The Liberation of Roma Has Begun: Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

How do you take a powerful character in a video game and make him weak again? The usual trope is to remove weapons (and possibly skills). Ubisoft did that with Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, but they take it one step farther. They changed the combat.

I’m going to start with what I don’t like about the third game in this excellent franchise. I have never played a game a felt so conflicted. Love it? Hate it? I wish I knew how to quit it.

Combat. The changes to the combat in the game have been getting a lot of praises in the mainstream press. They love it. Certainly, it moves quicker and the “execution” animations are very cool, but I didn’t think the changes were all that necessary. Apparently, I was one of the few who liked the combat in the first two games and was able to master it. It took me a long time to unlearn all those skills and button combinations. Instead of a counter-attack type of affair, it’s become either counter, dodge, or kick with the order of the three listed from least to greatest. You’re going to kick—a lot. “Knee to the gut. Knee to the gut. Knee to the gut. Is he weak enough yet? Nope. More knees to the gut. He’s down? Oh, now I can use my weapon.”

Story.
This is a mixed bag because Ezio’s journey is not all that epic, but Desmond’s is pretty important. If anything, it’s a heavily glorified epilogue to Ezio’s story. He was powerful at the end of AC2, but not as much as you thought. Leonardo is back and he’s pretty much regulated to strictly weapons manufacture and destruction. He’s basically a store. All that cool stuff you worked hard for in the second game? Easy pickings here. Got the moolah? Ca-ching, it’s in your inventory. As for Desmond, I cannot say much because you do play a lot more as him and I enjoyed every minute of it.

100 % synchronization. HATE. Of all the things that Ubisoft added this is the one I dislike the most. Many of the missions have an added bonus requirement that range from incredibly easy to absurd. You can still complete the mission, but you won’t get 100% synchronization (completion) of the memory. Many times I would get within seconds of completing an objective, and I would be spotted by a guard (when normally not) or run out of time. After about 1/3 of the way through the game I basically said “forget it” and just went for mission finishes. (There went hopes of 100% total completion of the game.) Totally demoralizing.

Game progression.
Here’s a synopsis of my evolved thoughts as I played through the game: Neat -> Yes? -> Yes! -> Amazing! -> Game of the Year! -> Huh? -> WTH? -> Not again! -> No! -> Just finish the dang thing. There are a few missions towards the end of the game that take the established game rules and throw them completely out the window. Hyper-alert guards and bosses, Timed runs, and those incredibly stupid synchronization requirements. There’s an endgame weapon that should be the most amazing thing ever and ends up becoming and trial and error device. You have your other weapons on you but you are not ALLOWED TO USE them one bit. A few missteps towards the end diminished my enjoyment a little. The previous titles did rely on trial and error. Why do so now?

Even with all that, I still consider Brotherhood to be one of the better games of the year. Here’s what Iiked:

Mission variation. Even though it is set in one city, this game is HUGE and there are a large number of mission types. It’s never a dull moment traveling from place to place.

Recruiting assassins. Nothing is more pleasurable in this game than whistling while near an enemy and seeing your fellow assassins come from anywhere and stealthily take out a few adversaries. You recruit them, train them, and guide them to being a full assassin. They can die, however. Once an assassin reaches level ten there is a ceremony in your hideout. I had a problem with mine. My first one to do so, reached it during the endgame. A message constantly kept popping up saying I should go there and reward him. However, those endgame missions are closed. You play to the end. In the meantime I used him for one of those absurd missions for help and he died. No problem, I’ll just die and start over from the checkpoint. No freaking dice! I start from the beginning and he’s gone. All that work. Gone. Apparently when an assassin dies it remembers it even before a checkpoint. In the end it’s not a real biggie. Just train more. It’s fun.

Borgia towers.
Climbing towers is a a great mechanic for surveying the terrain. Ubisoft added this neat twist by having some of them be heavily guarded and with soldiers and led by a captain. You must assassinate the captain and then torch the tower to claim it. The ending animation for each one was an awesome stroke of badness as Ezio tosses a torch into the tower and jumps off the top. One caveat. The game has a tendency to show you the towers but then block you off from getting to them. You dies constantly due to going out of bounds of the play area. It’s confusing, especially when there are missions near those towers and you have to go around on an undefined map to get there.

Multiplayer. I think Ubisoft really hurt this title by focusing primarily on the online play in their marketing and interviews. It’s actually a small component of the game. The singleplayer dwarfs it by a longshot. However, In some cases Ubisoft was justified in mentioning it. It is a blast. Basically, it’s stab and be stabbed. It’s slow and methodical and a fine counter to all the twitch multiplayer titles.

Story. Even though I disliked it, I also liked it. (Figure that one out). This game does set the stage for Assassin’s Creed 3 and it’s going to be epic. Do I want to visit Ezio again. No. He’s awesome and my second favorite video game character of all time, but it’s time to move on before he becomes a caricature of himself. Desmond is going to rule.

Final thoughts.

I had more fun playing AC2 than I did this title. I was still thrilled but somewhat disappointed. However, it’s still one of the best titles that I’ve played this year. I had the chance to play it on my Acer XB and on my friend’s BenQ XR, these are the best gaming monitors.  I believe it to be a must buy, but be warned—especially if you were in love with the previous titles. It is different in some ways. There is nothing like the mythos of this series in video games. It should be experienced.

I played the PS3 version to completion at just around 26 hours. This has got to be the most disjointed review I’ve ever written. My thoughts are still mixed. Awesome but flawed. Flawed but awesome.

In [Nat’s] Hands: I Feel the Need for Speed with the Brotherhood

It’s been over a year since I’ve mentioned what’s “In My Hands” but my major gaming purchases ended yesterday with Need for Speed Hot Pursuit and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.

Initial Impressions

NFS:HP—I spent almost 100 hours with Burnout Paradise on two consoles. We’ve only played two hours but I think Criterion has convinced me to do it all over again. BUSTED.

AC:B—I’m only two hours into this game and it has now become my favorite game series of all time. It should have been Assassin’s Creed 3. Combat is richer, Rome is beautiful, and the multiplayer is a nice, quirky bonus.

Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

Here’s a little secret: I love Pac-Man CE. It’s the one game I’ve played the most on my iPod. (Oh, and Namco recently offered all the DLC for the game for free with leaderboards and gamer center [meh] support.)

Curiously, I don’t own it on the 360. That’s going to change with the DX version soon to grace 360 and PS3’s everywhere. Some of the powerups are intense. I love the last one pictured in the video.

Back to the Future [Behind the Scenes]

Stoked!

A Shattered Experience [Silent Hill: Shattered Memories Review]

Silent Hill: Shattered Memories for the Wii is an interactive book you cannot put down. At times, it’s a book you want to throw against the wall.

A re-imagining of the original Silent Hill, Shattered Memories pits you as Harry Mason. He’s just experienced a car accident outside town and is now looking for his young daughter Cheryl.  With a flashlight and cellphone, Harry traverses the city to, well, wander. This is not a bad thing, per se, because this game is all about atmosphere. The music, graphics, and excellent voice acting add to it.

The city of Silent Hill is seemingly deserted due to an incredible snow storm that is blanketing the area. Harry runs into no one. Well, almost no one. There are a few souls stuck in the snow as well. In an almost linear fashion due to some well placed snow banks, Harry goes from building to building searching for his daughter. Along the way he comes across clues not about Cheryl’s present whereabouts, but more from her past or his past or his wife’s past or some total strangers. (Good luck figuring it all out).

All this confusion is one of the driving forces behind the game. The narrative is superb and the ways the developer used to tell it is probably the best use of the Wii controls to date. Harry’s cellphone is essentially the Wii remote. All the phone calls come through the controller’s speaker. This add an uncanny sense of realism, and just like a real cellphone, it texts, takes pictures, has a GPS, and a contacts database.

HINT: Call every number you see in the game. They are all worth it. Some are pointless to the games progression, but add a lot of life and detail to an empty town.

The remote also acts as a light for Harry. It’s so intuitive that if you can operate a flashlight, you can play this game. Point where you want him to shine the light and it literally works.

As Harry walks around the city in some places a faint trace of static will sound on the controller. Get closer and it gets stronger. Eventually it gets so loud it will squawk and a paranormal event will happen. The game calls these “echos”–traces of something important that happened in the past. On some of them, you can use the camera to take shots of the scene and a ghost will appear in the images. It’s a creepy effect that works.

what a nightmare
With a game like this, there cannot be a sense of danger and in each area Harry experiences a nightmare. The landscape changes, freezes over, and everything turns dark. Harry must then navigate his way out of the area while being chased by humanoid creatures. If they catch up with you, it’s waggle time. The player must shake the remote in the direction the creature is hanging on you.

This really stinks. Many times a player can be overwhelmed by the creatures or end up running in circles by taking numerous dead end paths. Harry never dies, but the sequence starts all over. Get ready for replay city. There were two times in the game I had to walk away from playing for a day or so because it was too much. I was so wrapped up in the narrative that I wanted to get going. I hardly ever consult a walkthrough, but I ended up doing it on both those nightmare sequences. It’s a huge narrative-breaking bummer. The developer should have chosen to continue the narrative with the consequences of being caught in the nightmare as part of the game play. (See Heavy Rain.) They did with every other choice Harry made.

NOTE: The last nightmare sequence is brilliant and what all of them should have been.

this game will profile you–seriously
The major scenes of the game are introduced by the player meeting with a therapist. He’ll ask you questions about violence, sex, gender issues, integrity, and other such areas. This allows the game to profile you and actually changes parts of the game based upon your personality. It also effects a lot of details in the end of the game. (There is one main ending with four minor results–and a traditional Silent Hill goofy ending.) The game even warns you of this at the beginning. It adds a foreboding touch that’s unparalleled in gaming.

It works really well, and I’ve got to admit my ending was really satisfying. A lot of critics lauded this as one of the best endings in a game for 2009. I’d have to agree. Saying anything more would spoil it.

Final Word
This is a game you should play. However, some of the nightmare sequences were almost deal-breakers. Fortunately, if it wasn’t for a walkthrough, I would have never finished it. If this had been played it in 2009 (its release), it would have been in one of my top five titles for that year.

teh phunny at PAX

I found this guy to be rather hilarious.

Video Game Power Rankings #17

Pinch hitting in for Tony this week–and it was a BIG week.

1. (-) Duke Nukem Forever – The devil woke up Friday and asked, “Who turned the air on in here?”

2. (-) PAX – This would have been at #1, but, well, DNF. It’s amazing what this show has become. Major releases are announced there now. It’s become the gaming mecca.

3. (5) Halo: Reach – moving back up the ranking because it is the Next Big ThingTM. The ads are getting prettier every day.

4. (8) Dead Rising: Case 0 – Prequel, paid demo, payquel, or whatever you want to call it. For $5, it’s one of the best things you’ll play on XBLA. I would imagine that it has convinced a lot of people to get Dead Rising 2. We’ll be yacking about it soon.

5. (-) Metroid: Other M – The game came out with very little fanfare and reviews were all over the place. That’s probably not good, or people’s perceptions of the game and franchise did not gel with Team Ninja.

6. (-) PlayStation Move – Review embargoes have been lifted and reviews are slightly above favorable. Will you be getting the wand…and the eye toy…and the accessory…and some games?

Batman: Arkham City Screenies

Kotaku has 20 new screenshots from Rocksteady. Re: Batman Arkham City. Fall of 2011 cannot come soon enough. I’m thinking of playing through the first game again just for kicks.

Image above is in higher-res if you save it.

Back to the Future

One of this blogger’s top five movies of all time is a little known indie art-piece called Back to the Future. I love it. I love all of it.

Telltale Games (a developer I’m coming to love as well) has released a tease of information about the BttF game they are creating:

  • it’ll be episodic
  • it’ll use the likenesses of Christopher Lloyd and Michael J Fox
  • Christopher Lloyd has been confirmed for the voice of Doc Brown
  • it’s being penned by the original writer Bob Gale
  • it’s set in 1985 Hill Valley, will include the DeLorean, and will include characters from the movies

Count me in.

This is what it feels like to submissively pee a little?

Source: USA Today

Now, You Can epic Win

Remember a while back we posted about the to-do app for iDevices called Epic Win. Touch Arcade tells us it’s out.