keskiviikko 7. marraskuuta 2012

Assassin's Creed III Preview - Read or Die

It's almost time for me to take part in this month's greatest debate, and although it involves a former candidate and eventual pioneer of the presidency of the United States of America, this one has nothing to do with neither Mitt Romney or Barack Obama (congratulations to the latter for proceeding to a second season as the head honcho). This is our world, and here we don't care about real life, much less politics. However, these are some of the main themes of one of the past year's most anticipated video games, which makes them matter. Ladies and gentlemen, about an hour ago I completed Assassin's Creed III, and I am ready to begin work on one gigantic review. Usually I write the review on the go in tandem with the game, but this time, I was so focused and so eager to see Desmond Miles' story come to its conclusion that I had no time for that. Besides, me and my girlfriend were on a 72-hour road trip in the middle of my campaign, which prevented me from playing the game, and the withdrawal made me even more hell bent on just finishing the game and worrying about the review later. I know writing this review will take me a lot of time, there will be tons of subjects to discuss - I considered doing an episodic review to ease it up a little, but digressed - so I decided to do a big-ass preview to fire things up, and perhaps make time for some actual reviewing instead of excessive storytelling when I do get to the review.


Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad as he appears in
Assassin's Creed (2007)
The Assassin's Creed saga tells one of the most complicated stories ever, and it would take me a week to lay it all down, but here are the basics to remind long-time fans where we're at, approximately, and inform series newbies what the fuss is all about. Desmond Miles, a New York bartender, is kidnapped by a company named Abstergo. Abstergo is a shadow corporation working behind the guise of a pharmaceutical company (Umbrella Inc., anyone?), founded by who used to be known as the Knights Templar, and dedicated to carry out the mission of their ancestors: to assume control of all civilization. Desmond is a direct descendant of the Assassins, the Templars' sworn enemy, and although he's never worked as one and has no combat experience, Abstergo can use the genetic memories stored in his DNA to virtually recreate historical events with the help of a device known as the Animus. So, Abstergo straps Desmond into the Animus, in which he relives the memories of Altaïr Ibn-La'Ahad, a legendary Assassin who lived in Israel in the times of the Third Crusade. Altaïr betrayed the Assassin's Creed and as a punishment, as well as a re-evaluation of his skills, he was given a list of nine names to check, in other words, kill a bunch of guys in the Templar service - men searching for the Apple of Eden, an artifact which could be used for mind control, and which they believed could bring them victory in the quest for world domination. After killing the last of the era's most distinguished Templars, Robert de Sable, Altaïr found that there was a tenth Templar involved - his very own mentor, Al Mualim. Altaïr returned to his home and killed the spiritual leader of the Assassins, gaining possession of the Apple of Eden. After nailing this memory from Desmond's DNA strain, Abstergo proceeded to make plans for his execution. While waiting to take the trip to the gallows, Desmond realized that through the Animus, he had inherited Altaïr's curious talent to see anomalies invisible to the naked eye. The game ended in a cliffhanger for the ages, as Desmond looked up on the wall of his cell and saw a cryptic message written in blood, by Desmond's predecessor as Abstergo's guinea pig - the mysterious Subject 16.

Ezio Auditore da Firenze
as he appears in Assassin's
Creed II
In the beginning of Assassin's Creed II, Desmond is still dumbfounded by his new skill as well as the message; who was Subject 16? What happened to him? He has no time to even try to figure it out, as Lucy, one of his captors, indeed turns out to be on his side (after a few well-placed hints in the first game) and encourages him to join her in a hasty escape from the Abstergo HQ. Lucy takes Desmond to Shaun Hastings and Rebecca Crane, two modern-day Assassins who choose to make technological efforts for the cause over climbing rooftops and killing people. In other words, geeks. But formidable geeks, as Shaun is an incredible analyst behind the enfuriatingly sarcastic and self-absorbed shell of his, and Rebecca is a specialist on Animus technology. What the Assassins want Desmond to do is to enter an Animus of their own creation and relive the memories of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, perhaps the most influential Assassin in history, who lived in Renaissance Italy - to figure out the current location of the Apple of Eden, but also to train Desmond. The "Bleeding Effect", which granted Desmond his Eagle Vision, can be harnessed to teach Desmond a whole lifetime's variety of skills in a few days. Ezio is a delivery boy, working for his father, who is a banker, but moonlights as an Assassin. When he's on the threshold of revealing a devastating Templar conspiracy, he is taken to the gallows along with Ezio's two brothers. Ezio spends the next two decades hunting down the men responsible for the tragedy and training to be an Assassin under the watchful eye of his uncle Mario. When Ezio finally reaches the head of the Templars, Rodrigo Borgia - a.k.a. Pope Alexander VI - he comes to the conclusion that his death would change nothing, so he lets him live and enters the Vault, which the Templars desperately seek. Within, he sees a vision of an entity of the First Civilization, who tells Ezio he is but a conduit, and proceeds to talk directly to Desmond, who is revealed to be the one destined to save the world. Once again, before Desmond can even properly react to the holographic figure's cryptic claims, he is brought out of the Animus and taken for a ride to another safehouse - Abstergo's found 'em. Subject 16's fate still remains unknown, but it's clear the man went insane, and it has something to do with the Bleeding Effect.

Ezio Auditore da Firenze as he appears
in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
The Bleeding Effect's advantages indeed come with a high price. Upon reaching a safehouse in Italy - which happens to be Ezio's old villa, of all places - Desmond begins to have visions of the past, visions so vivid he's actually suffering from an identity crisis between himself, Ezio and Altaïr. Mostly Ezio, since he's relived his past all the way from his birth. The Apple of Eden's current location still remains a mystery, so even while Desmond is clearly not OK, the Assassins ask him to return to Ezio's later years, and Desmond obides, seeing that he has no other choice if he wants to make things right. After Ezio's return from the Vatican, a full-scale attack shakes the foundations of Monteriggioni, ordered by the Pope's son Cesare Borgia. While Ezio manages to get his mother and sister to safety, his uncle Mario is executed, the Apple of Eden is stolen, and Ezio himself suffers near-lethal wounds. He somehow manages to travel to Rome to reunite with the remaining members of the Brotherhood, and begin plotting on how to overthrow the Pope and his family before putting an end to their lives, one by one, and regaining the Apple of Eden. Ezio's mission is a perfect success, and he places the Apple of Eden in a safe vault under the Colosseum. Upon pinpointing this location, the modern-day Assassins travel to Rome. At the altar where Ezio placed the Apple, time stops, and Minerva, another entity of the First Civilization, forces Desmond to stab Lucy to death - what's unknown at this point is that she senses Lucy is working for the Templars after all. Desmond collapses on the floor and falls into a coma. An unknown party advises Shaun and Rebecca to plug him into the Animus, even if the machine's ill effects are the causes of Desmond's behaviour and his current comatose state.

Desmond Miles as he appears in
Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011)
Desmond - or rather a form taken by his consciousness - wakes up in the Black Room, the very core of the Animus' programming, where he finally meets what remains of Subject 16, a.k.a. Clay Kaczmarek. He, too, ended up like Desmond, all confused of who and what he is, the main difference being that his body died, and all that remained was a digital memory of him, an A.I.. Clay's expertise with the Animus helps him save Desmond's data from deletion, and guide him back to the land of the living. What Desmond needs to do is to achieve a Synch Nexus, which can be done if he relives both of Ezio and Altaïr's memories up to the point both of the ancestors have nothing left for Desmond to relive. As Desmond's good luck would have it, in his mid-50's, Ezio, now the grand master and mentor of the Assassins, travelled to Constantinople to seek the true purpose of his order, by learning more of Altaïr and his efforts against the Templars. Altaïr used keystones to preserve his memories (yeah, it's kind of like very early Animus technology), which Ezio is primarily out to find. Ezio finally finds Altaïr's final resting place and gazing at his corpse, he realizes his time as an Assassin has come to an end. He speaks directly to Desmond - although he does not know who he is, exactly - hoping to have fulfilled the expectations of the First Civilization, and gracefully retires with the love of his life, Sofia, by his side. After reliving the careers of two of his finest ancestors, and making his way through a labyrinth of code which represents his own life up 'til this point, Desmond is ready to leave the Animus just as it starts deletion as a safety measure. Clay sacrifices his digital remains to help Desmond out of the Black Room. Desmond wakes up from his coma with Shaun and Rebecca on his side, and a third party - his father, William Miles. William opens the doors of the van they're in, revealing a forest on their home soil of the United States of America. The Assassins' search for the Grand Temple of the First Civilization begins.


Ratonhnhaké:ton, a.k.a. Connor
Kenway, as he appears in Assassin's
Creed III
Not something I had planned. I was very disappointed how Assassin's Creed: Revelations turned out. The game staggered in every possible way; the story wasn't that good and the storyline of the franchise ran in circles. Yeah, sure, some stuff was added in but none of that functioned too well. The would-be devastating turns and twists looked like stock, thrown in just for the sake of further weirdness. The thing about weirdness is that there's a line between weird and plain incomprehensible, and plain incomprehensible has the potential of turning utterly uninteresting if it's taken too far. I feared Assassin's Creed III would continue on this track. Luckily - I can say this much - it explained most of the weirdest stuff, and concluded it with some dignity. I got Assassin's Creed III for many reasons. One: even if Desmond's story took some amazingly ridiculous twists in the last game, it's still the same story I dug to the nine planes of hell for the duration of the first three games. It was the main reason for me to return to the series after being so disappointed with the first game, and I'm glad I did, 'cause Assassin's Creed II turned out a damn masterpiece altogether. Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was a hoot, and when Desmond killed Lucy in the end, I seriously might've dropped the controller on the floor so hard and heavy it no longer works, along with my jaw. Two: Ubisoft's made it clear from the announcement of Brotherhood that an Assassin's Creed III is in the works, and it's not Brotherhood. Ultimately, Assassin's Creed II, Brotherhood and the stale Revelations were to bind together as the Renaissance trilogy, kind of like Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City and San Andreas made up for the GTA III trilogy. They were to be followed by Grand Theft Auto IV, a wholly redesigned, next-generation game, as the Renaissance trilogy was to be followed by Assassin's Creed III, a redesigned game with a whole new engine and a new backdrop - the American Revolution. So, if they finally had the balls to ditch the Anvil engine and upgrade it to AnvilNext, and the audacity to positively claim they were going to top what Assassin's Creed II originally was, then hell yes, I wanted the first-hand scoop. Three: the American Revolution. The writers of Assassin's Creed have proven to retell history with a group of steady hands in the past, I couldn't wait to see what they had in mind for the most important series of events in American history, including the Declaration of Independence. Four: it would be damn interesting to see a Native American protagonist, and what he can accomplish wearing the garments of the Brotherhood.

I originally played and completed the first four games on the PlayStation 3, and I had them borrowed from a friend. After Assassin's Creed II, I was convinced I'd buy all of the games, but for the Xbox 360, 'cause I wanted to have some good reason to replay the first game. The Xbox 360 version has Achievements while the PlayStation 3 version never got its Trophy patch. Well, buying the games proved to be a difficult task. I didn't want to spend my money on games I had already beaten, I wanted to have new experiences instead. In time, the first three games became cheap enough to buy at once, so I did it, refusing to buy Revelations. The GameStop clerk serving encouraged me to pre-order Assassin's Creed III, so I did it. Of course, he also tried to convince me to buy Revelations. Didn't work - but after beating the first three games, I marched back to the store and bought the damn game, 'cause it would be wrong to leave it out of the equation. Sucky or not, it was still part of the story which was to continue in Assassin's Creed III. At that same time, I double-checked on my pre-order details. I had a "Collector's Edition" pre-ordered, but I checked up the actual Special Edition on the net and the high price of my pre-ordered item didn't make any sense. All the Special Edition had was exclusive packaging and one lousy bonus mission. A ten more for this than for the standard edition of the game? No fuckin' deal!

Well, for the first time ever (seriously), a game I had pre-ordered was scheduled for a midnight launch at my local store, so last Tuesday, I was seriously near pissing my pants out of excitement, but still kind of bummed of the mere thought of having a crappy "Special Edition" of the game. Well, at about 7:30 P.M., a news bulletin on Facebook graciously told me that all pre-orders could already be collected in cities where the local GameStops were open. I had 30 minutes, so I ignited like a space rocket and placed my receipt on the desk, and stood in awe as the clerk handed me the Join or Die Edition of the game.

This edition comes in a fancy slipcase that has the image above embossed on it. Inside the slipcase, is a box with the exact same image, and inside that box, goodies are found. There's a DLC coupon for the minor stuff exclusive to this edition - the single-player mission Ghost of War and the multiplayer package The Sharpshooter. There's a cast iron "Join or Die" medallion with the Assassins' insignia on it, as well as a leather bag to store it in. Finally, George Washington's diary, complete with a fancy bookmark. Under all of this, there's the game, in standard packaging for those who want to store the fancier packaging somewhere special - or sell it on eBay, as I've seen people do. Was seeing this shiny box round out the Assassin's Creed collection on my shelf worth my money? Indeed. Was the game itself worth my money? That, is what I will tell you all about in just a matter of days.


Most of it's surprisingly to the point - or rather, I see their points, but do not agree on how all of them affect the whole experience, in better or worse. Although I'm damn near of frankly loathing IGN nowadays, they're still usually the first to write full-length reviews, and they hit most of the most important points, so I turned to them for the first review I actually read from the beginning to the end. 8.5 was a very predictable rating from IGN - they give it to just about every hyped game they really don't know how to rate. I'm not saying it was a bad rating for this particular game, but it made for a less trustworthy IGN review. There were some good comments there, ones that mattered to me and on things I paid a lot of attention to while playing, ones that I will certainly take into reflection in my review.

There was one user review on Metacritic which really tempered me up - clearly this guy had never played even one Assassin's Creed game prior, and he dared to write a review of this game. He completely bashed it with a 0 (bringing the average down by a very disrespective notch), said it was a boring game with a shitty story, full of set pieces and glitches. The glitches I can vouch for (totally.), but boring game with a shitty story? FULL of set pieces? Maybe this guy played Revelations and got confused. Or maybe he's just a fuckin' retard. The point is, don't judge Assassin's Creed III by what you've read. It's one of those games you've got to play yourself - one that some people will like, and some won't, and some will go to instant extremes like that guy if something about the game's not to his liking. Did I like the game? Did I not? Once again, this secret remains under wraps. Don't go thinking I went to the trouble of writing this huge preview due to the game itself - I did it out of respect for the franchise. That should stir you up ;)


Revolution begins as soon as I have finished up work on the much delayed review of the second Godzilla game on the NES. That review should be done by tomorrow evening. I have my hands full with work 'til Sunday (got to catch up on the hours), but I promise the review will be online before the end of next week. 'Til then, keep playing Assassin's Creed III - I hope you're enjoying it.

Like all great Assassins, I wasn't working

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