Tag Archives: Assassin’s Creed

Stalactites and Stabbing Knights

My partner and I have been playing a few newer, console based, narrative heavy adventure-ish games lately, mostly as a way to play something semi-cooperatively as those types of games seem to work great for passing the controller and working together on choices and puzzles. I’ve mentioned playing all of The Walking Dead games on Xbox 360 and we also had a incredibly enjoyable but tragically unfinished foray into the first four Life is Strange episodes (more on that when we eventually go back to it and beat it) but for our next game I wanted to introduce her to something more puzzle focused, more like the classic adventure games I cut my teeth on. Low and behold, I remembered that I bought a copy of Double Fine’s The Cave, a game highly influenced by such adventure games, and what it lacks in narrative it makes up for by supporting simultaneous, same-screen co-operative play. Perfect!

Our cast, all complete and total bastards.
“Our cast, all complete and total bastards.”

The Cave was written and directed by Ron Gilbert, one of the legendary LucasArts designers who helped bring us the absolute adventure genre classics Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, along with some of their sequels. Some of that influence is immediately obvious, in fact. Right off the bat you’re presented with a sarcastic narrator, a creepy, cartoony world, and asked to pick 3 characters that you can switch between to take on your adventure. There’s also a wacky, if not somewhat macabre sense of humor throughout (mostly from aforementioned hilarious narrator) which definitely feels like a throwback to the days of “talkie” LucasArts and Sierra games. Something I miss, frankly.

The game itself is a side scrolling puzzle platformer, but the big twist is that its puzzles aren’t based on platforming or physics so much, as old school, often baffling, location and object based adventure game puzzle design, in what, to me, is in an interesting and fairly unique way. Sure, there have been plenty of platformers that threw a few similar puzzles in here and there, but I can’t think of any as utterly focused on this style of puzzle solving as The Cave is. It’s almost a new genre. One of the ways it adapts to the more action orientated control scheme of a platformer is by utterly stripping the inventory system down to its bare essentials – you can only ever hold a single item at a time, and the puzzles are cleverly designed so that, despite how it may seem at times, you never need more than that to solve a puzzle.

I mean, who didn't love The Twins?!
“I mean, who didn’t love The Twins?!”

Each of the three characters has one unique ability that is vital to solving some of the puzzles, and since you can use any combination of characters you may end up with wildly different solutions to the same puzzles. Furthermore, it uses the fact that you’ve got three characters that can be placed in different locations, and using different items, as a key component to solving the majority of the puzzles, much like some of the puzzles in Maniac Mansion. Again, very clever design.

Each character also brings with it its own unique gameplay sections which are the best and most challenging in the game. They also each get their own backstories explaining how they wound up in The Cave. Ultimately it turns out that each of the seemingly harmless adventurers has a dark side, and while The Cave rewards them with the selfish ends they seek, it also hilariously rubs their face in the repercussions of their terrible behavior. This game has some seriously funny moments, definitely one of the funniest games I’ve played in a while.

The Knight has what he came for...
“The Knight has what he came for…”

The Cave isn’t perfect, but it’s probably closer than most of Double Fine’s other efforts recently. Other than being a little loose controlling and having some (pedigree appropriately) insane puzzles here and there, the biggest issues in my mind are the areas that repeat no matter which characters you’re playing, which can be a bit of a chore to re-play over and over again, and the fact that having to choose from a pool of 7 characters means you have to play through the game a third time, re-playing two of the stories you’ve already completed, to truly complete the game. Ultimately these are minor quibbles though, I admit.

Adventure game fan? Pick it up. Fan of old school adventure game humor? Pick it up. Puzzle platformer fan? Pick it up. Just looking for something new to play co-op for a bit? Pick it up.

Random Mass Effect 3 Screenshot
“Random Mass Effect 3 Screenshot”

I also had the pleasure of watching my girlfriend play through the entirety of the Mass Effect series. Sure, I took the controller here and there, but for the most part I just watched. Yes, all three games. Damn. It was a cool experience though, both reminding me of how much I enjoyed the first Mass Effect along with finally exposing me to Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3. I admit I started to check out a little bit with ME3, both in part to how surprisingly long it was, and because I definitely want to go back and ME2 and ME3 myself one of these days.

Like most people who Ezio meets, this Borgia guard is about to die in a brutal fashion.
“Like most people who Ezio meets, this Borgia guard is about to die in a brutal fashion.”

Finally, wanting something a little different to sink my own teeth into, I dug Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood out of my backlog and completed it and its DLC. I loved the first couple of games and, as noted here, was pretty skeptical about them turning Assassin’s Creed 2 into a trilogy. I’m happy to report that I definitely really enjoyed the second piece of that trilogy, Brotherhood. Of course, I did take a comically long 6 year break between playing AC2 and AC: Brotherhood, but I digress, I enjoyed it immensely and I’m looking forward to playing Revelations sooner or later.

What did I think?

Seriously though, Rome is pretty amazing...
“Seriously though, Rome is pretty amazing…”

Let me try to keep this short and sweet: Ezio is still a badass, the world building is still amazing, and renaissance era Rome is great, the occasional times when the free running glitches out and you drop when you didn’t mean to, or jump off the wrong direction, are still a major buzzkill, and it seems like the more items and options they keep adding to this game the more opportunity there is for these types of glitches to pop up, the Facebook game-like follower missions are fairly pointless, but on the flipside being able to call in followers to take out targets is pretty awesome, I was disappointed that several of the 100% synchronization requirements were fairly difficult, though I enjoyed trying to 100% as many of them as I reasonably could pull off as a bit of an extra challenge, Leonardo’s war machines were some wacky fun, I liked that the game was confined to a single, massive city, but I wasn’t a fan of the fact that they still felt the need to block off certain sections of the map until later chapters, and while the story was fine, it wasn’t quite as enjoyable as AC2’s, I still loved to hate Cesare Borgia though, and finally the Desmond stuff was almost totally incidental beyond the cryptic ending.

I think that about does it. I liked it a lot, over all, and I’m itching to play another one, especially to revisit Altair’s story in Revelations. If only there weren’t, by now, another 6 full, long, potentially extremely repetitive Assassin’s Creed games out. What the fuck?!

More console game shenanigans coming soon!

Sorry! As usual my Xbox 360 screenshots were actually pilfered from caves across renaissance Italy rather than my own console.

Oh, to kill again!

Normally when I post my impressions of a game I do it at least a couple of times throughout the time that I’m playing it but for some reason, possibly because I was plodding through it at such a slow pace, I never even mentioned that I’d even been playing Assassin’s Creed 2 (Xbox 360) on here. Well, I have been, and I FINALLY fucking beat it! I got 1000/1000 achievements and, more or less, “one hundred percented” the game too, just a I did with its predecessor. The verdict? I loved it.

The entire city is yours... to murder.
“The entire city is yours… to murder.”

Foremost on my mind as I started playing the game, other than how nice their engine is holding up, was that despite the differences between it and the first Assassin’s Creed, they were still very, very similar. I was a little surprised at just how similar they were since so many reviewers and the like said that even if you disliked Assassin’s Creed you should give Assassin’s Creed 2 a shot – I can only agree with this opinion to a point. Let me go into some details before I break this conclusion of mine down though.

First, and this is a big one for players who hated the first game, free running/parkour, despite minor improvements, is almost identical to what we had in the first game, which, in my mind is sublimely smooth most of the time. Like in the first game, however, you can occasional hit moments where your character will seemingly inexplicably (I say seemingly because it is probably my own fault most of the time) jump the wrong direction, grab the wrong thing, or otherwise not behave how you expect him to. This can really break up this otherwise enjoyable part of the game and kill the immersion a bit – one minute you’re a badass assassin effortlessly bounding the rooftops in search of your next mark, and the next instead of gracefully running across a line tied between buildings, you just decide to hop off the side and plummet 75 feet to your death. Wow. This felt the most silly the couple of times it happened when doing “leaps of faith” and instead of jumping cleanly into a bale of hay I instead dove head first for the cobblestone road below. Well, so much for faith… 😉

I've slaughtered so many of these poor roof top guards that I actually kind of feel sorry for them now.
“I’ve slaughtered so many of these poor roof top guards that I actually kind of feel sorry for them now.”

One thing definitely worth mentioning relating to the free running, given that it is such a big part of the game, is that it is used in more creative ways this time around. As you progress in the environments you run into structures that require more creative climbing. This is expanded on much, much more in the various “Assassin Tombs” and “Templar Lairs” in the game which transform your character’s city traversing parkour into a Prince of Persia series like puzzle/platforming experience. Most of the time, except for when you run into some of the above mentioned rough points, this works quite well and is a great change of pace for the series, even if it did make me use my brain a bit more than I was expecting to going into this game.

AC2’s combat system feels like a good analogy for the whole game, really. It is almost exactly the same as the first game’s, only with some subtle improvements and the addition of some new options at the player’s disposal. A lot of the time these improvements and additions don’t feel truly needed but they at least succeed in giving players a tiny bit more choice and variety and apparently a lot of people needed those things. As someone who liked the first game already, more is usually better, and they didn’t overdo it or otherwise ruin a good thing here. It does indeed feel like improvement and refinement.

Who is my friend? Oh, it's only Leonardo FUCKING Da Vinci!
“Who is my friend? Oh, it’s only Leonardo FUCKING Da Vinci!”

Alright men, gather 'round him and watch as he kills us all one by one!
“Alright men, gather ’round him and watch as he kills us all one by one!”

I could ramble on a lot more about the game and in a lot more detail but I’ll cut myself off. Back to the conclusion I referred to before. Like I said, I loved it, but I also loved the first one despite its flaws. Still, it is hard for me to recommend Assassin’s Creed 2 to someone who absolutely hated the first Assassin’s Creed – again, it is largely the same game with some improvements, some needed more than others, and a new setting with all kinds of awesome Italian accents. If you were simply turned off by minor issues in the first game then certainly check it out, otherwise you might as well wait until we see what Assassin’s Creed 3 brings to the table. Of course by then it is possible that you won’t have ANY FUCKING CLUE what is going on in this batshit crazy conspiracy story. 😉

I have no idea what Assassin’s Creed 3 will be. It could literally take place anywhere, at any time, and they could change the gameplay in any number of ways. So far I like where they’re headed though. I’m a little puzzled (and maybe put off) by the announcement of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood but I can’t imagine not playing it at this point unless it just gets awful reviews. I would like to request that if they keep adding in requirements to complete things in stealthy means they add some more traditional stealth mechanics to our assassin’s repertoire of abilities though.

One more note: I played the game with the 2 “additional” DLC chapters intact and feel like I would have definitely missed not having them there, at least story wise, so I’d recommend picking them up if you care about that sort of thing and/or consider yourself a fan of the series. They were a tiny bit buggy, with sound dropping out on me a few different times during cut scenes, which I had heard others mention as well. Still, worth it.

As usual with Xbox 360 games I stole all of my screenshots from other people. It was really hard to find decent, non-PR released bullshots for this game. Most, if not all of these are from the PC version.

Duty Called

As I speculated I would in my last Game Log post I did wind up playing the 360 version of Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare’s single player campaign although the results weren’t quite as great as I was hoping for.

COD4 is an excellent, highly polished game with great production value and developers who obviously know what they want out of the series. I, however, wouldn’t share their views on the direction the Call of Duty series has taken. I generally prefer slower, more tactical games – I preferred some of the more tactical multiplayer additions of United Offense to the original and I prefer playing Hardcore mode on Search & Destroy in COD4’s multiplayer (which I’ve played plenty on PC prior to this playthrough of the campaign) for instance.

That’s not really the issue though. There’s nothing too glaringly offensive about the way your character controls or the abilities you command over him. The fact that I sometimes have to expend half a magazine on an enemy to put him down or that my health somehow gets refilled after nearly dying doesn’t burn me up either. No, my biggest complaints about the game are about how the flow of the missions, including the checkpoint system, were handled.

It seemed like almost every level involved at least one point at which I’d get stuck in a seemingly endless loop of spawning, rushing off towards my objective, and eventually being killed by an overwhelming, infinitely spawning horde of enemies before managing to reach whatever magical location or predetermined time span triggered the next checkpoint. This was highly annoying as I often didn’t feel like I was playing bad, in fact there were times when I stayed alive for a long, long time and killed an unbelievable amount of enemies yet still didn’t make it to the right spot. No, it feels like the game’s attempts at hand-holding were fighting directly against the gaming instincts I’ve developed over many years of playing similar games. I’d much prefer a system where, even if there is a shit ton of them, there’s always a finite amount of enemies in an area. That alone would have gotten me around many of these areas.

Fact: Marines hate walls.
“Fact: Marines hate walls.”

A big part of the problem seems to be that you’re almost always being funneled from one spot to the next and stopping to waste some tangos isn’t necessarily one of your objectives unless you encounter a scripted section where that temporarily becomes the priority. There’s nothing wrong with that, I suppose. It is even fairly realistic. However there definitely were sections during which the game wasn’t clear about what I, as in the player rather than the character, was actually supposed to be doing – particularly whatever it would take to trigger the next checkpoint. Again, this caused some major frustration when it came to the sections where I kept dying due to overwhelming numbers of enemies before discovering the trigger.

I may have myself to blame a bit for playing on “hardened” difficulty as I hear normal and easy are quite a bit easier and won’t usually result in nearly as many of these road bumps. In fact I ran through some of the levels in easy after beating the campaign to grab some minor achievements I missed along the way and was amazed at how much better the levels seemed to flow. That being said I can’t imagine playing through the game on “veteran” difficulty if it is really as hard as I’ve heard.

Ultimately I suspect my preference to the open world style of tactical games has a lot to do with my feelings on Modern Warfare. In games like Operation Flashpoint, Ghost Recon, and the Rainbow Six games, you’re usually thrown into an environment, given an objective, and, to some extent, left to your own devices. Sure there can be scripted moments, but the most important scripting is that of the behavior of your enemies in how they react to whatever actions you might decide to perform. COD4 on the other hand attempts to be an extremely directed experience. There are probably differing reasons for why – from keeping the action and narrative moving at a steady pace to providing a more solid narrative that the player feels more a part of in general. In summary, they’re really different games with different priorities and goals.

All of that said the story was interesting, they did a good job mixing up the scenery for the most part, and the action was decently varied as well. As with most other people I’ve run across my favorite level is the AC-130 mission. It was pretty different and I’ve been intrigued by AC-130s since seeing them fly over my house from time to time as a kid, and besides… who doesn’t like to play god every now and then? I’m still very interested in Modern Warfare 2 and I suspect I’ll even play around in the online modes on Xbox Live a bit but I’m not nearly as hyped to play the campaign as I was before playing this.

Another successful, completely unnoticed assassination.
“Another successful, completely unnoticed assassination.”

Next I hit Assassin’s Creed up. Assassin’s Creed 2? Nope, the first one! I’m one of the seemingly few people who loved the first AC. Sure, it got repetitive – I don’t disagree with the critics there. However, I found the awesome setting, the feeling of being an assassin prowling the city streets looking for my next victim, the bizarre modern day Templar conspiracy plot, and even some of the mechanics to be compelling enough to take me all the way to the end of the game. I just got really into it.

Well, I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about the recently released Assassin’s Creed 2 and that lead me to reminisce a bit about the first game. I remembered that I had almost all of the achievements including most of the harder ones. I ended up pulling up my achievement list to verify that, actually, I only lacked 5 achievements and they were all relatively easy ones to get. Having never before “completed” a retail Xbox 360 game, getting a full 1000 achievement points, I decided to dust off the game and hop back into the Animus.

Although it took me a little while to remember some of the mechanics of the game I quickly remembered why I loved it so much. The engine still holds up brilliantly and stabbing guards in the face with my hidden blade never gets old. After running the rooftops of Acre one more time I’m even more stoked for AC2… and yes, I got my 1000/1000 achievement points!

Eat blue stuff, foul denizens of the deep! width=
“Eat blue stuff, foul denizens of the deep!”

Finally I picked up Runic Game’s much praised Torchlight. Torchlight is a Diablo clone put out by a combination of some of the original Blizzard guys who made the first two Diablo games, along with the guys who made Fate and Mythos. I loved Diablo 1 and 2 and can’t wait for the third game but I’ve had a hard time getting into many of its clones. Not for a lack of trying! My favorite is Titan Quest which I’ve mentioned in past Game Logs and still intend to finish sometime. Torchlight might just take that spot, however.

The game takes the one, extremely big, largely random dungeon and one town approach of Diablo 1 and adds in many of the refinements and additions of Diablo 2 and its successors along with a highly stylized and enjoyable, yet not too taxing (it’ll even run on netbooks!) graphical style similar to games like World of Warcraft and Dungeon Runners and adds in a more refined interface. Sure, there are some bugs here and there but the game feels quite polished, especially for being from a smaller studio and only costing 20 bones.

Crossing a bridge high above... 20 stories below ground?
“Crossing a bridge high above… 20 stories below ground?”

I suppose this says a lot about the guys who make up Runic Games – this Diablo style game is their bread and butter, it is what they’re good at and they’ve definitely proven that they still have what it takes. In fact one of the things that convinced me to get the game was a brilliant interview with Max Schaefer on Idle Thumbs in which he talked about the company and their approach of staying relatively small and attempting to exist in somewhat of a niche, being happy with making enough money to keep them all paid and in business rather than trying to develop the next mega-hit. That niche also allows them to make riskier games – the type of games that made PC gaming so special to many of us old bastards. Yes, they impressed the hell out of me. I’m even considering sending Runic my resume since I’m sure they’ll be doing some major hiring when they get ready to launch the Torchlight MMORPG. 😉