Filed under video games

Thoughts On Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood

As you may or may not have seen, I completed AC: Brotherhood on Sunday. I thought I’d share some very brief thoughts on the game as I wrap up my time with this entry in the series, and prepare for the next.

Both Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood are incredible works of art. I won’t go into intricate details here, but suffice it to say that the music, presentation, and historical research that went into these games comes together to create an unforgettable experience.

My favorite part of Brotherhood, specifically, is how the plot unfolds. There are several factions, and each sequence essentially focuses on one of the factions. It was a smart way to layer the story, and it worked particularly well in the context of building a brotherhood of assassins.

It’s just disappointing that all of this falls apart so easily during the gameplay.

Alas, AC: Brotherhood inherits a lot of the bugs and glitches that its predecessor had, and somehow seems to make them worse, to boot. As both @ndoto and I played, cries of “Ezio! You idiot!” accompanied almost every task. Foremost in our frustration was controlling Ezio. He randomly grabs walls and items nearby to him and starts to climb them or scale them. Sometimes this is what you want, most times it is not. This is frustrating, but as you play the game you learn to adapt to it and go with Ezio’s spastic flow. What is absolutely unforgivable, though, is Ezio’s tendency to leap to his death. He could be lined up with a wooden beam right in front of him, but for some unknown reason, he will leap off to the left, away from the wooden beam, and plunge to his death. The first couple of times you think perhaps you aren’t controlling the character properly. But as this scenario repeats, you realize that, no, the game is just that glitchy.

To add insult to injury, Brotherhood added the concept of “full synchronization” – completing a sequence successfully with a certain restriction. With the controls the way they are, meeting the full synchronization requirement often requires a lot of time and patience. Needless to say, it was early on in the game that I gave up on the hope of achieving full synchronization for every sequence.

There is even one part of the game that completely glitches out, such that you can’t successfully experience it. It’s not game breaking, but it’s disappointing. And this is one year later. It should have been patched long before now.

Despite all this, I feel that the Assassin’s Creed series of games is something that should not be missed. That being said, though, the current story arc is on its way to being resolved. Ubisoft has stated its intent to keep the series going – but if these bugs don’t get fixed, no one is going to want to invest in the next chapter.

I don’t foresee AC: Revelations fixing any of these problems. But it would be encouraging to see at least some improvement – a promise from Ubisoft that they care about the future of the series as much as its fans.

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If I Only Knew Then

     Last week, Nintendo released Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening as one of the first purchasable titles in the 3DS Virtual Console. I haven’t played the game in years, and it has been really fun going back to the island of Koholint.
     But it seems that the game has also caused me a bit of unexpected attention. Not long after I started playing the game, and nostalgia started to creep up on me, I felt a gentle tap on my back.
     “Excuse me?” asked a quiet voice.
     Looking down, I saw a young boy clutching an original, chunky Game Boy system. “Yes?”
     “What are you playing?” I could see that he was eyeing the 3DS in my hands. Being such a new console, I wasn’t too surprised that it would be unrecognizable to some.
     “Oh! It’s like what you have,” I responded, glancing toward the classic handheld. “Just a slightly different model.”
     The boy nodded, taking this in. “Have you played Zelda?”

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The State of Tech 2010

Once again it’s time for me to ramble about some of the interesting technology developments that happened this year.

And what a year! Before starting this post, I went back to re-read my 2009 post.  It seems like almost every question I concluded with was answered in some way in 2010. Last year, I summed up the year as being more evolution than revolution.  While I hesitate to say that this year was revolution, it was certainly more than the evolution of last year. So why don’t we get started?

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Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7

I made a tweet this evening about how I’m surprised by the hype over the Xbox Live features in Windows Phone 7.  I wanted to touch on a few more details with that.

First, I want to make clear that I am actually very excited about the Xbox Live functionality – but I’m more excited about the unique, Xbox Live-specific features than what was announced earlier this week.

So lets start with what was announced.

As far as Xbox Live in general, we were told that there would be achievements, friends lists, chat and Avatar viewing/creation.  This is really great stuff, especially considering that you can’t do much of anything with Avatars on Xbox Live under Windows.

As far as the games that were announced – I get the impression that the people getting excited about this don’t play games very often.  Because, frankly, they’re pretty lackluster.  They have big franchise names attached to them (Crackdown, Assassin’s Creed, Halo), but they have no uniqueness to them.  For example: Halo isn’t a game. It’s just Halo Waypoint, which has been out on Xbox Live for months and is rather unimpressive. (Then again, I might be biased since I don’t play Halo.)  No details were provided about Assassin’s Creed, but based on what we’ve heard so far in other aspects of the franchise, this will probably be a port of the other mobile versions of Assassin’s Creed, which suck.  And then there’s Crackdown: this is probably the most unique in that it supposedly scans your current location and builds a game based on real maps.  But the screenshots look a little disappointing, and I get the impression that there is no depth to it – it’s Crackdown in name only.

There are a couple of winners on the list of launch titles, but let me be clear about this: consumers generally won’t care about the game list unless they’re a diehard fan of a particular franchise.  Why?  Because a lot of these games exist on other platforms – and yes, I’m implying that the iPhone has a large selection of games already, which consumers can easily point to and say, “why do I need that? I have lots of fun games here!”  The hope, of course, is that truly unique games will start to come out, like we’ve been able to enjoy on the Xbox console.  But first you have to attract an audience, and the launch titles alone won’t necessarily do that.

Instead, Microsoft needs to set themselves apart with the same sort of unique features that has helped make Xbox Live so successful in the console world.  Sadly, a lot of this stuff has elicited a “no comment” from Microsoft.  Stuff like: transporting your gamer profile from console, to phone, to a different console at a friend’s house.  Keeping save game data on your phone.  Being able to play a game both on the console and the phone – think Pokemon and Pokewalker.  Being able to play multiplayer with one person on a console, the other on the phone.  Video chat.  And so on.

That is the kind of stuff that gets people excited.  The kinds of things that make you sit up and say, “really?!”  I can already play Assassin’s Creed on three different platforms.  But Windows Phone could be the only platform that lets me put an assassin character on my phone, interact with others who also have the game on their phone, then link it back up with my Xbox to get various rewards.

Now THAT is worth getting excited over.

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Quick Review: Machinarium

I posted a tweet the other day about how you should check out Machinarium if you like atmospheric music, point-and-click adventures, or puzzle games. I thought I’d touch on a few more details in a quick blog post.

First thing is first though: if you have any interest in the game, check out the demo on the website. It covers the first few stages, and gives you a pretty good indication as to what the rest of the game is like. It’s the best way to decide if it’s a game you’d be interested in. For me, it was well worth $5 – if for no other reason than to get the soundtrack.

Which leads me to my favorite part of the game: the music. As I mentioned in my tweet, it’s very atmospheric. It sets the mood of the game more than providing actual background music – although there is some of that as well.  As you can imagine, it’s inspired by machines of old, which the game also seems inspired by. It works really well.

If you know what a point and click adventure is, you know what is involved with Machinarium. The game consists entirely of moving from one location to another, discovering secrets, and solving puzzles to open the path to the next location.  The puzzles, and the presentation of the puzzles, are very clever.  Sometimes what you need to do is obvious. Sometimes it requires a lot of trial and error until you discover the one little secret that you forgot. And other times, you hit a brick wall and really don’t know how the pieces fit together. (Sometimes, literally. You have an inventory of items you collect, which you can use to solve puzzles. Those items can be fastened together to create a new item, too.)  In cases where you are stumped, the game gives you two helping hands. The first is a simple pictorial hint, which you can use once per location. This gets progressively vague as the game goes on. The next helping hand is a complete walkthrough. To get to it, you play a simple, sometimes challenging mini-game. Once unlocked, it shows you the progression of what needs to be done in your current locale, in comic-book, pictorial form.  The interesting thing is that it ONLY shows you the current location – it doesn’t tell you how it relates to stuff you need to do in other locations.

The story so far has been the weakest part of the game.  You aren’t explicitly told what you’re trying to do, although pieces start to fill in as you progress.  There is no dialog in the game, just pictures in thought bubbles.  It’s a cute presentation, and it’s interesting to see how well the story is told within these limitations. But it has not been my driving force for continuing to play.

This is a flash-based game, so it runs on any platform that supports flash – Windows, Mac and Linux.  Saying that it’s “flash-based”  carries certain negative assumptions with it, but it’s actually very well implemented. This is how flash SHOULD be used. I’m impressed.

Later on in the game, the puzzles become a little bit trickier to figure out, but it never becomes impossible – and, of course, you have the walkthrough to nudge you in the right direction if you truly get stuck.

All in all, it is a very charming game, and worth your time to experience.  At least try out the demo.  I bought the game on sale for $5, and that was primarily for the soundtrack. But now I’m playing the game too, and I’m enjoying it.

Try Machinarium Now

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Assassin’s Creed 2

Since my Xbox is out of commission, and I haven’t been able to play it recently, I thought I’d share some thoughts about the game I was playing before it bit the dust: Assassin’s Creed 2.

The Good

When details first started to emerge about the sequel to one of my favorite games, I got a little worried.  A lot of people complained about the repetitiveness of the missions.  Personally, I didn’t mind that they were repetitive because they were so fun to do.  But, because of the complaints, one of the points that was driven home whenever Assassin’s Creed 2 was discussed, was that it would have more variety in missions.  That it would be more challenging.  That it would be less repetitive.

Challenge is good.  Variety is good.  But I was worried that the game would explode into something that was so far past its predecessor, that it couldn’t be considered the same game.  I might not have been so worried about this if it hadn’t already happened to another game I loved.  Jak and Daxter was my first PS2 game, and I adored it.  It was pretty simple, but it was a lot of fun.  It was obvious that there would be a sequel, and I couldn’t wait to see where the series went next.

Where it went was somewhere completely different.  And I didn’t really like it.  I mean, it was okay.  The core mechanics were there.  But so much other stuff changed that it became a different game.  And I was afraid the same thing would happen to AC2.

Luckily, it appears that didn’t happen.  They’ve added a lot to the sequel, without changing the fundamental aspects that made the first game so interesting.  They certainly did increase the variety of missions you do in the second game – but there is still repetition.  The similarities are just well-masked, and there is enough going on in between that it doesn’t feel like you’re doing the same thing every five minutes.

I’ve enjoyed just about every aspect of the gameplay so far – the classic assassination mechanics. the pseudo-history surrounding the characters, the new open area “Prince of Persia”-like environments.  Even the ability to buy and sell goods has been integrated well, something I was also worried about before release.  It’s not a very complex mechanic, but it serves the game well.

The Bad

Unfortunately, however, it’s not perfect.  Perhaps my biggest complaint is that there appears to have been no attempt to make the main character easier to maneuver in certain situations.  In the first game, Altair would be more than happy to grab onto any ledge, ladder or climbable surface when you were doing a free run, usually sending you off in a direction you didn’t intend to go.  Sadly, Ezio is just as inclined to do this in the sequel.  There are many times I wanted to jump one direction, but the game decided it would be much better to jump the other direction – usually with disastrous results.  I hope they spend more time on fixing this shortcoming in the third installment.

One of the more compelling aspects to the game is the fact that the past is actually a replaying of memories, encoded in the DNA of the assassin’s ancestor.  The first game frequently cut between reliving those memories, and the events of the present.  But the second game only does this occasionally, and that’s disappointing.  I read one review that considered this a good point, but if you truly are absorbed by the underlying story, this lack of interaction in the present makes it feel like you’re losing a large chunk of the narrative.

Of course, I am only about halfway through the game, so there may be more to come that makes the wait worthwhile.

Finally, there is the case of the missing memory segments.  I actually haven’t reached this point of the game yet, but it’s worth a mention.  Ubisoft actually cut out two segments of the game due to time restrictions, deciding to offer them later on as DLC.  They say this is perfectly acceptable, as the player already gets more than their money’s worth from the content that is provided on the disc.

And I don’t argue that fact.

However, it is a bit disjointed to have to skip over those segments, only to “relive” them later.  My 360 getting its red ring may actually be a blessing in disguise in that the DLC may be available by the time I get to that part of the game, allowing me to play all the memory segments in order.  I understand the reasons for what Ubisoft did, but I question the final execution.


I think that’s it – very brief, very high level.  Overall, I’m enjoying the game considerably, and I highly recommend it for both the likers and haters of the first game.  Just be prepared for the fact that not all the quirks of the first game got ironed out.

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Prince of Persia

Since there was no demo of the game available on XBL, I figured I would rent it to try it out. The reviews sounded promising, but I’ve put too much stock in reviews in the past only to get burned. So renting seemed like a good solution.

I’ve actually enjoyed the game quite a bit. I suppose I should mention that this game is fundamentally different from all the previous games, so that may upset some. I haven’t played the earlier games, so it hasn’t bothered me so much. But having said that, if you keep an open mind, and treat this game more as an “inspired by” than a sequel, it has its charms.

Also, if you’re looking for a challenge, this game isn’t it. I tweeted a few days ago that Prince of Persia is like “Assassin’s Creed Lite” — and that still is my feeling. It’s as if they took the essence of Assassin’s Creed and boiled it down to its essential parts. Your character can do a lot of acrobatic moves to get around the game world. The battle system is essentially comprised of a series of buttons that you press together to form combos. The music is beautiful and non-invasive. In certain environments, the sounds are atmospheric and realistic. And it’s easy.

The only thing that seems to be a little light (i.e. disappointing) so far is story. There are two main characters, and, at the moment, are pretty much the only humans in the game. All dialog is between the two, which is all at once entertaining and annoying.

On a purely sensory experience, Prince of Persia seems worthy of a purchase if the game is on sale. It may just be that I haven’t played far enough into it, but if I use other reviews as a guide, then it would seem like the game does lack some depth. But, you know, I like beautiful, immersive games. And so far, Prince of Persia has delivered that nicely.

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Thoughts on GTA IV

It wasn’t that long ago that the following thought entered my head.

“Wow. I might actually finish a GTA game.”

You see, I never got too much into the GTA series. And Lord knows, I tried. GTA III, GTA III: Vice City, GTA: Liberty City Stories — I played them all. Or rather, I played them for a couple of hours, which is about how long it took to get to an “epic” mission, which would be too difficult for me to complete. At that point, I would switch to just taking advantage of the open environment these games drop you into — taking on the taxi cab missions, for example. Or doing what I could to attract police attention and then attempt a daring escape. But those things only hold your interest for so long.

So you might be wondering why I kept buying the games. Well, I rather naively thought that each version would somehow fix the annoyances of the earlier versions. But more than that, I liked the concept of the games, and appreciated the work that went into them. I wanted to progress, I wanted to enjoy them. But I kept running into a brick wall.
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