My Declaration of Rights: A Missive From An Angry, Yet Hopeful, Assassins Creed Fan

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. That was the motto of the French Revolution, which set in motion a series of events that breathed fresh air into ideas such as nationalism, democracy, and liberalism.  With the recently announced Assassins Creed: Unity,  Ubisoft itself seems to be breathing new air into its own marquee franchise, creating the very first Assassins Creed exclusively for the new console generation.  But will the old ideals of previous AC games make their way into the new and improved version?

For me, I was hoping that Assassins Creed 4 would rival Assassins Creed 2 as the premiere title  in the series. Instead, I got was the same game I’ve been playing the last four years.  Is this what passes for sequels now?  The same game, set in a different time period or location?  In other words: the series hasn’t changed.  I go into every AC game, hoping they cut out the unnecessary animus story but it’s still there.  Whenever it comes up, I just find myself increasingly uninterested and eventually losing interest and just burning through missions.

assassin-s-creed-black-flagOne thing I absolutely cannot gripe about, though, is Ubisoft’s attention to detail of said historic places. Ubisoft is just unbelievably talented at making everything look awesome.  Much credit to the design team because every game I am more in awe of the detail they put into the environments.  I anxiously await the chance to run pell-mell through turn of the century France. Actually, I’m looking to run pell-mell through pallid, consumptive Parisian whores. (ed. note: seriously; where’s my AAA-title sex mini game?)

So much like Impervious Rex says ever single year he’s NOT getting the new entry into the Call of Duty series yet does (ed. note: what a hypocrite), I promised myself that I wouldn’t get the new Assassins Creed unless it took place during the French Revolution.  Well, apparently Ubisoft has been spying on me because here we are. Damn you, Ubisoft, damn you all the way to the ATM for my $65 and change. Now let’s hope you can pull off something revolutionary worth my hard-earned francs.

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Back with a Bang!!

Like the moon, I wax AND I wane! Though I never know which is which, so suffice it to say that I have returned. I know it’s been awhile but you can blame/thank the state of New Jersey who apparently wants people like me to play video games less and worry about educating their children more. LAME.

Why do teachers have to waste their time on such petty things like making sure students meet their SGOs (Student Goal Objectives)?  I didn’t get into teaching to change lives, I got into teaching for that first week in November where you work on Monday, have Tuesday off for Election Day (play the new Call of Duty), work again on Wednesday, then have Thursday and Friday off to go down to Atlantic City and gamble your face off (I mean…attend the Teachers Convention), recuperate over the weekend (Again, more Call of Duty), THEEEEEN, have Monday off for Veterans Day (You guessed it, more Call of Duty)  So while I’ve been slaving away, perfecting my lesson plans and making sure all the children of the Garden State get my best,my video gaming time has become scant.

For real though,  I love my job.  But the most recent  Call of Duty: Ghosts launch trailer has me just a wee bit excited for the first week in November. And the PS4…and Assassin’s Creed IV….and Killzone(ed.note: Killzone? Really??)……and Battlefield 4. Here’s hoping the state and the union agree on more of those five day weekends.

Hey Look, a New Assassin’s CrezzzzZZZZZZZZZZ

ac4bfps3uk2d-1362054374So is the Assassin’s Creed franchise just cranking out full fledged sequels every six months now? Seems like we JUST heard about ACIII and now all of a sudden viola! on October 29th, 2013 we’ve got ACIV (ed. note: Assassin’s Creed III went on sale October 30, 2012. So for those that are terrible at math like Mr. Rex here, that’s almost a year to the day of the last release). This Monday we should know more about Assassin’s Creed: Curse of the Black Pearl as the trailer is slated to bow on March 4th, promptly at ZULU TIME. Ok, maybe not ZULU TIME, I just like writing ZULU TIME. Can this series keep your interest with a change of location and main character? Either way, we now know that four things are inevitable: Death, taxes, a new Assassin’s Creed & Call of Duty game every fall and I could really go for some pizza.

 

Microtransactions in console games? Aw what the crap.

Dead_Space_moneyI got bored long before I finished Mass Effect 2 and Assassin’s Creed II so I never played the “final” installments in either series. Had I done so, Eurogamer informs me, I might have noticed a sinister conspiracy taking shape on my screen. No, not some convoluted Illuminati and/or Illusive Man nonsense. Something seriously nefarious: microtransactions that allow players to skip past grinding and upgrade their gear more easily.

THE FUCK?

In the crowded mobile gaming market, I get it. With so many zillions of apps, you need to be inventive to successfully monetize. You sneak into a gamer’s pocket with the promise of free-to-play. Once they’re hooked, those innocent looking in-app purchases drain their unsuspecting bank account 99 cents at a time like the Pied Piper of Wallet. I never make in-app purchases but some do and I can’t blame them: if you’re having fun, a few dollars is a fair price to unlock a free-to-play game’s full potential. I’d prefer to know up front how much it’s going to cost me to enjoy a game but whatever, that’s the nature of the beast.

But this shit? You’re already paying a hefty price for console games, and now they’re basically offering to sell you cheat codes to get unlimited in-game supplies if you have sufficient real world coin. This is a slippery fucking slope people.

Deadspace 3 is the latest game to announce such a system. While Visceral Games swears this demonic form of “downloadable content” can’t be used to get the best guns right out of the gate, the game that will allow you to do just that can’t be too far off. After that, I can imagine console and PC games intentionally being made too difficult to be fun without additional money spent on power-ups. “Just a little taste,” they say. “Just this once. It’s only 99 cents, and it’ll feel…so…good…”

[Eurogamer via Kotaku]

Assassin’s Creed III Review

What is it about the third and final act of a trilogy that unfailingly seems to disappoint? You’ve seen it countless times: The Dark Knight Rises, Matrix Revolutions, Spider Man 3, Return of the Jedi… (although, in the interest of full disclosure, the nostalgic chewy center of my heart will anachronistically rope-log-smash your big stupid head if you talk too much shit about Jedi).

Is it a result of the unfairly high expectations that the first two entries in the series have set up? Or perhaps it’s that all the best ideas have been used up by the time the third installment rolls around, and it’s less a matter of inspiration and more about getting it out the door and moving on?

My point being: Assassin’s Creed III snugly fits into the time-honored blueprint – the third (numbered) entry of the Assassin’s Creed franchise is indeed the one with the hairy chest.

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AC III starts out promisingly enough. After the obligatory future-science-conspiracy plot introduction starring series protagonist Desmond Miles, you are whisked back in time to inhabit the life of another one of your ancestors, who at the onset of the story lives in 18th century London. You play through a super cool tutorial mission involving an assassination at the Theatre Royal during a performance of “The Beggar’s Opera,” and soon find yourself on a ship headed for The American Colonies. A few more tutorial-style tasks later, as your journey nears its end, you climb the ship mast, the music swells and the title card appears as The New World rolls up on the horizon. It’s pretty stirring, and it represents the best of what the Assassin’s Creed series has to offer: a sense of historical majesty that makes the games’ settings so unique.

However, another of the series’ trademarks is its open-ended nature — the ability to travel about a series of lovingly crafted historical settings as you wish, completing missions, getting into trouble or simply exploring the sights, and I was puzzled at how limited I felt during the game, post-introduction. You are given one straightforward mission after another, and while you can veer off the path a little bit, the game’s structure feels very linear at first. In fact, without giving too much away, it’s a solid 4-6 hours of gameplay before the story really kicks into gear and the world truly opens up. As a longtime player of the series, I knew this was coming, but I fear that a newcomer might be tempted to give up after such an extended prologue, not knowing that the true game was still hours away. It’s a bit of a puzzling barrier to entry from a design standpoint.

But once the world of Assassin’s Creed III does open up, it does so in a big way. In addition to the bustling colonial settlements of New York and Boston, you are also free to explore a huge Frontier area packed with animals to hunt, trees and cliffs to climb and secrets to uncover. It looks gorgeous, especially when the seasons change from summer to winter and back again, and the tree-running controls are smooth and intuitive, allowing you to cross long stretches of land hopping from branch to branch without touching the ground. There’s also a huge Homestead, AC III’s answer to AC II’s upgradeable Villa, which functions as a kind of home-base hub that features plenty to do on its own, including settlers to help out, a manor to decorate with trophies and a ship to upgrade.

Speaking of the ship, from your Homestead you can access an entire suite of sea-based side missions, in which you pilot a fully-equipped war vessel and take part in naval battles that require strategic maneuvering in order to get into good firing position while trying to avoid being outflanked yourself. These naval missions are a hell of a lot of fun and easily one of the highlights of AC III… I could play an entire “Assassins of the Carribbean” spin-off game based around this concept alone. (You’re welcome, Ubisoft).

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Back on dry land, you of course find yourself involved in the American Revolution for the meat of the game, a setting that is both uniquely fascinating and surprisingly limiting, as you tend to Gump your way from one famous set-piece to the next without it making much narrative sense. One moment you’re sharing a horse with Paul Revere, the next you’re suddenly present in Philadelphia for the signing of the Declaration of Independence and then you’re holed up with General Washington at Valley Forge. While it’s true that any Revolutionary War story worth its tea needs to include these moments, I really thought that they could have been done better and linked together more coherently. I often felt more like a historical tourist as opposed to a force of nature shaping the course of history, like I did during the Italian Renaissance in the best moments of AC II.

Ultimately, the story as a whole lacks urgency. It’s hard to feel like you’re shaping the course of a Revolution when Samuel Adams tells you the only way to fight for freedom is to run out and collect 10 feathers or deliver 5 telegrams or some goddamned mundane thing. The third act to a trilogy should feel impossibly epic, like the culmination of every story element that came before it coming to a cathartic head, but instead AC III seems to rely more on your previous knowledge of this period of history to fill in the dramatic blanks, which I felt was a huge miss and the game’s biggest flaw.

The gameplay itself is fine enough. The running and climbing works as well as it always has, which can feel insanely smooth and fast, and yet you’ll sometimes catch a wall at the wrong angle which will stop you dead — sometimes literally if you’re being pursued by a gang of uppity Redcoats.

The combat still relies on the same block, counter, retaliate pattern from previous games, where you’ll be surrounded by a group of guys that will idiotically attack you one at a time. The combat animations have been spruced up, though, and after a little practice you’ll start chaining together some super cool combos. My favorite involves blasting a guy with his own musket and then using it as a melee weapon against his buddies. You can also do a sweet counter move where you block musket fire using some poor sucker as a human shield. The combat is visceral and crunchy and splattery and fun, although to be honest it feels a tad slower and off-step from its smoother cousin, that of the Arkham series.

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Still, though, the best part about any Assassin’s Creed game is running around the open world, exploring and collecting and fighting, and there’s plenty of that to be done here. I continued to play AC III after I had finished the story to go after more side-missions and collectibles, and I tend to use that as a personal measure of the enjoyment I find in a game.

Perhaps the reason it’s so difficult to knock Assassin’s Creed III is that there’s nothing outright bad about it. Most of the individual aspects of the game are either good or good enough. I suppose that, ultimately, it just kind of ends up being worse than the sum of its parts. Which, when you’re trying to stick the landing of a potentially epic trilogy, can be disastrous.

Bottom line: If you’re already in the Assassin’s Creed fan club, then you’ll definitely find plenty of elements to like here – but will ultimately be let down. If you’re not already a fan, but are curious about the series, play ACII instead. It’ll make you one.

The VPH (early) Review: Assassins Creed 3……Is Bigger Better?

Ubisoft gave audiences such high hopes for Assassins Creed 3.  They promised they would take the series in a new direction with all new characters, story arcs, settings, and side missions and in my opinion, they certainly delivered.  It’s refreshing to see a different story in a different location. For the last three it seemed like the series was stuck in Limbo while Ubisoft kept releasing new games that were essentially content cut from previous installments.  This time though, we have a fresh face and fresh take on the Assassin/Templar legend alongside new side quests that are large enough that they could each be their own game.  The game is set during the American Revolution, where a half English/half Mohawk named Conner is thrown into the middle of the Assassin/Templar war.  Wonderful improvements, but is it better?

To begin with, the story is much more comprehensible than the previous three installments.  As a history teacher the games that I most enjoy playing are those that involve historical fiction.  Even though it takes some time to get off the ground, by and large I’m pretty invested in the game. Hell for the first part of the story you’re not even playing as the main character.  I’m six hours in and the Revolution isn’t close to starting yet.  Nice to see that plot was actually thought about and the well populated with strong, interesting characters.

On the other hand,  it just feels like it drags a bit.  Certain points during the first few hours were a bit silly. SPOILER:  The owl flying across the screen. Come on, REALLY? Now we’re playing as owls?  END SPOILER. Assassins Creed 2 is still my favorite and as a stand-alone story it was top notch. It was the first game on the PS3 where I really felt the impact of an open world type game with an amazing assortment of side quests. Plus, being a fanatic about all things Italy, the time period that the game was set in really spoke to me.

The mission layout is exactly like the previous installments.  Complete the mission but follow a strict set of guidelines to get 100% credit for the missionwhich means nothing to the actual story.  I can see if there were trophies involved but there aren’t, so what’s the point aside from a completionist perspective?  It seems solely like a specific way that the developers want you to play the game.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but provide us with some kind of incentive to do so.  If most of the world surrounding Conner is free roam why aren’t the missions? I love trying to follow the guidelines that are established before the mission begins, but make it worth our while.  The same can be said about the weapons system.  Whats the point of acquiring new weapons if it does not change the outcome of anything other than the animation.  This was perhaps my only gripe with Assassins Creed 2.  How about some kind of leveling system or a type of point system that rewards you for using different weapons?  But maybe I’m contradicting myself since I’m focusing on the “Is Bigger Better” theme here.  DAMN IT NOW I’M CONFUSED!

To me, Assassins Creed games are comparable to the Matrix movies.  The Matrix and Assassins Creed 2 were Bad Ass. (I’m leaving out AC1 one because EVERYONE knew that it was shit and not polished yet).  The Matrix Reloaded and Assassins Creed: Brotherhood were both good with some excellent scenes but in all likelihood unnecessary.  The Matrix Revolutions and Assassins Creed: Revelations were completely unnecessary cash grabs.  I cant even being to tell you what the hell went on the third Matrix film and as for AC:R, the city of Constantinople really didn’t do it for me.

Back to one of the aspects of the game that I am really enjoying, and that’s the side quests.  It’s very similar to Red Dead Revolver in terms of open world side missions.  Naval warfare, hunting, picking fights with the British and challenging fort defenses.  I’m sure most gamers out there have said to themselves while playing a game “How cool would it be if you could go hunting? How awesome would it be if you could free roam in the woods and trade?”  Well, it turns out that it’s much better in theory than in practice. So, careful what you wish (or quasi-hope) for!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for another, more in-depth review once I’ve sank some serious hours into the game in addition to my multiplayer review.  With most of the games that I play I like to knock out the single player campaign before I dive into the MP aspect.  Since I was the first person in Blockbuster to rent the game post Hurricane Sandy I got the Online Pass for free.  Yay me.  Remember to add me to your friends list (our gamer-tags are in the right hand column)  Ill be seeing you online…but you won’t be seeing me.  Get it? ‘ cause I’m, like,  an assassin and you cant see me….NEVERMIND.

Trailer Park: If It’s Assassin’s Creed THREE, Why Have There Been FIVE Console Games?

Dude, I don’t know. Math I guess. BUT! This trailer will get you caught up if you’re in the dark as to who this guy in the white hoodie is & why he’s so insistent on parkouring all over the place while stabbing everyone. Also, why does he seem to be a time traveler? Answers below chief.