Fine tuned for combat
While you may be tempted by the flashy melee upgrades, stay away from them unless you want to have an awful and painful experience for the duration of the game. Grab the upgrade that heals you for every enemy you kill first, then plod down the health and gun upgrades. You can out fight melee enemies, but you can’t outgun the long range enemies. So your best bet will be to outfit yourself to take them out quickly. Spread shot is your friend.
This powerlessness also extends to combat. You'll encounter long-range and melee enemies on the road to Scottsdale, and I.R.I.S. has abilities to deal with both. The melee combat is fantastically fun. You button mash like crazy, throwing Pablo around and delivering up to 500-hit combos (where each 100 hits adds another visual element to your rampage). If an opponent is able to get a hit on you, a quick press of the A button at just the right time will counter them and keep your combo going. It’s fun, exciting, engaging, and requires some skill.
The long-range combat, in essence, is exactly the opposite: it’s frustrating, difficult, and there’s no way to outplay the AI. Basically, your health just ticks down by the second as you flounder back and forth, trying to get your damn motorcycle to lock onto enemies for long enough to kill them. It’s unfortunate because this is the majority of the gameplay, with the more fun and rewarding melee combat taking a back seat.
There are ways to abate this frustration though, and that’s through the upgrade system. Throughout levels there are checkpoints where you get a grade and a number score based on how well you did. Your rank may or may not depend on your accuracy, highest combo, health remaining, mission completion time, or something else entirely (I’m still really not sure); but regardless, you get a number score. This number translates into points that are spent upgrading I.R.I.S., and you can choose between her survivability, melee abilities, and gun abilities.
Unfortunately, while the temptation is to spend points upgrading your melee abilities to perform awesome combos, you usually have to put points into gun abilities just to be able to slog through the anti-fun gun fights. Forget buying the awesome helper drones and fire wheels, oh no, the need to progress means splashing points on reloading your ammunition 10% faster.
Strangely though, the inconsistent gameplay doesn't ruin the whole experience. For me, at least, qualms with fluidity didn’t negatively impact my enjoyment as much as they could have. Why? Because this game is beyond ridiculous. I was shaking my head and laughing during every cutscene, and some of the modes that get introduced are just abhorrently beautiful. They're so bad, they're actually good. Whether it’s flying through the air raining laser bullets down on battleships, or playing a Street Fighter reskin (complete with the same combos for I.R.I.S. as for Ryu), you'll never be bored while playing this tragically beautiful road trip.