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Saturday, January 08, 2011

Game Play: Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

I was somewhat surprised when I finished Assassin's Creed Brotherhood last night, and I think if I pulled up the game right now I'm still at like 62% "synchronicity", which is apparently Assassin's snarky way of talking about "completion". I had gotten so used to mixing up story missions with wandering for side missions - but the way the last few missions were structured ropes you into a more linear path. Once you've recovered a certain spherical MacGuffin, it's rather off to the races.

For me, the Assassin's Creed franchise is starting to feel a little like Dynasty Warriors. Some of the hardcore gamers might take that as a knock, but The Girl and I played the living hell out of those games. That was until the PS3 generation and I think while I was playing like, Dynasty Warriors Monopoly or something, I realized that there was very little new here and while I still liked the core mechanics - I was already getting somewhat bored with them.

Ubisoft is making a noble attempt to keep the gameplay fresh ... but before we get to the new mechanics, let's look at what is similar here. Your main avatar gets knocked down, stripped of all his cool gadgets, seems to forget previous tricks and has to start from scratch rebuilding himself and the area around him. To do this, you'll jump around some occasionally overly convenient areas, punch, stab and kill. Often by leaping on someone's head.

And that all still works. Well, mostly at least. The rebuilding mechanic is rather flawed, I think. You spend money to rehab shops the Borgia have, for some reason, shut down, and in return you get part of their income. I didn't know that this was Extortionist's Creed as well, but there you go. The real end result of how the shops are laid out is that towards the end of the game you'll have enough money to buy the Colosseum three times over but still can't find a damn blacksmith when you want one. There are other excuses to spend money, like buying the Colosseum or repairing old ruins ... which really just give you more racket money.

The Borgia Towers were, I think, a better twist. In order to remove Borgia influence, you have to assassinate a captain and burn his tower down. Essentially a free mode assassination mission which actually makes it easier to get other missions done. They were fun and I actually felt like they were having an impact.

I was also constantly baffled as to why the game doesn't have a "restart from checkpoint" option. If I die, I can "restart from checkpoint" - but if I want to restart from just the menu, I have to go all the way to beginning of the mission? Could I just get a "die now" option?

One big addition to the game is the ability to find and train new assassin's. Most of this is split into two things: a zero player style admin game where you send guild members off to far away lands to earn XP and the ability to hit a shoulder button and rain fiery death from the sky. OK, the death isn't really fiery so much - but the general outcome is that guards get their ass kicked to some varying degree.

The training aspect is nearly non-existent. You can upgrade their weapon points. Or armor points. It doesn't really matter since it seems to have no impact on their success, so just auto-upgrade anyway. You can also change the color of their costume, but it only does anything on the admin screen - anywhere else they always wear white. You know the chance of success of the mission and making sure mine were 85% or above - I never failed one. The "brotherhood" in Assassin's Creed Brotherhood is an interesting twist which adds some value, but has little meat on it.

If anything, the big addition here is multiplayer. And I have to give Ubisoft credit here - Brotherhood's multiplayer is a very bold concept. It's the kind of thing I wish more games would attempt instead of just jamming multiplayer deathmatch into every concept. You play as an Abstergo/Templar trying to kill other Templars is an area populated by NPC's. You get a PC target as your prey, and usually you are someone else's target as well. You need to spot your target with a proximity indicator and their behavior while trying to blend in well enough (or run fast enough) to avoid your potential killer.

It's actually rather brilliant, especially for a console title. It mostly works really well, though I think the team versions muddy the waters a bit. My only complaint is that once that fresh gameplay smell wears off, it feels a little redundant. Spawn, walk, run ... stab or run away. Repeat.

But honestly, that's not surprising. The game should be praised for trying something different online, which is why I think everyone should go, buy it and try it out. I'd love to see another iteration of this concept.

So short version: the game is still one of the few that makes me enjoy jumping puzzles while playing it - at least most of the time, and it will always be fun to stalk some poor sap from a rooftop. That said, I'm not overly inclined to go get closer to 100% synchronicity now that the main story is over. I may finish off the Temple missions, though the reward of some new suit of armor I'll never actually wear has little shine to it.

Short, short version? It's good - and if you're a Creed fan you've probably already played it and are about to send me an angry email about how I didn't refer to the Colosseum as "Colosseo" or some such.

But for next one, the franchise really needs to crank it up notch.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Game Play: GoldenEye 007 (Wii)

The original GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64 was such a high watermark that it still pales over console shooters today. The game's level design, pacing, weapon selection and multiplayer modes still impact designs today, but perhaps most importantly was the game's ability to tell a story despite the constraints of the cartridge based format. Gamers who played the game will still remember scenes where they dropped in on guards, protected Natalya from swarms of soldiers, and stormed after Trevelyan ... a far cry from the "find the red key" norm from shooters of the day.

Eurocom was responsible for The World Is Not Enough also on the the N64, one of the few games not done by Rare or ex-Rare developers which clearly had learned from the earlier game. So if any company other than Rare could take the original classic and update it for the Wii, it would probably have been them.

GoldenEye on the Wii follows the same basic skeleton of the original game while adding in-game cinematics, more expansive and detailed levels, more modern weapon selections and online multiplayer. The port is carefully done, with an emphasis on the elements from the original and maintaining new versions of scenes fans will remember while making sure the game doesn't feel out of date for the Call of Duty crowd as well. The result is possibly one of the best shooters on the platforms which can take advantage of modern design while making sure fans of the original can keep their nostalgia safe and secure. It is quite probably the best the Wii gamers could have asked to have.

The online mode is decent by most standards, but top notch for a Wii game ... the platform still struggles for a definitive online experience. I'm not sure I'm a fan of it having experience levels considering how much fun the original was to play with proximity mines and other gadgets out of the box, but again the online manages to capture much of the same pacing and fun of the original. Technically my only complaint with it is that the spawning logic on some of the game modes seems off ... hard to build up a solid defense when you're getting placed far away from your goal. Still, the only real problem is that aren't enough people playing it.

I hate to say it, but I would love to see a Sony Move version of the same game with updated graphics and PSN support. Games like GoldenEye and Red Steel 2 shows that good games are still quite worth playing on the Wii, but the console still shows a serious technical divide when you compare it to the other platforms.

Highly recommend however.