Month: October 2012

Assassin’s Creed III: A Spoiler Free Review

Lately I’ve noticed that there seems to be a trend of ‘over-revealing’ in trailers for games. The trailers tell too much of the story or inadvertently give away something that is a major spoiler. It happens in films all the time, the difference being that at the cinema you are paying £6+ for a few hours, with a game you’re paying nearly 10 times that much and will be playing it for a considerable amount of hours; you don’t want to see something that will give you an idea of what’s to come.

So, in light of that, I’ve decided that in this review I will not mention a single thing about the story of Assassin’s Creed III. There is one of course and it involves people and places and people saying things to other people in those places. And Unicorns. OK that last one was a lie; wait is me telling you there aren’t any Unicorns a spoiler….Dammit! Anyway! Not a single word will leave my fingertips regarding the plot.

Assassin’s Creed III, despite the name, is the fifth game in the series. It’s been in development since the release of Assassin’s Creed II back in 2009. It’s had the longest development time of any of the games since the first one and it looks AMAZING.

The previous two games in the franchise were both based in large cities, Rome and Constantinople. Assassin’s Creed III takes places within a large portion of the Eastern United States and as such Ubisoft have crafted a world that is filled with colour and life. The Sun will shine, rain will come, leaves will fall, snow and blizzards will blot out the landscape. During your time within the Assassin’s Creed world you will experience each season and the landscape around you will change to reflect that, creating a world that feels real enough to touch.

And you will touch it! You’ll climb trees, hide in bushes, peek out from round corners, swim across rivers and streams, fend off animal attacks and maybe kill a few people too along the way. The world slowly opens up to you and it’s your choice what you do in it.

The untamed frontier isn’t the only thing to explore, the two main cities of the game, Boston and New York are both equally impressive. At first they give you the impression that actually, they aren’t that big, but then suddenly you’ll crest a hill or climb a tower and the true size of the city will be laid out before you. The cities in the New World had something that European cities did not, space. The settlers were able to make use of the untamed land available to them and could build outwards, as opposed to Europe where there was no space left so everything went up. The streets of Boston and New York are, for the most part, wide open thoroughfares, which after the almost claustrophobic layout of Rome and Constantinople, feels refreshing and gives you more room to manoeuvre when following targets.

Manoeuvring around the world of Assassin’s Creed III has been become as close to perfection as possible. Ubisoft have removed the need to press an additional button to begin parkouring all over the place. Now you just point and press the RT or R1 button and you are off. This gives a much more seamless feel to the whole experience and allows you to kill whilst on the fly. Which is nice.

Speaking of killing, you’ll be doing plenty of that. Oh yes, there’s a lot of killing to be done. It’s not that there are more reasons to kill; it’s that when you do have to kill, you’ll be killing a lot more people. Does that make sense?

Assassin’s Creed III runs on the new Anvil Engine, which as well as giving us the gorgeous landscapes and backdrops previously mentioned, it also allows for more people to be on the screen at any one time.  This makes the game more believable when you launch an attack on an enemy base and encounter an almost never ending supply of people to stick with the pointy end of which ever weapon you are holding.

Combat has also been tweaked to be a smoother affair.  The counter/combo system remains intact and each button is assigned a ‘finishing’ option to either, throw, disarm, kill or use a tool. You can easily build up a run of combo’s before performing a final slightly bloody finishing move.

Combat isn’t just restricted to the land either. As you’ll have seen from numerous clips and screenshots, there are now naval missions. Due to my initial promise of no story spoilers I can’t say how you’ll acquire a ship but you do and it’s great! The naval battles had the slight whiff of mini game that made the Tower Defence sequences in Assassin’s Creed: Revelations really dull to play, BUT thankfully the whiff was just a passing sea breeze.  Your ship will rise and crash across the Atlantic doing battle with the might of the English Navy. Naval warfare isn’t particularly tricky, more of a case of getting alongside them and shooting, but they also shoot back so it’s more about trying to limit the damage taken whilst trying to move your ship into position. It ends up being a game of skill rather than brute force.

Multiplayer has also had a new lick of paint. A new Wolf Pack mode allows you and friends to work together to kill a set of NPC’s. This is in contrast to the more familiar Assassinate mode where it is every one for them self. The updated engine makes the assassinate mode even trickier now that the amount of people on screen has been increased. If you were a fan of the multiplayer options in the previous games then you’ll be happy with these, if you weren’t then I’m not sure that enough has changed to bring you into the fold.

One thing that I personally enjoyed about the game was the fact I felt I was actually learning something. This is not new for the franchise, but the time period the game is set in isn’t one that, as an English person, I was familiar with. Coming across the different people whose names are  part of modern culture thanks to the over familiarity of Hollywood was a learning experience, and was made all the more enjoyable by the rather sardonic nature of the write ups in the Animus Database.

Assassin’s Creed III is a great game, it feels like the breath of fresh air the series needed after languishing in the Renaissance for too long. It still has some of the same faults such as frustrating camera angles, glitch prone NPC’s and ventriloquist cut scenes (the audio is there but the characters mouth doesn’t move), but it’s strange that they have become as much a part of the series as the hidden blades.

9/10

Dragon’s Dogma or: How I suck at the game I’ve wanted since I was 6

This is the best thing

When Shadow of the Colossus came out it opened games up to a realistic fight system that has been lacking, I speak of course about,  being able to climb and crawl up giant enemies. For too long were we forced to hack away at the ankles of behemoths, somehow able to fell them without much of a resistance. We just accepted that David smote Goliath before, but no more! Now these giants felt truly imposing and your disadvantage felt real.

SoTC was so widely praised of course it was only a matter of time before it was ripped off. The first most notable instance of that was the polarizing Castlevania: Lords of Shadow. While I’ll save discussing that game for another week suffice to say that it tried to mimic SoTC’s colossus combat but to a worse degree, too many quick-time events and a touchy, unforgiving hold system. Now a few years later we have the ever-baffling Capcom attempting the same thing but on a different scale. Dragon’s Dogma doesn’t just borrow from SoTC though, it also is heavily influenced by Capcoms most popular franchise in Japan: Monster Hunter. And really, combining Monster Hunter with Shadow of the Colossus is a brilliant idea that I am completely on board for. Or at least I was until I remembered one very important thing about Monster Hunter which is I totally suck at it.

Oh god yes there is no part of this image I don’t like

Monster Hunter is a franchise that I so desperately want to like but can’t because of impatience and suckage with the controls. I love everything else about the game though, the massive bestiary of cool looking dragons/dinosaurs/monsters, the silly impractical fanservice-y armor, and its unrealistic approach to hunting and nature. I just can’t get over the slightly looser than Resident Evil controls. I probably just need to play it more and get used to it but time is a bit hard to find lately! I love the idea of having to eat and survive to be honest, after all I loved Harvest Moon, and I love being able to make armor out of the monsters you kill that looks so gaudy and ostentatious that it defies logical combat attire and realistically would probably get you killed by any monster more nimble than a Rhinoceros.

This is EXTREMELY impractical and I would not be caught dead wearing this in public. That’s coming from a guy who wears Hawaiian shorts so ugly they hurt peoples eyes to look at them.

Dragon’s Dogma improves on the controls and combat aspect of the game but at the expense of being significantly blander looking. Ditching the vibrant and goofy world of Monster Hunter, Dogma opts to have a more Western fantasy look with grey castles and realistic-ish looking monsters. Cockatrices look like big turkey/cassowary’s and hydras like real world snakes. It’s not a BAD look but other than the monsters the world is a bit drab. I love the over world and everything being one giant map instead of segments. For one reason or another I’m not all that wild about dungeons and caves since they all seem to look the same. But the most important thing holding me back in Dragon’s Dogma isn’t the fault of Capcom (even though they left in the ridiculous J-pop rock song on the starting menu), or maybe it partially is.

Not pictured: climbing up the Griffon and stabbing him in the butt

This game is HARD. Not quite Dark Souls hard but still hard. Low level bandits are overwhelming my stupid ass and dropping me like a hot rock, which is odd considering I have little to no problem fighting 12 foot tall iguana people. I’d assume those guys would be harder much in the same way it’s harder to fight a gorilla than it is a person of equal size. Granted a gorilla can’t use a bow and arrow but I think their physical ability and ferocity make up for that. The game starts you off with a couple of quests against crippled monsters that you’ll fight later to pique your interest but after that the game kind of leaves you on your own. The difficulty spike is steep and it expects you to level on your own for a while so be prepared to fight a couple thousand wolves, goblins and small bands of bandits, not big bands of them because they will totally kill you. There’s a job posting board in town but for me all the quests were way out of my league and led me into dangerous territory and a very irate dragon. Perhaps I’ve grown too used to early game hand holding that I forgot the magic of exploring and adventure. Or perhaps I’m foolishly annoyed that slashing a guy 30 times in the neck with steak knives only took away 1/4th of his health bar.

Tiny Josef Stalin prepares for the hunt.

The game is fun though and the ability to climb on pretty much anything including pigs and cattle leads to some pretty amusing moments. The companion system is a bit disappointing though, this game was MADE to be multiplayer, not babysitting 3 brain-dead robots. And don’t expect too much variety in companions from the player base, 2/3rds of them are super short skinny girls with big tits. Our chance to show the world our creativity just gets a bunch of creepy anime dorks creating their waifus. Really though why wasn’t this game on PC? Squad based action rpg is exactly what the PC needs and wants and this games got it. The games doing well and has gotten good praise enough for Capcom to claim they will develop the franchise which is good, but not because I think Capcom will do some good with it but because maybe someone will steal the idea and make it better, and on PC.

Lets face it you wouldn’t walk away from this situation realistically so why should you here?

All in all I do recommend the game for those who love both action brawler games and RPGs like Skyrim. I know referencing Skyrim these days is overused but at least it’s pretty similar in this case. Successful franchises breed imitators. This sort of game needs as many imitators as possible to really refine the genre into something great. So grab a copy and start throwing pigs at your problems.

Sonic Jump

There are two reasons that Sonic Jump will feel familiar to you. Reason one is because it’s a Sonic game, you collect rings, defeat Dr Eggman and rescue cute animals. Reason two is that chances are you’ll have played one of the games that Sonic Jump is a clone of such as Doodle Jump.

Now here’s the interesting thing, reason one cancels out reason two and makes Sonic Jump one of the better additions to the franchise.

The Story of Sonic Jump is simple; Dr Eggman has again kidnapped some cute furry creatures to turn into his evil robots. Sonic must battle through three (initial) levels to rescue them. Not exactly rocket science.  You’ll play through 12 rounds in each of the first three levels, with the 12th round being a battle with Eggman. The first three levels are Green Hills, Mountain Zone and Jungle Zone. There are more levels to come at a later date. There is also the arcade mode which is a never ending climb to see how far you can get.

Sonic moves through each round automatically and vertically. You control the direction of his jumps by tilting the device left or right and you’re able to do a double jump by tapping on the screen.  The constant climb upwards has created one of the simplest Sonic games for a while.

Most fans of the Little Blue Blur will tell you that want only two things from Sonic, Speed & Rings, and while the first level isn’t the most taxing (Green Hill Zones never are!), once you reach Mountain Zone the game moves from being a simple jumping game to a more precise dance around a host of dangers. Disappearing ledges, platforms that rotate and drop you, rock falls,  enemies and a multitude of those game ending spikes means that by the time you reach Jungle Zone you may have invented a few new swear words.

Graphically the game is beautiful, new Sega studio Hardlight, has done a fantastic job of bringing Sonic to life, the design is simple and harkens back to Sonic’s earlier days. As does the soundtrack, everything from the background music to the ring collecting to the enemy popping sounds perfect for the game

As you make your way through the game you’ll collect the Gold Rings that the franchise is known for. Difference is now you can spend them, the game has a store when you can exchange rings for items to help you such as bounce back nets if you fall, magnets to attract more rings, shields to protect you from harm and bombs to destroy enemies. You’ll unlock the items as you increase your level, you can increase level by completing in game missions such as defeat X amount of enemies, double jumping a number of times or finishing a round in a set amount of time.

Sonic Jump is not the greatest game available for your mobile device, but it is one of the best Sonic games to come around in a while. Sonic is best when he’s stripped down to the bare bones, no convoluted plot fines, Werehog transformations and no endless cast of annoying secondary characters. Just a blue hedgehog and the open road…..or in this case, skies.

Sonic Jump is available from the iTunes Store now and will arrive on Android in November. Check out the trailer below.

What Sony Needs To Do Differently

Sony has recently focused it’s efforts on a new model of the PlayStation 3 console, and to an improved online store with more features promised for the paying “PlayStation Plus” members, including more free games and content, and more reductions over both the PlayStation 3 console, and also the handheld PSVita.

The trouble is, Sony are currently experiencing a spot of financial hardship, and I don’t necessarily thing that they have chosen the best methods to deal with this. Here is what I would have done differently:

1) No new PS3

There was no real need for a newer, slimmer console. Both the PS1 and the PS2 only had 2 model versions, and the PSP got less successful as it got smaller and more model types (anyone remember the PSPGo?). Nintendo can carry off releasing new versions of the DS every 6 months, with a camera, 3D or making it larger, and Nintendo fanboys (and girls) will happily pay for the privilege. Sony’s fans are not quite so loyal, and we could have all waited with our Slim or Phat current consoles until the YLOD hit us, or the PlayStation 4 emerged.

2) Bring in Cross-Platform-Play

There has been little movement on the PSVita front really. The games aren’t spectacular, aside from a few early launch titles and the addition of Little Big Planet, and now that we have PSP games and PS1 games finally approved for use on the console, it seems that all I use my PSVita for is exactly what I ended up using my PSP for – retro gaming.

The PSVita is a powerful piece of kit. It has touch screens for intricate puzzle solving/surgery/crime fighting, and dual analogues for some pretty decent shooting action. All it is missing is the interaction with the PS3, and with Microsoft bringing in SmartGlass and Nintendo’s very own Wii-U leading the way, Sony had better pull it’s finger out if it doesn’t want to miss the bus! Initially, using the PSVita as an extra control pad would be pretty awesome, but eventually being able to play on the awesome touchscreen so that the TV could be used for other things, or carrying games on when you head out for work. I’d even encourage people to develop mini games for the PSVita, akin to the chocobo side game for Final Fantasy VIII, so that we could level up characters or acquire new items for use in the game, without actually playing the main game.

The PSVita has a lot of untapped potential. Sony focused pretty hard on making the console an impressive piece of kit (aside from the camera) but haven’t really developed it’s interactivity with other Sony devices, and that’s a shame.

 

3) Work harder with Bethesda

We all know Bethesda games are not the greatest supporters of PS3 gamers, judging by their appalling treatment of Skyrim fans anyway, but it seems to be due to their focus on developing for the Xbox 360 first, and then trying to cram it onto the PS3 hardware as an afterthought. Developers like Bethesda seem a little unwilling to sort the problem, and while it is not Sony’s fault that the glitches have occurred, it would certainly be in Sony’s interest to help smooth the relationship between the company and gamers, although given the latest news regarding Doom 3 BFG Edition (you CANNOT install the game on Xbox 360, without losing the option to play 2 other games on the disk completely), Bethesda seem quite content in annoying all of their future purchasers.

4) Bring out the PS4

I know the gaming market probably isn’t ready for it yet, and most gamers aren’t even close to being financially ready for it, but we need a new serious console. After seeing the buzz around the Wii-U at the Eurogamer Expo, everyone was keen to get their hands on it, even if the software provided wasn’t quite living up to expectations. We all crave new things, and perhaps the PS4 will allow a bit more interactivity with the PSVita (yes I have a bee in my bonnet about it), and also a slew of new games in an otherwise stagnant marketplace.

These are just my opinions on matters, and they may not be right or even financially viable for Sony. But in these times of recessions and global economic downturns, isn’t it time Sony came out fighting?

Merlin: The Game

Social Games and Licensed Games. Two types of game that when uttered can strike fear into the hearts of most gamers. One is a new type of game that appeals to the mass market and the other usually means the ruining of a much beloved franchise or series in a rush to cash in. So when I heard that there was going to a Facebook game for the BBC’s much loved series ‘Merlin’ I wasn’t exactly expecting much.

Thankfully then the team at Bossa Studios appear to have exceeded my expectations and raised the bar on what makes a good Facebook game.

Merlin: The Game, as you would expect, takes place in the land of Camelot. If you’ve seen the TV show then you’ll know all about it, but if you haven’t don’t worry, just imagine the King Arthur/Merlin legends but in a more ‘Saved by the Bell’ style age.

The game starts with your character being attacked by some Giant Spiders; you beat a few of them off but then are overwhelmed when a new enemy surrounds you. Just when all hope is lost, Merlin appears, HURRAH, and saves you using his own special talents. Merlin then guides you through the forest until you reach the safety of the Camelot Citadel, once there he asks you to keep the whole magic thing a secret and offers to help you make your way in life.

Welcome to the Camelot Citadel, the Citadel will act as your central hub during the game. Here you will be able to obtain quests, buy weapons and armour and collect rations and provisions. Here you’ll also come into contact with the more famous residents of Camelot; Arthur, Gwen and Gaius and of course Merlin, will all make an appearance and offer you quests to complete. As you play through the game you’ll encounter places that have appeared in the TV series and other characters will make appearances, firmly rooting the game in the TV series.

So then, what’s the game like? Well firstly Bossa Studios are part of the same group as the company that makes the TV show so they have been able to draw on that when building the game. As such the game looks amazing. The art style is beautifully drawn and rendered. The slightly comic book caricatures of the cast (try saying that three times when you’ve been down the Tavern!), while probably not doing too much for the actor’s egos are perfectly suited to the environment and the style of the game.

Game play takes place in a 3D isometric view. Your characters is moved using clicks of the mouse and items can be assigned to specific buttons on the keyboard or used by clicking the icon with the mouse. Basically if you’ve ever played a PC RPG Dungeon Crawler game before then you’ll know what you’re doing with Merlin. Don’t worry though if you’ve never even held a mouse before or know what an RPG is, Merlin is all about ease of use.

As Merlin: The Game is a Facebook game there is also the social aspect of the game. You are more than able to play through the game as a solitary explorer, but if you are stuck and need help, or even if you want to get other people involved, all you need to do is click and invite. Over the past few years Facebook has become littered with ‘Game Requests’, ‘So and So wants you to send them a banana, or wants you to visit their café, or wants you to get on their train.’ Etc etc. Merlin isn’t like that.

When you invite someone they will receive the message that you are asking them to join your game to help out, if they agree they will click on the link and immediately appear in YOUR game, not their own, not in a field ‘next’ to you but appear in real time in your game to help you out. Now that’s pretty awesome.

There are a few Facebook game traits that have made it through, there are items that you can use real world money to purchase, which doesn’t seem as bad this time, probably because you know the money will be used for good, and there are a few items that you can ‘wait’ for such as potions and provisions. One of my only gripes with the game is the restriction on having to wait for provisions to increase before being able to take on Quests; it interrupts the flow of the game if you are a more seasoned adventurer.

The only other minor gripe is the slightly repetitive nature of the back ground music. But even commentating on it feels like I’m trying to pick faults with what is otherwise a fantastic game. Forget what you know, or think you know about Facebook games. The team at Bossa set out on a mission to show the world how it should be done. Merlin: The Game straddles both the causal and experience gamer markets. Those expecting a Diablo 3 style experience should adjust their expectations, but know in some ways Merlin excels the more linear RPG’s. The game is open, not only in the way you play, but also for the developers. There is no end, no fixed point, the game will grow with the TV series and expand based on the feedback and comments from the players.

I said at the start of this review that my initial expectations of this game weren’t high. Merlin: The Game is a fun, beautifully crafted game, that not only appeals to casual gamers but offers  a real time co-operative experience through Facebook, I’ve gotta say – I wasn’t expecting that!

9/10

Merlin: The Game should be launched this month on Facebook within the UK. An American release will be timed to coincide with the airing of Merlin Series 5 in the US.