Tag Archives: achievements

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

Saints!Saints Row 4 is an over-the-top videogame about a world beset by aliens, destroyed, and then rebuilt in a Matrix-esque virtual reality wherein your player avatar, The President of the United States, is granted amazing super powers in an effort to eventually conquer the alien threat and conquer all of time so as to save the human race.

So let’s spend this article talking about urban planning.

Wait, sorry, I have been informed that it is moderately possible to stay on topic while addressing this blatantly boring matter, so we may as well give that a try. Take two…

Saints Row 2 was an amazing little chunk of a game. After Saints Row was reviewed as “like Grand Theft Auto, but we forgot to figure out the ‘but’”, Saints Row 2 shook the gaming world by being the most Grand Theft Auto-est Grand Theft Auto to ever Grand Theft Auto. That is to say, the Grand Theft Auto from before Rockstar decided to smother any fun in the franchise by sticking its head so far up its own butt that no excitement could ever escape this airtight asszone. And it wasn’t just about a completely bonkers plot that may or may not have contained covering sections of the city in raw sewage! No, Saints Row 2 took the customization features of San Andreas and dialed them up to eleven. So many options! So much clothing! Hell, they had to build an entire mall to house all those shopping choices!

And, in my humble opinion, that mall might be the best part of Saints Row 2.

WeeeeeYes, it’s just one silly area. Yes, it’s an area that probably ultimately only exists for one set piece mission that involves a shootout in a mall (that seems less funny in 2018). And, yes, I might just like it because I have a weird inclination toward hanging out at any mall, virtual ones included. But whatever the original reason for that lil’ shopping center, it is one of my favorite spots, and a significant reason for this is simple: it’s a place. It is somewhere in the Saints Row 2 city that you can actually go. It’s not just another empty, set-dressing building. It’s a real location, and, even if there is an obvious “now loading” parking garage or elevator, it still feels like an organic piece of the city. It’s not just a place to customize your trench coat, it’s a place, and it makes the world of Saints Row 2 feel that much more real.

And, like in our blighted present, you can never go to the mall again. Saints Row 3 dropped not only the mall, but seemingly the entire concept of going inside a big, open building.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, people noticed. I noticed. Saints Row 3 was an amazing game, but almost everyone seemed to recognize that its base city was somehow… less. There were more exciting cutscenes, set pieces, and the occasional reason to deploy a parachute after leaping from your hover-bike, but there weren’t any malls. There weren’t any places that made the SR3 city feel like a real place; simply stores that were singular rooms, and the occasional “level area” that felt very much like a Hyrulian dungeon. The Saints Row 3 city was a shell of the former glory of the series, particularly at a time when other franchises seemed to be moving forward with more immersive worlds.

And then Saints Row 4 effectively told the world that that was good enough, and outright reused the “old” city of Saints Row 3. New game, old city. Party foul, Volition, directors of Saints Row 4. You destroyed half the fun of an open world game before I even opened the box.

Tanks for the memoriesOf course, anyone familiar with the franchise or its producers knows the truth of the matter. In short, without reusing assets to an absurd degree, there literally would be no Saints Row 4. And that would be a major loss for the universe! Saints Row 4 is an irrational amount of fun, predominantly because it takes the typical, mundane world of Saints Row 3 (well, as mundane as any world with Mayor Burt Reynolds could be) and adds super powers. Run like The Flash, fly like Superman, and telekinetically whip some cars around like Matthew Malloy (like you can’t use Wikipedia). When you were previously tethered to finding a conveniently unlocked car every seventeen seconds, being able to Hulk jump straight out of a lake and onto a building is a bit of a game changer, and truly makes Saints Row 4 its own experience. The wisdom of Solomon is telling me you don’t need a new city when you’ve got the speed of Mercury.

But you know what? Let’s stop trying to justify the loss of a new city, and acknowledge that Steelport, the official city of Saints Row 3 & 4, is actually pretty great.

Consider the number one complaint about modern open world games: there’s nothing to do. From Breath of the Wild to Skyrim to Dragon’s… Dogma? Age? Something like that… For all of those worlds, it seems the number one complaint is that there’s a crazy, humungous world to explore, but nothing to do. And that makes perfect sense, as any neighborhood where every dungeon and dragon is squished together is going to feel a bit claustrophobic. If your horse doesn’t have anywhere to run around, everywhere is going to feel like Hyrule Field, and then you may as well just be playing an N64 game. A big world needs the option to feel boring, because wide open spaces are practically a requirement.

WeeeeeeeBut all of the open world games named a moment ago are fantasy-based worlds. An empty field feels natural in Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls because “the wilds of the frontier” are practically built into the genre. That’s not going to fly in an urban environment, because, come on, when was the last time you saw seven inches of a city uninhabited by anything. In New York City, I saw a landlord-tenant dispute over a sleeping bag. This means that, assuming you want your sandbox city to be remotely realistic, it’s time to populate every millimeter of the place with something. There are no nice rocks or fields of tumbleweed in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row; no, every bit of the city has to have a building or fountain or maybe just a spot where some dude carrying a dildo spawns. You need something, otherwise the world is going to look unfinished.

And then there’s the form and function factor. This is a proper videogame, not some manner of Endless Ocean nonsense, so there are missions. Missions require venues, so of course robbing the bank or destroying the alien antennae needs a spot to be marked on the map. So that means you have to build a bank or an antennae. And they can’t be next to each other! No! There must be some space between them. And there’s a car chase at the tail end of the mission? Wow, better design the streets around that for some interesting twists and turns. Don’t forget to add a fruit cart! Now multiply that kind of thinking by about, what, twenty? To account for all the story missions? And how many optional missions are there? How many street races, ragdoll showcases, and gang fights have to be included? And what do you do when missions start running into missions? It’s not like every section of the city is walled off entirely; you need to account for jobs that will use the same highways and byways. Everything has to fit together, and I don’t have to remind any artists out there how difficult it can be when you have to change just one thing, and are then forced to change every damn thing around it. Smoothing out one road might change the entire shape of the city!

Just thinking about it gets me exhausted.

Take a lookBut this is the strength of Steelport. With a limited number of changes, the same city was used for two different games brimming with content. And that’s amazing! Considering that Saints Row 3 and Saints Row 4 have dramatically different movement options available (a tank is not the same as Supergirl speed), the fact that the same city can be used at all is a minor miracle. And once you factor in all the missions across both games, well, it seems a little silly to be worried about the loss of a few open buildings. Yes, you might not have the same “lived-in” feeling of Saints Row 2, but SR3 and SR4 both use their shared city to do their jobs incredibly well. If you can use the same city to stage a noir-ish gang war story of betrayal and luchadores in the same place as a sci-fi epic featuring aliens and Agent Smith, then you’re clearly doing something right.

There’s nothing lazy about building something to last, and there’s nothing indolent about Steelport. This is how you reuse assets: by building something amazing and adaptable right from the beginning, and showcasing that remarkable flexibility. Here’s to the city planners of Steelport, because they know how to shape a city for the ages.

Though I do still miss the mall…

FGC #421 Saints Row 4

  • System: Available on PC, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. The Gat Out of Hell expansion (/entirely new game) came out at just the right time to boot this one up to the current gen consoles.
  • Number of players: Like SR3, this one has multiplayer that I have literally never tried. Let’s assume it’s good!
  • Favorite Weapon: There is a gun that inflates people’s heads. While I would like the ability to randomly inflate other body parts (I would very much like someone to explode thanks to unreasonably swollen calves), I can’t say no to N64-style body morphing.
  • OuchiePresident for a Day: It impacts practically nothing, but this title begins with your protagonist as President of the United States. I would personally like to play more adventures where you’re a Super Hero President… but then I start thinking about how my ideal game is Dynasty Warriors: Oops All Presidents, and how much it would kick ass to take out hordes of enemies with an extremely over-leveled William Howard Taft.
  • So, did you beat it? Yes. This is one of the few titles I actually completely Platinum’ed. I would be more proud of that if it didn’t involve rubberbanding a controller so I could fly around on a hover bike for an hour…
  • Did you know? This game canonizes the “Saints Row 1 model” character as a virtual reality created “boss” during one mission. This means that, without a doubt, if your protagonist is female in Saints Row 4, she’s trans, and not just implied to “look different” like in Saints Row 2. I think this means we have exactly one videogame franchise with a potentially trans hero. Progress!
  • Would I play again: Absolutely. I intended to play through Saints Row 4 on PS4 for this review, even… but it’s a long game! And I have a 100% save file right there on PS3! And I like running around like an invincible idiot! It happens!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Captain Commando! Caaaaaaptain Commaaaaaando! Or… maybe I’m thinking of something else…. No matter! Please look forward to it!

Where did it all go?

FGC #337 Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil

Sing along!Cuphead: Don’t Deal with the Devil is a videogame that was released last week (or so). It is, basically, a Contra/Gradius game with an extremely unique “old cartoons” art style. That’s it. That’s the game. Nothing revolutionary, nothing we haven’t seen before, just an old school, hard as heck game about the dangers of dealing with the devil (don’t do it).

And, somehow, I can’t toss a teacup without hitting another article about “what Cuphead means” or its greater sociological ramifications, or how difficult games are the gatekeepers of the industry, or whatever.

I’m sick of it. I just want to talk about how Cuphead is one of the best games, graphically and gameplay-wise, of 2017 (a year already chock full of amazing games). I want to say, “Dammit, look at this gorgeous nonsense. This is next gen. This is what I’ve wanted since I was five. This is all I need.”

So… uh… I may as well just say that.

Screw words, we’re just looking at GIFs today, because I’m going to bop back to this “article” every time I want to experience pure joy. Here are some random GIFs from Cuphead, boys and girls. Every single one is a delight.

Click here to download a bunch of Cuphead art directly into your brain…

FGC #223 Lollipop Chainsaw

Pedal alongThere are four games that I have 100% “platinumed”. For those of you that blissfully missed the current gaming climate of “achievements” and “trophies”, that means there are four games on the Xbox 360/Xbone/Playstation 3/Playstation 4 that have sucked up enough of my time to accomplish 100% completion. Two of those platinumed games are Final Fantasy 13-2 and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy 13. That factoid probably surprises no one. Then we’ve got Saint’s Row IV, a game that begged to have every last bit of content squeezed out of its delicious fruit of gameplay. I’d follow that game to Hell and back… and that’s kind of appropriate given its sequel/expansion. And then the final game that I have ever 100% completed is…

Lollipop Chainsaw.

WINNER

I… find that odd.

Lollipop Chainsaw turned me off at its initial release. As much as I love a good Suda game (okay, we’re basically talking about Killer7 and No More Heroes here… does Contact count?), Lollipop Chainsaw looked a little too… is “lol random” an appropriate adjective? Oh, look, it’s a cheerleader with a chainsaw fighting zombies through an American high school. Is… is it supposed to be a parody of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Wasn’t that basically a parody in the first place? Or is it closer to the Buffy source material, and an inversion of the typical teen slasher film? And I’m sure that it’s just a coincidence the plot allows for the heroine to wear the world’s shortiest skirt. Pass.

So then I bought it anyway, because, as we’ve discussed, I will buy anything during a sale. This… also might be why I own every other Suda51 game…

RAINBOWWith Lollipop Chainsaw now loaded into my Playstation 3, I was finally able to look past the generally off-putting cover, and experience the game itself. And, while I’d love to make this another article about the glories of looking past first impressions and discovering the delicious center of this onion we call life, I quit Lollipop Chainsaw almost immediately. I cleared the initial prologue stage, found the game generally fun but kinda clunky, and then died to an early sub-boss during the first official stage. I discovered that that death meant I had to repeat the entire stage from the start, and that was about it for Lollipop Chainsaw. Sorry, guys, but I have better things to do with my time.

Then, for reasons I don’t immediately recall, I decided to try again. I replayed the game from the prologue again (mainly because I had already forgotten how the game “works”), used the excess earned coins to buy a few upgrades for chainsaw combos, and continued on my merry way. I beat the first level pretty handily, and then moved on to the second, third, and beyond. I beat the game inside of a few days, and then went back and ground Juliet against Hard Mode. I beat the top scores. I cooked zombies until I earned all the costumes. I got surprisingly good at stupid quicktime events. And, in the end, the final trophy would only be rewarded for using some random special move (that is to say that the move itself had a random result, which isn’t usually my cup of tea) repeatedly, so I stood around the end of a hellbilly farm and kicked around a severed head until that trophy was in the bag. One platinum trophy earned, and I could finally put Lollipop Chainsaw to bed.

But… why the heck did I do that?

WeeeeeI initially assessed Lollipop Chainsaw’s gameplay as “clunky”, and, even after everything, I stand by that evaluation. Juliet, the heroine of the piece, does not control like your modern videogame action hero. If you’re expecting Bayonetta 2 (or… 3?) here, you’re out of luck. Juliet controls like a hundred pound cheerleader swinging around an enormous piece of gardening equipment. Once you start a chainsaw combo, there’s a level of inertia involved that is usually reserved for particularly chunky boulders. But there’s the “weak” pom-pom attacks that are deliberately lighter and more manageable… except they don’t work like your typical videogame jabs, either. The pom-pom attacks are built more like a lock-on button (which this game also has!), and those weak attacks are meant to bridge the gaps between Juliet and any waiting zombies. The game does explain this (repeatedly!) but, after decades of other 3-D brawler affairs, it never feels right. In short, even when Lollipop Chainsaw is working exactly as intended, it comes off as broken.

But sometimes when you’re on, you’re really fucking on.

There’s a rhythm to Lollipop Chainsaw, and it permeates every bit of the game. From the basic zombie brawls to zombie basketball to even the stupid quick time events, there’s always this undercurrent of timing that is… well… it’s probably not unlike being a cheerleader. I mean, okay, for some reason I never got into that sport (it’s not because I don’t have the legs for it), but the general beat of 1-2-3-4 here is constant between every scene, and only reinforced by the musical genre-inspired boss zombies. It’s the mark of a good game that when you’re in the zone, you can automatically intuit the solution to the next threat or trap, and, once you’re seeing the world through Juliet’s eyes, that happens constantly in LC. Even after not playing the game for at least a year, Bunny AI?when I picked up the Dual Shock 3, I was right back in zombie murderin’ mode, and nothing could stop me.

But that’s true of a lot of games, right? I’ve experienced a similar resonating rhythm with Mega Man or Punch-Out, yet I don’t see 100% clears for those games. Mega Man Legacy Collection is great, but I know that I’m never going to complete that Mega Robot Master Rush achievement. Hell, I can barely beat Wood Man alone with only a buster. Why is Lollipop Chainsaw one of the few games in history to get me to that achievement finish line?

And, reviewing the trophy list, I think I have an answer: nearly every achievement in Lollipop Chainsaw is based on simply playing Lollipop Chainsaw well. And that’s it.

This is important, because there are a lot of… let’s call them “Legendary Achievements” in modern gaming. What am I talking about? Well, there’s a difference between beating the hardest hidden boss in the game, and beating the hardest hidden boss in the game that incidentally takes fifteen hours. There’s a difference between beating hard mode and beating hard mode without ever taking a hit. And, if you’re at all curious why I completed Final Fantasy 13’s sequels but not Final Fantasy 13 itself, there’s a difference between collecting hidden or random items, and collecting every stupid piece of vendor trash in the universe. It seems like every game has some kind of outrageous achievement along those lines, because what’s even the point in producing a game if you can’t force a player to waste sixty hours working toward some arbitrary goal?

WeeeeeeAnd Legendary Achievements are the bane of my achievement hunting. Usually I have no problem clearing a game. After that task is finished, I have a tendency to look over the remaining trophies, whether that’s in a game-provided list, or requires a trip to Gamefaqs. Nine times out of ten, I’ll immediately find that one Legendary Achievement that necessitates insane mastery of the game. Again, this is usually immediately after clearing the game the first time, and, if the game was any good in the first place, there was probably some challenge there. If I just survived beating the final boss, an achievement for beating the final boss without losing any health and in less than ten seconds seems pretty damn insurmountable. Add practically any other remotely difficult achievement to that, and I throw up my hands in defeat. Sure, there are some other achievements on that list I might pull off, but, dammit, I’ve got a backlog longer than the Andes here, and I hope to have at least played Undertale before the end of the universe. Do you know how much time it takes to write about videogames as much as I do!?

But Lollipop Chainsaw doesn’t have any Legendary Achievements. You beat level 1? Great! Do it better. You can kill a bunch of zombies at once? Go for seven! Collecting all the costumes and collectibles is kind of a gimme, but here’s a list of everything you’ve already found, so you’re not stuck looking for blue coins for the rest of your life. Lollipop Chainsaw goes out of its way to make sure its achievements are… achievable, and I wound up plowing through that list as a result. It wasn’t until the last couple of challenges that I even noticed I had nearly finished everything in the game, and then it was just a matter of mastering a few quick minigames. Then welcome to Platinum Town.

YummyAnd there’s an important lesson here. Achievements are, ya know, achievements because they help the player to realize what they’ve accomplished. When you squeeze out the Legendary Achievements, then you’re left with an easy gauge for how “good” you are at a game, straight from the designers. Did you beat the high score? Well, the creators didn’t pull that number out of a hat, if you cleared that number, you have “mastered” that level. Conversely, an insurmountable 9.999,999 score requirement isn’t only difficult, it’s lazy game design that appeals only to the diehards. A much more manageable “generally good” tells the player that mastery is happening, but doesn’t inevitably require a trip to some message board to discover “the trick”. Good trophies/achievements design is an art unto itself, and one that is often ignored in favor of “well, wouldn’t it be cool if only six people got this trophy”.

So good job, Lollipop Chainsaw. I played this game a lot more than I probably would have thanks to its perfectly calibrated trophies, and I’ll remember it fondly as a result. Lollipop Chainsaw might be a janky game, but at least one part of it is platinum.

FGC #223 Lollipop Chainsaw

  • System: Playstation 3, Xbox 360. Sorry, whatever Nintendo system was relevant at the time.
  • Number of players: Only one. Though you can show off your scores online, so that’s kind of like having a second player.
  • Favorite Zombie: There’s something delightfully off-putting about Mariska, the sitar-toting hippy zombie. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s the juxtaposition of her “peace and love” attitude and her stitched together jeans/face.

    LOSER

    The Dethklok wannabe from Stage 2 has got nothing on her.

  • What about the achievement/trophy for looking up Juliet’s skirt? Okay, yeah, that’s a thing… but the record will show it was one of the last trophies I earned! … Though, honestly, I don’t even know why they bothered, like every other cutscene involves some level of panty shot.
  • Speaking of misogyny: There’s an excellent article on Destructoid about objectification and Lollipop Chainsaw, and how it really winds up being the boyfriend, who has literally been reduced to the status of an object, who is the more objectified character in the game. This is clever (and I wish I had that observation first, dammit), and likely wholly intentional. That said, holy crap is Juliet a typical male fantasy, and pretty much nothing is done here to suggest that leering at Juliet in her latest skimpy costume is anything but the intended reward for playing the game well. There’s a lot of cake eating going on here.
  • And speaking of cake: It’s more of a personal pet peeve, but I never need hear another skinny teenager complain about being a fat ass ever again. It happens within the opening monologue! It happens every other time you find a health powerup! It never needs to happen ever!
  • Dialogue Coach: But the rest of the dialogue in the game is pretty damn awesome. The interplay between Juliet and Nick is an unending highlight of this game, and Tara Strong (voice of Juliet) is really bringing her A-game to this production. It’s a rarity on this blog, but here’s a random audio snippet of one of my favorite conversations (NSFW language).
  • Did you know? There was apparently a Valentine’s Day edition of this game released in Japan with additional content (mostly for your PC). This might have contributed to Lollipop Chainsaw being the best-selling Grasshopper game worldwide, so eat your heart out, Shining Soul.
  • Would I play again: Well, I got 100%… is there a reason to go back?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Castlevania Aria of Sorrow for the GBA! Aw, don’t be sad, Soma, I’m sure you’ll make a fine vampire. Please look forward to it!