Revisiting Saints Row 4 – Still an absolute blast

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Developer: Volition; Publisher: Deep Silver

Release Date: August 20th, 2013; Reviewed on: PC

Hardware: Core i5-6500 3.2 GhZ, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070

 

Saints Row 4 is exactly an over the top fun experience the gaming industry largely forgot how to make, filled with a sense of humor, fast-paced action and an excellent soundtrack to sweeten the deal. It blows expectations out of the water, distancing its nature as far as possible from competitors on the scale of silliness, and never stops surprising during its playtime. It is a game i find myself frequently coming back to, simply to unwind from heavy exposition or storytelling of modern games, and its bombastic nature brings out all the best in action gaming. You’d feel like riding a giant roller coaster made up of explosions and swearing: one that never shows signs of slowing down for even a moment. The gaming industry produced far too few exhilarating experiences since, and years on, Saints Row 4 is still an absolute blast to come back to.

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Revisiting Banished – Not an Average City Builder

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Developer, Publisher: Shining Rock Software

Release Date: February 18th, 2014; Review Platform: PC

Testing Specifications: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070 8GB

 

Banished is unlike a typical city builder you encounter, with its focus on lower scale management and the survival aspect. Yet the experience is very absorbing as you manage a group of exiled villagers into growing a settlement. Playing through Banished reveals a deliberate balance of expansion and survival tactics, where anything can go wrong within a single weather season. You’d be fooled into associating it’s calm music background and a small scale with a relaxing experience, as it is anything but; although it is incredibly rewarding to grow your village into an expansive town. Being able to build a large settlement is both an extreme test of player skill and a rewarding outcome, but getting there is not an easy road. The many interesting design choices make Banished a unique spin on the genre, which hasn’t been replicated quite often, and if you’re willing to put up with its slow pace, the game offers a very rewarding experience.

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Revisiting Sleeping Dogs – Straight Outta Action Movies

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Game: Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition, Release Date: October 8th, 2014

Developer: United Front Games; Publisher: Square Enix

Reviewed On: PC

Hardware: Core i5-6500 3.2GHz; 16GB DDR4 RAM; GeForce GTX1070 8GB

 

Sleeping Dogs was one of the sleeper hits back in 2012 and is a game that I’ve come to greatly enjoy over the years. It was one of the games to hit my back catalog for a very long period of time, as I simply thought that one completion would be enough. It took me a while to discover the value of the game and enjoying its story for the second time made it as one of my best games of all time. Sleeping Dogs features one of the most spectacular cities in a video game, that not only provides a playground for players, but also flows full of atmosphere. Sleeping Dogs didn’t do anything new at the time, and many sandbox games since then have offered a larger number of features, but the design quality exceeds expectations. The game is expertly put together, and all of its systems come together so well that different actions flow seamlessly together, and the free-running system is one of the best in a third-person game.

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Sleeping Dogs’ city of Hong Kong is one of the most spectacular locations I have seen in a game. It’s a city full of people and traffic, but the detail and colors make it look much more diverse than a standard urban landscape. The city is a faithful reproduction of real world Hong Kong, so many landmarks can be seen in the game. Sleeping Dogs doesn’t just bring the setting across either, it also fills it up to the brim with atmosphere. Simply cruising down the street and taking in the view is incredibly satisfying, and Sleeping Dogs features some spectacular points. The rising sun over the harbor, the flow of winding roads down Victoria Peak, or the intense lights of downtown at night – all create a sense of immersion in the setting where you feel like you’re actually visiting there. Its certainly the cheapest way to visit Hong Kong, and you get a lot of fun in this action game.

Aside from its spectacular setting, Sleeping Dogs also has a great plot, one of the best I’ve seen out of this type of game. The story is still significantly behind the quality of RPG titles, but then its not meant to be the central point in a sandbox game. Sleeping Dogs easily overshadows the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row with its excellent voice acting and a varied cast. The game excellently combines two sides of a story: an undercover police officer and a member of a Triad gang. This doesn’t add as much complexity to the plot as I’d like, and the player rarely has choice in the matter, but with that said, two progression paths make up for a varied experience. Investigation cases linked to the main plot appear throughout the game and serve as optional side puzzles, although complexity they lack. These missions are the only time where you earn only the police experience, as Triad missions usually focus on shooting and destruction with the optional choice to limit the damage to get more police experience. Moreover, there is no moral choice of any sort to be made in this story, which ultimately wastes the potential for further variety. The story still remains one of the best in a sandbox game, full of tense moments and great character development.

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Sleeping Dogs has aged quite well, and paired up with a modern gaming system, it looks really detailed. In the Definitive Edition, paired with my GTX 1070, Sleeping Dogs can often rival many of 2016’s releases and I’ve been able to achieve great results across the board. Its hardly among the most currently demanding games, but drive in Central at day or night, and you’ll be surprised how much detail is in the locales. Sleeping Dogs has been out for a while and in the process earned the ultimate experience brought by the Definitive Edition, which improved the game graphically. The rain effects are very detailed and the game sometimes looks at its best in the middle of the downpour. Regardless of the time of day, Hong Kong looks spectacular, and all the environments naturally blend together.

At its core, Sleeping Dogs is the usual take on the sandbox genre, providing a large city to explore and filling it up with stuff to do. The game doesn’t feel at all different from Grand Theft Auto, but it has some interesting systems to make the game fun. A strong emphasis on hand-to-hand combat over guns lands the game into the Batman Arkham series territory, but with that said, it has a lot of very satisfying melee moves. Sleeping Dogs makes it easy to deal with a lot of opponents through its robust melee system, and although its combat system is the standard mash-up of countering and attacking, a lot of variation has been fitted on top of it. Special moves are learned throughout the game and these offer the most satisfying results. When guns come into play later in the game, fighting groups of thugs yields way to high-speed car chases and intense gunfights. Sleeping Dogs always keeps the experience varied, although its first few hours would have you think otherwise.

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Sleeping Dogs is very memorable because of its setting and an engaging plot, but one of the things I liked the most would be quite surprising. And that is its cars. Sleeping Dogs features some of the best cars in an open-world game and you’ll spend a lot of time in its fantastic cars. There is a plethora of high-end exclusive cars, and once the money is rolling in, buying cars is pretty much the only way to spend it. Thankfully, there is plenty of interesting cars available to buy, and they can be accessed anytime at one of the city’s garages. But with that said, it isn’t the cars that make this game good.

Sleeping Dogs is still one of my favorites for having one of the most immersive settings in the game (I actually want to visit Hong Kong after), which is not only detailed, but filled with atmosphere and culture of the real place. Missions are very entertaining, offering a lot of high-adrenaline action and tense cutscenes. Additionally, the game has aged very well and still holds up to be a great-looking game. It might not have the graphics of Battlefield 1 or the detail of Witcher 3, but the game strikes a balance right in the middle. Sleeping Dogs was one of the sleeper hits back in 2012 and it’s already lost a lot of relevance, but I still have a lot of fun revisiting it from time to time and its one of the best settings to spend time in.