Much like its predecessor, Saints Row IV, Saints Row: Gat out of Hell is unabashedly over the top, and can be a lot of fun to play. Unfortunately, Gat out of Hell also shares all the same flaws as IV, and adds some of its own. But let’s start with the good parts.
I’m partway through A Story About My Uncle‘s third level when I realize how much fun I’m having. As I run and leap off the edge of a tiny, floating island, and begin my desperate search for an anchor point to grapple onto, I feel a little bit of the joy that I used to get with playing platformers. It’s Bionic Commando from the first-person perspective, but with bright colors and none of the tedious combat. Once I hit the last stage, and the difficulty spiked to levels that made me unsure I’d ever be able to finish the game, that joy, and the tantalizing closeness of the next safe platform, kept me coming back.
To get it right out of the way, these are not necessarily the best releases of 2014, as there are too many games, movies, books, and albums from this year that look great, but I have not had a chance to experience. Instead, this is a list of the various media I consumed in the past twelve months that stood out to me as a bright spot, some of which was released before 2014. A simple enough concept, yeah? So let's get right to it. In no particular order, these are a few of my favorite things:
Ziggurat, the first-person, dungeon-crawling rogue-lite from Milkstone Studios, is a delight. Despite being in Early Access, it feels complete, and my experience has been (mostly) bug free. It turns out the update that was released as I was writing this fixed a bug that I thought was an intentional way to make bosses more difficult, but in my 12 hours of play, that’s the only glitch I’ve encountered. Ziggurat is not the first game to combine FPS and rogue-like elements, but out of the ones I’ve played (including Paranautical Activity, Eldritch, and the creatively named Rogue Shooter: The FPS Roguelike), it is the first that is fun, and not just interesting.
Go To Bed: Survive The Night, the first game from Touchfight Games, was an unexpected delight. From the screenshots and trailer, I thought it was just going to be a cute and simple game. And it is cute, and simple, but it’s also more than that. It’s creepy and intense and a joy to play. The mechanics of it all are basic: things are coming out of the dark to get you, and only mouse clicks can drive them away.
When my friend Kelsey told me about a cheeseburger with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns, called the Sportsman’s Burger, I was intrigued. I love burgers, cheese, and excess, so it sounded perfect. However, after she informed me that it was actually kind of gross, I shifted to thinking of another way to combine grilled cheese and burgers, and this is what I came up with.
Sharknado 2 is not a great movie, but it is a substantial improvement over the first one. Where the original Sharknado seemed to take itself somewhat seriously, the second is an over-the-top parody. It reminded me a lot of Airplane!, and not just because of the apparent homage in the title sequence.
Vlad the Impaler, by Section Games, is a beautifully illustrated visual novel, with quality writing and a dark, moody setting.
The screens are mostly static, grayscale images, but the lack of movement and color doesn’t make them any less gorgeous. Some animation is included – sparingly, and always to great effect. The fantastic visuals are perfectly complimented by the orchestral score. From an atmospheric standpoint, the game is flawless.
The Theatre Bizarre is an anthology of short films, using the titular theatre as a framing device. The story opens with a young woman who is obsessed with the seemingly abandoned theatre across the street from her apartment. One day she notices the theatre’s lights flicker on briefly, followed by a door opening. Her curiosity thoroughly piqued, she rushes over and goes inside, the doors promptly closing behind her.
Much like the show it’s based on, Paranormal State: Poison Spring is a little goofy and a lot over-dramatic, but also oddly compelling. I hadn’t seen the show when I played through the game a few months ago, and my first impression was that some of the voice acting was a little stiff, and the sound effects were too over-the-top. But now that I’ve watched a few episodes, I realize that it’s actually a spot-on adaptation.
Grave Encounters is, by far, my favorite horror movie. Both a satire of, and tribute to shows like Ghost Hunters, the script and acting are both spot-on. Although several reviews called the plot “derivative” as a pejorative, but that’s missing the point. Of course it’s going to be derivative, the entire concept is “what if a Ghost Hunters filming uncovered real, malevolent spirits,” and it executes the conceit almost perfectly. The ‘Grave Encounters’ the title refers to is a fictional television show which supposedly pioneered the idea of ghost hunting reality shows. Everything is going well, and they are poised for success, then things go horribly wrong during the filming of their sixth episode.
I am not a John Constantine expert. I’ve never read the Hellblazer comics, and was only even aware they existed because of the Constantine movie, which I know I watched, but can’t remember anything about it. So I have no idea if the new NBC show is a good representation of the franchise (although it sounds like there are plenty of references to keep fans interested). But I do know that the first episode was a quality premiere, in the sense that I am curious to see where things are going and will keep watching.
When I started playing David Szymanski’s game The Moon Sliver, I expected to be bored. The description gave off a strong Dear Esther vibe, and despite my love for other non-game games like Gone Home and Kentucky Route Zero, Dear Esther didn’t click with me in the same way. It was too slow. Too empty. Too ponderous. The sort of thing that isn’t even really interactive, and would probably work better as a short film. But despite sharing many qualities with Dear Esther – isolation on an island, no real puzzles, somewhat cryptic narrative – The Moon Sliver was much more compelling, and wouldn’t work if you weren’t in control of the action.
If you read the reviews for Tragnarion Studios‘ Scourge: Outbreak, you might get the impression that it’s borderline unplayable, and possibly killed the reviewer’s mother, so it was with a fair amount of trepidation that I bought the game. I wouldn’t have even considered buying Scourge, but my desire for an over-the-top shooter was strong, and the reasonably priced options were limited. So while I expected a borderline painful experience, which I would only endure until my urge to virtually shoot things had passed, I was pleasantly surprised to instead have an entertaining 10ish hours of blasting through a mainstream science fiction movie.