Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)

This is the World’s Only Certainty.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2013)I’ve had my ups and downs with the Assassin’s Creed series in the past, but I’ve generally ended up liking them all.  Assassin’s Creed 3 was a little underwhelming, but the one part I did like seemed to have been turned into its own game with today’s game.  But the main inspiration for the purchase of this game was that it was one of the very few games releasing with the Xbox One that I was interested in.  I needed games to make my investment in the Xbone seem worthwhile, and this game became one of the two.  This game is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, published by Ubisoft, and including the voices of Matt Ryan, Olivia Morgan, Mark Bonnar, Oliver Milburn, Nolan North, Ed Stoppard, Ralph Ineson, Sarah Greene, O.T. Fagbenle, and Tristan D. Lalla.

Abstergo has taken a new approach at ruling the world by creating Abstergo Entertainment, who gets people to sift through the memories of the now-deceased Desmond Miles (Nolan North) by disguising them as video games.  I am so in!  Our character is an employee of Abstergo Entertainment assigned to explore the life of an eighteenth-century pirate named Edward Kenway (Matt Ryan), who later fathers Haytham Kenway, who later fathers Connor Kenway and stars in his own game.  As Edward, you kill an Assassin and assume his clothing, getting yourself wrapped up in a fight between the Assassins and the Templars.  Refusing to take a side, you spend more of your time aligning yourself with random pirates, such as Blackbeard (Mark Bonnar), Bartholomew Roberts (Oliver Milburn), Benjamin Hornigold (Ed Stoppard), Charles Vane (Ralph Ineson), Anne Bonny (Sarah Greene), “Calico” Jack Rackham (O.T. Fagbenle), and Mary Read (Olivia Morgan).  But, as his journey takes him closer to an ancient artifact known as The Observatory, his goals start to change from selfish ones to something more in line with a creed held by a certain group of people that kill another group of people.

I really liked this game.  It had similar problems that could be found in any of the other Assassin’s Creed games, but I would say the changes they made helped this game work out to be my favorite Assassin’s Creed game to date.  One of the things I’ve always had a problem with is the non-Assassin parts of these games.  That remains in this game.  I don’t know why.  They just slow the pace down on the parts I want to play.  This one was vaguely interesting in the Meta way they make their own company part of Abstergo Enterprises, but my interest didn’t get much further than that.  I still don’t know why they feel the need to have these sections.  Is anybody playing these games to find out what’s going on with Desmond?  Not me!  I’m here to jump off of buildings and stab people in the neck!  And didn’t I destroy the world at the end of the previous game anyway?  I don’t remember, and that’s probably because I don’t really pay attention to these sides of the story.  I liked the Edward Kenway parts a lot.  It was fun being a pirate.  They also had some emotional bits in the story that worked very well.    The way they handled Blackbeard’s fate was very well done and I wasn’t really expecting the reveal involving James Kidd even though the voice should’ve probably given it away.  The only real problem I had with the story is that they didn’t do anything with the Bermuda Triangle.  They were right there!  I went to Florida and everything!  Just seems like such a waste.

As with all of the Assassin’s Creed games, Black Flag looks great.  The only complaints I had were with some of the special armor you can unlock through collectables.  Both the Templar armor and the Mayan armor take a while and some doing to unlock, but getting them ruins everything.  You lose the trademark Assassin hood!  You can’t do that!  I’ve played like 6 games with that hood and I want it right where it is!  And do you know how ridiculous it looks to see Edward grab an invisible hood and pull it over his head because you didn’t change the character’s movements to account for you taking away the hood?  One thing I did appreciate was the sea shanties your crew would sing while you were piloting your ship.  It felt like a GTA radio station for the high seas.

I think the thing that helped this game win most of all with me is that it took all the things I liked from the previous game and built the game around it, and those things were the nautical battles.  I spent hours in this game avoiding the main story and sailing the high seas, looting and plundering ships that got in my way.  And the game seems aware of what drew me in because they started the game with it.  And I like almost all of the nautical battles.  Almost.  There were parts that caused me some frustration that I felt like I didn’t enjoy at the time.  For instance, I didn’t think the process of upgrading a ship made any sense.  Why am I going to a store and paying lots of money to upgrade my ship when I also have to supply the materials for the upgrade?  You don’t go to Best Buy to buy a movie and have to bring a DVD-R with you!  The crew system for your ship was fine.  You could either hire them from a bar or save them from guards or rescue them on the seas.  I preferred the last two options.  They had better fight harder for me if I saved their life instead of just giving them money to join.  The most frustrating thing about the nautical battles was the legendary ships you had to fight.  One of them had a really big ram on the front of their ship it would look to hit you with, and it was made even more annoying by the fact that this ram did not even need to touch you to do damage.  The game would count it as improved damage even when it hit you with its side.  Which TOTALLY makes sense.  And they were all pretty difficult.  I died a lot trying to battle them even with a fully upgraded ship.  I actually got the achievement when I didn’t deserve it because I had destroyed each of the two legendary ships that attack you simultaneously, even though I had never destroyed both at the same time.  But even with the achievement, I still felt like I owed them an ass-whooping so I kept coming back.  I eventually defeated them with extreme cowardice by dropping tons of explosives as I was trying to run away.  Like a boss.

There are other things to the gameplay, of course.  I liked that you can now see where all of the collectables are if you look around from the top of a viewpoint.  There’s still hunting in this game, but you don’t have to do it as much and it doesn’t deduct anything from you if you shoot them because you don’t want to fuck around and have to chase down an iguana.  I did find it extremely hard to find rabbits, especially for a creature that fucks like rabbits.  They should be everywhere!  The usual staple of the Assassin’s Creed games recently is to have some form of strategy game involving sending your crew out to do something for you while you continue with the game.  This game does that with something called Kenway’s Fleet, where you send out ships to do trades with other countries.  This was a forgettable experience, but only annoyed me because you couldn’t tell your ships which ship to fire upon.  It doesn’t make sense that my ships will shoot at different ships when they should be all trying to take out the giant Man O’ War.  Fuck the Schooner!  Let that little bitch shoot at me for a while.  I also still hate the gambling games they include.  Remember in my review for Assassin’s Creed 3 when I told you how I hate Nine Man Morris?  Well they brought it back.  And I still hate it.  But fortunately, there’s not an achievement for it so I didn’t really bother with it much.

Though Assassin’s Creed 4 doesn’t change drastically from the previous incarnations of the game, I would say that the things they did helped Black Flag wind up as my favorite Assassin’s Creed game to date.  The story still has the boring stuff outside of the life of the Assassin, but when you ignore that the story succeeds with a lot of interesting and emotional moments.  The look is as great as it typically is, and they made a smart decision to keep most of the controls the same but make the game a lot heavier with the nautical battles, which I found very satisfying.  Fans will already have purchased this game, and non-fans might not find it worth $60, but it’s been cheaper than that recently and this game is totally worth $40.  I was satisfied at $60.  Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag gets “It might be that this idea is only the beginning of wisdom, and not its final form” out of “In a world without gold, we might have been heroes.”

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Assassin’s Creed III (2012)

The Future of Our Land Depends on Those Who Are Truly Free.

Assassin's Creed 3 (2012)I was incredibly excited to get to play this game and, truth be told, I beat the game about two months ago but was so back-logged with other reviews that it’s taken me this long to get here.  Some of you may have already seen a quickie review of this game in my end of the year recap because it took me so long to review it.  But I’ve been a big fan of the series since its inception, so the game was certainly deserving of a full review.  Plus, there’s a chance that this game is the final game in the saga, so I feel that I need to send it off properly.  This game is Assassin’s Creed 3, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, published by Ubisoft, and including the voices of Noah Watts, Nolan North, Adrian Hough, Kaniehtiio Horn, Roger Aaron Brown, John de Lancie, Neil Napier, Allen Leech, Robert Lawrenson, Robin Atkin Downes, Danny Wallace, Eliza Jane Schneider, Margaret Easley, and Nadia Verrucci.

Desmond (Nolan North) and crew – William (John de Lancie), Rebecca (Eliza Jane Schneider), and Shaun (Danny Wallace) – are still trying to access a temple with the Apple of Eden, and use it to stop the end of the world.  …I don’t get it either.  To do so, Desmond gets into a machine that sends him back into his ancestor’s memories.  First, he becomes Haytham Kenway (Adrian Hough), who then fathers Ratonhnhaké:ton (Noah Watts) – who thankfully gets called Connor – with Connor’s mother, Kaniehti:io (Kaniehtiio Horn) – who I will call Unpronounceahontas.  Connor must stop the Templars in their plots in the American Colonies while simultaneously helping the Americas gain their independence.

I really liked this game (as you may have guessed from the quickie review in the Games of 2012 review), but it was not without its share of problems, most of which will not be found in this paragraph.  The story of the game was pretty good.  I’ve always kind of taken issue with the Desmond side of the Assassin’s Creed games.  They tend to be a little on the strange side.  The guy gets into a machine to allow him to access memories stored in his DNA while talking to ancient but super-advanced aliens and save the world with an apple.  But that’s a fairly minor section of the game, and that’s how I like it.  I don’t give a shit about Desmond.  But Altaïr, Ezio, and now Connor?  Yeah, that’s the stuff.  And Connor’s part of the story holds up as well as Altaïr’s and Ezio’s, but it does take its sweet time to get started.  I wanted to get into the Connor part of the story quicker because I didn’t see much point in getting attached to Haytham when I realized that he wasn’t my guy.  There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but I was in this to be Connor.  I even really liked the scenes of Haytham and Unpronounceahontas and their burgeoning relationship, but this guy isn’t going to participate in the Boston Tea Party, witness the Boston Massacre, chauffer Paul Revere on his Midnight Ride, and watch the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Connor was!  And it was pretty cool to take part in all of those things, so I enjoyed it thoroughly when it got going.  There were a couple of minor qualms to be had with the rest of the story.  First off, the names of things.  The Mohawks seem like they had absolutely no interest in making their names easy on me while writing these reviews, and I think that’s very inconsiderate of them.  There was our main character, Ratonhnhaké:ton, his mother, Kaniehti:io, and the place they were from, Kanien’keh(‘a):ka.  Come on!  That can’t be real!  What possible use for colons, semicolons, and parenthesis would the Mohawk have?!  I guess, much like their philosophies in hunting, they felt like they must use all parts of the keyboard as they use all parts of the buffalo.  The endings were a little weak as well.  The defeat of Connor’s mortal enemy was a little anticlimactic, and I wasn’t that pleased with what happened with Desmond either.  I was happy they didn’t go with the typical ending with making the audience make a choice.  I just want to see YOUR story, not make my own.  Or, more accurately, I don’t want to have to look up the other ending on YouTube.

The controls of the game were what gave me the most trouble.  Not all of the time as it controls very similar to every other Assassin’s Creed, but I had never had so many problems with glitches in the other games.  There were times when the controls wouldn’t respond, I would run into invisible walls, icons wouldn’t show up when they were supposed to.  The worst one was when I was trying to climb a wall and I was inexplicably fired up into the air, only to come crashing down to the Earth and die.  It didn’t happen all the time, but even just a few times in such a big name title is extremely frustrating.  Otherwise, the game is exactly as you’d expect an Assassin’s Creed game to be.  And by that, I mean it’s awesome.  It’s like Dishonored if it didn’t punish you for killing bad people.  And the parkour is great, and improved for this game a little.  It’s mostly what we’ve done in the other games, but this game takes us out into the wilderness a lot more than the other games does.  And that means free-running through the trees.  It works very well most of the time, though it’s occasionally difficult to see your path clearly when trying to figure out which way to jump.  The side missions in the game were fun, but some were extremely tedious and others I just did not play the way they wanted me to.  Like the hunting stuff.  Connor was an effective, but very impatient hunter with me at the helm.  It would’ve been a fairly common sight to see Connor running through the frontier, trying to bum rush a raccoon in the brush.  And the board games were a constant annoyance for me.  I realize that the only reason I was even bothering with them was because I wanted achievements, but I found them really annoying.  One problem with playing a board game against a computer is that the computer knows how to play and what is going to happen way better than we do.  Another problem is that I don’t really want to play these things.  I don’t need the money, so I’m just forced to play the stupid things for the achievements.  And Six Man Morris is a horrible piece of shit of a game.  I want it to die.  I resent this game for making me play it.  I don’t know anyone named Morris, but I will befriend one just so I can hate him.  I had a couple minor issues with the logic of the game as well.  Like why do guards attack me because 3 orphans are pestering me?  I would understand if they were already looking for me, or if I just killed them like I always wanted to, but just because they see a guy being bothered by kids?  They should attack the kids!  Or let me!  As much as I loved the regular gameplay of Assassin’s Creed, this game kind of overshadowed it for me with the new nautical battles.  I really dug these.  It made me wish Ubisoft would take over a really cool Pirates of the Caribbean game.

The look of the game is fantastic, with next to no complaints.  The landscapes are beautiful, and the seafaring levels are brilliant.  The only thing I took issue with was minor, but annoying.  The game gives you the ability to change the color of Connor’s outfit, but does not have the ability to change his costume color in the cinematics.  I’ll be wearing some badass black and red getup just to suddenly, and jarringly, be wearing classic white because I’m chatting with Sam Adams now.  Come on, Ubisoft.  We all know this technology exists.

I never was all that interested in the multiplayer of the Assassin’s Creed games.  That lack of interest, as well as the structure of the multiplayer, has not changed much.  It’s an interesting idea, and it’s nice that it’s different from the typical first person shooter multiplayer, but it also doesn’t really keep my attention very long.  The first problem is that they take so long to explain it in the overlong tutorials for it.  They actually show you how to free run!  Does anyone buy Assassin’s Creed for the multiplayer?  In which case, how would they not already know how to free run, and probably have played the entire story mode before even bothering to give multiplayer a shot.  Then, when you get into the multiplayer, it’s not usually the game of hiding and surprising that the tutorials make it out to be.  It’s mostly just people running around in circles trying to stab each other.

The achievements in this game weren’t insurmountable, but there were still some that I was not going to bother with.  Namely, the multiplayer ones.  But I did get the rest of them.  The only ones that I found very annoying were the ones involving the board games and the damned Encyclopedia of the Common Man stuff.  That was extremely tedious.  You basically have to take a look at everyone in your homestead doing three different versions of their jobs.  They may choose not to do their jobs for about 4 or 5 days because they’d rather be fishing, and you may not be able to kill them in punishment for their inefficiency, but you will have to stand around waiting for them to do it anyway.

Assassin’s Creed 3 was a great game that was hindered by a few minor problems that just should not have been there from a company that makes such polished games usually.  But they were only temporary hindrances in a beautiful game with highly enjoyable gameplay and completely forgettable multiplayer.  I recommend buying this game.  I bought it for $35, which it is totally worth.  I’d still probably get it for $60 though.  Assassin’s Creed 3 gets “My enemy is a notion, not a nation” out of “Better the world burns, than SHE is unleashed upon it!”

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Child of Eden (2011)

An Acid Trip for the Kinect.

I don’t know what drew me to play today’s game, but I finally felt like it had been in my house from Gamefly for far too long already.  When this game came out, I had heard a lot of talk about how visually striking this game was and how it was one of the few games to actually make good use of Microsoft’s much lauded Kinect technology that has thus far proven to me to be fairly lackluster.  Whenever a game is said to be a good use of the technology I wasted $150 on, I get interested.  Will this game come off as pretentious because of its artistic direction?  Will I hate it because it makes me stand up to play it?  We’ll find out as I review Child of Eden, developed by Q Entertainment, published by Ubisoft, and designed by Tetsuya Mizuguchi.

This game has a story, but I don’t much know what it is.  Your goal in the game is to save something called Project Lumi which is tied to a lady that was not born on Earth.  Your goal is to purify Lumi’s memories on a digital level, which you apparently do by going through five levels of an acid trip and holding your hands at your TV.

As indicated, I really can’t talk about the story of the game.  It’s talked about briefly in the setup for the game, but it’s either too briefly talked about or completely crazy.  From what I can tell of the story, it’s creative, but not compelling.  I don’t care about this Lumi bitch.  I’ve only seen brief glimpses of her in the course of the game.  So unmotivated was I that I actually didn’t bother to finish the game.  I got the gist of it out of the first three of five levels in the game and the story wasn’t really mentioned again, so we’ll just move on.

The art direction in this game is beautiful and imaginative, but one could certainly be considered at least on the border of pretentious.  But it completely surpasses trippy.  I’ve never been on an acid trip before, but I certainly feel like I’ve been on one now.  It’s almost impossible to describe.  It’s like travelling down a rainbow corridor surrounded by flowers and flying, Technicolor squid.  It’s a simple look, but it’s very beautiful at the same time.  It also mixes with the audio as a sort of music game.  A lot of percussion and electronica music, spawned by you shooting the enemies, which makes music.  It’s like playing a Blue Man Group concert.

The gameplay is super easy.  Holding up your right hand locks on to up to about 10 different things on the screen and then you unleash by pushing your right hand forward.  The enemies in the game fire purple balls at you on occasion, and you take care of those by holding up your left hand which comes off like machine gun fire.  If you’ve collected one, you can also hold your hands and hit everything on screen.  That’s about all it takes to make it through this game.  The problems I encountered with this game are ones that I’ve encountered on many Kinect games: I don’t like holding my hands at my TV for prolonged periods of time.  Dancing games aren’t as bad, but just holding your arms outstretched for the very long levels of this game can really wear on your muscles.  And the levels, though they don’t really get boring, do take some time.  There’s only five of them, but each one felt like five to ten minutes.  They also don’t have checkpoints as far as I can tell, so if you mess up while fighting the giant phoenix boss at the end of the level then I hope you enjoyed the rest of the level, ‘cause you’ll be playing it again.  You also catch bonuses after each level that I have no idea what the purpose is.  You’re also judged by stars which will unlock the next level, but they’re also the reason I didn’t beat the game.  They’re a little hard to attain and, after the third level, I decided the game was no longer worth the time, effort, and money that I was wasting by keeping it on Gamefly.

Child of Eden was fun for a little while, but I felt like I got the idea pretty quickly and got sick of it just after that.  It’s a pretty game to look at for its creative and colorful look, and the musical aspect makes it somewhat enjoyable as well, but I can only hold my hands at the screen for so long before the feeling of having superpowers is replaced with the reminder that I’m out of shape and mortal and now my arms are tired.  It’s not a bad way to make use of your dust-collecting Kinect, but it still doesn’t override my desire to play games while moving as little as possible.  Child of Eden gets “A Blue Man Group concert that tires out your arm” out of “My arms are tired.  I’m done typing right about …”

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Sniper Elite V2 (2012)

Slow-Mo Surgery With a Bullet.

As far as I can recall, this is actually the first time I’ve ever taken a request for a video game review.  The problem with taking reviews for video games is that video games are expensive and I don’t get paid, nor do I get video games sent straight to me so that they can benefit from my reviews.  I don’t know why as my integrity is so flexible that I would give a game a positive review if it were sent to me for free by the company that makes it.  WINK WINK.  The reason today’s video game was a manageable request to grant is because Phil, the requester, delivered the game to me for a week in order to review it.  Let it be known, if you want me to review a game, give it to me, even if only for a week.  Well, let’s see how this one went as I review Sniper Elite V2, developed by Rebellion Developments, and published by 505 Games and Ubisoft.

You play as Karl Fairburne, an OSS sniper in 1945 Berlin, nearing the end of World War II.  He goes in to shoot a few people.  Then he finds out about the development of the V-2 ballistic missile, which will probably mean bad times for the good guys.  So he has to stop that.  Then he must shoot a few more people.

You could probably have guessed by that last paragraph that the story of this game is nothing to write home about.  What’s more important is that it doesn’t really matter, but we’ll get to that later.  The story is super basic, and takes us back to the WW2 period that I had started to think we had escaped.  There was a period of time when WW2 games seemed to be 90% of the games that were being released.  At the time, I could feel myself getting sick of it along with the rest of the world.  But now that the games feel almost gone, I admit that I kind of missed it.  There is nothing in the world that I can think of that I like shooting more than Nazis.  I am not a fan of those guys.  And really, there’s nothing that I can think of that’s easier on the psyche to shoot.  Even aliens might not be all bad.  I am comfortable shooting any Nazi.  Or German.  Or person, for that matter.  I kill lots of people.  I probably shouldn’t be admitting that.  Anyway, the story is super basic and nothing special.  I might not even really know what it was!  I was a guy who was a good sniper, and I went to various places where I had to kill Nazi’s and Soviets until I reached a place where I killed one main guy that I was sent to kill, or I find some rifle or information, or I shoot a rocket, and then I kill a lot of Nazi’s or Soviets on my way out.  That’s really it.  I don’t think I even took a single note on the story of this game it was so basic.  Does that mean it’s not worth playing?

Nuh uh.  The game play is super satisfying.  What you can probably guess from the title of the game is that you’ll have the opportunity to do some sniping.  What you can’t tell from the title is that is my favorite part of a shooter.  It’s just more satisfying to me to shoot someone that’s running from 100+ yards away than shooting someone in the trenches with a machine gun.  And you know what makes it even more satisfying?  Sniper Elite V2 does.  It’s watching the bullet in slow motion as it flies towards the enemies and pierce their skull, then turning to X-Ray so you can see the impact on their skull and internal organs.  You’d think that would get repetitive and annoying if you’re a good enough sniper to hit headshots or shots to vital almost every time (as I am), but it never did.  If you play on Cadet (Easy) difficulty, you will snipe as in most shooter games.  When your sights are on the enemies’ head, that’s where your bullet will go.  But if you want it to be slightly more difficult and easily more satisfying you can go up to the normal difficulty, where you have to factor in gravity and wind’s impact on the bullet so that you’ll have to aim above the enemy, depending on how far away they are.  It’s more difficult, sure, but when you get the hang of it that head shot means so much more.  The game is played in third-person and you can use cover, but their cover mechanics weren’t that smooth.  Your best bet is to try your best to stick to stealth until you get to a good sniping perch, where you can surround yourself with landmines and trip wire explosives and snipe away, using background explosives to mask the sound of your gun.  The alternative is using the machine gun you brought with you, but that’s not a good alternative.  Ammo can be pretty scarce for it, it doesn’t aim particularly well, and one clip will take out maybe two enemies and you only carry maybe two clips.  I started to get annoyed at one point by how poor their machine gun mechanics were when their sniper mechanics were so good, but then I remembered that the game wasn’t called Machine Gunner Elite V2 and just stopped using the machine gun altogether.  When I needed stealth, I would either stealth kill them by hand or with my silenced pistol, but you have to be careful if you’re trying to be stealthy.  If you set the enemies off looking for you, it can take forever for them to stop.  It’s quicker to just kill them all.  As a small gripe, I found it annoying that you had to change your loadout before each mission, even if you just wanted to keep the same weapons as you ended the last mission with.  And it would’ve been nice to have a few more weapon options other than just three sniper rifles, three machine guns, and three pistols to choose from, but not a super big concern either.

The graphics in the game are pretty hit and miss.  The settings are usually collections of various types of rubble and debris, surrounded by blown out houses that keep your path fairly linear.  The people are unconvincing for the most part, usually pretty generic designs with hair that seemed plastic, but this too wasn’t a real concern of theirs in making the game.  All of the stuff from watching the bullet up close, seeing it spin and reflect the backgrounds off of it before hitting the brainpan of the enemy all looked good.  It’s hard to talk shit about that kind of thing because they did what they wanted to do very well, and everything else they didn’t waste a lot of time on.  I guess that kind of makes sense.  Also, this game’s protagonist is your typical raspy hero type that you may have seen in every other game ever.

Despite it’s super basic story and hit and miss graphics, I still managed to take a great deal of enjoyment out of my brief time with Sniper Elite V2.  The often linear and rudimentary story is easily made up for with some of the best and most satisfying sniping in video games of recent memory.  Mediocre graphics be damned!  I can watch bullets go through lungs!  It’s a short game, and probably not worth the full $50, but if you can find it for about $30 or less, it’s definitely worth it.  The greater majority of the achievements can be worked out in a week, but I wasn’t going to bother with the online play to find out how long that takes.  Sniper Elite V2 gets “Right through the fuckin’ eyeball!” out of “My hair is also made of plastic.”

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Rocksmith (2011)

Unnatural Selection, Muse

I had purchased today’s game quite some time ago, but worked on it gradually until I finally decided that I should review the thing.  I’ve been a fan of the bigger music rhythm games such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero since they were first made available.  I’ve been playing guitar off and on for more than a decade now, but I’ve never been very good at it.  So when some games came along that could at least partially make me feel like I was really playing some of my favorite songs, I was all over it.  I also got to dabble in being mediocre at singing, playing bass, and playing drums.  But this wasn’t making me any better at actually playing guitar.  When a game came along that allowed me to play such games with my actual guitar, I figured it would be the only way to get me to practice.  But would it be enjoyable enough?  Let’s find out when I review Rocksmith, developed and published by Ubisoft.

The story of this game is … uh … you are a person … sitting in your house … playing guitar.  Then you play different songs.

I enjoyed this game, if you can even call it a game.  It’s hard to say.  It’s similar to Rock Band and Guitar Hero in that you play songs and get somewhat arbitrary points, but the points do even less for me here than they did in those games.  In those games, you could create your character and deck him out with new instruments, clothes, and style.  You can pick other guitars in this game, but I’m not sure why.  You don’t see your guitar in the game at all, and I don’t think I ever heard any difference.  In the other games, points also advanced you on to the event and to new songs, and this game does that as well, but I never really felt motivated to get points other than just to play the song well.  So does it help you play the song?  Yeah, kinda.  It depends on how good you are to start with.  My mediocre skills made it a little difficult to play this game.  You start off playing a pretty dumbed down version of the song, playing only single notes and maybe 20% of them.  Then, if you play those well, it starts becoming more and more like the real song, adding more complicated techniques like chords, harmonics, hammer-ons and pull-offs.  But when you’re about halfway between expert and novice, you may already know how to play some of these songs, and that makes it harder to play the dumbed down version because it’s not the muscle memory you’re used to.  And the techniques weren’t introduced in a very wise way, as they would usually throw the technique into the song without telling you what this new symbol is supposed to mean, and then they tell you right after what that was supposed to mean.  At this point in my guitar playing experience, I could mostly figure out that the bar that moves from the third fret to the ninth fret is a slide, and the one that drags out longer is a sustained note, but it would’ve been nice to have a heads up.  But it does indeed help you play … because you’re actually playing guitar.

The graphics of this game don’t make a lot of difference, and they took advantage of that enough to decide not to put a lot of effort into it.  There’s not a whole lot to the menus, and the rehearsal part of the song is usually just a couch on screen that you’re not paying attention to because you’re watching what you’re supposed to be playing.  Even the actual events that you perform after you’ve practiced the songs don’t look good.  I never noticed any difference in the venues even though the game claimed they were different locations.  And the people in the crowd are all two-dimensional and looked terrible.  But, again, it’s not really what you’re watching if you’re like me.  My eyes were glued on the track that showed me what to play next.  Most of the time, I could tell what they were asking me to do, but it was hard to wrap my brain around the color-coated strings because the strings on my guitar aren’t all the colors of the rainbow, so I can’t look down and say, “Oh, I should be playing the yellow string right now.”  And sometimes I lost track of which fret I was supposed to be on because the three-dimensional design they went with to represent the fret board made it difficult to see if they wanted me to be on the third fret or the fourth one.  But it’s all stuff that you can get the hang of.

The songs are pretty important in these games, and I’d say I was vaguely disappointed in the songs that came with the game.  Maybe half of them are songs that I really like or really want to play such as The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”, Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love”, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama”, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ “Higher Ground”, Soundgarden’s “Outshined”, Velvet Revolver’s “Slither”, The White Stripes’ “Icky Thump”, and a couple of good Nirvana songs.  You can’t expect them to demonstrate the exact same taste in music as you, but I got the feeling that they went a lot heavier on the Indie and artsy fartsy stuff, but I suppose that also stands to reason since it’s probably cheaper to get underground shitty music than the mainstream stuff.  It wouldn’t be an issue if you didn’t have to play these songs at least twice to move on to more songs that you may or may not like.  Maybe even more since I would have a much better chance of not scoring high enough on a song I didn’t know as it would just robotically become trying to imitate the notes on the screen as opposed to trying to play a song, but it’s what you have to deal with.  Otherwise, you can always just go and pick a song you want to play instead of doing the career bit.  I also wished that they would organize their songs better, since a good portion of the songs required you to retune your guitar to drop D and going from standard to D and back to standard in the middle of a venue got annoying.

I have not yet gotten all of the achievements for this game, but they don’t seem all that difficult.  A bunch of them will probably be attained just from playing a lot if you do indeed like the game enough to use it as a practice motivator, and the other ones seem like playing fairly simple games.  I would say it’s probably entirely time consuming, so it’s not something to farm achievements if you’re looking to do it quickly.

I would say that Rocksmith is a failure as a game because it’s graphically unimpressive, not enormously fun as far as games go, and give you no real motivation to get high scores.  Where the game does succeed is as a fun way to practice guitar.  It’s more fun than looking up tabs online or taking lessons, and at least you have musical accompaniment.  If you’re looking for a fun party game akin to Guitar Hero or Rock Band, this isn’t it.  If you’re looking for achievements, look elsewhere.  But if you want to practice guitar in a more interesting way than just doing it, Rocksmith serves its purpose.  Rocksmith gets “Icky Thump” out of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.”

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Assassin’s Creed: Revelations (2011)

Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted

Having gotten Skyrim out of my house and having … completed? Rage … I was finally able to jump back into the Animus and head into a sequel in on of my favorite franchises out right now: Assassin’s Creed. As the second Assassin’s Creed game to come out in 2011 (the other being Brotherhood), one may wonder if Ubisoft is over-saturating the market with these games, and when will we get sick of them? But the only time they have disappointed me so far is when they tried to make the game work on the handheld PSP, so let’s see if this game holds up, or if it lets down. Assassin’s Creed: Revelations was developed by Ubisoft Montreal, published by Ubisoft, and features the voices of Roger Craig Smith, Cas Anvar, and Nolan North.

Desmond Miles (Nolan North) is in a coma after the events of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. He wakes up on what appears to be the beach from the end of Contact and is greeted by the remaining consciousness of Subject Sixteen, previous resident of the Animus, now dead. Sixteen tells Desmond that his mind is falling apart and the only way to save it is to finish reliving his ancestor’s memories. He jumps back into the memories of Ezio Auditore Da Firenze (Roger Craig Smith). Ezio goes back to where all the Assassin’s Creed games got their start; the village of Masyaf. Upon arrival, he is captured and nearly executed by Templars, but he escapes and finds there’s a hidden library beneath Masyaf, left by a previous master Assassin, Altair ibn La-Ahad (Cas Anvar). Ezio embarks on a journey to find 5 keys to the library, hidden by Niccolo Polo. He heads to Constantinople, helps a small faction of Assassin’s rise to power, befriends a book collector named Sofia Sartor, and gets involved in a power struggle between potential Sultans.

I haven’t yet met a console Assassin’s Creed game I didn’t like. This game continues in the excellence of the series, but has a few missteps. The game play is roughly the same as every other AC game with a couple, notable changes. All the previews showed a much-aged Ezio, and talk about the game worried me that his ability to traverse the city would be diminished with his age, but Ezio suffered no such ill-effects. Ubisoft has refined the movements of their Assassin’s throughout the games, and it only gets better here. The most notable addition to the game is that the hidden blade now offers a new hook that Ezio can use to propel himself up the sides of buildings quicker, and allows him to zip line across gaps using ropes that connect buildings for no reason I could figure out. But it works, so who cares. You still have many of the items you had in previous games, such as swords, daggers, maces, a gun, a crossbow, poison, and throwing knives. They added in a pretty complicated bomb-making process that allowed you to make bombs with deadly things and things that will distract. It was a bit over-complicated to combine the various ingredients and make bombs, but also something I never really found the need for, so I barely used them. They bring back a part I rather liked from Brotherhood in that you can now train Assassin’s and send them out on missions and use them in battles, but now you can assign them to lead Assassin dens and control portions of the city. This also brought along something I wasn’t that fond of in the little mini-games to keep control of those parts of the city. I don’t know what the world’s obsession with tower defense games is, but I don’t feel like they have much of a place in my Assassin’s Creed games. It basically becomes a group of Templars running down a street and you trying to stop them by putting different types of Assassin’s on the rooftops or behind barricades you can place. It’s super easy to take out most of the foot Templars, but then it ends with a giant battering ram that is barely affected by any kind of Assassin you can place. But, thankfully, you can avoid having to play this more than once if you keep your Templar awareness down. The combat is smooth and satisfying, and handles a lot like Batman: Arkham Asylum/City, but you don’t have to have some pussy code about not killing people. And the ways Ezio finishes people off are more brutal and awesome in this game than in the others. You can jam your hook into enemies and slam them into the ground, stab them in the stomach and lift the blade through the top of their head, and (my favorite) stab them through the face, spin the sword (and their head) around 360 degrees, and then remove the sword.

The story is roughly as confusing as it always is. All of the stories are pretty straight-forward throughout, but then take some strange, confusing turn at the end. The pattern is that you’re Desmond, you go into the machine, you relive the memories of Altair/Ezio, and then at the end you find out something about the First Civilization that existed on earth before mankind and then I can’t really figure the rest out. I’ve always felt like these games would work a lot better for me if they cut out the whole Desmond/Animus thing and just let us be Ezio and Altair. Their stories are pretty interesting and well flushed out. My favorite part of the story was Ezio’s relationship with Sofia. They seemed to develop some affections for each other, but their interactions were great, and the graphics really captured their personalities on their faces. Most of it was a very subtle flirtation, but it seemed they may end up together after the events of the game. My favorite part of the game is you get to be Altair again. HUZZAH! It was good to not only get to play as Altair again, but actually find out what happened to him after the events of Assassin’s Creed, as he’s not a significant part of any other game besides the crappy PSP game. The only problem with Altair was playing him as an old man because he couldn’t run, and the walking took too long. In Assassin’s Creed 2 and Brotherhood, you got to interact with Leonardo Di Vinci, but you didn’t get any cool historical person to interact with in this game. They had Suleiman, Niccolo Polo, Prince Ahmet, Selim, and Mauel Palaiologos, but I didn’t know any of them. I was also a little disappointed in the items that you can unlock in the game, just because previous games let you collect some Altair armor, and this game gets you some good armor, but nothing that mattered to me because I’d never heard of the person who’s armor you unlock.

Assassin’s Creed 2 introduced something to the series that it has taken me some time to warm up to: multiplayer. I refused to play it in AC2 out of the assumption that it was a typical game staple of having to tack on pointless mutliplayer so that people wouldn’t sell your game. I just wanted the single player experience, personally, and that multiplayer was wasting valuable realty on my discs. When it showed up again in Brotherhood, I gave it a try for about an hour, but got bored and stopped playing. I typically will only venture into multiplayer gaming for FPS games, and was not that interested in trying something new. I put much more time into the multiplayer here. I’m beginning to respect it. It takes a novel, new approach to multiplayer. This game is about patience and planning, not about running and gunning. Each player picks a character and is dropped into a section of city with multiple versions of your character. Your goal is then to walk around the battlefield, find your target, and kill them as stealthily as you can, while also keeping a weary eye out for the person hunting you. You find your target, press X to kill them. You become the target, press B to stun them, then beat cheeks to escape. It’s actually quite enjoyable, though the more experienced players do have a bit of unfair advantage based on the skills they’ve unlocked. It’s still very satisfying to blend into a group with one or two more AI characters that look just like you and watch the person hunting you accidentally stab one of the innocent people thinking it was you. Also, trying to get close to your target while trying to behave like AI so as not to give yourself away is pretty exciting as well. One big issue I have with the multiplayer is that I don’t think it will hold my interest for too long. It’s a nice change of pace, but it gets stale for me. Also, pretty much every game type just basically turns into a stab fest anyway. Whether you’re supposed to stab someone who has the special item, stab people to corrupt them and make them join you, or stab people to stab people.

The achievements are easy, but a little time consuming. The ones that may give you trouble is the 100% synchronization on all of the memories (which is a sentence that is total gibberish to anyone who hasn’t played the series), the collecting, and the multiplayer, but all of them are pretty enjoyable to get, so I’d say it’s worth the time.

I still find myself in love with the Assassin’s Creed series. Even though they’re on their 4th console title, and number 5 is supposed to come out before the end of 2012, they have kept the series fresh and enjoyable with fantastic controls, satisfying combat, fantastic graphics, a great and well-told (if a bit confusing) story, and even unique and enjoyable multiplayer. From what I’ve heard, the next game may well be the end of the series, and it will most likely take place in present day with us playing as Desmond. I will still be playing it, but I do wish they had taken us into more times as people rumored they would. A Japanese ninja-esque Assassin would have been fun, but also may have just been a Tenchu game. Either way, this game is great, and I’m on board for the next installment. I bought it, and I think you should too, especially if you’re a fan of the series. If not, maybe just rent it and see. But, for me, Assassin’s Creed: Revelations gets “Could it be that you are every bit as deadly as the legends say?” out of “Trust without cynicism is hollow.”

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