbeaten even today.

The setting of GTA 3 was New York. Or well, Rockstar’s vision of New York. Liberty City was divided into 3 different islands, although the last one was part of the US mainland (of course, you couldn’t use the tunnel to leave Liberty City). Mostly, the city looked like any other random city in the US – there weren’t that many landmarks (well, besides Central Park, the “Liberty City Cathedral” really standing out, and some iconic skyscrapers), especially if compared to True Crime New York or Prototype … Unfortunately, Liberty City also feels a bit dull compared to the colourful Vice City, the smog-filled Los Santos, the foggy San Fierro or Las Venturas in the middle of the desert. 12 years and probably 24856342 games set in New York later, there should be a law forbidding any developer to use the setting of New York for at least 5 years!

Speaking of New York: 9/11 had an impact on GTA 3: The game got slightly delayed and there were some cuts and changes: Police cars were changed, the Dodo was clipped so we couldn’t fly properly anymore, and one mission giver named Darkel, who wanted to bring havoc and mayhem to Liberty City by giving you rampages – or one mission which became one of El Burro’s: Drive an ice cream truck, lure people to you, and then detonate it. Sounds like 9/11 now, doesn’t it? If you want to know what Darkel looked light, look here:

But what’s left if you play GTA 3 today? To be fair, let’s not concern ourselves with graphics. Anyway, first of all, you realise the wobbly controls, the terrible aiming and the cars that break down after hitting two obstacles. If you manage to get used to it, GTA 3 still doesn’t hold up to the standards the later games of the series have shown: Most characters are rather dull (or, as the protagonist himself, rather dumb), the missions are mostly pretty basic (and you’ll curse the game for the lack of checkpoints), and the story is basically a pretty simple revenge story. But still, as soon as you meet the finest characters, such as the estranged mob boss trophy wife Maria, the rather twisted billionaire Donald Trump or the psychopathic antagonist Catalina, the game hints at the things to come.

At the end of the day – and in hindsight – GTA 3 feels more like a tech demo. Missions, characters, story and the engine are not refined yet, and while it was fun back then, it’s a bit tedious today. There’s Vice City and San Andreas, and while they have different strengths, both outgame GTA 3 by miles.

GTA Liberty City Stories: The Mob Simulator

Rockstar decided it was time for some GTA PSP love, and that’s how GTA Liberty City Stories was born. Later on, it was also ported to the PS2. Actually, Rabidgames played both versions. Sadly, the control mechanisms on the PSP were not to his liking, so let’s talk about the PS2 version of GTA Liberty City Stories (to be called LCS from now on) instead.

Mind you, LCS was released after San Andreas. Yet still, the controls felt more like GTA 3 – especially the aiming feels horrible compared to San Andreas. The setting was pretty much the same as in GTA 3, taking place a couple of years before the events of the “main game”. The city was different in some aspects, but most were explained in a rather violent fashion.

Remember that fat fuck Tony Cipriani from GTA 3? Well, you play a slightly younger and way thinner Mr Cipriani in LCS. You rise ranks in the Leone family (as usual, similarities to any movies are pure coincidence in the GTA universe), and you’ll get to meet many well-known characters from various GTA games – some of them have rather shocking secrets (yes, we look at you, Donald Love)! Be careful though, this video contains spoilers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFizKuYiZcU

There are lots of things to do in LCS, and while the characters are more fleshed out and the missions are varied, the clumsy controls and the lack of any checkpoints hold back the experience. There’s one mission in particular where you have to escape the cops … Good luck, mate. They just ram you head-on until your car explodes. Try running slow, you get hit. Try running fast, you’ll get hit. Missions like this one purely rely on dumb luck (if you’re getting hit in the first ten seconds, reload).

In many other terms, LCS was another step back: No more RPG lite aspects, just one city instead of three, no businesses, no assets, no proper gang wars. True, it was supposed to be the successor (timewise predecessor) to GTA 3, but even when it was released, something was missing. These days, this feeling has just become stronger. LCS might be one of the weakest GTA games, and that mostly because of the anachronistic features.

Rabidgames is wary: It’s hard to condemn GTA 3. After all, GTA 3, has defined gaming in the last 12 years more than any other game. But from today’s perspective, it simply has grown old, weary and tiresome. Even if it was a revolution back then, the world has kept spinning, and the formula has been refined. Or would anyone prefer International Superstar Soccer to Pro Evolution Soccer 6?

The GTA Story – 2D fun: GTA and GTA 2

Posted in Revisited with tags , , , on August 4, 2013 by Rabidgames

It’s not that long a wait until Grand Theft Auto V invites us back to San Andreas. But there’s still time to remember the humble beginnings of the GTA series back in 1997 (although 1977’s hilarious movie Grand Theft Auto deserves a honorary mention, too).

Grand Theft Auto – The birth

The original. The first GTA, presented in top-down 2D. Unfortunately, the game has aged rather badly … on PS1, the first two games are actually rather awful because of the wobbly and clunky controls. However, the free PC version (just google it; it’s available everywhere) allow for a better experience.

The first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the original GTA is … GOURANGA! If you have no clue what it means, just watch here:

In retrospect, GTA’s three city names are pretty prophetic: You start out in Liberty City (basically New York divided into 3 different districts), proceed to Vice City (Miami, of course) and end up in San Andreas (however, back then, it was only based on San Francisco). Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it?

Sadly, there’s not that much to do in Grand Theft Auto – from today’s spoilt perspective: You can take on missions (you have to accumulate points to advance in the game), go on rampages or simply move freely in the world. Yes, Rockstar’s humour is in their, so you might want to enjoy that … but basically, the first GTA is an infant – you can sense the potential, but from today’s perspective, there’s not much to go back to.

There are also the add-ons London 1969 and London 1961. They’re basically more of the same – with driving on the left and some British thrown in there (but please do not expect sophisticated Oxfor English lessons).

In a nutshell: For today’s generation, the game might seem even duller. But for everybody who played GTA back then, it’s still a nice – albeit bumpy – ride down Nostalgia Lane.

Grand Theft Auto 2 – Respect is everything

Ah, the next exit from Nostalgia Lane is GTA 2, the improved successor to the first game.  Gameplay-wise, Grand Theft Auto 2 is an updated GTA 1 (better graphic, refined engine, day/night cycles, trains) – with a nice twist: There are rivalling gangs prowling throughout the nameless metropolis. Complete a mission for one gang, and they respect you. The catch however, is that most missions ask you to mow down rival gang members – and you’ll lose respect with them. Tough world, eh?

While the idea was revolutionary, and Rockstar never followed up on it, it was actually the Mercenaries series that refined this idea with disguises and complex reward systems … Anyway, GTA 2 is more fun than its predecessor, and thanks to the handy save feature (churches with a “Jesus saves” logo), it is possible to enjoy GTA 2 in smaller chunks or in multiplayer sessions! Yep, hunting each other in 2D is still fun.

Rabidgames sighs: Shame. The idea of re-experiencing GTA 1 has been more enjoyable than actually playing it. GTA 2 has more to offer, and it is pretty much fun to cruise through the city for a while. But then again, after the while, you’ll put GTA 2 down for another couple of years … Is the 2D sandbox genre dead? Probably not: newer 2D releases like GTA Chinatown or Retro City Rampage show it can still be fun.

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.