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Posted by Mento

So I used to have a feature called "Ten Year Retrospective", where I talked about a company's output since their early PS2 debuts and how they've evolved to the modern day household names we all know and love. The period of time wasn't meant to be deliberate; it was just a happy coincidence that both From Software and Level-5 began their respective empires of cruelty and whimsy around a decade ago. Volition's been around a little longer than ten years though, so I've renamed the feature "Teddy Graham Memories", because I've decided my naming convention for blogs will move from horrible puns to Homestar Runner non-sequiturs. Or I'm suffering some sort of neurological disorder. Draw your own conclusions.

Talking of Volition, something I'll probably be doing for the rest of this blog also, they're the scrappy development studio most famous for the Red Faction and Saints Row franchises. As the developer of Giant Bomb's almost-GOTY last year, I figure they've earned themselves some retrospection. Like always, these features are less an in-depth historical analysis than me simply recalling my own memories and experiences with games from this developer. For the most part I'd say they were positive. But I've got way more words following this paragraph which say pretty much the same thing, if you're interested in reading them. If not, my critically-derided stickpeople comics await you at the end. With their cold dead eyes and pitiless hearts. I bet JC's up to mischief again!

2000: Summoner

Oh hai!

Summoner isn't the first game Volition worked on. That would be the two FreeSpace games, which I'm sure more than a few Giant Bomb peeps remember fondly as one of the last great Space Sim franchises on the PC. I don't know the current state of Space Sims at the moment, but people seem to really like the scope and depth of that S.P.A.Z. game, despite having a title that both namedrops pirates and zombies and has an acronym that belittles the mentally deficient. No wonder it took a while to build up steam.

But we're here to talk about Summoner. In the halcyon days of the PS2, there was a distinct dearth of good RPGs. This was a major issue considering the PS1's success was largely in part to its huge audience of JRPG fans, with games like FF7-9, Grandia, the Suikodens, two Breath of Fires, Xenogears and countless others building a significant fanbase of gamers who like effete duders who wear too many belts for Sony's freshman console.

Inversely, early PS2 adopters got EverGrace, "Orphen: The Scion of Sorcery" (a game I'm somehow physically unable to not put in ironic quotes) and this thing with all the summoning. To be fair, Summoner was probably the highlight of those depressing, barren times. Damning it with faint praise, perhaps, but it was an engrossing if somewhat flawed open-world-ish RPG where you ran around randomly-generated battlefields of monsters, summoning your own while supporting your human companions. Importantly, after the ending credits, you see Volition's earliest example of a burgeoning sense of a humor in a medium that isn't always best known for its comedic chops: Various cutscenes of the game are replicated with hilarious "bloopers". Or "hilarious" bloopers, I forget. These are followed with a bizarrely faithful rendition of the early internet meme skit from the Dead Ale Wives, talking some D&D. At the time I thought it was kind of weird. After twelve years and three Saints Row games, though, it makes perfect sense.

2001: Red Faction

I'm an idiot.

So on closer inspection, it turns out I own and greatly enjoyed the first Red Faction game and rented the sequel for a brief spell and hardly recall a thing about it. Red Faction hit all the consoles of the day, but was more or less ignored on every console except the PS2. Xbox owners already had a space FPS they liked better and no-one paid attention to the GameCube. To their ultimate detriment, I feel, since Pikmin and Chibi Robo might well be the greatest games of that generation. But I digress! So often!

Red Faction details the adventures of a rebellious cadre of Martian miners fighting the oppressive forces of the Earthlings. They think they're so hot because their planet naturally produces air and water and life. The blowhards. This is where we see the other big Volition push: Truly destructible landscapes and all manner of interesting space weapons. As opposed to the usual shotguns and pistols that shoot regenerating blue shit instead of bullets. Not that I'm making any direct comparisons to anything. Importantly, it finally gave PS2 owners a damn fine okay competitive FPS that didn't involve monkey robots. I actually really enjoyed Red Faction, as I'd already crossed to the "FPS games can be played on consoles too, you guys" camp from many hours of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. Main story was okay too. It was promising, is what it was.

2008: Saints Row 2

All yellow, almost no purple. What gives?

Skipping over the first one of these too (generally speaking, Volition rarely gets it right out of the gate), Saints Row 2 remains my favorite Volition game of all time. After following what was a milquetoast and somewhat flagrant attempt to cash in on San Andreas' massive popularity, Saints Row 2 saw what Rockstar did by following up their seminal GTA classic with a slightly more dour tale of morality and filial loyalty and decided they were done imitating. Instead, they went the opposite direction and decided to fully embrace the nutso open-world gangsta turf paradigm of GTA:SA in a game absolutely filled with content. Despite a few missteps, such as making the once entirely optional Activities compulsory to a degree before players could continue with the story, the game has everything you could want in a sandbox. Or toybox. Like that definition is ever going to take off, no matter how hard I push it.

My favorite moments from a game with many of them were the FUZZ activities, where you'd be given vague directions from a TV producer to cause as much horrific and controversial violence as possible to targets as diverse as civil unrest groups, prostitutes and politicians while wearing a police uniform. You certainly don't forget chainsawing your first PETA protest group. Forget fur, now THAT'S murder. Of course, FUZZ's only involvement in SR3 is to provide the description for the challenge where you have to drive in the opposite lane for 200 miles. But I'll discuss that later.

2009: Red Faction: Guerilla

The emblem went from Hand Holding Gun to Hand Holding Hammer. That's progress.

Red Faction: Guerilla was such a departure from Red Faction I & II, but perfectly logical given Volition's new predilection for the open world system. Once again, you're a peeved Martian labourer bringing down the corrupt and listless Earth military-industrial complex. It also has more hammers than Donkey Kong and Wrecking Crew combined (Mario's like the Gabe Newell of hammers), with much of the game's enjoyment derived from smashing through buildings and watching them collapse in on themselves as the physics take over.

I must've spent such a ridiculous amount of time in that game driving along some barren Martian road, spotting some ore crystals in the distance and high-tailing it over for a smashing. In fact, pretty much any non-smashed object on the horizon was a distraction. I had become a force of destructive nature, the antithesis to man's hubristic notion that it could conquer the final frontier. If it bleeds, I could kill it; if by "kill" I mean "smash" and by "bleeds" I mean "was beholden to the game's physics engine".

Guerilla was perhaps the peak on the sad bell curve the Red Faction franchise currently evolved into. But that's something else I'll discuss later. Or now, even.

2011: Red Faction: Armageddon & Saints Row: The Third

So 2011 was an interesting year for Volition. Despite having two major titles from established franchises that would presumably sell like hotcakes, its parent company THQ is looking at some dire sale numbers. While Volition could be blamed for Red Faction: Armageddon not selling too well (the reason being because it sucked), Saints Row: The Third is a little less explicable. While I didn't particularly appreciate the changes made, specifically what was taken out rather than the fine content added in, it was a game I could still happily recommend to anyone. As did Giant Bomb, in fact, and no doubt many other institutions with far more sway over consumers than little old me. So what gives?

It'll be interesting to see how future Red Faction and Saints Row games turn out. Will they still have the same staff, given current events? Will they build on the most recent iterations of those franchises, or revert to their (subjectively) superior forebears? Regardless, I'll be playing their Guillermo del Toro collaboration inSANE and anything else that comes from their vaunted halls of madness, violence and frivolity in the years to come. They've earned that much from me, at least.

BONUS COMICS!

Xenoblade Chronicles

Having precognitive powers ain't what it was going to be.

Warioware Inc.: Mega Microgame$!

SPECIAL BONUS COMIC!

I am unreasonably excited for Rhythm Heaven Fever.

As some of you well know, I'm still indentured to cherished Yearly Membership sponsor omghisam. This month, he's tasked me with delivering my New Year's Resolutions in comic form. Hopefully these meet with his approval, even if I intend to break all of them by December 2012.

In retrospect, I have no idea what "my heart is Oscar Mike" is supposed to mean.
Moderator
Posted by Video_Game_King

Wait, like draw them with actual paper and a scanner? That oughta be interesting. Oh, and as bad as your hand-drawn dude looks, I've managed to produce worse. Depressingly worse.

Posted by ShaneDev

I dunno what RF2 you were playing but all the weapons in RF2 were really standard assault rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers. The only interesting thing were the nano weapons which were just standard FPS guns and of them the rail gun was the only really interesting one. Also the Red Faction in RF2 is, I think, totally unrelated to the Mars miners from the first game. I thought it was a pretty good game and better than the first one.

Posted by Mento

@Video_Game_King: I put that there as a resolution I've demonstrably already broken. I need the circle the line tools. Though I could feasibly upgrade to Illustrator, since I hear that's like circle and line tool heaven.

@ShaneDev: The rail gun must've been what I was thinking of. After coming from Perfect Dark and its Farsight, and being a teenager, it probably seemed like the coolest thing ever. Maybe it really was TimeSplitters with the crazy shit. I really should try putting these retrospective articles together after re-playing the games featured.

Man, now I feel like I should apologise to those unmentioned games with the regenerating guns that fire blue shit. Sorry, duders.

Moderator
Posted by Commisar123

I never really paid attention to Volition until Saint's Row The Third came out, I should probably go fix that now.

Posted by RetroVirus

I got a free copy of Saint's Row 2 when I redeemed my SR:3 online pass, so I'll go check it out. I like crazy stuff.

Edited by omghisam

Red Faction 1 was great, it's so weird it took until Minecraft before people realized digging yourself into an unclimbable hole was a fun gameplay mechanic.

Good job on the resolutions, shoot for the stars, Mento! I liked "My Heart is Oscar Mike," but then you got dark in panel 5, Muscarella dark.

Posted by Guided_By_Tigers

The only people who played as monkeys in Timesplitters sucked at the game.

Posted by 71Ranchero

Red Faction 2 was actually a step back as far as environmental destruction. The first game did it much better.

Posted by Mento

Curse it all, maybe I was thinking of Red Faction 1 the whole time. I'm going to play both this week and revise what I've written as necessary.

Highlight my dementia, will you Volition? You'll pay for this.

Moderator
Posted by jakob187

You've never played the original Red Faction?

You poor poor thing. It's a little too late to go back and try to look at it for what it was at the time, but goddamn...that game was awesome when it came out. Meanwhile, Red Faction II was...*gulp* fine, but it just wasn't the same without the GeoMod stuff. Guerrilla is definitely the pinnacle of the series, though.

Personally, I think Volition is an interesting developer overall. No one has nearly as odd of a portfolio as them.

Posted by Brendan

Man...I love your blogs.