Friday, August 30, 2013

Saints Row IV review - Hail to the Chief

Trying to describe Saints Row 4 is like trying to describe insanity itself, because for all intents and purposes, that's what it is. Imagine a world where anything you want to do is possible, and anything you don't want to do is also possible. Now take that world, toss it in a blender, add some bananas (K?), a few slices of chaos, and a dash of nud-oops, all of the nudity-, sit back and hit frappé. Once this glorious concoction of gleeful violence, murder, and mayhem settles, toss in some elements of The Matrix, any superhero comic/movie, Crackdown, and Prototype, and you've got yourself the newest Saints Row game.

Starting a game by fighting your way through an enemy entrenched stronghold, doing spinning-heel kicks and fancy over the top awesome moves, only to "sacrifice" yourself by jumping onto a launching nuclear missile, scaling it while it's in midair, to yank out and the controls, causing it to harmlessly detonate, sending you plummeting through the ceiling of the White House into the Oval Office where you casually put your feet up on the presidential desk seems like you just used up all of your story and the rest of the game is just boring. Au contraire, it is merely the first 5 minutes of what is sure to be the most wacky game you have ever played.

Crashing through the White House roof seems to be all it takes to become President these days, as your little stunt with the nuclear missile suddenly turns you from a crime lord pop culture icon into the leader of the free world. As you saunter down the hallways of the W.H., surrounded by your Saints Secret Service detail, through the intriguingly chosen decor, one cannot help but admire the rich, bright purple suit you are decked in. For most President's this would look horrible, but not on you, definitely not. The appearance just fits with the character and your memorable background. On your way to a press conference you also get to decide if you're gonna be the guy who solves world hunger, or cures cancer forever. FUCK CANCER!

Then a few minor details occur. Aliens show up, take millions of people captive, take over the planet, you fire some gigantic laser-guns at them but you get captured and locked into a virtual reality world. Small stuff, really. This is where the truly bizarre and the outrageously hilarious come into the mix. Your first prison is a 1950's version of the world. Everything is happy and jolly, everyone is good-natured and always smiling. You walk with the old sitcom walk, talk the old sitcom talk, even get a large stack of flapjacks all for yourself. It's absolute paradise. And it stinks. Luckily, a friend of yours in the outside world has found a way to contact you in the digital one. Following her advice, you start destroying everything and everyone, causing untold horror throughout the idyllic world before you. Well, that doesn't last long before the alien warlord (who for some reason is distinctly British) tosses you into a modern day virtual prison, Steelport.

From here on, the game gets even more zany, which didn't seem quite possible up until now. Your character gains access to guns, vehicles, and pretty much everything from the original games. Players can customize their appearance via clothing shops or plastic surgery offices. Once you make a small bit of progress, your character will suddenly be granted superpowers. Right off the bat you get super speed and super jump. Jump allows you to climb walls by repeatedly pushing off the walls and Speed can allow you to throw cars and people out of the way while running. You can also upgrade these abilities as you progress and collect shiny orbs placed around the world.

The absurdity of the superpowers you obtain is what makes them fun. You are basically greater than NEO in the The Matrix. You can't fly, but after obtaining maxed jump and speed which allows you to glide across the entire city, you may as well be.Tearing across the streets like Sonic on LSD is amusing, and jumping over a neighborhood would make Superman jealous. Picking up cars with your mind and throwing fireballs from your hands is just some of the coolest things you've ever done in a video game. You are the single most powerful force in that entire digital world. Unfortunately therein lies the problem that Volition may not have anticipated. The game becomes too easy. Why use a car when you can be like The Flash and just zip around everywhere? Why bother meleeing an enemy when you can just pick them up with your mind and throw them 10 stories into the air? The quests are relatively simple when you can just race up the side of a building and dive bomb the enemies on the ground, killing them all with a localized earthquake. On the flip side is the quests outside of the digital world you control. These missions aren't difficult by any means, but you have become so attached to your abilities, that to not have them makes the quests seem annoying. Easy though it may be, running around with these awesome abilities is some of the most fun I've ever had, reminiscent of swinging around NYC in Spider-man 2.

The weapons have gotten just ridiculous in this game. Standard guns can be customized to look way differently. An SMG can look like a Tommy-gun, a rifle can be made to look like a rubber band gun. A blunderbuss shotgun is also available as a design option as is a golden pistol a la Bond, James Bond. Adding to these semi-unique weapons is an entire lineup of alien tech. Where disintegration rays turn your enemies into ash piles, an abduction gun causes them to be sucked up into the sky, never to return. The black hole creator causes a miniature singularity, causing everything in a 50 foot radius to be sucked straight in. However, the favorite has to be the dubstep gun. Colored lights, dubstep music, people and vehicles dancing in the street... it's all so beautiful.

The game is not all that smooth however. There are some bugs in the game that really should have been dealt with before launch. Visual and audio sometimes glitch out, leading to a desperate strain on your patience during cut-scenes. One glitch set me back about 20 minutes, as the game would not progress. Thankfully it was at the beginning and it merely needed to be restarted from the last checkpoint.

While the game is not exactly perfect, it is a large amount of fun to play. Being an overpowered badass in a world that bows down to the worshiped Saints is an exhilarating rush. The superpowers you obtain in this game are some of the best lineups you could hope for, and even though they make the game almost pathetically easy, they also make it so much more fun. The character customization is a great system as well. Using super jump while looking like the Hulk feels like you're an Avenger, racing around the city dressed as George Washington is hilarious, and combining everything as the Fonz is just the best. It's got some issues, but lack of enjoyment is definitely not one of them.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Madden 25 review - 4th & inches

Sports games allow us to step outside the realm of of fantasy exploration, sci-fi horrors, & urban war zones, and just relax a bit. We can sit back with a nice cold beverage and pretend we're watching the Superbowl. It's not exactly stress-free, however. A bad play or a bogus call can send us flying out of our chair as if it actually was the Superbowl. Madden 25 sometimes reflects that a little too much.

Madden has had troubles in the past with certain gameplay elements, and unfortunately some of these carry over into Madden 25. Running the ball can still be very frustrating, as it feels as if your opponent's blocker has a black-hole generator. The merest tip of a glove touching your elbow and you stop moving completely. You can push, you can shove, you can even try to roll free, but once that contact has been made, don't count on getting anymore yards. On the opposite side of the coin, you are able to juke far more effectively in this game. Timing it properly, I could consistently get an extra 15-20 yards out of my run, occasionally getting some 50-60 yard plays for easy points. An improvement to be sure, but full improvement would have made the game feel more comfortable.

Passing was just as effective as previous games. Waiting for the overhead icon to brick solid before launching is a must, and keeping an eye on the defenders as well as the line rushing you can be very tricky to balance, so until you get used to watching the whole field at the same time, expect to find yourself face-planted in the dirt quite often. The plays themselves are extremely realistic and will definitely make you take notice when you fire off a bullet right behind a defenders head into your teams waiting hands. Having Brady toss an extremely tight spiral through two defenders outstretched arms with Gronkowski plucking it from the air with ease felt amazing. On the flip side, sometimes the receivers don't seem to actually know what's going on. Completely wide open players with goose eggs tossed at them will result in incompletions which will really set your blood to boil.

Career mode is back, but with a new name and some fun additions. Connected Franchise mode allows players to choose from some truly amazing players and coaches, like William "Refrigerator" Perry and Mike Ditka. Imagine Ditka and The Fridge teaming up? Cool, right? What about player Ditka and The Fridge? That's right, you can unlock Ditka during his glory days. Now that's a scary combination right there. XP and skill progression are still big in this mode, as well as the player "Depth" ranking, however the new UI is a very welcome addition, using tiles instead of scrolling. With over 50 football legends included in Connected Franchise, finding a perfect team will be all about choosing your favorites.

The other side of Connected Franchise is all about ownership. Gamers can set aside their on-field roles and look at the world of financing and decision making. Football isn't just about the players and coaches. There are hundreds of people behind the scenes making each team run as effectively as possible so you can watch them play on Monday nights. Owner mode plays a little bit like a Sims game. You can market merchandise, choose team colors, upgrade stadiums, review staff  members, work on upping your fan happiness levels, and look at your team's success ratings. Want to relocate the team? Why not move the Patriots to Houston, or take the Jets out to California, maybe even send the Bears to London (they might do better over there). Owners also get to decide what's going on on the field. You can take over the coaching job at any time, hey you're the manager, you can do whatever you want. Scout players, do some draft picks, sign free agents, all the while watching your finances skyrocket. Want to know what it's like to be the big cheese? Sit in the Owner's Box for a while.

Ultimate Team mode also returns, and this time it includes an updated version of the "Chemistry" factor, altering your roster to form a team that is geared towards a single offensive or defensive strategy. The more your team works together on those strategies, the higher your Chemistry rating, and the higher your team's ranking. Elevate your ranking enough, and you begin the playoff season at a significantly higher seed placement.

Graphics have not been enhanced by any significant amount, unfortunately. Faces still seem rubberized, fields look like flat concrete painted green and brown, and the dialogue doesn't quite match with the mouth movements. Weather effects are fairly good, and making it snow during a Superbowl makes the announcers go nuts. While sports games are generally all about gameplay, having an environment that looks realistic really makes the game feel better to play.

Madden has been a franchise for 25 years, and there have been so many titles over the years. Each one had their own pros and cons, hits and misses, but they have all followed the same game plan. Madden 25 brings some great ideas and new features to the field, enriching the experience you have with the football pros. Owner mode is a fun inclusion with this title, however the enjoyment lasts for a relatively short time. Improvements to some of the gameplay makes it feel much smoother in certain areas, while still allowing it to feel like a real football experience. Lack of improvements in some core gameplay features can rear their ugly heads during some key moments, leading to frequent amounts of hair being ripped from your scalp, but the amount of times these happen are few and far between. While the graphics are not as polished looking as it should have been, you still definitely get the feeling that you're watching football, and at times you might forget you're holding a controller and just sit back to enjoy the game.

Overall Score: 8/10

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Gamers get high in GTA V

Games have been pushing the boundaries for years. More disturbing deaths, drug use, prostitution, but GTA is a game where all of it is a normal everyday occurrence. A breakdown of the game from the ESRB shows just what players are getting into.
"Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Nudity, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, Use of Drugs and Alcohol

Includes online features that may expose players to unrated user-generated content (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3)
Players use pistols, machine guns, sniper rifles, and explosives to kill various enemies (e.g., rival gang members); players also have the ability to shoot non-adversary civilians, though this may negatively affect players' progress as a penalty system triggers a broad police search. Blood-splatter effects occur frequently, and the game contains rare depictions of dismemberment.
In one sequence, players are directed to use various instruments and means to extract information from a character; the sequence is intense and prolonged, and it involves some player interaction (i.e., responding to on-screen prompts).
The game includes depictions of sexual material/activity: implied fellatio and masturbation; various sex acts that the player's character procures from a prostitute--while no nudity is depicted in these sequences, various sexual moaning sounds can be heard. Nudity is present, however, primarily in two settings: a topless lap dance in a strip club and a location that includes male cult members with exposed genitalia in a non-sexual context.
Within the game, TV programs and radio ads contain instances of mature humor: myriad sex jokes; depictions of raw sewage and feces on a worker's body; a brief instance of necrophilia (no nudity is depicted).
Some sequences within the larger game allow players to use narcotics (e.g., smoking from a bong, lighting a marijuana joint); cocaine use is also depicted.
Finally, "players' character can, at various times, consume alcohol and drive while under the influence" and "the words “fuck,” “cunt,” and “nigger” can be heard in the dialogue."

It's not the first time that any game has delved into these areas, but with GTA throwing them all in your face, it may give some cause for concern that the game may be going too far, too fast.

Grand Theft Auto V launches on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on September 17.

Borderlands 2 hits the portable scene with the PS Vita

The PS Vita has been lauded as a brilliant piece of technology in an era when gamers are more mobile than ever before. The additional features of staying connected to the PS3 via the cloud has also been highly praised as keeping gamers attached to the games they enjoy. Players could continue their games while on the move, which was a big seller for the portable device.

Back in 2012, Gearbox Software CEO Randy Pitchford stated he would like to see Borderlands 2 come to the PS Vita.
"One of the things I wish Sony would do is get behind Borderlands, because I'd love to see a Vita version of the game," he said at the time. "I want to be able to have the character I'm working on with my PS3, and then when I'm on the road with my Vita I can just keep developing that same character because it exists on the cloud somewhere."
A collaboration of 2K, Iron Galaxy, and Sony manged to do just that. Launching in 2014, players will be able to purchase Borderlands 2 for the PS Vita. The game will feature everything from the original, however DLC inclusion is unknown at this time.

League of Legends hacked

Riot games announced recently that North American players of the popular F2P (Free-to-play) game League of Legends, may have had their accounts hacked and personal information stolen. Usernames, email addresses, salted password hashes, and some first and last names were accessed.

As is always the case in these situations, the password files remain protected, but easily guessable passwords are still very vulnerable. Make sure you change your passwords to something more complex. Combinations of random letters and numbers and symbols make it very difficult for someone to randomly guess it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Injustice: Gods Among Us brings Zatanna to the gaming stage as the 6th DLC character

DC comics are all about superpowers. Flight, strength, speed, etc. One thing that it also has, is a vast amount of magical beings. Lords of chaos and order, magicians, warlocks, witches, sorcerers, gods and demons alike. The DC universe is insanely complicated when discussing only the magic aspect. Injustice is now bringing a bit more of that to the game world.

Just announced today, the 6th DLC character for Injustice will be Zatanna, the mystic babe of the magical arts. Her powers seem to have no limits. While she does need to speak or write a spell backwards (usually something as simple as "llaberif"), that power can tap into a extraordinary amount of potential. If she can say it, she can do it. Known to fight alongside such masters as Dr. Fate or Captain Marvel, Zatanna has shown she has what it takes to be a valued Justice League member.

Check out her badass sorcery in this new trailer.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Xbox One DVR set in 720p at 30fps

With multiple Xbox One titles being launched at 1080p and several of those playing at 60 frames/second, the obvious answer about the built-in console DVR would be 1080p at 60fps. However, that is not going to be the case.
"Game DVR captures beautiful clips at 720p 30fps." - Xbox Corporate Vice President, Marc Whitten, tells IGN.
 It was revealed last month that the Xbox One will record the last 5 minutes of gameplay, simply by saying "Xbox. Record." The saved file can be edited at your leisure and uploaded direct to the net without ever needing to sit at your computer screen.

That being said, the quality of the recording versus the quality of the game will make those five minutes seem fairly drab. Viewers won't see high end graphics or the increased frames/second that many feel can make or break a game's performance. So don't shelve those capture cards yet. You'll still be needing them if you want to boast higher quality stuff on your channel.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Martian Manhunter DLC available now

One of the biggest hits to any JL fan, the Martian Manhunter was missing from the original roster in Injustice: Gods Among Us. Thankfully, the newest DLC gives us just that. Now, J'onn isn't exactly an easy character to use. His large amount of abilities can make him a temperamental character to play. He has powers for all ranges, but choosing when and where to use those powers can be tricky. That being said, he does have some pretty damn cool powers. Check out his trailer here.

While you are downloading him, make sure to grab the free John Stewart skin for Green Lantern. While Hal Jordan is one of the first GL's from Earth, Stewart's character comes from the Justice League series, where he is one of the founding members.

'Crackdown' free on XBL for gold members 8/1 - 8/15

Crackdown, the super soldier cop program that takes an ordinary guy and evolves him as you play. From being able to throw a garbage can at the start to a tanker truck by the end, this man pushes the boundaries of law enforcement to their breaking point. It may be a few years old, but it's still a hell of a game. It's available today for free if you're a gold Xbox Live member. Switch your payment method to MSP and download it today.

Check back on the 16th to take advantage of the next free game on XBL, Dead Rising 2 along with the Case Zero DLC.