By Hailinel 22 Comments
I Slash Dragons: Terrible Segue Set-ups
I'm rocking a pretty badass Nord warrior in Skyrim right now. One-handed melee and shield focused and surprisingly more than capable of going toe-to-claw with the random dragons that tend to show up from time to time. Also, I'm a werewolf and occasionally take the opportunity to wreck bandits, vampires, and the occasional necromancer because fuck it, I'm a werewolf. I tear shit up because I can.
And that's all awesome. While I despise Oblivion to the core of my soul and with every fiber of my very being, Skyrim is pretty much everything I wanted out of Oblivion with none of the bullshit. Well, aside from Bethesda's inability to perform proper QA on their titles. World size be damned, there are just some things that aren't tolerable. But I'm getting off track of what it is that I want to talk about. And what do I want to talk about?
Yes, I opened with a different game entirely. But bear with me, because there's a comparison to be made here (no matter how flimsy). Just like Oblivion nearly made me give up on The Elder Scrolls, there was a time, many years ago, when Grand Theft Auto: Vice CIty nearly made me give up on the vaguely named open world crime genre to which it belongs. The game was fun, to an extent. Juvenile humor mixed with a cavalcade of characters that are all assholes, tied to a narrative that's pretty much Scarface without the being killed at the end. Well, in theory, anyway.
My problem with Vice City came down to one thing; at its core, the game is not fun to play. Sure, it's easy enough to jump ramps, crash cars, piss off cops, and generally be a dick to everyone within the city limits, but that's where the fun starts and stops. The missions are all clumsily designed, tightly scripted, and a major pain in the ass to complete. At least, that's what I remember about them. I never actually beat the game because there was one major story mission about midway through that I could not beat no matter what I tried. Here, let me paint you a picture:
"Lance got his ass captured by Diaz, and now his goons are working him over. I have to save him from a junkyard hideout. What's the best way to go in there? Through the front? I guess; I haven't seen any readily available helicopters up to this point. Well, here we go."
*Cue a montage of abject failure that stretches across a solid week of evening play sessions.*
"Fuck. Me. Sideways. This is getting ridiculous. All right. Try this again. Once more, with feeling!"
Drive straight into the junkyard and eject from vehicle as it's shot up, turning it into a flaming death torpedo and take out the goons in the front. Check.
Run like a madman through the junkyard murdering everyone I see as I'm shot up and get to Lance. Check. Also, I have five health points left. Five. Out of a hundred. Check.
Miraculously get to a nearby car with Lance in tow. Escape the junkyard with a menagerie of kamikaze psychopathic drivers tailing after us. (Because Rockstar thinks this makes for a fun obstacle, apparently.) Check.
My car is on fire. Fuck. Bail! Check.
Jack another car as those psychopaths continue to fly around me like stopping me is equivalent to preventing the moon from crashing into Earth. Check.
Holy shit, I've never gotten this far before in the multitude of hours I've spent playing this damn mission. Hey, there's the hospital! Oh, thank Christ. Check.
OK, stop the car, get out, stand on the glowing mission end-point. Check. Also, FUCK YE--
Get hit by kamikaze car. Die.
There is no rage face image macro that could illustrate the burning hatred infecting my soul.
Is that picture clear enough? Well, long story short, after that little spirit-crushing moment, I couldn't bring myself to seriously play another minute of that game. I had put up with its shabby gameplay long enough. And when San Andreas proved to be more of the same mission design stupidity tied to poor gameplay that Rockstar chose to pile even more gameplay on top of (instead of, you know, actually fixing shit), I washed my hands of the whole thing. Fuck you, GTA, and good night.
WHAT ARE YOU EVEN GETTING AT?
Don't shout. I've gotten there.
Back when Saints Row 2 came out, I decided to give the genre another whirl. Sure, GTAIV had come out, and it had fixed shit, but a lot of it was shit that had already been fixed in the original Saints Row. Also, GTA had started taking itself seriously, which is hard to do when you're still trying to work juvenile humor and half-assed social commentary into your game world. Not exactly what I wanted.
Now, Saints Row 2? We're getting there, but it's not quite there. I loved the character creation system and the side activities, but I didn't like the way that game progression was tied to the completion of those activities. The game could also be a bit schizophrenic in tone; it was trying to be sillier while also maintaining a certain level of levity brought by its connection to the original game. At least, that's the only way I could figure out the tone since I hadn't played the original Saints Row. It's fun, but it's not quite there.
Which brings me to the game I really want to talk about.
Well, it's about fucking time, asshole.
Fuck you. This is my blog post and I'll take all the meandering time that I want, Mr. Header McDouchebag.
Saints Row: The Third is, in short, everything that I could have ever wanted out of this genre, whether you call it open-world crime, anarchy simulation, or dicking around in an urban setting (that's the technical term). First off, the game doesn't take itself seriously at all; it starts of ridiculous and just gets more and more insane as time goes on. There's actual character progression now, which effectively transforms your character from a standard-issue Claude Speed chucklefuck into a nigh invincible god (so long as you aren't taking melee damage or in an exploding car). Even then, you aren't standard issue. Sure, you can be a milquetoast, if that's your thing, but you can also be Prince if you want. Or She-Hulk. Or a giant Smurf with a Cockney accent. Why?
Because. And that's really all the justification anything in Saints Row: The Third gives. Screw logic; things happen because they can.
And speaking of things happening? Those missions! Oh, those glorious missions. While the core story might not win any awards, the set pieces used to tell that story are an insane mix of anything-goes insanity that the characters just take in stride. And sometimes, these set pieces are punctuated with some of the most brilliant uses of licensed music in any video game ever. It's one thing to include old music on radio stations for irony's sake; it's quite another to actually use these same songs in a context that suddenly make perfect sense and are surprisingly earnest. And this is to say nothing of the actual mission structure, which is very well done, with intelligently-placed checkpoints and a rich variety of activities aside from the ubiquitous shooting of dudes.
And yes, while you might argue that GTAIV didn't suffer from a lot of the issues that plagued the PS2 games, that ship has sailed for me. Rockstar lost me with their bend-over game design of the Vice City era and failed to win me back with their bizarrely inconsistent tone of the adventures of Niko Bellic. And as for GTAV? The one trailer that they've released makes it sound a lot like GTAIV. I mean, sure, people are making a lot of the fact that we might actually get to fly planes in GTA again, but Saints Row: The Third has plenty of planes to fly, including a VTOL with a microwave laser. At this point, any attempt at injecting the gameplay insanity of San Andreas back into GTAV is just going to feel like they're cribbing Saints Row.
It's bizarre to think that the series that established a style of gameplay might be playing catch-up to a series that started off as an also-ran, but there you go.
But why'd you start off talking about Skyrim?
Because everyone's talking about it these days. I thought I was obligated to at least write a paragraph or two about it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some tigers that need escorting.