Monday, March 31, 2014

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Nearly 2 years ago I wrote about buying games for more than one console, and how I prefer not to do it unless I have no other choice, or I'm getting a good deal on the game. One of the games that I mentioned was Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, which I originally bought for the Xbox 360, and how after my 360 died I purchased the PS2 version, as I have never owned a PS3. Well the PS2 version never got much play time because it is so wildly different from the Xbox 360 version, in terms of game play and story details, that I found it difficult to jump from one to the other.

Now I can understand graphical differences, with the leap from PS2 to Xbox 360, that is to be expected. But the game play and story varies to to an alarming degree, at least for me, too much so to be a game with the same name. Another example I gave was Bully for PS2 and the Scholarship Edition for the 360, while upgrading the graphics and adding additional content, the game was still based on the same core, and was much easier to pick up and continue playing as if it were the original version.

The overall goal is the same; to be a mercenary in war-torn Venezuela, and to complete contracts to earn as much money as possible, destroy as many things as possible and to generally have a good time while doing these things. But with the transition from Xbox 360 down to the PS2, the map has gotten significantly smaller, with less area to explore and even fewer things to destroy. Also the hardware limitations cause many things to popup right in front of you, causing you to take more collateral damage than is really even necessary.

One of the main things in the game are weapons, which seem to disappear if you swap them out for something on the ground, where as in the 360 version they stick around for a while allowing me to use an RPG and swap back to the SMG I just swapped it for 1 minute ago. Also weapons crates seemed to be stashed everywhere in the 360 version, if you find a crate in the PS2 version its a most often a solid object, offering no ammo, grenades, health packets, nothing!

Don't get me wrong, I loved the original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, which the PS2 version of World in Flames feels like a heavily modified version of, but even the original seems to have a bigger map, more things to destroy and it just all around better feeling than the newer one. Another game with the same feel was Just Cause, which is far more massive than the PS2 version of World in Flames, but the driving and walking mechanics have a very familiar vibe. It just feels more like Just Cause than it does Mercenaries.

Strange, but useful, finds.

One of the things I found most often at the outlet store were empty video game cases. How these cases were emptied is anyone's guess; whether they had been picked through by the crew who dumped them into the bins, the resellers ignorantly picking out the games and leaving the cases behind, or perhaps they were just empty cases when they turned up at Goodwill. Seeing what I've seen, I can assure you all three of those are very viable options.

Although PS2 cases were most prevalent, on occasion there was anything from Gamecube to Xbox 360. Original Playstation cases would pop up from time to time, but more often than not they actually contained the game, which was better than being empty. On rare occasions I would find game boxes, such as my Home Alone for the SNES or the two absolutely complete, other than the game, N64 boxes for Blast Corps and Nascar 2000.

My initial idea was to snag them and use them for video games that had generic cases, Shamestop stickers on them that just wouldn't come off, or damaged or otherwise boogered up cases. After I had swapped out all my cases, to my satisfaction, I kept collecting them for potential future swaps I may need to make. But then I came across a case that changed my idea of why I should pick them up and keep them.

Up to this point I was running across a lot of NCAA, Madden and other boring titles, so I never felt bad evicting sports titles from their cases to give the games I owned a better place to live. But just as I had done with the video game boxes, I found a video game case that was complete, and a game that I wanted to own. So instead of looking at this case as swap fodder, this was the first case I kept complete so that I could track down a copy of the game and have it CIB.

Crackdown was one of the first Xbox 360 games I had played, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I saw it as sort of an Xbox 360 Grand Theft Auto, before I had the chance to play GTA 4. So when I saw this case I quickly snatched it up, popped it open and was disappointed that it was empty. Oh well, at least I have the case! And I'll just have to buy myself a disc only copy from ebay, which is exactly what I think I'll do!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Video Games I need more of: Bully!

After I acquired my first PS2 I did the standard "What games can I use this thing for?" research and came up with a nice little treasure trove of games that I wanted to purchase. Among them were obviously exclusives for the Sony consoles such as Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, as well as another Rockstar hit, Bully. The concept of Bully was a bit weird for me, at first, but after I purchased the game and gave it a bit of a play through it really sprouted out and became a game that my mind wished there was more of.

In the game Bully you play as Jimmy Hopkins, a 15 year old with a bad attitude, which is a slight departure from the main protagonists Rockstar is putting into their GTA series. Jimmy is sent to Bullworth Academy, a boarding school, to help him adjust said attitude. While at Bullworth Jimmy makes friends and enemies along his (mis)adventures through both the school yard and the adjacent town.

Bully plays a bit like a GTA game, but has its own environmental feel and works really well, although I always felt the overall area was just too small, as I was more familiar with the land masses of GTA games by this point. Even so, the game played great and there were plenty of story missions, side missions and many other miscellaneous things to do to keep yourself busy and entertained for quite some time. But once everything was collected, all the missions were done and all that was left was driving up and down the streets on Jimmy's moped, there was an undying desire to see a sequel.

A few years ago I acquired a copy of Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Xbox 360, which added more things to do, as well as beefed up the graphics and made everything look far more presentable and likewise appealing. Sadly, I had bought a copy of the game that had a hairline crack in the disc. When combining the need for the disc to be spun to be read, as well as the heat the Xbox 360's DVD drives are known for, the crack quickly grew to the point it would no longer boot up.

Although I got a fairly good taste of what Scholarship Edition was about, I never got the full experience, which only made me want an additional, more modern version of Bully even more, and I'm NOT a modern console gamer! I'm not sure where Rockstar would go with another installment of Bully, but I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling of wanting to experience more. With all the improvements they've made in the GTA series, I bet another Bully would be nothing less than amazing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Saint's Row 1 and 2

About 4 years ago I was cruising ebay and found a game that caught my eye. Admittedly, I am by no means a modern gamer; I don't know what games came out for the Xbox 360 unless I actively pursued them. So when I saw Saint's Row I quickly went into research mode to see what it was.

Through roughly 10 minutes of research I found out Saint's Row was a GTA clone, of sorts. After the initial search I moved ahead to the "Lets Play" type search, where I watch a few episodes of someone playing the game, to see if I'm interested in pursuing the game any further. Turns out the answer to that question was a resounding yes, yes I was interested in pursuing Saint's Row, so I did!

I can't remember exactly what I paid, but the auction included a complete copy of Saint's Row and the Brady guide. When the package arrived I noticed it cost the seller more to ship to me than I had paid for the whole auction, which made me feel slightly uneasy, because I've done this as an ebay seller as well and it doesn't feel good paying more than I was paid to ship a product. There was nothing I could do, so I just decided to set my feelings aside and pop it into my semi-functional Xbox 360.

One of the main features of any GTA, or clone, is the plethora of vehicles you can snatch and drive around, which Saint's Row doesn't disappoint! In GTA you would steal a car, total it and run off to find a new one, yet Saint's Row had an ingenious garage system where you could store, seemingly, endless amounts of cars and never have to steal another one again, unless you wanted more of any specific car. Not only that but Saint's Row also harkened back to GTA San Andreas and offered players the ability to customize vehicles in much the same way.

Although not perfect, players were given the ability to add hydraulics, nitrous, many different wheels, custom paint jobs, among other things. Once the car was customized all you had to do was drive it into any of your garages and it would save that car, never to be lost or stolen, unlike in GTA.

Since this is the first thing I brought up about Saint's Row, I have to admit that its basically all I did for the first few days I owned the game. Endless stealing cars and finding out what all I could do to them, testing many different ways of customizing them, and only doing story missions to gain money to customize more cars! But eventually I did finish the story mode, which left a little to be desired.

The final mission, which I won't spoil here just in the off chance someone might not have played it yet, doesn't go away. So even with 100% complete the final mission is left undone and sticks out on the map like a sore thumb, unless you turn all icons off, which is possible.

Overall I found the game to be interesting, not as good as GTA, but good in its own right. But personally the strong points were the cars, the ability to customize them and the way you could store them in your garage. With many different side missions strewn about throughout the city this game kept me busy for a while, but once it was over I wanted to move forward with more!

Lucky for me, and being so far behind in modern gaming, Saint's Row is currently up to 4 games in the series, so finding a new Saint's Row wasn't impossible. So my search went to finding a copy of Saint's Row 2. I wasn't concerned about whether is was a limit edition, a platinum hits edition or just a plain release version, all I wanted was Saint's Row 2, which is exactly what I got.

Before purchasing Saint's Row 2 I saw a video from Dan (aka Nerdcubed), which made me want the game even more than I already did. So, again, I went to ebay to find myself a copy of the game. After an anxious few days of waiting the game finally arrived and I popped it into my 360 and got straight back onto the streets of Stilwater, only this time they were slightly different.

Through Dan's video, and a few other Saint's Row 2 videos I had watched, I noticed that Stilwater was different in the second game, which the story explains away. This brought a very welcome element to the game, as you're essentially exploring a brand new town, with hints of something familiar. So the player starts fresh and has to regain their reign over Stilwater in Saint's Row 2.

Again, for the first day or so I spent my time finding new cars and customizing them, as well as finding cars from the first Saints Row and using the new customizing abilities on them. The very first vehicle I saw, and stole, was a tow truck, which looked awesome and actually functions, sort of, which I knew would come in handy later in my endeavor to gain vehicles and customize them. Needless to say it took me a few days to actually start the story missions.

But once I started the story missions it really didn't take me all that long to complete them all. A few side missions here and there to gain respect to continue on my way, as well as a dozen or so retries on various missions, and within a few days I had beat Saint's Row 2. Now all I have to do is finish up all the collections and other miscellaneous odd jobs to get 100% and I can move on to Saint's Row the Third!

Although Saint's Row 2 improved over the original, in some ways it is worse, such as draw distance. Many times I found myself waiting on a street corner for a certain car to drive by and noticed that cars would pop into view then almost instantly disappear, off in the distance. As well as while I'm out on water, many water vehicles can only be seen when they're within crashing distance, you'll notice their waves in the water before you'll actually see any boat or jet ski.  

Saint's Row 2 does add flying, which is another welcome change, even if the flight controls are a bit wonky. Airplanes and helicopters, as well as the ability to parachute, have helped me a few times during missions that I was just too lazy to drive to. But, again, sometimes flying, especially the helicopters or "Destroy", is more of a hassle than it is a pleasure.

Other than the few flaws I believe Saint's Row 2 is the best version of Stilwater, as it affords more freedom and air to breathe, while still packing the city with life and plenty of scenery. The first Stilwater had many annoying blockades that you'll find, especially when you're looking for the hidden CDs. All I needed to do was jump over a fence, but I simply couldn't, making it more of a chore than it needed to be.

Saint's Row 2 took care of most of the issues with the original Stilwater and made a very fun town to explore and dwell within. After I've accomplished 100% I'll be looking forward to moving to Steelport! Where I'll be staying for the next two installments of Saint's Row, beyond that who knows where we'll be.