Something tells me this game
isn't going to be super serious...

This game really surprised me. Put simply, it's the most pure fun I've had with a game in a long time. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of a lot of different games over the years, but that enjoyment isn't always derived from the same kinds of experiences. Half-Life in its various forms provides an awesome mix of FPS and environmental puzzle elements that makes for great gameplay. In Arkham Asylum/City, you get to be bad-ass and explore the Batman universe; enough said. Dragon Age had such incredible character interactions and relationship building that you became seriously emotionally invested in your character and your other party members; I'm pretty sure I cried at one point. The Mass Effect series knitted itself into one amazing story that you got to be responsible for shaping. Those are some of my favorite games, and each has a special quality that make me really enjoy playing it. Saints Row wasn't insanely beautiful, and it didn't have an outstanding story or offer revolutionary gameplay, but it was fun. Like kid on a Toys-R-Us shopping spree fun. In my first post about this game, I said that the game was fun as long as you didn't take it too seriously. This remained true, and I think the developers did their best to make that happen. The game doesn't give you much opportunity to take it too seriously. Johnny Gat dies (everyone in-game says he's dead, so why not, right?) in the opening missions, but it's not used more than a minor plot device after that. You might say, "Hey! Gat's death is the whole reason they're fighting the Syndicate so it's pretty major," and I could agree to an extent, but it never really emerges as anything more than fuel on a fire that was already started. Look at Max Payne if you want a game that really revolves around revenge. In Saints Row, there's no real mourning, no flashback sequence as you execute his murderer, just the occasional "that one's for Johnny" or "Johnny would have wanted it that way" lines. So the one thing that could bring you down to a dark place never really reaches up to grab you; leaving your mind free to focus on fighting guys in hot-dog costumes or warding off zombies or Burt-fucking-Reynolds. Yes.

Can you imagine that election campaign?

Seriously, Mayor of Steelport is Burt Reynolds. And the Mayor isn't Burt Reynolds in the same way that the Joker is Mark Hamill; the Mayor is Burt Reynolds who is voiced by Burt Reynolds. This alone tells you that the game you are playing is fun and the people who made it were having fun. What's even more telling is that the Bandit doesn't even show up until you and another character voiced by Sasha Grey (yes, that Sasha Grey) go to his office to accept the mission to stop the zombie gas from spreading. There's another mission where it's just you and your friend driving to a clothing store, he starts flipping through the stations until he stops on Sublime's What I Got, and you and he sing along, in the car, for the whole song. I got to the destination early and actually waited for them to finish the song. In one of the final sequences when you're mowing through a bunch of guys to save Shaundi, Bonnie Tyler's I Need a Hero is playing the whole time. I know I'm going on and on with these examples, but the game is full of them; and that's the atmosphere that I'm trying to describe when I say the game is whimsical. I've been debating on whether my enjoyment was enabled by low expectations going in (which I had), but I don't think so. If I loved it because I thought it was going to suck and it turned out to be mediocre, my enjoyment would have subsided as I got used to everything and the mediocrity of it all became more and more apparent. But that didn't happen. It started off as being really entertaining and kept being just that. Even as the credits were rolling, showing pictures of the development team and having all the different main character voices sing What I Got at the same time, it made me think back to games like Warcraft III that had those same kind extras; and it was those little extras that really won me over. In my first post for this game, I also said that the entertainment level may not be sustainable over the course of the whole game, and so I talked about other elements that the developers could exploit to make it stay interesting. In reality, none of those elements really needed to come into play. From my standpoint, the development team made the game fun, and in the end, that's all they really needed to do.
This week's cover is the first issue of the new Marvel NOW, All-New X-Men series. And yes, I'm going to largely ignore the fact that I haven't posted anything in the past few weeks. I chose this cover for two reasons. One is the series premise, which is awesome and I'll talk more about it later. The second is because of this variant cover, featuring one of my favorites. This is the joke in case you missed the Olympics/Internet this year. It is one of about eight different variant covers from various artists, including J. Scott Campbell, Paolo Rivera, Skottie Young, Joe Quesada, Salvador Larroca, and Stuart Immonen. They span a wide range of styles so that was also cool to see for a single issue. Going back to Reason for Choosing This Cover #1, the story they are going for is really intriguing. The general premise is this: Xavier's first class of students is brought forward in time to see the current state of the X-Men. When you think about the X-Men story arc, how long it has been, who is on the team now versus then, and how much the characters have changed from first class to now, putting the two versions of the X-Men together has to get interesting. The present X-Men (especially Summers) will be face-to-face with their past, idealistic counterparts, forced to re-rationalize their choices and concessions that have caused the two groups to be so different. Then the past X-Men will have to find footing in this new environment, having to make sense of what their mission and dream for mutants has become. Wolverine is also likely to make a joke regarding which versions of Summers he prefers. Regardless of which one he chooses, this is a series I'd definitely like to pick up just to see how either side fares.
It's been about a month since I highlighted a DC cover, and DC was kind enough to provide me this on the 17th. Number 13 in Justice League's New 52 series, this issue focuses the League's conflict with Cheetah, Wonder Woman's old nemesis. I say old nemesis because although DC's story intro suggests they are continuing that relationship, they have shown that they aren't afraid to make big changes in the New 52. Regardless of your feelings toward the new 52, I think it's pretty hard to say this isn't an awesome cover. While the regular release cover isn't bad, I just don't think it's as interesting. The variant cover is by Tony S. Daniel who has done a lot of work on the Batman and Detective Comics series. While his deviantART page doesn't have a whole lot of material, Daniel has done enough that you should be able to find something he's worked on with relative ease. If not, you can always check the DC Comics website for a list of the projects he's worked on. It's worth a look, especially if you're a Batman fan.
This weeks post is a variant cover I found for Amazing Spider-Man #692 that celebrates the 50th anniversary of Spider-Man. Artist Marcos Martin created five variant covers to mark the occasion, one for each decade, that depict key moments in Spider-Man's history. You can also recognize Martin from his work on Batgirl: Year One. Each cover is created in the same kind of style, a single color with black lines and occasional white highlights. I personally like the simplicity the cover offers, which (as I've mentioned in an earlier post) is something I don't see in a lot of Spider-Man covers. I also like that it addresses an important, and at the same time not what I would consider high-profile, story from Spidey's past. The Clone Saga has been a favorite of mine in comics as well as in the '94 animated series; and not only did I like it's inclusion in this tribute cover series, but I also liked how it was showcased. Even from a purely artistic standpoint, it's my favorite out of the five. But you don't have to take my word for it! You can see the other four covers here, here, here, and here.
Again, I must apologize to my one reader for missing last Wednesday's comic cover post (sorry, baby). However, in my attempt to make amends, I was able to find a pretty awesome Daredevil wraparound cover. It features Daredevil (go figure), Elektra, Iron Fist, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, and Black Widow surrounded by what I can only assume are Hand ninjas and a few choice villains. That team-up was part of what drew me into this cover. The Daredevil universe is something I know very, very little about; and while Marvel doesn't mind mixing their vast supply of heroes together, this mix seemed to pull from a lot of different areas. The big thing that made this cover stand out is the incredible artwork. Like I said, Daredevil is something I've never really gotten into, but Marko Djurdjevic has a way of making everything look like something I want to read. The detail and realism he brings to his characters is simply amazing. I could just pick covers from his website and I'd have good material a year. There are at least a couple that I'm setting aside for later posts. So if you have a few spare minutes, I'd definitely recommend taking a look at his portfolio.

After getting through the final cut-scenes of Fallout: New Vegas, I realized I wanted to play something different. The 60+ long hours of RGP gameplay made me crave a different format, and in my hunger I turned to Saints Row: The Third; a title in a series I had never touched. This was a rare move for me. Story lines are what I derive a lot of enjoyment from in video games, and jumping into a franchise at the third title is like picking up a book, skipping to the last few chapters, and just reading them. This works with very few kinds of books, like coloring books. Still, it seems like Saints Row is one of those kinds of books; and much like a coloring book, Saints Row can be a lot of fun as long as you don't take it too seriously. The game format is a lot like Grand Theft Auto games of that time, which you can surmise from any screenshot or gameplay video; no cover mechanic and vehicle controls that you can't decide are bad or are ones that you're just not used to. Still, there's something a little more whimsical about Saints Row. Given what your character does in-game, whimsical probably isn't the right word, but there seems to be an inherent naivety toward realism that ends up being very disarming when you try to critique it from that standpoint. The introductory cinematic is done like the Star Wars title crawls. The first tutorial sequence has you running around with a machine gun with unlimited ammo and a Johnny Gat mask that makes you think you're playing with Big Head Mode on. It's almost laughable, but it's nearly impossible not to have fun with it. The environment created by the game makes it so things that might bother you if they were in other games just don't matter there. I don't know whether it's done on accident of by design, but I'm all for it right now.

Oh Yeah! That makes TWO NLF Blitz references, everybody! TWO!

The only problem here is that there's a chance that feeling isn't sustainable. Eventually, the charm may wear off, and the player is left looking for a reason to continue. There are a couple ways they may be able to do this, one of which is through the story. I'm not sure how likely this is. These games typically aren't known for their storytelling prowess, but GTA IV really broke out in that way so there's always a chance to be surprised. I haven't played much past the opening sequences and a couple side missions, so I can't comment a whole lot on plot strength, but I don't think that will be what saves the day (assuming the day actually needs saving). A second way the game may be able to hedge against disillusionment is by exploiting the player's hoarding instincts. Saints Row appears to feature the ability to buy property and use those various properties to stash weapons, vehicles, and clothes. If Elder Scrolls and Pokemon have taught us anything, it's that we don't have a problem with collecting and storing things. Furthermore, the ability to upgrade weapons and even a character's abilities add additional areas where players can satisfy their need for measurable progress. Still, that simple, honest fun I felt in the first couple hours of play may never go away. The fall-back characteristics I just described may not even be necessary; they may just be nice additions to a good game. I'm anxious to be able to play more and find out.
I finished out New Vegas a couple days ago, and looking back, I have mixed feelings about the ending. It may be worth nothing (for the benefit of my one reader) that the rest of this post contains spoilers, so if you don't want to know what happens in the game but really want to know how I felt about it, we can talk about it this weekend. I like to start by saying that I really did enjoy the game. The observations I made in earlier posts held up surprisingly well, even after 60+ hours of play time. The hardcore mode was a good way to play though the game. Although it was a little frustrating at times, the extra elements added a bit of practicality that kept you from getting too lazy. The faction system was kinda cool, but it didn't add a whole lot to the game's experience. It essentially had you choose a camp, and you could get the people in that camp to like you and eventually the ones in the other camp wouldn't like you. I might be interesting to try and play it so everyone liked you, or play it so everyone hated you (I guess that would be the Yes Man route). I was also surprised by the number of companions you could have. I figured you'd get presented with a few at the beginning of the game, but new people kept randomly showing up. There's an achievement for recruiting all followers, but I didn't get it so I'm assuming there are even more of them out there. I didn't completely exhaust the game, there's still DLC I didn't get into and I haven't explored the whole map yet, but after completing the quests left in my journal, I was ready to move on to the end. I went the pro-NCR route, which is what I saw as the good-guy path. I have a hard time playing the bad guy in games unless that's your only option, and RPGs usually give you an option. I'd need a lot of extra hands to count the number of KOTOR and KOTOR II playthroughs I've done, and I didn't do more than one dark jedi playthough with each. I guess it's just not my style. Besides I didn't want to kill everyone in the Brotherhood of Steele, and Mr. House wasn't giving me that option. The ending itself seemed a little abrupt, and not super conclusive. Starting it, I thought clearing out Caesar's forces from the damn and their staging camp would be a kind of first step toward an invasion of the main legion camp with the help of Mr. House's robots. Instead, you just kill Caesar's lieutenant and his support, walk to the gate, and boom (literally) you're done. You have a few lines of dialogue with the general and then the game ends. You don't even get to continue playing post-dam-battle, you have to load a save that's before the final sequence. That was weird to me, because - again - the final battle doesn't really wrap anything up. Maybe they figured they would have to reflect the shift in power and consequences in the environment afterward, but it's not like that's going to happen right away; Caesar's still in his camp and pissed off, the robots maintain the strip, outlying pockets of remaining groups still exist where you haven't killed them, nothing really changes. That was really my only problem with the game; a lot of good gameplay building up to a kind of lack-luster ending. Still, I will likely return to my pre-finale save game when I'm feeling like playing another RPG. I know there's still a lot I could do in that world, and it would be interesting to see if taking some bigger steps toward the ending I wanted on my own has any effect on what happens after the end. It would be pretty impressive if it did.
Today is turning into a really busy day, so this week's comic cover post is going to be a little short unless I get on a rant about something. This is a recent offering of Avenging Spider-Man, and it's hard for me to pass up any Spider-Man/Deadpool team-ups. The cover itself was a team effort by Shane Davis, Mark Morales, and Matt Hollingsworth. The series is one I'm barely familiar with; it's pretty new, starting a little under a year ago. What really interests me about it is the style. Each issue is a little bit different thanks to a rotating cast of pencilers, inkers, colorists, and sometimes even writers. The stories depicted are also similar in that respect; the issues seem more like a collection of separate stories rather than a coherent arc. I don't know if this is by design or coincidence (like I said, I haven't sat down to read any in this series), but the random draft appearance does make it a bit more intriguing. Also, Spider-Man/Deadpool covers.
Hello, and welcome to the final post in my Looking Ahead series. I was surprised that there isn't more titles dropping in the time leading up to Christmas, but at least I was able to find one I was interested in.

Far Cry 3 - December 4th

I've played every Far Cry game in the series, and I'm really excited to see where they go with Far Cry 3. Far Cry and Far Cry 2 were so different that there is no road map that might tell you where 3 will end up. Far Cry 2 was also (in my opinion) a big improvement over the original, so I'm anxious to see if there's a similar kind of betterment with this next iteration. However, that desire to see something new is a little marred by my hope certain elements that made Far Cry 2 awesome stick around. Of course, I'm talking about fire. It seems like such as simple addition to a game, fire that actually spreads, but I don't think it's something we've ever gotten in a game with one potential exception. It was kind of amazing to see an explosion catch a building on fire, which spread to neighboring buildings and dry grass. It added a whole new exploitable element to the environment; a tool that was never fully at our disposal before now. Being able to throw your last Molotov on the ground behind you to create a wall of flame between you and the literal army pursuing you was awesome and effective, and I hope there's more stuff like that to come. Also worth noting, the Far Cry 3 booth at PAX probably had the best promotion of the expo. Each morning, they gave a free copy of the game away to the first 50 people to get a mohawk from a girl they had working at their booth. It's a bit of a price to pay, but it's also a free game. I hadn't seen a vendor do that for a long time, and I really appreciated it. So yeah, shout out to whoever at Ubisoft came up with that one.

Hoping to cut down on spam comments

September 25th, 2012 | Posted by Emmett in Site Development - (0 Comments)
I just installed a plugin called Spam Free WordPress in an attempt to cut down on the obnoxious volume of spam comments I've been getting over the last month or so. I guess it's nice that my blog is getting enough exposure to the Internet to warrant spam, but I came home to a little over 50 spam comments pending review this last weekend and I'd just like a system that's a little more proactive. Unfortunately, I'm a little concerned that this plugin may be a little too proactive. It's actually acting as a block instead of a filter, which is nice because I don't have spam comments filling up a database, but it may also mean that there's no log of what's getting blocked (at least it doesn't seem like there is). If a legitimate post get's denied, there's no way for me to know, unless that person contacts me to tell me. Fortunately, I know the only person who actively reads this, so if it happens to them, they'll probably just tell me the next time I see them. I usually get a handful of spam comments a day, so I should know how it's working by tomorrow morning.