Thursday, January 26, 2012

Assassin's Creed: Revelations

            Assassin’s Creed pretty much kicked down the door with its second entry.  If its first game was a middling attempt that tried to force being a badass on you, the second one made you naturally feel like one, and ended with a scene that, while gameplay-wise it’s debatable whether it worked, just getting to do it qualifies as one of the most awesome moments in video gaming.  And that’s fine.  I put Assassin’s Creed II on a pedestal of well-done stealth gaming and pretty incredible sequels.  Brotherhood didn’t quite live up to that level, but it still introduced the calling in of assassins and had some really great segments of playing as Desmond in modern-times.  I’ve always been a fan of parkour in games, and that was done well.  So I got pumped for Revelations.  More Desmond segments!  Playing as Altair again!  And getting the end of Ezio’s story!  What I got was…not quite what I was hoping for.
            The story takes the game from Italy to Constantinople, as Ezio looks for the Masyaf keys that unlock the door to Altair’s vault.  It’s just not as interesting as the story from the last two games.  Those combined historical intrigue with a revenge plot to make a compelling reason for why Ezio was doing what he was doing.  Having Ezio just tracking down some artifacts isn’t as interesting.  You do get some political intrigue, and it honestly might be the better part of the game.  But it also feels like Ezio is standing off to the side, nodding because Ubi-Soft knows he’s a badass and they want you to remember this.  But just like he’s in his old age in the game, playing as him has gotten old.  He has no point here.  The game even introduces an assassin that would’ve been a fine character to play as, and is rather entertaining in his own right.
            The game also fumbles with some of the new gameplay concepts it introduces.  A major component of the game is the ability to find bomb ingredients and make many different types of bombs.  Which is pointless.  Like, I used bombs, sure, but I didn’t need a whole gameplay concept around the creation of them.  I generally just stuck with two types throughout the game.  This might just be a case of it not appealing to me, but it feels like they wanted this to be the next big concept added to the game, and it’s forced.  Another gameplay addition is that your assassin dens can now be attacked, which leads to a tower defense segment.  It’s unwelcome.  I didn’t really use strategy the two times I did it, just spamming my “towers” throughout.  Really, I just didn’t want to stop my action-stealth game to play a round of tower defense.  Finally, those Desmond segments I mentioned?  Instead of being more of the pure parkour that made me love playing as him, they have first-person segments where you place down blocks to travel through the trippy Portal-esque virtual landscape while Desmond narrates parts of his life we either already knew or didn’t care about.  If tower defense was unwelcome, this is the gameplay style where you close the blinds and pretend you’re not home as soon as you see it approaching your door.  This has absolutely no place anywhere near Assassin’s Creed.  It’s not fun.  It’s not interesting.  The only saving grace here is that it’s optional, but honestly, it shouldn’t have ever existed.
            But hey, at least there’s the Altair segments, right?  Yeah, about those…it’s just not memorable.  For one, I feel like Ubi-Soft is still trying to force this idea that Altair was some super badass assassin god on us, and clearly the best character ever created.  Now, if we had been given a whole game, or even half a game to really flesh out Altair’s life and personality, I might’ve been applauding how they had developed the character.  Instead, you’re given five gameplay segments where you play as him, for each of the five Masyaf keys you find.  They jump erratically throughout his life, at point going from the events at the end of the first game to him being 60 (I forget his age in the former case, but it’s at most 30).  They also all take place on the same map, so there’s nothing too interesting happening here.  Just in general, you could’ve gotten rid of these parts and not lost anything.  It’s just the developers shuffling their feet and going “You liked these guys, right?” rather than trying to make new characters.
            And for all this ranting…I enjoyed this game.  More specifically, I enjoyed playing as Ezio, doing things I’ve been doing since AC2.  Well, there is one good new addition: the hook-blade.  It lets you leap up buildings and use ziplines around the city.  It positively affects the navigation of the game.  The missions in general are well done.  There’s a few things that you haven’t seen before.  One level has you chasing after templars in a boat who are shooting at you, destroying the scaffolds in the cave you’re running through.  Another has you disguising yourself as a bard at a party and marking targets for your fellow assassins to kill while you distract them with your singing.  It’s where the game shines, and I’m wondering why they bothered doing so much needless innovating when all you have to do is make a small twist like this to make a fun mission.
            I don’t know if I could in good faith recommend Assassin’s Creed: Revelations for its single player.  I don’t play much multiplayer in general, so whether that’s good or not is up to other people.  For me, I came for the single player, and left entertained but disappointed.  It’s a perfectly fine game, but it feels like they’re going nowhere just to meet the yearly schedule rather than taking a year off and creating something incredible again.

Friday, January 20, 2012


            I like over-the-top games.  Games that could have hit this ceiling somewhere near normality, and then decided it was far more fun to just be ridiculous.  I think this is pretty evident from how much I loved Bayonetta and putting Saints Row the Third on my favorite games of 2011.  And I can pretty easily add Bulletstorm to this list.
            Bulletstorm is about Gray, a former government-hitman-turned-space-pirate, who happens to pass by the ship of his former boss that lied to him.  He does the logical thing: he rams his ship through that ship, which ends up crashing both of them on Stygia, a former resort planet which is now overrun with gangs.  And of course, Gray is still trying to get revenge.
            Now, while the plot is certainly there, it’s never really the main focus of the game.  The main focus is on ridiculous first-person-shooter antics, mainly thanks to the Skillshot system.  This system really reminds me of MadWorld, a game I love in a genre I’m not thrilled about.  Just like there, it is very easy to take out enemies in a simple way.  You can just shoot them.  Just typing that phrase reminds me of how that simple action in most FPSes will never be the same again.  Because just shooting them is about the most boring thing you can do in Bulletstorm.  And the game acknowledges this by giving you 10 points if you kill an enemy a normal way.  You see, the better you kill an enemy, the more points you get, which you use to buy upgrades and ammo for your weapons.  And 10 points is nothing.  A headshot gets you 25.  Nice, but still nothing.  Now, shooting an explosive barrel, taking out 2 enemies but leaving one on fire, who you then kick into a wall of spikes?  That’s how you get points.  And it’s all rendered in pure goriness.
            I guess it’s a good time to mention that this game is not for those easily put off by gore.  Or language.  The former…well, when you shoot an enemy in the head, they explode.  The shotgun lets you blow the top half of an enemy off (giving you the Skillshot of Topless, naturally).  Bloody enemy parts are just a constant part of the game.  The language can best be explained by the phrase the game used in trailers to encourage you to preorder: “Hey, dicktits!  This game ain’t gonna preorder itself!”  Gray also refers to one situation as “one dildo of a plan”, which is officially the oddest use of the word dildo I’ve ever heard.  It’s kind of like somebody took the script and liberally added curse words with no rhyme or reason.  Which is apparently what the European development team actually did, having little idea about what the words actually mean in English.  Surprisingly, it almost adds to the charm of the game that these characters constantly curse like no human I’ve ever heard.
            Back to the gameplay itself, what makes the Skillshot system work is the wide variety of methods it gives you.  For one, not only can you kick enemies, but you can also use a leash to pull them towards you.  Both actions leave them trapped in slow-motion, which allows you to easily shoot them, or maneuver them towards various other methods of killing them.  And the environments are loaded with spike walls, electricity, man-eating plants, any way that you can kill an enemy and get a unique Skillshot for.  The game also gives you plenty of weapons.  Sure, there’s the FPS staples: the pistol, the machine gun, the shotgun.  There’s also a flailgun which wraps enemies up with explosives you can detonate, and a drill-gun, which is a lot of fun when you impale several enemies at once with it.  And while you can save these higher-class weapons for the minibosses, the game all but encourages you to use them on any random baddie.  It’s just not fun to save them.
            The game does have its handful of problems that prevented me from loving it entirely.  For one, and this could easily be a personal problem, but my PC just had a hell of a time running it.  It technically ran it fine, but all the graphics were at their lowest and it was in a lower resolution than my computer uses.  I just had constant slowdown throughout, and there wasn’t much indication about what areas would even bring it about.  The sniper rifle is also buggy.  In Bulletstorm fashion, you fire the bullet and then can direct it in mid-air.  However, you have to lock on to enemies, and the game can be futzy about doing this for some people.  This is a minor problem, but it’s required at one point, so it’s annoying.  On more definitive gameplay problems, there’s the fact that the final level throws tougher baddies at you than the rest of the game.  It shows that it’s far more fun when the enemies are basically a meat grinder than having to load several rounds into one guy to kill him.  And the game also attempts a boss battle at one point.  It’s far too long, not very difficult, and doesn’t use the Skillshot system at all.  It’s easily the game’s biggest mistake.
            Really, it would be a mistake for FPS junkies to miss out on Bulletstorm.  It takes the genre right back to just being gory fun, and it does it well.  I know it almost put me off from its juvenile humor, but I’m glad it didn’t. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The 4 things I could've done without

            There was a lot to like this year.  I mean seriously, I just filled up 3 lists with things I liked.  And if I had to watch every movie and play every game this year, I probably could’ve filled some of those lists up twice.  Unfortunately, for all of the new things I’d discover, that’d just make this list so much longer.
            4. The nonstop events from Marvel. Event comics are cool.  You get the entire cast of the universe together to fight a threat against their entire existence.  But if you keep doing events all the time, suddenly it becomes less like an event and more like routine.  I’m still several events behind at Marvel, so this is not related to the quality of the events at all.  But the fact that we’re still getting aftermath from Fear Itself at the same time that they’re starting the prologue comics to Avengers vs. X-Men?  Not to mention the whole “DEATH OF (ultimate) SPIDER-MAN”, just barely after they killed off the Human Torch (and this isn’t getting into the name heroes that died during Fear Itself).  Come on, you guys, this is just getting ridiculous.  Let your comics just go as they are for a while.
3. Watching shows fall apart. I wrote a huge rant on how ­I felt about America’s Got Talent, and replacing the only judge I liked with Howard Stern and a mysterious fourth judge is not getting my hopes up.  My single review of Glee could not sum up how I felt when season 3 brought Sue back to her status as villain for no good reason.  Pan Am excited me for one episode and then proceeded to twiddle its thumbs until it got cancelled.  And I’m beginning to question if American Dad is in its decline (when did the principal become a main character?) and if so, how long it’s been happening.  It’s just disappointing.
            2. Nintendo, what the hell are you doing? I don’t understand.  Seriously, I like Nintendo.  I like the games they create.  But then I look at this year in review and it’s like they don’t understand why people like them.  The 3DS launched to little but a string of ports (yay, another version of Ocarina of Time), although it’s starting to get some games worth talking about.  And the Wii is apparently dead now?  With the Wii U coming soon, but no Nintendo games announced for it (that I know of)?  Seriously, you finally hit what the Wii should’ve done with Skyward Sword, and now you just move on?  I don’t know.  It’s hard to get excited for the next Nintendo console when I’m perfectly happy with what I have.  A 360 (although for similar reasons, it will be hard to get excited for an Xbox 720).
            1. Disappointing summer sequels. I liked Spider-Man 3.  I liked X3 and X-Men Origins.  I liked the latter two Pirates movies.  I say all this to point out that this year’s crop of sequels just finally got me down.  Now, there were exceptions with Kung Fu Panda 2 and Harry Potter, and prequels were excellent.  But then there’s the 4th Pirates, which wasn’t bad, just forgettable.  I watched it, I liked a decent part of it, but there was ultimately just nothing there worth talking about.  Cars 2 put the franchise in several unwelcome directions at the same time, with the loss of its heart, most of its ensemble cast, and even its genre.  And The Hangover: Part II easily ranks among the worst movies I’ve sat all the way through.  I’m usually optimistic about movies, but after this crop, I’m left wary.

My favorite movies of 2011

            I’m going to go with favorites instead of must-see for this list.  The reason for this being that, while I’ve certainly missed plenty of games this year, I’ll probably get to those sooner than I’d ever get to the vast amount of award-season movies I’ve missed.  Also, the numbering’s a...bit odd on this.  There are just too many movies that would be a shame to leave out, or even place in the runner-up category.  If it’ll make you feel better, put 3 of the runner-ups (your choice) into the main category.  Starting again with the runner-ups:
-Thor: Thor may have played it a little safe in the Marvel movie realm, but it was a fully enjoyable summer blockbuster that I could easily sit through again.
-Rango: I feel that making animated movies that don’t target kids is one of those arts we rarely see.  Yet Rango did something with a movie that took an intelligent look at the Western genre as a whole, with a movie that both parodies it and clearly loves it.
-The Adventures of Tintin: Fully brought HergĂ©’s work to life, and easily provided the action and adventure quotient for the year…
-Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: At least, the parts of it that weren’t fulfilled by a movie that brought Brad Bird’s direction to a franchise that needed a shot in the arm, and got it with wit, tense action sequences, and—perhaps most importantly—fun.
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2: Believe me, I’m sure there’s some people who would put this at the very top of their list for the year.  For me, while I enjoyed the movie and understand exactly how good it is in many ways, the full realization of a franchise…it wasn’t necessarily my favorite of the year.  I’m not even sure it was my favorite Harry Potter movie (clearly a marathon is in order).  But it fully deserves a place here just for being one of those events.  And if I had gone with the must-see list, I’m pretty damn certain this would be at the top.
6. Winnie the Pooh: Disney screwed this one up.  A mere 70 minutes, releasing it against Harry Potter…these are rookie mistakes, signs of a movie being thrown out with no thought.  Which is a shame, because those 70 minutes may very well have been the most enjoyable 70 minutes in a movie theater I had this year.  It may not have the emotional complexity of pretty much any other movie on this list, but it has joy.  And sometimes, that’s all you need.
5. Rise of the Planet of the Apes: To my knowledge, before Rise, Planet of the Apes was a franchise that was dead and buried.  But those damn dirty studios just can’t keep their paws off it (sorry, I didn’t write the review so I had to get this joke in sometime), and…what do you know, it was a good thing they brought it back.  Bringing together excellent special effects with a great motion-captured performance, Andy Serkis’ Caesar was easily one of the best characters on-screen this year, and worth seeing the movie just for that.
4. Moneyball: When is a sports movie not a sports movie?  When it’s not focused on the team, but on the manager and the creation of a whole new system in choosing players.  It’s intelligent while still being entertaining.  It engages the audience even through exposition, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s script and some wonderful performances from Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill.  It’s just a great movie.
            3. X-Men: First Class: This list is full of franchises that were gone or dying up until the right people came along and did the right thing.  In this case, X-Men got a full facelift that took it back to the 60s, brought in a whole new cast, and changed the movie from summer action to a character study framed with a James Bond-style plot.  And it worked in ways that so rarely do, with a movie that’s thrilling and thoughtful.
            2. Hugo: In a time when Alvin and the Chipmunks gets a third movie and Cars 2 forgoes anybody who doesn’t buy the toys, it’s nice to see a family movie that doesn’t aim for the kids, but actually aims for the whole family.  And Hugo is everything you’d want out of Martin Scorsese doing a family movie.  Great performances from actors that range from Ben Kingsley to Sacha Baron Cohen, a use of 3D which has been widely applauded, and a history lesson in silent cinema all wrapped up in one movie.  Does it get better than this?  Well, there’s still that last slot…
           1. The Muppets: I was hyped for The Muppets from the moment it was vaguely talked about by Jason Segel.  There was always this lingering doubt that maybe it wouldn’t deliver, maybe all the excellent parody trailers would be wasted for nothing.  But it delivered.  It’s a movie that’s as heartfelt as it is hilarious.  It touched my heart, that part of me that’s been a Muppets fan for years and just couldn’t wait to see these characters again.  And I swear, I could’ve just sat there watching them be for hours.