Motion Sickness

28 06 2010

Perfection.

So, games industry… What the crap is wrong with these!? Sure, it doesn’t include everything, but the above picture works fine to show the natural progression of the controller throughout gaming’s 30-some year history. Controllers certainly have come a long way since the old Pong controller or the Atari 2600, which were little more than a way to move a single button. Many non-gamers draw the line at the NES model. Any more than two “action” buttons (I’m not considering start and select as action buttons since, come on. They paused/actived the menu for 95% of the games) and a d-pad is too confusing for them. I’m not trying to talk down to non-gamers in any way, just saying that’s what I’ve experienced in my life. A common complaint when I’ve asked my parents or other people who don’t game to try and play a game is that the controllers are too confusing these days.

Sure, controllers are more confusing but guess what? Games are more intricate these days too. You can’t play a game like Red Dead Redemption, Assassin’s Creed, GTA or most any other game on the market without the controllers we have nowadays. We need the buttons to be able to change weapons, a second stick to control the camera, face buttons to do different attacks, things like that. The controller as we know it seems to have reached its peak with the PlayStation DualShock (Hey Sony: intercapping is dumb). It brought four shoulder buttons, two analog sticks that could be pressed in for two more buttons, a d-pad, and four face buttons. You add in start and select, and that’s 10 buttons if you include R3 and L3. The model has been around since 1996 and it’s worked great since then. However, leave it to Nintendo to change things up 10 years later with the Wii and change the whole damn game.

Fuck yoooooouuuuu!

The model we’d come to know and love was replaced instead by this… Oddness. Sure, we’re used to it now, but you remember how weird it was when you first saw it, we all do. There’s no second analog stick, the buttons were cut from 10 to 8 (admittedly, not too big a loss), with two of them (+ and – ) being awkward to use in most games, and 1 and 2 being pretty far away from the A and B buttons, and so on. The biggest change with this, however, was the motion control. The Wiimote not only had an IR sensor for pointing, but it also had built-in accelerometers to detect tilt, movement and so on. The nunchuck also had one, so developers realized they could swap normal button presses, such as attacks, with waggle.

To all hardcore gamers’ surprise, the Wii was an incredible success. I’m sure you all remember the launch. We were like kids. The possibilities were endless! You could swing the Wiimote and it’d be just like using a real sword! You could tilt it side to side, hold it sideways like a driving wheel to turn! It would revolutionize gaming as we knew it! Turns out we were right and wrong on that one. Sure, there were times when games would benefit from motion control, or at least the Wiimote’s IR capabilities. Zelda: Twilight Princess is a great example, at least in terms of the IR. Aiming your slingshot, bow and hookshot was a breeze with pointing and clicking. However, it wasn’t long before gamers realized that waggling… Well, it sucked. It was unresponsive at times, it definitely wasn’t accurate in your motions and it was tiring to do for more than 10 minutes, let alone an entire game.

Many gamers saw the Wii as Nintendo basically telling them, “So long, thanks for the memories.” It was easy to think that, too. The Wii became an instant hit among casual gamers while hardcore gamers moved to greener pastures. Shovelware was flooded to the Wii like flies to crap. The Wii became a running joke among gamers, who rarely touched it because it had so few games worth playing. Despite all this, the Wii sold like bacon-flavored hotcakes made of gold. To this day, it still sells amazingly well each month, despite having been out for nearly four years. It’s absolutely mind-boggling to imagine, so it’s no surprise that the other companies tried to capitalize on this by adding motion control gimmicks of their own.

First was Sony with their Sixaxis controller, which launched with the PS3. It was a total disaster. Its gimmick was an accelerometer that would detect when the controller was tilted to and fro. It was supposed to be used for controlling vehicles, certain attacks (allowing movement of the controller with the control stick) and other things, but it just didn’t work. Accelerometers are fickle things that often need to be calibrated and unless they’re very sensitive, have trouble detecting rapid movements like gamers would often do. The main thing is, we were used to using an analog stick to control our characters and vehicles, and we liked it. Gamers, for the most part, didn’t want motion control.

Unfortunately for us, we can’t always get what we want.

FFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

Oh shit. Whether we wanted it or not, Sony and Microsoft wanted a piece of the motion control pie. Kinect (called Natal at its announcement last year) was revealed to be a controller-less gaming accessory that made YOU the controller. Move, on the other hand, is basically a Wiimote and nunchuck. Nothing more to it, really. So… Shit. No longer can gamers rest easy knowing the motion control fad is Nintendo only. Microsoft and Sony are hoping to tap into the casual friendly approach and grab some grandmas and moms to play casual games, just like on the Wii.

Kinect is especially intriguing to us gamers since… There is no controller. At least with the Wii and Move, there’s something you hold, something with actual buttons, while Kinect is just a camera and microphone. People are expected to play games by waving their arms around, kicking, jumping and generally acting like a buffoon. That may work fine if you have an entire stage or gigantic living room to play games in, but many gamers just don’t have that.

Derp.

So, yeah. It’s something most gamers aren’t really excited about. Us gamers are a lazy, stubborn bunch. We like being able to sit on our asses and relax as we game. Kinect sees that and is like, “Get off your fat ass, you whore!” Kinect tracks your entire body and, while it is interesting, it’s just not practical for anything other than off-shoot party games. Microsoft knows that, so you won’t see Gears of War 4 or Halo: Reacharound on Kinect, but the point is, it shouldn’t exist. It has no reason to, and it’s just stupid.

The Move, on the other hand, is basically a Wiimote and nunchuck. Maybe it’s a bit more accurate than those, but it’s the same thing. Move is supposed to be used with a camera as well, which is why the “remote” controller has the large ball- Sony claims it’s a motion-tracking ball like actors use on motion capture suits for movies.

It's like you're IN the game, dood!

Unfortunately, what this all comes down to is waggle. The thing everyone hated about the Wiimote is all the Kinect and Move bring to the table. They can offer 1:1 movement until the cows come home, but unless there’s some sense of feedback, some way of us being able to actually FEEL our swing stop when we hit something, it’s just going to be waggle. With motion control, there’s no way of knowing when a blow hits or misses. Sure, the Wiimote and Move can vibrate, but that’s not the same as the actual physical sensation of hitting something. On top of that, it’s very difficult to accurately convey a movement. The beauty of a controller is you press the button, the attack or action is done. It’s easy and, most of all, it’s accurate. We play games to relax, we play them to escape. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy myself when I flail around like an idiot and hope that one of my arm waggles will do what I want. When I’m drunk, sure, but when I’m trying to actually PLAY A DAMN GAME, no. Motion control doesn’t seem to be trying to replace the controllers we’ve come to know and love… yet. Who knows how long it’ll be before that happens though. All I know is when it does, it’ll be a sad day for all of us lazy gamer assholes.





The Truth (Assassin’s Creed 1 and 2)

20 06 2010

Ok, so this is going to wrap up my coverage on Assassin’s Creed. Oh yeah, HUGE STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

That is correct.

This is the last image you see when you play Assassin’s Creed. Desmond looks at the wall, sees all these symbols, the camera zooms in and the credits roll. The end. Gamers were left for two years to ponder just what the hell it meant, and speculation ran wild. Fans were able to get some ideas, but there were no real answers. We were left to guess and wonder until Assassin’s Creed 2 came out. Holy shit, did the game’s story take a turn for the awesome.

Like I said in talking about the first game, it was clear there was more going on than the story of the Assassins back in 1192. We knew the Templars wanted something, but we didn’t know what it was. Eventually, the Assassins’ leader tells us they want an artifact, something that was used since the dawn of mankind to trick the minds of many. At the end of the game, after you defeat the Templar leader (so you believe), you return to find Al Mualim, your leader and leader of the Assassins possessed the item and was going to use its power to control the minds of men.

HE'S EVIL I TELLS YA! EVIIIIIIIIIL!

When Altair defeats Al Mualim, he receives the item, which projects a sort of holographic map of the entire world, with a  few dots on various parts of the world. We’re never told what this represents in the first game, but eventually in Assassin’s Creed 2, Ezio and friends find a similar map, and find that these dots are locations of similar artifacts. AC2 also gives a name to this item: The Apple of Eden.

So ok, we end with Altair and the Assassins (sounds like a kickass band name, by the way) having the Apple of Eden in his possession. What did he do with it? Well, you never really find out for sure, but you do get hints. The PSP game Assassin’s Creed: Bloodlines takes place after the first Assassin’s Creed and covers Altair’s attempts to shut down the Templars once and for all. I’ll admit I never played the game, so I can’t really tell you what happened in it other than it further his story, showed a romantic interest (which would lead eventually to Ezio and Desmond) and some other things. However, from what I gathered, there isn’t really all that much that was revealed in this game that wasn’t revealed in AC2.

So let’s just dive into AC2, shall we? Like I said in my previous entry, AC2 picks up literally moments after AC1 ended. Desmond is looking at that image, wondering what it all means when he is rescued by a fellow Assassin and familiar face from the first game. We learned in the first game that Desmond was not the first subject Abstergo used to attempt to find these artifacts, but he is the 17th. Throughout AC1, you have the option of finding out more about a mysterious man known only as subject 16. This man was eventually driven insane and died, but before he died, he uncovered something about mankind, about history that would shake the foundations of society. Basically, everything we know is a lie, nothing we know is true.

Subject 16 had uncovered The Truth.  Throughout AC2, you’ll find strange glyphs on walls. These glyphs, when scanned, open a strange puzzle that must be solved and, when solved, will give you a piece of the puzzle that is The Truth.

There’s an example of one of these glyphs, hidden in the game world. There is a total of 20 of these and it’s entirely up to the player to find them. They can be found in any order, and the puzzles will always be the same. These puzzles, however, carry a LOT of intrigue for the overall story. We learn about many conspiracies throughout time, often involving historical figures and pieces of Eden. We learn that Jesus had at least one piece of Eden, which allowed him to perform the “miracles” he did. Hitler had a piece of Eden, which he used to aid in his takeover. The conspiracies and the glyph puzzles are among the most intricate and interesting parts of the game, and you would never guess they would be there from looking at the game, would you?

Once you discover all of these glyphs and solve all the puzzles, you unlock The Truth. The Truth is hinted to after each glyph, but after seeing a half-second clip of someone running, it’s hard to guess what it’s about. Once you get them all, however… It becomes clear.

You see two people running from some unseen entity. They run through some futuristic factory and if you look close enough, you can even see what looks like other humans being forced to do manual labor. When the video ends, they stand on the roof of a very futuristic-looking building that stands before a snow-capped mountain. Many believe this to be Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. The two humans even have names: Adam and Eve. The video ends with binary code containing the letters E D E N. Eden. Adam and Eve. Eve is shown holding a piece of Eden… The Apple. Subject 16 had uncovered the “true” story of Adam and Eve, the true story of the Garden of Eden.

On top of that, the game’s ending, for those that haven’t played it, is incredible. We follow Ezio on his journey to stop the Spaniard from uncovering a location called The Vault. The Vault can only be opened with two pieces of Eden: the Apple and the Staff. By becoming the Pope, the Spaniard gained access to the Staff, so Ezio must defeat him and use these two to open the Vault, a mysterious room beneath the Vatican. Here, we meet Minerva. Minds are blown.

When the player first sees Minerva, it’s hard to guess what’s going on. Is she an alien? The Vault is filled with the same sorts of imagery that we see on the glyphs and she appears almost as a hologram, saying she has a message to relay. Throughout her message, Minerva rarely looks at Ezio but rather, the camera. She reveals that Ezio is simply a prophet, a means for relaying a message. She ends her message by saying Desmond is the only hope for the future, and that the rest of her kind are gone. Ezio is left absolutely confused with zero answers and a million questsions, just like the player. The game fades to black and one of the characters reacts the exact same as the player: “What the fuck?”

So… Let’s see here. Minerva and her people are not aliens, nor are they gods. They are simply people who came before humans. We may never comprehend their existence or their technology, but the fact of the matter is they created us in their image, they were revered as gods (perhaps giving way to our many religions) which is why she is called Minerva. She mentions Jupiter, the Roman name for the god Zeus. Whoever these people were, these Ones Who Came Before are gone now and must deliver a message to Desmond to save the world. We find that a catastrophic event caused many of the Ones Who Came Before to die may happen again, and only by visiting temples marked on a map Minerva shows can we (namely Desmond) prevent this from happening again.

For those that didn’t know, the events with Desmond happen in the year 2012. He is first captured in August and it’s likely some time has passed so it’s at least September 2012 when the game ends. I’m sure most people are aware of the Mayan ideas of December 21, 2012. The game takes these beliefs and builds on them. On that date, Abstergo was planning on launching a satellite with the pieces of Eden to brainwash the masses. Now, it looks like the event Minerva warned is about to happen, which if not stopped, could wipe out all life on Earth.

The Assassins are forced to flee their hideout (after Desmond shows off his kickass fighting moves, thanks to Ezio), wondering what’s going on. They know time is short and they know they have to stop this. The game ends with these questions left open and speculation is running wild on what will happen in Assassin’s Creed 3.

My theory is the game will focus on Desmond. He’s been the main character from the start, and most of AC2 was spent to build him up to be a proper Assassin, and you even get to experience his skills firsthand at a few moments in the game. I’m guessing AC3 will star Desmond and take place in the present. We’ll likely have a few more memories to his ancestors in other key moments of time (the American Revolution, World War II, etc.) but mostly, we’ll see Desmond and the other Assassins travel the world to find these temples and stop the impending apocalypse. Abstergo still stands in their way to stop them, either not knowing about the impending solar “attack” or perhaps even welcoming it as a sort of cleansing. Either way, we can expect to see Desmond traveling the world and ultimately stopping this, even putting an end to Abstergo.

When you look back at these games, it’s incredible. I don’t think anyone other than the creators could have guessed where they were going with this franchise, but it’s all incredibly engrossing. I can’t say the game began with a simple premise because it didn’t. The idea of using genetic memory to unlock someone’s past is a pretty complex thing, but with the second game, when they add in theories about Ones Who Came Before, The Truth and an impending Apocalypse by our own Sun, it’s amazing. They manage to weave it all together into one incredible overarching story, but the stories of Ezio and Altair aren’t forgotten either. They both tie into this story in ways they could have never guessed, and everyman Desmond is basically told he is the only one who can save the world. If it weren’t for the game’s story, I think it wouldn’t be nearly as spectacular. Sure, gameplay and all that are very important (and incredibly solid, to me) but when you combine everything, it’s easy to see why this is one of my favorite series and why Assassin’s Creed 2 is one of my favorite games of all time.





Assassin’s Creed 2

16 06 2010

I’m just gonna jump right in with this one. This post is going to be about my vote for Game of the Year 2009, and what will no doubt go down as one of my all-time favorite games. As with the last post, there are going to be spoilers for the story, so more than ever, DO NOT READ IF YOU DON’T WANT THE STORY SPOILED!

Right then, with that out of the way, holy shit. THIS is how a sequel should be made. If there was one image that could sum up this game, I’d go with this one.

Awesome. That sums up the entire game.

Where to begin? This game did what all sequels should do: it took the groundwork from the first game and expanded it in just about every possible way. It continued the overarching story of Desmond, the story of the Assassins fighting the Templars and it introduced new characters and several new layers to the story, including an incredible conspiracy theory that goes all the way back to the birth of civilization and even before. Wow.

While the original took place in 1192, in the Middle East, this game takes place several hundred years later and several hundred miles away. The bulk of the story takes place in Italy, but unlike the first, there’s a real sense of time passing. In the first game, you were never told how much time passed between the game’s start and end; it could have been a few weeks, a few days, you never knew. In AC2, the story of Ezio Auditore de Firenze begins in 1459 and ends in 1499. That’s right, you follow the main character from the moment he’s born (literally) to the point where the story ends, and what an ending it has. The actual gameplay where you control Ezio takes place over 23 years of his adult life, starting when he’s a young, wide-eyed 17-year-old and ending as a hardened, 40-year-old badass.

But before we can even get to that, the game itself picks up literally right where the first game left off. AC1 ends with Desmond finding several very cryptic glyphs hidden on the walls and floor of his room and the area surrounding it. AC2 picks up immediately after and you’re rescued by a familiar face from the first game. You’re then taken to a hideout, where you meet more people who are descendants of Assassins, just like Desmond. What they plan to do is not only use Desmond’s memory to find the location of the pieces of Eden, but also to train Desmond, to make him a true assassin just as his ancestors Altair and Ezio.

So that’s essentially the basic premise for the story, no real spoilers just yet. I’ll get to them in a moment. First off, though, let’s talk about some of the huge improvements the game made. For starters, the repetitive structure the first game had is completely gone. Instead, you go around the map, find someone to give you a job and do that, similar to the GTA games or most open-world games out there. It works a lot better and fits the story the game weaves, since Ezio isn’t really a formal member of the Assassins like Altair was. Another addition, one that was flaunted since the game was announced was the addition of another hidden blade to our hero. Like the picture above, Ezio has a hidden blade on both hands, allowing double assassinations and some really badass finishing moves.

The combat had also received a major overhaul since the first game. Its structure remains basically the same, often groups of enemies surround you and you must defeat them by countering their attacks. In the first game, you were limited to three combat weapons: your sword, a dagger and your hidden blade. The sword and dagger were essentially the same, and the hidden blade was hard to use, but if you had good enough timing you could land one-hit kills on your enemies. What AC2 did was add different types of weapons, such as hammers, scimitars and so on instead of your basic sword. You could also use your hidden blades as a full on weapon in battle, able to parry and still counter for one-hit kills if your timing was good enough. One of the coolest things, however, was being able to use your bare hands to disarm opponents and defeat them with their own weapons.

More sub-weapons were also added, like poison vials you could inject into unknowing enemies to silently defeat them, smoke bombs to aid in a quick escape, potions to heal yourself in mid-battle and more. You felt a lot more in control when you were fighting, and it really helped to make you feel like a badass, which you should be.There’s also the introduction of a monetary system which was lacking in the first game. When you completed missions, you received money, which you used to purchase new weapons and armor, repair armor, hire help (in the form of escorts to hide you from and distract guards, thieves to distract or fight guards, and mercenaries to fight guards) and you could even throw money to the ground, creating a crowd of people to help slow down pursuers.

The free-running and climbing was also quickened, which was just a minor thing but it certainly helped to streamline the game’s mechanics and make things more fun. Almost everything that there was to complain about in the first game was removed, with the exception of a few things. For one, you escaped from pursuers by hiding in stacks of hay, rooftop garden… things and sitting on a bench. It does seem a bit silly that a man in a large white robe and hood could disappear like that, but it’s a minor thing. There are also guards that will search these areas, forcing you to assassinate them if they get close. It’s a bit more realistic and it was added to make it so when you hide, you aren’t instantly safe. Of course, people love to pick on that you still climb very high buildings and leap, sometimes hundreds of feet into a small bale of hay and land perfectly fine. Nonsensical, but hey, it’s a vidja game.

All of these things come together perfectly and make gameplay incredibly fun and exciting, and there’s plenty I’ve not mentioned, but this will do for now. Let’s move onto what has become one of my most favorite things about the series: the story.

I shouldn’t have to mention this, but here it goes. STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW!
Here we go, now we’re getting good. As good as the gameplay is, and it’s great, the story is what I’m really interested in now. Everything the first game introduced is expanded greatly here, so much so it’s hard to believe the two are even related. The game starts (at least where players control him) with Ezio as a 17-year-old, living a playboy lifestyle as the middle son in a wealthy family. Unfortunately, his father and brothers are murdered by the Templars, and Ezio discovers his father, and his entire family, are actually Assassins, like Altair. Ezio takes it upon himself to find those responsible for their deaths, dons the Assassins’ hood and cowl, and begins what would be a 23-year tale of revenge.

That alone gives you much more insight into the character than Altair. We never learn of Altair’s past, we never know WHY he’s an Assassin, just that he is one. To some that’s a good thing, but you never form a connection to the character; he’s just a blank slate, almost like a silent protagonist from an RPG. Ezio’s character develops over the course of his journey from a young, irresponsible and brash boy into a hardened, wizened adult by the journey’s end, and it more accurately reflects what would happen to someone in that lifestyle. Sure, he rarely feels remorse for those he kills, but when you assassinate an important target, he often laments that it’s not his choice, but rather something that must be done; if not just for revenge, but because the targets are all corrupt.

The game’s story leads you through much of Italy, starting in Florence and ending in Rome where the game ends with, I kid you not, a fist fight with the Pope. Who could have expected this game would end like that!? It’s brilliant, and when you follow the story, it makes sense. Ezio’s greatest enemy, Rodrigo Borgia, the leader of the Templars (so we’re led to believe, anyway), eventually seizes control of the Vatican, becoming Pope Alexander VI, who was historically one of the most corrupt Popes of all time.

That’s Ezio’s story in a nutshell. What about the pieces of Eden, what about Desmond’s ties to the story and what about the conspiracy I mentioned before? I’ll get to those in my next post. Like I said, the story in AC and AC2 is among my favorites in recent history, so I want to take the time to discuss those in further detail. I mostly wanted to talk about the gameplay and changes made to this game, and give you some reasons as to why it’s not only my choice for the best game of last year, but why it’s also one of my most favorite games of all time. Sure, it has its problems like any game and the innovations, you could argue, are nothing new (they aren’t) but everything just comes together so well that I can’t help but love it to death.

So, look forward to my next entry where I’ll break down the game’s overarching story, try to explain how it all ties together and talk about where I think it’s going to go next.





Assassin’s Creed

14 06 2010

Just a fair warning: This is going to be my take and opinion on one of my favorite game series in recent years, Assassin’s Creed. As such, it’ll have some spoilers on events that take place in the game, so if you’re at all interested in the game’s story, I strongly recommend you read at your own discretion. With that said, enjoy!

Oh shi...

If the Assassin’s Creed (heretofore called AC) experience could be summed up in one image, this would be it. I remember first hearing about Assassin’s Creed years ago in the last pages of an issue of EGM. They mentioned a game about a modern man whose memory seemed stuck in that of a medieval crusader or warrior. The game had no name, but the concept alone intrigued me. A couple years later, in 2006, I read about a game called Assassin’s Creed. As you should be aware by now, I’m a huge fan of open world games. I’m also a fan of stealth games, and this game seemed to fit that exactly. Little did I know how well of a fit this game would be for me.

I eagerly looked forward to every piece of news I could get from the game. The setting was the first thing that caught my eye. I’ve always been a fan of early history, and not many games are set during the 12th century, and it’s even more uncommon to see an action game set during this time. The idea of being a medieval assassin was incredibly intriguing, and the gameplay videos only made me more excited each time I watched them. I’m a huge, HUGE fan of parkour, so its inclusion in the game only got me more excited. Since Ubisoft’s own Sands of Time, I found that I was a huge fan of parkour and that type of platforming. AC took it a step further by including free-climbing. You would see the game’s white-robed assassin climbing buildings, running and leaping across ledges like some sort of ninja. It was incredibly satisfying to me, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

If, for some reason, you don’t know what the gameplay looks like.

So ok, the setting and gameplay immediately struck me as incredibly fun and interesting. But what about the game’s story? Well, remember when I said I first heard of the game through EGM, something about a man’s mind being trapped in that of a medieval crusader? Well, the game isn’t exactly about that, but it certainly has a similar idea. Unfortunately for many gamers, what would be a great twist was spoiled very early on in the game’s life. The main idea behind the game is exploiting genetic memory, something all people are born knowing. The game uses the example of certain animal species, such as insects or mammals. They are born with instincts and knowledge in order to survive and don’t need to be instructed by parents or others on how to do these things. They’re simply passed down through genetic memory. AC’s main character (argue all you like, he was the main character) is a man named Desmond Miles. Desmond is a relatively simple, normal man in the year 2012 who is captured by a shadowy organization called Abstergo.

What Abstergo hopes to achieve by their capture of Desmond is finding the memories of his ancestor, Altair. Altair is the character you see in all the screens, the character you play as for 95% of the game and who many consider the “main character.” You play as Altair and complete assassinations of famous figures from that time period. One thing that I really appreciate in this game is its strive for accuracy. All of your targets are actual figures that existed and were killed around that time period. The creators could have easily opted for something easier and have you kill fictional targets, but instead they go the extra mile. As you go through the game, you’re introduced to an ongoing struggle between two factions: The Assassins and The Templars. The Assassins see themselves as defenders of truth, while Templars are viewed as the evil, seeking to control the masses and harm them. The culmination of the Templars’ plan is to retrieve a mystical artifact called The Apple of Eden.

I won’t really spoil the game’s story, suffice to say you find out what purpose the Apple has and its powers. The game ends on an incredible cliffhanger that left me and everyone else who played the game incredibly frustrated. Not because it was a bad ending, but because it ended leaving us with a ton of questions and an agonizing two year wait for answers. I’ll get to those in my next post.

Of course, however, the game wasn’t perfect. The setting was great, each of the game’s cities being a character in themselves, and the story was interesting, but many critics and gamers were disappointed by the way the game was actually played. It followed a distinct formula that never changed throughout the duration of the game. You would talk to your leader, the leader of the Assassins, who would divulge a bit of information about the game’s ongoing story, raise a few questions to Altair and then you would go on your way to one of your next targets. You’d arrive at the city, speak with the Assassin’s Guild contact, then do one of three required activities to gather information on your target. While it seems to make sense, you only had a few options to gather information. The most infamous were the eavesdropping missions, which consisted of sitting on a bench and overhearing two guards talk about the target. You do that and bam, one of three options completed. Once you had at least three done, you would return to the contact and finally go after the target. Kill him, make your escape, return to your master and repeat.

So yeah, it could easily get tiresome and repetitive, and even I have to agree with that. Really though, it didn’t ruin the game. The game had a pretty epic scope, graphics were good, music was fitting and the story was very intriguing. After every few contacts were completed, you would return to the “real” world and the modern time, playing as Desmond. Here you would find out a bit more about what was going on, but it wasn’t until the end of the game when you would find that Abstergo is a modern day front for The Templars, and they want Desmond because they know his ancestors have the location of the Apple of Eden and with it, they could control the world.

I could talk more and more about the game, but that’s good for now. The sequel, which came out last November, really changed things and advanced the story by leaps and bounds. Look forward to that in a few days and hear about my vote for Game of the Year 2009.





The Nintendo Touch

6 06 2010

The creative minds at Nintendo certainly have a way of doing things, don’t they?

I don’t mean to write this to sound all pro-Nintendo, and I don’t want to take a ride down the Nintendo Fun Slide (though it would be fun…). Mario Galaxy 2 was the highest rated game of all time for a few days, finally dethroning Ocarina of Time after its 12 year rule, and it got me thinking about this. Whatever it is that causes Nintendo to make such great games, it doesn’t look like it’ll stop any time soon.

It’s no secret that to pretty much everyone, Nintendo is synonymous with video games, and likely always will be. Despite their current direction and the gaming population’s views on this, the video game industry owes a lot to the big N. When the video game market crashed in 1983, who pulled it from the ashes and brought it back to the world? And let’s not forget that Mario is easily one of the most known figures of the entire world.

What is it about Nintendo, and more specifically, Nintendo games that just seem to make gamers and critics alike go gaga?

Ladies and gentlement: your highest ranked video games of all time. OF ALL TIME!

According to GameRankings, five of the top 10 highest ranked vidja games are Nintendo games. True, Metroid Prime is from Retro Studios, but Nintendo had a large part and even if you twist my arm and say to not count that, that’s still four out of 10, beating Rockstar two to one. What is about these games, namely Mario and Legend of Zelda, that entrance us so? Clearly, Nintendo must have… The Touch. The power. Yeah.

But let’s look beyond that. The top three ranked games of all time are also two of gaming’s greatest and longest running series. Ask any serious gamer about Legend of Zelda and Mario and they’ll instantly think of memories, memories of playing Mario or Zelda for the first time and just knowing that this was something special. When Legend of Zelda came out in 1987, there was nothing really like it at the time. It was a huge epic adventure and really showed the world that games can do something special. I don’t think I even need to talk about the impact the original Super Mario Bros. has had on the world; everyone knows that story.

Now I know there are contrarians and cynics out there who will laugh and scoff at the Zelda and Mario series for their general lack of innovation. That’s true, and it can’t be avoided. Zelda has followed generally the same formula for the past 23 years and Mario is the same. In both games (for the most part), the princess is captured and the hero must go through several levels/worlds in order to defeat the baddie (Gannon and Bowser) to save her. Look at Ocarina of Time, the highest ranked game of all time. To many, it’s one of the best games of all time, and the best Zelda. Whether or not I think that is irrelevant (I tend to disagree) but the point is, its power is undeniable. Sure, it follows the exact same formula, but it was the series first foray into the third dimension, which was a huge step. It didn’t come out at the launch of the Nintendo 64 and it wasn’t the first game of its kind to step into the third dimension, but it damn sure pulled it off well. I think everyone who played it when it came out can remember the first time you exit the treehouse as young Link and see the world expand before you in all dimensions and just think to yourself, “Holy shit.”

Many people tend to look at formulas as a bad thing, and generally they are. For the most part, they’re a show of laziness, relying on what worked in the past in lieu of innovating. Well, a simple glance at numbers two and three will show you that even the most tired of formulas can blow socks off with just a little innovation. The Mario Galaxy games boldly took the Mario series to the final frontier, and they pulled it off with that touch we come to know and love from Nintendo. Camera control was spot on, controls were tight, worlds were colorful, music was fantastic… It was Mario. What made the games so memorable was their, basically, insanity.

These two games had more originality in one level than many games have in their entire… game. When you see that sort of thing, you just know it’s going to be fun, it’s going to be frantic, and it’s going to be Mario. Say what you will about Nintendo’s casual-friendly leanings lately, especially on the Wii, but they know what they’re doing when it comes to their two biggest cash cows. Oh, and speaking of following a formula and refusing to evolve, let’s not forget Pokemon. In the 13 years since it came out, the main RPG’s still follow the same general ideas and the same general gameplay. Sound familiar?

So OK, you say, Nintendo knows their stuff. But what if I’m tired of the same ol, same ol? It’s no doubt that to many of us, the Nintendo Touch is largely stemming from nostalgia. When I was a kid, I never owned a NES or a SNES, I had a Genesis. I only got to play Mario Bros. and the like at friends’ houses and I don’t remember ever playing Ocarina of Time when it came out, despite owning a 64. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what they did and the memories they hold in other peoples’ minds. Maybe we score these Nintendo games so highly because deep down we just can’t let go of what they did for the industry as a whole and what they did when we were young to build such fond memories.

Whatever the case may be, think about it. What are the worst reviewed Mario and Zelda games in recent years, not counting spin offs? New Super Mario Bros. Wii and The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.  NSMBW sits comfortably at an 87 while FSA rests at an 86.  Those are the two lowest rated “main” games in the series, not counting re-releases. An 86/100 is a fantastic score that many games would love to achieve, and when you consider that this is the worst, you know it’s something special. People may be tired of the formulas, they may be tired of the same gimmicks, but even the most jaded critic has to admit that the games do exactly what they aim to, and that’s to have fun.

One of the greatest things Nintendo does with their games is focus on fun. I talked about how a game can be when the developer focuses on fun in my Just Cause 2 entry, and Nintendo has pretty much always stuck with that. No matter what they do, no one will ever take Mario seriously. One look at the guy, his nemesis and his world and you know it’s not meant for that, so they do like they did with Galaxy and just focus on the fun factor. Zelda is a bit different, with games like Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, and Majora’s Mask especially are relatively serious and even dark. Twilight Princess is easily the most mature Zelda game, in terms of setting, theme, characters and so on. Even then, this focus never comes at the expense of anything in the game itself. Controls are always solid, music is always good, gameplay is always fun, and everything just works.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that makes these Nintendo games so great. Whatever the case is, when a new Mario game comes out, like Galaxy 2, I instantly revert back to my younger days, playing Mario as a lad and just knowing that this would be a big memory, something I’d remember long into my adult years. Nintendo seems to have the key to everyone’s nostalgic heart and can crank out a formula better than just about anyone and guarantee a positive return.





Monster Hunter

30 04 2010

I’m gonna start this post off like this – you, reader. What is the matter with you!? Do you not like good, in-depth, hardcore games!? I guess not, considering why I’m doing this post.

How can you not be interested in this?

So, now that that’s out of the way, lets get down to business. Monster Hunter is a game from Capcom that has yet to find an audience here in America. For those who are uninitiated, Monster Hunter is a game in the truest sense of the word.  You go around, fight monsters, use their parts to make armor and weapons so you can fight more and bigger monsters. If it sounds familiar it’s because it is. Monster Hunter is an RPG, but unlike pretty much any other RPG out there, and it’s basically bigger than God in its native country of Japan.

Why is it that Monster Hunter can’t find a home among the pantheon of awesome action-RPG’s here in the West? For many, the game’s camera was an issue. In the first outing on PS2, the second analog stick didn’t control the camera, but your attacks. For a fixed-camera game, that’s fine, but unfortunately Monster Hunter is fast-paced and you often need control of the camera to see what’s happening, so it required your hand to form some weird claw to be able to move and manipulate the camera at will. The second, but by far the loudest gripe from would-be fans is the lack of lock-on targeting. As mentioned, this is a fast-paced game where player skill makes all the difference between life and death. For Western gamers weened on games where you can easily lock onto an enemy and see them at all times, not being able to felt like going into battle naked.

The latest entry, Monster Hunter Tri (3) fixes one of the problems. Using a Wii Classic Controller (or Pro), the second analog stick can be made to move the camera around. This simple addition makes the game infinitely more playable and easier to comprehend.

That’s not to say the game is simple. By no means. Remember when I said the path of the game? Kill monster, get its loot, make weapons and armor, kill bigger monster? While this is true, know this: Monster Hunter is one of the deepest games you will ever play. Yes, you go out there, find a beast and kill it. You can carve its carcass with your trusting knife, finding some meat, a bone, maybe a hide or tooth. You keep these on you and then, when you return from your hunt, these items are put to use. Bones and teeth can be used for armor and weapons, while meat can be roasted on your own portable barbecue spit to create stamina-restoring steaks. On top of all this, you can harvest herbs, mushrooms, bugs, ore and more from the areas you hunt in, which are used for even more item creation. If you ever played a game like Oblivion, it’s somewhat similar to that.

So ok, you can wrap your head around that. Hold on a minute, Buster Brown. There’s more. Monster Hunter is a HARD game, in true Capcom fashion. When you go out on your first hunt, simple sword and shield in hand, you can expect to encounter at least one aggressive enemy that’s sure to give you a good wallop if you aren’t careful. “No biggie,” says you, “I’ll simply kill weaker enemies and level up!” Wrong! In Monster Hunter, there is no leveling up. Kill all the poor, defenseless herbivores you want, all you’ll get is more meat and bones. The way you progress in Monster Hunter is by killing the stronger monsters, taking their parts and forging new equipment. Oh, and player skill, obviously.

And the monsters… My goodness, the monsters. Monster Hunter has never been a terribly “pretty” game, in that its graphics were never cutting edge, nor have they ever been in HD. But, like in my Chrono Cross entry, the art design in the game is incredible. When you kill a dragon and find his spines, put them on a weapon, you can often see those parts in there. Your armor will often have bits of teeth or scales on it as well, making it show that you really are a hunter and you really do use your kill to the fullest extent. Every time a monster hunter dons a new set of armor from a deceased monster’s body, a native American sheds a tear.

Poor Monster gave his beak so you could beat up other monsters.

This poor fish surrended his fins upon defeat so you could kill more of his friends.

You see, one thing Monster Hunter does better than most games is give the player a real sense of progression. You may face a truly fearsome beast, but you know that when you finally manage to fell it, you will find scales, hides, bones and more from it which are used to create more powerful items. In each game, the monsters look truly terrifying and you know when you face them that you will fight for every attack.

An example of four well-prepared hunters fighting one of the series’ most iconic monsters – The Rathalos.

It’s easy to spout on and on about this game, but what it really boils down to is this, what would make the game more interesting to Westerners? Obviously, Capcom is trying. They put it on the Wii as a sort of test. Many, MANY people out there (myself included) whine and moan about what a dumb idea it was to put such a hardcore game on what is easily the most casual system. The truth of the matter is, Capcom is testing the market. The previous Monster Hunter games (PSP versions included) were never the hits they deserved to be. Since it was released here, Monster Hunter has found a very devoted niche audience, but it’s just that- a niche audience.

With Tri, Capcom is making it as available to the public as possible. So to all you out there that wish they would release a “true” Monster Hunter for the 360 or PS3, remember that the only reason Capcom made it on the Wii (it was originally a PS3 game) was because development costs would be too high. Capcom doesn’t want to gamble on spending millions and millions for a game they don’t know will sell.

What it comes down to is the only way to ensure the West sees more of this amazing franchise is to show Capcom you are interested. Give it a shot, you may be pleasantly surprised if you try it out for more than 20 minutes.





Chrono Crossin’ the streams

18 04 2010

In the spirit of last week’s update, here’s another fellation of a game I love. (Shut up, the term makes me laugh)

Let me temper this post first by saying I wasn’t really an RPG gamer in 2000. I played Pokemon Gold and that was about it, as far as RPG’s go. I didn’t own a PS1, nor did I ever own a SNES. Yes, hiss and boo at me, call me a fake gamer. I accept it. One of my good friends has always claimed Chrono Cross to be her favorite game of all time. I never played it once until a few years ago. When I did, I never understood why it was her favorite. The graphics are your typical PS1 polygonal nightmare and the combat seemed far too different from what I was used to to handle. However, it took me another year or so to finally get into the game.

Now, I know to many out there, the argument over what game in the Chrono series (a whole two games!) is the best is, well, nonexistent. Ask your typical gamer friend and they’ll immediately say Chrono Trigger, the SNES classic. Now, I have more of a history with Chrono Trigger than I do with Cross. I first played Trigger in high school on an emulator, and I liked the idea, I liked the characters (or at least the ones I saw) but I just couldn’t play it all that much. I’ve never really been too big a fan of the active time battle system so popular in Final Fantasy and other RPG’s. So I never played through that whole game until last year. Same with Chrono Cross.

I’ve known Ashe for about six years, and despite constant requests for me to play the game, I refused. Until last summer. School was out, I wanted a game to play, so I picked it up, thanks to my girlfriend owning a copy. My ass was blown off.

It really will blow your ass off.

What at first struck me as an ugly, rather dull game opened up to be one of the most amazing experiences in gaming I’ve had in my life. The game starts out very simple: You play Serge (that’s the one in the blue hair), a normal boy in a sleepy fishing village. Your girlfriend (of sorts) asks you to go and fetch her some komodo scales to make a necklace. The game immediately takes a major jump. Something happens and Serge is tossed to a separate dimension, one where he died 10 years earlier. The game goes from there, never quite explaining what or why this happened until the later stages, but suffice to say it’s very engrossing.

To anyone who played Trigger, they know the “hook,” if you will, is time travel. In Cross, it’s inter-dimensional travel. You later get the ability to freely travel between Dimension A, where Serge is alive, and Dimension B, where Serge is dead. While it may seem sad that there are only two main “overworlds” in the game compared to Trigger’s five or six, but let me assure you, it’s plenty. For starters, the world seems much more realized, since there are only two facets to it. Yes, the game looks rather ugly thanks to PS1’s horrible polygons, but artistically speaking, it’s rather pretty. I don’t even really like tropical settings and this game’s vistas were breathtaking, even in 2009.

A lovely beach scene from the game's beginning

So yeah, if you can look past the rather ugly polygons and instead that art design in the game, it’s amazingly pretty, no matter how many triangles Serge may be made up of. However, even if you still can’t find yourself admitting that the game has beauty in its visuals, the storyline may very well keep you hooked. Like any good RPG, the story is what really drives the experience in the game, and boy is it a doozy. Given the nature of the two dimensions, it seems existentialism would be a natural theme, and it is. Serge is a typical silent protagonist, but the chatter between the other characters over what happened drives the story. You never quite know what’s happening in the game until the end, and even then it can be confusing. If anyone played Chrono Trigger, they know exactly what to expect.

Speaking of Trigger, yes, this game is a sequel. Sure, it has none of the same characters, but they all do appear. There is even one very pivotal scene about halfway through the game that takes place in a very familiar location to any fan of Chrono Trigger. On top of that, the events from that game’s plot are carried along here, so the final boss may or may not surprise fans of the series. I would tell more, but spoiling this game’s story would be a crime. There are simply so many moments that will always stick with me, not only as a gamer, but as telling a narrative, all of which this game has created.

So ok, storyline is solid and graphics are great (yes, they are). This game’s music is in an entirely different league. Whether you’re a complete music snob or someone who simply idly listens to the music as it plays, this game has one of the best soundtracks of any game ever. EVER. The game’s tropical theme carries into the music, with several tracks sounding very uplifting, happy and fast. For example:

Of course, the game doesn’t skimp on other types of music. You have your share of epic-sounding violins and other instruments, but some of the game’s songs carry an immense deal of sadness and sorrow, playing perfectly with what happens. One of my all-time favorite video game songs, for instance:

Beautiful, isn’t it?

The game’s music is all like that. Every track stands out on its own and it could easily be placed with a movie soundtrack or even on a CD shelf and no one would bat an eye. Sure, it may carry that stupid stigma that, “It’s just video game music, wah!” but even the snobbiest musician has to admit it’s at least decent.

Despite all these amazing things, the game is still overshadowed by its predecessor, Chrono Trigger. After I beat Cross I immediately went to play Chrono Trigger, this time actually playing the whole thing and beating it. Now, call me spoiled by time, spoiled by hype, whatever you prefer. I say I was spoiled by Cross, but Trigger simply didn’t wow me as much. Sure, it was a great game, had an amazing story (especially for 1996) and plenty of memorable moments, but I just wasn’t as amazed as I wanted to be.

Chrono Cross unfortunately never got the respect it deserved. It sold well enough, but not enough to warrant a sequel. The Chrono games are amazing examples of games that simply do not appeal enough to the masses to garner the sales they so deserve *coughunlikeFF7cough*. Fans have wanted a continuation of the game, but until the game sells more copies, it will likely never happen. Chrono Trigger saw new life as a DS remake, but even that didn’t sell well enough to make Square-Enix consider a sequel. Chrono Cross isn’t even available in the U.S. PlayStation Network Store, so the only option to play the game is on PS1.

In my opinion, everyone who dislikes Chrono Cross simply didn’t play it enough. Of course the game isn’t perfect, of course it has its flaws. Like any game, however, it is to be taken in as an experience, and given the complexity of the story (which even gave me headaches at times), the beautiful scenery and the ear-meltingly good soundtrack, Chrono Cross is a game that should be experienced by everyone. Even if you don’t like video games, even if you don’t like RPG’s, there is simply no excuse to pass up this wonderful piece of media, and there is no excuse for why it isn’t as (or even more) fondly recalled than Final Fantasy 7 or Chrono Trigger.