Monday, March 28, 2011

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood: A Short Review

Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is the latest addition to the Assassin's Creed series, the release date being November 16th 2010. It was developed by Ubisoft Montreal primarily with the multiplayer being developed by Ubisoft Annecy.

This is going to be a bit briefer than my previous reviews mainly because this isn't really Assassin's Creed 3, but more of a 2.5 edition. The plot continues the story of Ezio Auditore and his fight against the Borgia. The entire game takes place in Rome and it is an amazing feeling to climb places such as the Colosseum.

The plot in this game takes a dive from the last game, it's slightly less engaging and overall more boring. It's still a great story, far better than a lot of the rubbish out there, just not as great as the second game.

The problems of the second game are still here with the clunky movement at times and combat is still insanely easy.

But where the game really shines is the multiplayer. I have to give it up to Ubisoft Annecy, this is one game series I never thought would have multiplayer. The multiplayer in this game is extremely innovative; I can't think of another game like it.

In an age of Call of Duty and CoD clones, this mutliplayer is a refreshing smack in the face. It's still extremely competitive and you're still killing other players. But just like in the single player campaign you're rewarded by using stealth and sneakiness to assassinate your opponents. Ubisoft implemented a leveling system that rewards you with more weapons, skills, perks, and character models to choose from, although I'm not a fan of most leveling systems it still seems pretty fair and balanced. The times I've played it's rare to run into other players that out level you by more than 3 levels.

Overall it's a great game and the multiplayer alone is well worth the $60 price tag that it released at.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Assassin's Creed II: A Brief Review

The second installment of the Assassin's Creed series was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, published by Ubisoft, and released November 17th 2009. By dropping the other two development companies that worked on the first game Ubisoft made a game that was leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor.

Assassin's Creed II begins with a whole new story, beautiful graphics, more intriguing characters, and a far superior plot. It is still a sequel in the truest sense of the word, but Altair is no longer present in the game, except in a series of flashbacks. You continue to play as Desmond Miles, however the sluggishness of the first game is absent from the second entry.

Ubisoft Montreal did a fantastic job of picking up the plot and running with it. They removed the sluggishness of the first one by making the jump between Animus sessions and the modern world less frequent and when in the modern world there are two new characters to learn about all the while learning about the fight between the Assassin's and the Templars.

Ezio was a far more interesting character with a more interesting life than Altair. This is probably helped by the fact that you play Ezio basically from birth, through some of his adventures as a lady-wooing teenager, through his family's murder and clear through his inducement into the Assassin order.

The turn that Ubisoft Montreal took with the pieces of Eden was fantastic. I love the blend of sci-fi and historical context. The puzzles left as clues by the previous test subject are challenging but the video unlocked it well worth it to find and solve all of them.

Assassin's Creed II also introduces two new characters, Rebbecca and Shaun, two of the remaining Assassin's you end up training with. Rebbecca is an engineer, who created and improved the Animus based on Abstergo's design, and Shaun is the data analyst for the entire Assassin Brotherhood. Both characters come across as genuine and believable. And both make you want to learn more about them through the optional dialogue, it had me hooked. Lucy is still there and is still an extremely likable character, possibly even more so now that she isn't an Abstergo employee and is more herself, as an Assassin.

This is compounded by a great cast of characters inside the Animus world also; ranging from Leonardo Da Vinci, to Machiavelli. These characters are all fantastically done and their personalities transfer really well into video game characters. Over the course of the game you see Ezio's and Desmond's relationships with these people grow and mature, more Ezio than Desmond, but that's to be expected when 90% of the game is played through the eyes of Ezio.

However, even with all the praise the game is still flawed. There's a few extremely awkward camera angles and the controls still aren't as fluid as they should be for a game with parkour as a central feature. Combat is still sickingly easy, possibly even easier than in the first. Although the submissions in this game are vastly improved and no longer a real necessity, the ones that are there aren't too varied but they removed the least fun one from the game entirely.

The game does exactly what a sequel should do, fix the problems of the previous game, improve on the general game, and expand the story. The game is enjoyable while playing, but it really is the story that'll keep you coming back for more. Overall the game is worth a purchase with the price tag being right around $20.

Pax East 2011

PAX East, the Penny Arcade Expo on the East coast, was a week or so ago. Nothing major was really announced. Mostly it was just previews and demos of games announced at either E3 or PAX Prime. Still sadly I wasn't in the attending; living in the Midwest kind of sucks in that way.

However there was a demo available for Portal 2 (I'll try to have a video up later), Fire Fall looks promising, in the way that ABP looked promising. And Wizards of the Coast is finally releasing their own version of a virtual tabletop.

Portal 2 is slated to release mid-April. And I couldn't be more excited. Valve has announced that Portal 2's single player and co-op length is two and half times the length of the original Portal. It's still retained that Portal comedy that made the first one so amazing and the inclusion of a co-op multiplayer is a fantastic addition, especially considering it's going to be two different stories and sets of map.

Fire Fall is an online only Third Person Shooter. It looks to have promise, but the little I've seen seems like the game is a quite a ways from release. With only three playable classes it looks to be a mediocre experience extremely subpar when compared to games like Team Fortress 2. If they don't beef it up some it'll be just another lackluster game in a market oversaturated with lackluster and shitty games.

Now what I'm most excited for. Wizards of the Coast has done a great job of attempting to bring new players into the fold of Dungeons and Dragons. They've set up D&D encounters at game stores across the country, where beginners can just join in, so long as they have a set of dice. They've produced two board games, Castle Ravenloft and Wrath of Ashardalon, both a mix of Dungeons and Dragons and a typical board game. They've rereleased the famous Red Box, the newbie's guide to D&D essentially. Many 3.5 players believe that 4e is a simplified game, and if that wasn't simplified enough Wizards of the Coast just released the Essentials which further simplifies the game to allow new players.

Wizards of the Coast's newest project will help both new players and experienced players alike. Dungeons and Dragons Virtual Tabletop is essentially an official version of Maptools. It allows players to play with friends from pretty much anywhere with an internet connection. As much as I like the open source community, when you have an actual developer making something it tends to be leaps and bounds ahead of the freeware version. D&D: VT is currently in closed beta and doesn't have a release date yet, but I'm eager to get my hands on it.


Apologies are in order, I've been extremely busy as of late with the start of my second set of eight week classes and with a few friends and family back in town from places abroad. I've also been working out the logistics of moving the blog into more of a video format, something a bit more entertaining.

I'll have at least the third part of the Assassin's Creed review up tomorrow and a decent size post about PAX East which just wrapped up. So bear with me while I get everything back on track and it'll all be back up and running in no time.

Anyone who's done a bit of video reviews, let's play or even podcasts got any advice to a newbie at it all?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nothing is True. Everything is Permitted. - Assassin's Creed Review

Let’s tackle the first game first. Assassin’s Creed was released November 14th 2007. It was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Gameloft, and Griptonite Games and published by Ubisoft.

The first game in the series has a lot of things going for it. But primarily it is the visuals; the graphics are extremely well done especially considering the release date. The cities are extremely massive and there are three of them, Damascus, Jerusalem, Acre, all with multiple sections and gorgeous visuals. There is also the land in between them known as the Kingdom also massive and the Assassin Stronghold of Masyaf. The story of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, Desmond’s assassin ancestor during the Crusades, was brilliantly written. It had an intriguing plot and I couldn’t wait to figure out what happened next. The characters were believable and the villains were not clichéd in the least and exceptionally brilliant, especially Al Mualim. The plot twist at the end was sheer brilliance and next to impossible to see coming.

The plot and the visuals are really the only thing going for the game. The series as a whole is plagued by mediocre controls. For parkour being a large part of the game it isn’t fluid movement and sometimes the main characters in the game do stuff that you didn’t mean for them to do. It is most likely caused by an over simplification of controls and is probably just a byproduct of playing it on the Xbox 360. Another problem that plagues the series as a whole is the combat for a game that claims to stealth based and is called ASSASSIN’S Creed there is a lot of open combat and once you get the counter ability it makes it a joke. To win in against any number of combatants the player just needed to stand there and press the counter button, “X” on the 360, at the appropriate time and the player could not die.

The main problem with the first game is the times you are not playing as Altaïr, being pulled out of the Animus periodically completely removes you from the narrative of Altaïr and makes the game seem slow and sluggish. The mechanic was soundly done in the other games, but in the first one Desmond gets pulled from the Animus for two lines of dialogue and then a short walk to his bed to continue to the next day.

There were also way too many collectibles in the game. City or area had a set of flags that Altaïr was supposed to collect. Many of the cities had multiple sets of flags due to the different influences in the different districts. On top of having to collect flags Altaïr is also charged with killing Templars positioned all over the map, however unlike the flags killing the Templars was fun but didn’t add much to the actual gameplay. This is a problem with many games on the market and it’s hard to hold it against the game since it is entirely optional and has no bearing on the game.

Assassin’s Creed also got pretty repetitive. The main story was fantastic, although not varied. The sub-missions leading up to the main story mission were repetitive. Before the player can complete the main storyline in each district there are a set of submissions meant for the player to complete, using all the watchtowers, saving citizens from guards, pick pocketing information, beating information out of people, race missions, and assassinating a certain number of guards. Every one of these missions was essentially the same as the ones previous to it and although for the most part optional if you wanted the best shot at killing your main target it was best to take care of all the sub-missions.

Assassin’s Creed was the worst game in the entire series so far. It is a skippable entry; the second game has a complete story rundown in the beginning. It was enjoyable for the most part, but if you’re not concerned with actually playing it I suggest just skipping it and moving on to the much better Assassin’s Creed II.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nothing is True. Everthing is Permitted. - The Story Thus Far

My name is Desmond Miles and this is my story. I was kidnapped by a Templar front company called Abstergo and forced to relive my ancestors’ lives. First I lived as Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad an assassin that lived during the crusades fighting the Templars. Next I lived as Ezio Auditore, my ancestor that lived in Renaissance Italy, who also fought the Templars. I got pulled into this war between the Assassins and the Templars in the search for Eden.

And so begins Assassin’s Creed. These past couple of weeks I’ve put in roughly 60-65 hours into the Assassin’s Creed games, AC: I, AC: II, and AC: Brotherhood. I’ve played the entire series, discounting the Facebook game and the one for the PSP, in the span of two weeks, and am thoroughly impressed with the games. That isn’t to say there aren’t faults in them but we’ll get to that soon.

The Story Thus Far (There Be Spoilers Here)

The game begins with Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad assassinating a Templar executioner before Desmond, the story’s protagonist, de-syncs from the Animus, a machine that allows people to relive their ancestors’ memories from their DNA. Desmond awakes from the machine in a lab surrounded by Viddic, the closest thing the antagonists have as a face and personality, and his lab assistant Lucy. Viddic explains that Desmond has information they’re after; despite Desmond’s protests of having no idea what they are talking about and denying that he is an assassin.

Viddic and Lucy put Desmond back into the Animus to relive Altaïr’s memories in search for what is only known as a piece of Eden. During this stint in the Animus Altaïr is given orders to kill Templar agents on both sides of the Crusade by the Assassin leader, Al Mualim. By doing so he prompts the lead Templar, Robert De Sable, to convene with both armies in an attempt to turn them against the Assassins. After their fight to the death De Sable tells Altaïr that Al Mualim was actually a Templar and plans to use the piece of Eden to control the people. Upon Altaïr’s return to the assassin stronghold he finds that the people are in a near zombielike state and under the control of Mualim. Altaïr fights Mualim killing him in the process, with the apple in Altaïr’s hand a hologram of the world is projected from it. On the hologram are markers all around the globe.

Being pulled out of the Animus at this point, Desmond is told that those markers are possible locations of other pieces of Eden and that Abstergo, the company holding him hostage wants them and that he is no longer needed. Lucy steps up and explains that they might need an assassin’s knowledge to get past the defenses to retrieve the pieces of Eden, thereby saving Desmond’s life. After the meeting with Viddic and other Abstergo executives, Lucy takes Desmond to the side giving him a sign that she’s actually an assassin and a friend.

It’s now that Desmond finds out about what is known as the bleeding effect. After everyone leaves, presumably to search for the pieces of Eden, Desmond’s eagle vision kicks in and allows him to see writing in blood, everywhere; different symbols with no discernible meaning. And that’s when the curtain closes on the first game.

After a brief recount of the last game, Desmond is awoken by Lucy and told that they’re both leaving. She explains that she’s as much as prisoner as he is and that she’s planned a prison break. Together they break out of Abstergo and join a couple of assassins, Rebecca and Shaun, at a nearby hideout. After making themselves comfortable, or at least as comfortable as an organization on the run can be, Desmond explains what he saw at the end of the first game, primarily the writing in blood on the walls. Lucy explains that the bleeding effect is when he begins taking on characteristics of his ancestors, being able to do what they can essentially, however it comes at a cost, the most likely one being his sanity. The person that had written on the walls in his own blood was the test subject before Desmond and after using the Animus so many times had lost his grip on reality and was hallucinating his ancestors’ memories. But the assassin’s intend to use the bleeding effect to train Desmond to become a full fledged assassin. Rebecca, using schematics given to her by Lucy, built their own version of the Animus that’s supposedly better than the ones at Abstergo.

Upon reentry into the Animus Desmond finds that he is now living the life of Ezio Auditore, his ancestor that lived during the Italian Renaissance, beginning from his birth. Ezio is born to a family of assassin’s yet does not know so, as far as he knows he’s just another Italian teenager born to a wealthy banking family. Giovanni Auditore, Ezio’s father, uncovers a plot to overthrow the Medici family in Florence led by the Templars, mainly Rodrigo Borgia. Because he discovers this plot him and his family are charged with treason and hanged. Only Ezio, his mother, and his sister Claudia, escape to their uncle’s villa in Tuscany. This sets Ezio on a path of revenge against the conspirators. Going through the list of conspirators he meets people such as Le Volpe, the Fox, a famous thief of the time, his uncle Mario, and an entire Thieves Guild. He follows Borgia to Venice and attacks him on his trip back from Cyprus, the island where Altaïr hid the apple of Eden. During the confrontation all of his allies from the game reveal themselves to be assassins and accept Ezio into the order. They take back the apple but Borgia escapes.

Years later, the memories in between are inaccessible, Rodrigo Borgia has been elected Pope and is now, arguably, the most powerful man in all of Rome. Ezio assaults the Vatican with the help of the other assassins. Ezio chases Rodrigo Borgia into a vault under the Vatican where they fight, however Ezio cannot bring himself to kill Boriga, instead opting to combine the Papal staff, another piece of Eden, and the apple to open the actual vault. Where he encounters “Minerva” who explains, not to Ezio but to Desmond, that they were there before humans and created the first humans. She explained that they were not gods but just advanced and that there was something major going to happen that only Desmond can prevent. And it’s with this revelation that the second game ends.

Brotherhood begins where Assassin’s Creed II left off. Desmond, still being Ezio Auditore, is back at his Uncle’s Villa. That’s when the Borgia forces attack the Villa in an attempt to exterminate the Assassins. Mario is killed during the attack and the Apple is taken from the Assassins. Ezio and his family head to Rome to meet up with the other assassins, primarily La Volpe and Machiavelli. Ezio with the help of the other assassins begin to liberate Rome from Borgia control, eventually weakening their support enough to plan an attack on the entire Borgia family. After Ezio cuts Cesare’s financial aid to his army by killing a man known only as the Banker, Cesare returns to Rome to plead for Vatican funds from his father. Ezio witnesses Rodrigo Borgia’s, the Pope, attempt to kill his son Cesare Borgia, the leader of the Vatican armies. Instead Lucrezia, Cesare’s sister and lover also the Pope’s daughter, warns him of the plot. Using the poisoned apple his father had intended for him he kills Rodrigo. Cesare then races to the Apple which is across the Vatican district, Ezio beats him there and takes out his guards using the power of the Apple. Cesare is then arrested by the Papal guards when attempting to re-takeover Rome for incest and murder. Ezio not believing that Cesare will remain in prison checks the Apple and finds that Cesare had escaped prison and was assaulting a city. Ezio shows up and ends Cesare’s life by throwing him off the battlements.

Back in 2012 using the location of where Ezio hid the Apple Desmond, Lucy, Shaun, and Rebecca head to the Coliseum to find it. Desmond finds the hidden vault chamber and the entire group goes in. Desmond picks up the apple and time freezes. It is explained by a being called Juno, that he needs to find Eve to enter the Gate with him. But that the Cross darkens the horizon. Juno then forces Desmond to open his hidden blade and stab Lucy. As the closing credits roll Juno’s voice is heard saying it is done.

There's more to come. What're your thoughts on the series? And on a completely unrelated note, did anyone else have problems getting on yesterday? When I attempted to update it told me I needed to enable cookies and javascript, but both were already enabled.

(edit: Added the plot summary for Brotherhood)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

More Information About the 3DS

With the release of the list of release titles, I was extremely disappointed in Nintendo. Not a single decent game was slated for release, much less a decent first party title. Nintendo's first party titles have always been a major selling point for both handhelds and consoles, mainly the Mario and Zelda franchises.

To my dismay Mario wasn't a launch title for the 3DS, which happens to be the first system everyone's favorite Italian plumber won't be launching on. Very little information has been released about the first Mario game on the 3DS. What little is known is that it is being made by the team of developers that have made the Super Mario Galaxy games. And that it will be elaborated on at E3 this year. The announcement that more will be announced at E3 is devastating. There is no way I'd could possibly see myself buying a 3DS without some decent first party titles, with at least one Mario game. This announcement seems to say that we will not see a Mario 3D title until Q3 2011, at the earliest.

Even with the exclusion of decent first party titles until summer, the 3DS does have something going for it. Two something's to be more precise. It's been announced by Nintendo that the 3DS will have a service that allows people to stream 3D movie trailers. This is an interesting concept considering currently the only way to see 3D trailers actually in 3D are via theaters and that's only if you paid the extra $10 to watch the 3D version of a movie. As an avid moviegoer this has piqued my interest in the 3DS a bit more, but with the lack of any real games I still can't see myself purchasing the system.

If you didn't guess by the image above the 3DS will be able to stream via Netflix also. Usually I would say that this is a major bonus to the 3DS. AS interesting of a choice this is, the only problem with it is that Netflix is quite literally everywhere. Anything with any bit of technology in it already has Netflix; computers, a majority of phones, every game console, some televisions, and more than a few blu-ray players. So is it honestly necessary to include it with the 3DS? A majority of consumers looking to buy a 3DS most likely have Netflix in some better, or more portable form. What would make this a major plus in the 3DS's favor would be the addition of 3D movies to the Netflix queue, assuming bandwidth would allow it. Being able to watch portable 3D movies without the need to glasses would be an amazing technological achievement and really just bitchin'.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Humble Bundle School Shooters

The Humble Indie Bundle is one of my favorite things to come out of the gaming industry in some time. For those of you not in the know, The Humble Indie Bundle is a group of games released, the most current consisting of Braid, Cortex Command, Machinarium, Osmos, and Revenge of the Titans.

A group of games is nothing special, nor is a group of indie games, Steam runs sales on indie bundle packs almost constantly. However the difference here is you get to set the price, and got to set how your money got divided. With the options of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Child's Play, the developers, or the people running the Humble Bundle site.

Most people would suspect that a self-pricing game market is a terrible idea and that no one would possibly make money. In this case most people would be wrong. The latest reports on the profits made from the Humble Bundle project show that the latest bundle brought in three (3) million dollars. With a million of it going to the EFF and Child's Play. That leaves a two (2) million dollar profit to be split between five indie developers. That seems like quite the pay day to me.

Now onto something not quite as up-beat. Apparently, there is a source mod in the works that allows the player to shoot up a school. This is appalling, yet oddly interesting. I will probably never play it, but I can't wait to see the media fallout, which I severely hope there will be.

The game is called "School Shooter North American Tour 2012" and is being made by Checkerboarded Studios. Supposedly it will have six (6) realistic levels, a points system, and weapons used by actual spree killers. The entire game ends when the main character shoots himself at the end of his spree.

This game is appalling on so many levels its hard to even explain. I've never had a problem with violent video games, quite the contrary I encourage violent video games so long as they aren't violent for the sake of it. I doubt that School Shooter will be any good, as most of the games that attempt to shock and appall the audience this much rarely are.

What're your thoughts on School Shooter 2012? And check out the Humble Bundle link, subscribe to it. Check out the EFF and Child's Play, linked in the text above, both are great charities and deserving of your money.