|360 Games: Crackdown, The Godfather: The Game 1250/1250, Saints Row
||[May. 28th, 2009|12:30 pm]
Did I mention that I love sandbox-style video games?
Crackdown was kind of a Microsoft experiment gone out of focus. They had high hopes for Crackdown, from reading various articles around the time of release ... dynamic landscapes you could see miles in the distance, super-bionic characters you could control, a reality where you could climb high-rise buildings in less than a minute ... it was an ambitious project. There were some market tests, and the game didn't test well. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Crackdown became reduced to a deal where people would buy it because they were given a peek at the Halo 3 beta.
The game puts you in the shoes of a supercop working for an agency on a mission to clear the city of its organized crime. Along the way, you pick up skill by collecting power-ups scattered throughout the map. You can also upgrade your character through completing tasks, like winning races and defeating the less-difficult bosses.
I really liked their idea to make the bosses and some of their underbosses a little tougher to kill. Normal enemies would have a single bar of strength ... some of the bosses had an additional 4-5 bars in reserve of the initial bar of health. While it was unrealistic that a particular boss could live through several shots from a rocket launcher, such a reality provided an appropriate amount of difficulty and tension for the task at hand.
I didn't like my character's mute reality. I understand that having a voice actor for your character makes for extra cost, and I also understand that someone else's voice can take away from the first person experience, but, really, if I wanted pure FPS, I'd be playing Half-Life or Halo. Couple your mute protagonist with a deep-voiced narrator that, after time, becomes more irritating and condescending than helpful, and, well, Realtime Worlds, the developer of Crackdown, they should have worked on this area more.
Crackdown wasn't a bad game, but the story was weak, and the ending to the story was horrible. Gameplay was great, and while there was the ability to play along in co-op with a friend, most of the achievements could be completed in single-player mode, so I did it by myself.
I would have preferred more customization to the game, more than just various supercops with which to play Crackdown. There didn't seem to be as much customization as one could perform in other sandbox games like the GTA series ... no low-rider mods for your character to drive around, well, no wealth of vehicles, in general (you spent most of the game climbing buildings), no clothing to purchase, not even a change of supercop suits ... also, the graphics for the game, especially the characters and vehicles ... they featured a weird black-outlined style that made it look vaguely like outlines from a comic book, and for a game that had such rich draw distances and sounds, you'd think they'd go with less black outline.
I beat the game and completed a few of the non-story achievements. Then, not too long after I finished the story, I decided to drop Crackdown. The game won't load to the 360 hard drive, and it puts a gargantuan strain on your system's resources when you're playing it. I could hear the fans running at full speed, even after the game finished loading ... I swear the load time for this game is about 30-45 seconds, just an eternity to stare at the rotating agency symbol, waiting for your game to begin ... and I just didn't feel like having anything conk out because of chasing after weird achievement requirements ... Crackdown is such an average game ... not worth the extra effort.
The Godfather: The Game was a great game, in comparison. Electronic Arts designed and released it for the PS2 / Xbox platform, so for the 360 re-release, one can easily tell that the graphics are out-dated. The gameplay and story, however, more than make up for the graphics. For a single-player-only game, it's worth the time, especially since a lot of the achievements are fairly easy to obtain ... some of them are as simple as purchasing a safehouse. You can rack up a batch of achievements in less than a day's play. It took me a rough estimate of 60 gaming hours to finish everything there is to do in this game. I purchased the extra game module to go after the 250 achievement points that came with it ... there are "Corleone Challenges" where you have to perform arcade-style duties like, say, killing 30 mobsters in less than 15 minutes with weapons like a baseball bat. Most of the Corleone Challenges are super-easy to complete, and they collectively put out enough gamer points to make it worth the effort.
If you're going to go after these arcade challenges, however, wait until after you complete the regular game. The Corleone Challenges allow you to use your in-game character to complete the tasks, so the mode becomes super-easy when, say, you have a respect level of 50, as opposed to level 5.
The story puts you right into the famous movie. You are a low-level street hood that gets recruited into Don Corleone's family business, and you work your way up in the game to becoming the Don of New York City. The game integrates much of the events of The Godfather into your progress, so there's a point where you're driving Don Corleone's ambulance to the hospital, and so forth, right up until the final hits on the bosses. Throughout the events of the film, you take a leading or main support role.
I liked two features present throughout the Godfather game.
Extortion of businesses proved very enjoyable. Throughout the city, there are various businesses marked on your map. Each of these is controlled by a gang family. These businesses pay protection to the controlling family in exchange for muscle to keep undesirables from screwing up their income. Your job, a major side-job, is to go into each of these rival family businesses and take it over for yourself. You do that by harassing the shop owner into agreeing to your family's protection, and you have a variety of ways to accomplish this goal. You can bust up his store, beat up the owner, or use the owner as a battering ram while busting up his store. You can even crack some of the owners by messing with their customers. However you do it, each owner has a breaking point, and not far beyond that, a change of heart / refusal point. So, you have to be careful to get the owner into the range of cooperation, and no farther ... otherwise, he'll turn on you, to the death. Oh, while you're shaking down the owner, you also have to watch out for the rival family members that hang out in front of the store. They'll want to kill you, so in early stages, it's best to start with eliminating these goons before you go after the shopkeeper.
Some of these businesses are fronts for 'rackets' which operate above, behind, and out of sight of the main business. In some stores, in the back rooms, you'll find prostitution, gambling, goods-smuggling, and the like. These back rooms are filled with rival family hoods, and in some cases, you have to fight through them in order to get to the racket boss. The racket boss will not need to be intimidated into cooperation. A simple handshake will do the trick.
There are so many ways to kill people in this game ... and kill 'em with style! Each weapon allows you to 'execute' an enemy in a unique way. There are generally two ways to each style, one for a kneeling enemy, and one for when they're standing. Either way, once you have beaten or shot them up enough, when you get the enemy in your clutches, a pop-up choice to execute them will present itself. At that point, triggering the execution style is as simple as pushing a button. The successful performance of all execution styles leads to an achievement, and there are a couple of styles that are tricky, but most players should be able to complete every style, over time.
After you complete the main story, the game gets a little repetitive in cleaning up the loose ends, such as the stray businesses you hadn't extorted. However, once I was done with the story, I felt close enough to finishing up everything there was to do in the game. I had no problems with motivation, as opposed to my disinterest with Crackdown.
This game I had played, and beat, for the Xbox, so this was the 2nd time for me. I'd probably play this game through a 3rd time, considering the well-constructed story waiting for you. EA did a great job with the movie license. The only thing that would have improved the experience of Godfather ... a multiplayer environment to romp around with your friends.
And they said this next game was just a cheap knock-off of Grand Theft Auto ...
Saints Row brought me a ton of fun! It reminded me very much of GTA: San Andreas in several respects, only, you could tell that THQ / Volition improved on Rockstar's earlier designs ... which translates into a way cool environment, instead of a cheap imitation. I mean, if you're going to make a rival to a successful product, then you best benchmark the competition. I still go back to GTA 3, GTA: Vice City, and GTASA, and I've beat 'em a handful of times to 100 percent, so Saints Row's similarity is a very good thing.
Descriptions of Saints Row state that the fictional city, Stilwater, is modeled after Detroit and Chicago, but that's a buncha bullshit. Possibly, it's more like Chicago, but I can't think of any one place it looks like. It has elements of several cities, not just one particular region. There's a part of the city to the west, where there's a drainage canal, it looks more like the Los Angeles River's concrete canal than anything found in the Midwest. Also, there's a Chinatown district, and while there is a Chinatown in Chicago, I don't think of the Midwest ... I think of California, or New York.
The customization of vehicles in Saints Row makes for much of the fun. The rides looked way better than what I had to mess with in the GTASA campaign. You can take almost any beat-up rusted-out jalopy ... and after a few thousand dollars spent, voila! You have the most tricked-out ride imaginable, in some cases, with fuzzy dice as an ornament option!
The image from Hexus.net shows off a stylish 'Compton,' a rendition of early-60s GM sedans.
I could also make any style of main character for myself that I wanted. You start off before the game's opening by making your personal version of the main character. You control an advanced number of character designs, things like body type, facial structure ... as detailed as can be, right down to eyebrow thickness. Seriously! Then, it launches you into the world with a series of introductory missions.
I found the main story to be relatively weak, but in Saints Row's case, it didn't matter. This game distinguishes itself in two major areas of the sandbox genre.
The side missions in Saints Row make for an extreme amount of time consumed in the universe. You can do activities from the start, endeavors such as drug-running, being a hitman, running down cars for chop-shops, stealing hookers from other pimps to form your own sex ring, and the list goes on ... it's a ton of work on the side, and all of it nets various rewards on top of the cash ... you get special weapons and unlockables for each stage you finish. It's best to do these things early in the game, since they give you rewards that make the main game much easier to complete.
The gameplay, to put it in a catch-all term, is cartoonish. Sure, there's blood, and sure, you're playing in a world designed on realistic Havok-physics, but the cars are super-easy to drive, your guns are deadly accurate (even the shotgun, at a distance, seems to catch someone with all the buckshot) ... the best part is, when you get shot up pretty bad, just run away if you can ... after a while, your health counter will refill. Yes, you are a superhuman, of sorts ... a regenerating-flesh-monster of a badass!
All of this is a major difference from the latest GTA games, which use Rockstar's RAGE engine to create a sense of an ultra-realistic physical environment. If you get hurt, you stay hurt. To regain your full power, you have to find a 'health pack,' or, in many cases, you have to get some food to 'heal' yourself. GTA 4 is significantly more difficult in design, especially in its driving mechanics, and the player movement is also more developed, when compared to the Saints Row series.
So, in essence, there's room for both an arcade and realistic universe, and I think Saints Row has the arcade-style covered perfectly.
The story centers around your main character stumbling into the territory of the Saints Row gang, which is run by a man named Julius. This Samuel-Jacksonesque character is on a mission to reclaim the city for the Saints. You join the Saints in their quest to rid Stilwater of three rival gangs controlling various areas of the city. Over time, you work with your gang leaders to finish off the other crews.
In both the side-missions and the main missions, you can recruit gang members off the street, and you can call for backup from unlockable 'homies.' There's a funny homie by the name of Chicken Ned that you can call. He'll show up in a beat-up hatchback ... and a chicken costume. There was another homie I thought was a good idea, the Wheel Woman ... she'd show up and act as a chauffeur ... the only thing I thought would have been better with that character was if you could just set a waypoint and she'd drive you there without having to do anything else ... as-constructed from the game, it would force you to make traffic decisions for her, in the form of intersections, telling her to turn right, left, or just keep going forward. In the game, I mostly recruited homies off the street to roll with me on certain missions. I did most missions by myself ... the homies were a good idea, but unless they threw an army of enemies at you, I found them to be unnecessary.
I beat this game and did everything there was to do in single-player mode. I don't know if the servers are available to use anymore, but there are multiplayer achievements that I couldn't do, simply because I tried joining a multiplayer map and there wasn't anyone around ... I'm fine if I never get those achievements, but there looks to be some easy ones to snag.
Saints Row was an excellent game. It distinguished itself from GTA to become a proper rival in the sandbox franchise. It is worth your time.
I now have Saints Row 2, and I plan on going through that game in co-op mode ... there are achievements tied to completing activities and missions with another online player, so that's how I want to do this game, rather than go through single-player and miss out on those extra points.