Now Playing, the Goddamn Woman Driver edition – Saints Row 2, Planescape: TormentNovember 22, 2009
I believe it is customary on these gaming blog things to talk about what you’re playing. I believe that may even be the entire point of having one, assuming anything humans do beyond “have sex a lot and try not to die” actually has some sort of point, which is debatable. Actually, it’s debatable whether the continuation of the species in itself has some sort of point, but if we get too deep here I’m gonna feel weird talking about Saints Row 2.
Jump cut for the sake of front-page tidiness goes here.
So, Saints Row 2. I am terrible at it. I keep driving off overpasses and running over cab fares (the passenger kind, not the money kind) and getting hit by trains and shot by cops — I keep telling them that if they stop coming after me and shooting at me I will be happy to stop killing them but do they listen? No. They are all “Hey, bitch, that was my partner!” and I am all “What was I supposed to do; he was shooting at me! And I’m really sorry about all those pedestrians, it’s just that the reverse on these cars works exactly opposite from the way it works on a real car and I get confused! Once I’ve retrained myself to back up in these cars I will probably forget how to back up in real cars and run over someone’s abuela! Also hiding behind your car door like that does nothing to prevent me from shooting at you, see? I can totally still shoot you! Great, now I have to explain this all over again to the next cop!”
Leaving aside my ineptitude and the suicidal persistence of law enforcement, the main thing that strikes me about Saints Row 2 is how much of a chick game it is, despite its veneer of gangbanger swagger. The character customization has, I think, more sliders than anything I’ve ever seen (four for the upper lip alone!), you can buy new apartments and upgrade their furnishings, and oh my God, Becky, the clothes shopping. If your conversation tree wasn’t limited to Taunt / Compliment / Shoot / Throw Mailbox At / Beat With Nightstick / Run Over With Car, it’d pretty much be the Sims. (It wouldn’t, really, not even close. Sometimes I just want to say things and not worry about whether or not they’re true. Pudding gives you cancer. Sharon Stone built the pyramids. Your lips move because they’re filled with miniature lobsters and every time you frown, five of them die.)
As far as I know, Saints Row 2 doesn’t track your alignment; your character starts life as chaotic evil and is given mostly chaotic evil things to do. (You do rescue hookers from their “abusive pimps” and deliver them to a presumably-not-abusive-but-grouchy massage-parlor madam, which seems like a good deed maybe, or at least neutral?) I always feel kind of bad playing evil in games (sure, they’re just pixels and a row in a database, but they’re pixels and a row in a database that haven’t done anything to me), but hot damn is it fun to just take somebody’s car and drive it into the side of a burger joint. (I also enjoy inflicting my taste in radio stations on my hostages. If they didn’t want to listen to my music, they shouldn’t have been riding around in someone else’s car minding their own damn business.) This game is a good time, is what I’m getting at.
Pretending for a moment that this sentence is a clever segueway onto games that do have fancy alignment tracking, I just finished Planescape: Torment, which took for freaking ever. It’s the first Bioware-style RPG I’ve played, which, if you’re unfamiliar with the genre, is like a regular Western RPG only with fifty million more dialogue trees. This makes for absolutely insane levels of worldbuilding, story, and me going “fuck this I’m checking the walkthrough.” Oh, not initially, mind you. When I started playing everything was fresh and huge and a joy to explore, partially because of all that worldbuilding, partially because the Planescape was not somewhere I’d been before — a surprisingly rare thing in fantasy, which allegedly can take us anywhere but generally takes us to a muddy Middle Earth knockoff populated strictly with Tolkien-approved races and seventeen different kinds of bonus elf. (High elves, dark elves, wood elves, grain elves, mythril elves, sucrose elves, fructose elves, half-elves, quarter-elves, cotton-poly-blend elves, muffin elves, corn elves, denial elves, disaster elves, secular humanist elves, frozen burrito elves, surly bastard doorman elves, and those are just the ones from Morrowind.) Yahtzee talks about this in his Dragon Age Origins review, how strange it is that it’s even possible to get so sick of things that, by definition, do not actually exist, that witnessing their nonexistence just one more time will make you absolutely swear to God blow chunks.
So, major points to Planescape: Torment for its world, which is inventive and cheerfully macabre. (I have never seen a bar tab settled with an eyeball before. Nor have I heard a creation story that involved a god’s severed penis falling onto a goddess’s face. I am not even sure how that one is supposed to work.) What sent me to the walkthrough: there are fifty kajillion NPCs, most of whom will cheerfully answer somewhere between three to ten questions. Each of the answers might end with itself, or lead you deeper into the dialogue tree. Some trigger stories that would take up a couple pages in an RPG sourcebook, and would be perfectly at home in one. (Asymmetric Fun Fact: Most of the reading material in the office bathroom consists of a crate of RPG sourcebooks. This and the Boris Vallejo calendar make it a very nerdly place to poop.) What I am getting at is that a point comes when talking to every single NPC (“Hi! I’m Bob the window cleaner, whose arms are terribly mutilated! Would you like to hear the horrible tale of my regrettable past? It’s got windows in it! Dirty ones!”) sort of palls. If you don’t, though, you might miss the one line of dialogue with the one particular NPC that just happens to open the next whole area of the game.
Oh, and there’s one particular bit where person C will not mention thing X about person A until you’ve asked person A about thing X, which lets you ask person B about person A, at which point they mention person C, whom you can now ask about thing X. So, not only are we supposed to ask every single NPC about everything, we’re supposed to check back with them in case they’ve suddenly acquired new lines of dialogue. Fuck. That. Shit.
Oh, and I forgot to mention that all this talking-to-NPCs-about-their-magic-gout business is going on while you are trying to investigate the compelling mystery of your own forgotten past and bizarre inability to die. (Yes, it’s a waking-up-with-amnesia game, but it’s one with an absolutely legitimate doctor’s excuse for it. You don’t have to punch anybody. I promise.) A certain amount of runaround is necessary in these things to drag out the mystery – it makes things very dull if one second after waking up with amnesia, you remember that you’re William Randolph Hearst and Rosebud is your nickname for your mistress’s vagina, which killed Laura Palmer – but Planescape: Torment drags it out a tiny bit too far for my taste. (“I don’t know the thing you want to know, but I know someone who knows someone who knows where to look for someone who might know the thing you want to know, and I’ll tell you where to find them after you complete these five quests. Start walkin’, cowboy.”)
I feel like I’m spending too much time bitching about what amounts to a minor pacing issue, though, and the game is way way better than all this crankiness would indicate. I also feel like I’m spending too much time not friggin’ posting this already. Um um um what else. The combat system could be better, but it’s not really the point. Oh, and if you’re going to play it on your shiny new post-1999 PC, pimp it out first. Are we done? I’m done. Are you done?