perjantai 30. marraskuuta 2012

REVIEW - James Bond 007: Goldfinger | PC | 1986

There's no title screen, so here's the
box art for the Apple II version. Not
subliminal at all.
GENRE(S): Adventure
DEVELOPER(S): Angelsoft
PUBLISHER(S): Mindscape

Goldfinger was the third Bond film, and also the third to star who many like to think as the one and only James Bond - Sean Connery. After all, he did play James Bond in seven movies, made between 1962 and 1983 (what an arc), returning to the role after an absence on two separate occasions. As much as I'd like to blab on about Sean Connery and how great he is, this is mainly a forum for computer and video games. Sean Connery's films have rarely been licensed, and not a bit too rarely. Just look at 1986's Goldfinger - another text adventure in the vein of 1985's A View to a Kill. Extremely amusing in some ways which I'll point out very soon, but in the end, just another boring tribute to a long-dead interface.

Pull my goldfinger (you saw it coming)

"Blah, blah, blah-blah-blah, blah,
BLAHHHH, blah, she should have
stayed in England."
James Bond squares off with one of his most resourceful adversaries, a gold smuggler named Auric Goldfinger, who is planning an attack on Fort Knox.

After getting my nerves and veins torn by A View to a Kill, I was going to skip Goldfinger without giving the game a second thought ever again. Then, I came up with the conclusion that here we have a game based on what I think is a quintessential Bond film, my long-standing favourite in the series right up 'til Skyfall. Back at the time of its release, it introduced many elements that immediately became staple for the series (and turned boring as years went by), it had Sean Connery and if that wasn't enough, he already had two movies' worth of experience under his belt - his performance could only go downhill from here, and it did. Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Fröbe, was a classic Bond villain, a standard who is still pretty much unbeaten - although Sean Bean's Alec Trevelyan in GoldenEye comes quite close, as well as Javier Bardem's Silva in Skyfall. I dug the idea that both of them were mental and physical matches to Bond as they were both former MI6 agents, but still very different from each other. I'm babbling, I know - so let's just say Goldfinger's a badass with badass henchmen (ODDJOB!!!) and leave it at that.

"examine plans carefully", something I
picked up in "the Navy".

It's amazing how much stuff I came up with in under a minute after I started up. There's no title screen whatsoever - I could come up with lots of insults and questions aimed at Mindscape, but I won't bother. If the game cuts right to the chase, so will I. "Cutting right to the chase" is quite literal, as the game begins from a car chase. Although many scenes in the game are inspired by the movie Goldfinger, the game is not as close to the movie's script as the previous Bond adventure, so you'll have to think for yourself quite a bit - and do it good. After fumbling with different commands for a time, I typed the always effective "shit". The game asked me if I was venting out my frustrations. I cracked up, I truly did. I found it hilarious, and it brought me one step closer to enjoying this game. After the same situation repeated, I tried "fuck", and the game asked me if that was something I learned in the Navy. I cracked up again. This game just garnered in a few points, by simply responding sarcastically and intelligently to less intelligent, less formal commands.

Seriously, though, Goldfinger is a drag to even try to play. There are some improvements over the text parser. For example, "look closely" ALWAYS works just as good as "examine carefully" - in the previous game, it depended on the specifics of the situation. When it comes to complying to a variety of verbs in general, Goldfinger feels like a masterpiece in comparison to A View to a Kill. But then some truths come around to smack you in the face. In this game, one mistake won't get you killed - directly, that is. Instead, if you make one mistake, the game goes into some sort of a "mistake mode" - there's a whole string of mistakes waiting in that mode. You can't escape, there's nothing you can do, but the game just keeps juicing the situation up and from the looks of it, it's expecting you to find the one command that would get you out of the situation. Well, there is one: "load".

The bit about Tilly Masterson's figure
makes this game sound like a dirty novel.
The box art doesn't help.
An example of this sort of situation can take place after the very first move in the game. If you miss one command, one of the Goldfinger thugs chasing you will knock you out, take you to some torture chamber, and make you watch as Goldfinger does quick work on your female companion and then proceeds to cut your balls off with a laser. The text description explains this all in a LOT of detail (I mean BLAH-BLAH-BLAH), and stops to stand by for a totally useless command on several occasions before informing you that the game is over, something it could've done about a dozen paragraphs back. This is kind of like an overtly stretched death animation in any modern game - the main differences being that there's no animation in this game, and secondly, watching someone die was never this boring.

If you're desperate to get the hang of Goldfinger, it's going to be hard. It's a very hard, delicate game, that requires ultimate precision. The text is so long, detailed and boring to read, that at least I find ultimate precision impossible to spot. Well, at least Bond responds to navigational commands a little better, there's little need to drop items, and inquiries in full sentences are rare. Considering the theme on top of these semi-positives, I'm with Goldfinger over A View to a Kill. It's bad, yes, obsolete, absolutely, but better. And funnier - it's good that they taught the game to actually answer to some of the most usual commands people tried playing the previous game with.

+ It won't take your bullshit sitting down, it responds with wit; I approve!
+ The text parser is a little less limited than in A View to a Kill
+ Based on one of the best Bond movies ever made, and the golden text is a good touch - a minor and predictable one, but good

- It's still a game that was dead on arrival - actually even moreso than its predecessor; last time, I asked about the sense of releasing a text adventure licensed off a movie in 1985. Now, I'm asking about the sense of releasing a text adventure in 1986, licensed off a movie that was made over 20 years before.
- No title screen, or theme song or anything, just text all the way...
- ...Text which is long, too detailed and impossible to enjoy
- The smallest mistakes lead to whole alternative three-page scenarios which are boring as hell, and inescapable

< 2.2 >

REVIEW - James Bond 007: A View to a Kill | PC | 1985

GENRE(S): Adventure
DEVELOPER(S): Angelsoft
PUBLISHER(S): Mindscape

A View to a Kill was the 14th James Bond film, and premiered in 1985. It starred Roger Moore trying to stop a psychopathic industrialist played by seemingly psychopathic thespian Christopher Walken - accompanied by his much more intimidating bodyguard played by Grace Jones - from flooding Silicon Valley. Two home computer games spawned off this critically debated piece of 007-branded celluloid. The first was an action game, aimed at the young, while the second was a plain old text adventure, aimed at the more mature who were still rallying for the cancer-ridden genre in the wake of graphic adventure. Guess which one's on the plate.

In the mood to a kill

NOTE: Due to the nature of the game, I uploaded the screenshots in their original size (and also left out the usual white photo frames). Just click on the screenshots for a closer look.

Max Zorin, a microchip industrialist in charge of Zorin Industries, is planning to bomb and flood Silicon Valley to gain exclusive control over the microchip market. Enter MI6 agent James Bond to the task of ruining Zorin's big day.

I'm thinking "n".
A View to a Kill isn't one of my favourite Bond movies, for numerous reasons. First and foremost, Grace Jones - the actress with the most ironic first name ever. I was actually terrified of her when I was a kid, more than Richard Kiel's Jaws - the way he was originally presented, not the comic sidekick he was in Moonraker. The term "Bond girl" doesn't really equal hotness when you've got this chick (?) on that distinguished list. Secondly, it was time for Metro-Goldwyn Mayer to retire the once great Roger Moore with some dignity - he was 57 years old at the time of the movie's release, and training regimes or general make-up effects were obviously not as impressive as they are in these days when they're making movies like The Expendables. In other words, I have found it very hard to not think how old or bald Bond looks whenever I've watched the movie in my adult years. I guess they got their hopes up when they cast the 53-year old, obviously balding Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again and thrived - but that movie was all about an aging Bond, and it wasn't even a part of the 007 canon, but a freeform remake of Thunderball. It had a different idea and that's why it worked - A View to a Kill was supposed to be a full-fledged, fun Bond adventure, not a tired last effort by the second-greatest Bond ever (who was 57) banging the hottest Charlie's Angel ever (who was 29 or 30). That was kinda nauseating. Christopher Walken made for a good villain, though - I'm stating the obvious, I know. He saved a great deal of the movie, and Duran Duran's classic theme song was a good start for it.

In 1975, Will Crowther published an independent game called Adventure (a.k.a. ADVENT), and this marked the birth of text adventure games, which were literally wholly based on text descriptions of the game's events and your surroundings. In 1980, Roberta and Ken Williams created the first GRAPHIC adventure game Mystery House, which still followed text commands and had those descriptions intact, but you could also see your surroundings, making the game much easier and more comfortable to play. As time went by, graphic adventures became more and more playable, and eventually evolved into point 'n' click, which produced us many golden classics of computer gaming history. The reason I'm giving you this little history lesson is, that for all intents and purposes, text adventures should've ended where graphic adventures began - but they didn't. There were still a few companies pushing out these frustrating bundles of desperate trial and constant error. One of them was Mindscape - very often on the spot when I find a game to be utterly useless, in its time and especially in the modern day. I don't think they paid much attention to what kind of a game Angelsoft had made out of A View to a Kill - they saw a franchise, a money-making one, and secured publishing rights. And here we are.

First, I thought I'd rather skip the game, and then played with the thought of not rating it at all, 'cause you know - it is what it is. How can I even expect to enjoy a clumsy, limited text adventure in this day and age? Then I thought: well, how could Mindscape expect people to enjoy a clumsy, limited text adventure that was licensed from a popular flick in 1985, five years after the break into graphic adventures? It's critical slaughter time. A View to a Kill is even amusing in its own clumsiness, but make no mistake about the fact that it reeks.

"You sound like a common guttersnipe"?
The text parser in the game is your most lethal opponent. While it does comply to some surprising verbs, it sometimes can't associate them with certain actions, and while it's relatively rare to get responses like "What ARE you doing, 007?" or "You're babbling!" once you figure out the basics of how to play the game, it sometimes takes a turn to the retard zone and accepts one single verb for a very basic action. "Look" or "Read", which have always worked in Sierra games, won't do. It has to be "Examine". Sometimes that isn't enough, and you have to look closer at your target. "Examine closely"? Won't work. "Examine carefully" is the only way to go. And there we have a command that would've driven Leisure Suit Larry nuts.

Also, the text parser seems to suffer from an identity crisis. For the most part, it seems we're giving orders to Bond as an unnamed third party or M. When we're supposed to ask a question or talk to another character, the inquiry needs to be typed in the form of a sentence like we said it ourselves. Typing "Ask about x" or "Talk about x" usually gets us nowhere. Once again, good luck figuring out what Bond needs to know, or better yet, GET, with a simple inquiry. Here's one who "forgot" to ask M to give him a clip to his gun before heading out of MI6. You can guess the rest, but do note that the rest took place about a hundred moves later.

The game follows the movie like an ass follows its owner. Some scenes are skipped altogether, but reading the descriptions feels like you're reading the movie's script. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say the script didn't have "Bond travels to direction x" or "Bond drops item x" in it as every other action. Since there's no character to control, you indeed have to type every single step. Get one step wrong, and you might be fucked - you'll either lose direction, or walk straight into a death trap. Keep on reading those long-ass, boring descriptions. As the game goes on, you might be able to pick up a certain template for all the texts and spot the important parts immediately. However, the dark side to that is that you'll start to lose sight of one of the most important elements of the game, which is the plot. Well, in that case - go see the movie. As a matter of fact, in every case: go see the movie. I'm starting to appreciate it a little more here.

What? It's what Bond would say.
You constantly have to drop stuff, too. In some cases, prancing around with some key item you "forgot" in your inventory might get your invisible agent capped, or simply prevent you from proceeding. You can bring up the inventory by simply typing "inventory", but good luck figuring out exactly which items you have to drop and where.

It's needless to say this game is a very difficult one, but not the most difficult text adventure there is due to the fact that it's so closely based on a movie. A surprising lot of the actions can be executed by following Roger Moore's every step and just figuring out the directions and item drops yourself. It's probably needless to point out how "fun" it is to play from any aspect, as well.

A View to a Kill was obsolete when it came out, and it definitely isn't fresh today. It's not even a fun retro trip to take; if I had to pick a game from this genre, I'd take one where sudden death isn't looming inches away at every possible step. One wrong or "mistyped" command and you're done, that's what the action scenes are all about. I have another apple from the same tree to slice to pieces, so I think I'll save a little for that. If you want to try your luck with this View to a Fuck, head to Abandonia for mental suicide.

+ If you're serious, and remember to save at each step, you can find ways to amuse yourself. The game won't do it for you.
+ Having no graphics means no pixelated Grace Jones

- Would someone tell me what was the point in releasing a licensed text adventure in 1985?
- Based on Moore's worst Bond movie (just an opinion...)
- The text parser is 10% clever and 90% retarded
- Navigation, item drops and inquiries make progress hard to manage; most of all other stuff can be deduced by watching the movie closely... sorry, EXAMINING the movie CAREFULLY

< 1.5 >

torstai 29. marraskuuta 2012

REVIEW - God of War: Ghost of Sparta | PSP | 2010

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: November 2, 2010
AVAILABLE ON: PS3 [God of War Collection Volume II / God of War Saga], PSP
DEVELOPER(S): SCE Santa Monica Studio, Ready at Dawn Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

God of War III was released in the spring of 2010, and this highly anticipated conclusion to the God of War trilogy was truly that: a conclusion, that left no room for further storyline development, and used up all assets than anyone could think of. By the end of God of War III, Kratos had ended everyone and everything that ever amounted to anything in the Greek mythology. Not long after the game's release, a surprise teaser of a game called God of War: Ghost of Sparta emerged on the official God of War website. This mystery title turned out to be yet another prequel, this time an interquel set between the events of God of War and God of War II, and it was to pick up on the unfinished, but often teased storyline of Kratos and his long-lost brother, which was originally considered as the backdrop for God of War II. To the dismay of many fans, this game was to be yet another PSP exclusive, but just a year after its original release on Sony's handheld, it became free game for PS3 owners upon its inclusion in the second God of War HD collection. It's God of War as we know it - but after so many years, is mere maintenance enough?

Ghost... of... SPAAAAAHTAAAHHH!!!

T.C. Carson : Kratos
Mark Deklin : Deimos / Citizen / Soldier
Arthur Burghardt : Thanatos
Fred Tatasciore : King Midas / Lanaeus / Zeus
Paul Eiding : Gravedigger / Ares Supporter
Gideon Emery : Poseidon / Crazed Soldier / Last Spartan
Erin Torpey : Athena / Daughter of Death / Spartan Harlot #3
Didi Rescher : Thera
Steve Blum : Citizen / Ship Captain / Soldier
Linda Hunt : Narrator / Gaia

After claiming the throne of Ares, Kratos begins to have other visions besides his usual nightmares - ones relating to his childhood as a Spartan upstart. Guided by these visions, Kratos discovers his brother Deimos is still alive after being abducted years ago, and doomed to eternal torture by Thanatos, the god of death. Despite constant, vaguely explained warnings by Athena to not interfere with his brother's fate, the god of war leaves Olympus and enters death's domain to rescue the one ally he can trust, and the one person he cares for besides himself.

Poseidon's little pet gets a makeover. He's
definitely due for it.
After reconnecting the Chains of Olympus and saving the world - against my, or Kratos' actual will - I headed into Ghost of Sparta with an immeasurable esteem, especially after witnessing right off the bat that the game is beautiful to look at, much more visually impressive than its predecessor on the PSP. I'd say it's almost on par with the PS2 games, the main dragpoint being its somewhat dark and stale level design. Kratos doesn't look nearly as weird as he did in God of War II or especially Chains of Olympus, that's a good start in itself. After an hour of scouting the pits Kratos is thrown in this time, I had a lot of thoughts about the game. Not all of them were good. I mean, God of War is one franchise that still thrives on what it was in 2005. Truly thrives - but there's always been something to make it feel fresh. Apart from a journey into Hades, I've never found God of War a repetitive franchise, or one that would stoop into outright recycling. Ghost of Sparta recycles stuff without remorse. The first hour is like a combination of the prologues in God of War and God of War III. You might've not noticed it on the PSP as you were overwhelmed of its technical accomplishments, but you'll surely start to smell a rat once you slap in the HD version.

Also, I was intrigued by the whole brother thing back when it was originally teased in the extras that were unlocked upon completion of the first God of War game - but that was in 2005. Times have changed for the God of War franchise - we need something bigger, more important, more epic. Besides, what hasn't Kratos done already that would blow our minds? He killed a whole bunch of gods and titans in the past. He survived the currents of River Styx on several occasions, solely due to his psychopathic determination. He even bested Charon the ferryman himself. He alone was responsible for the si... oh wait, I was about to give off an important plot point in this game! See, there is something! Now with that in mind, we can focus on the ultimate question. Is God of War: Ghost of Sparta a good game? Yes, but right up there with the franchise's top installments? Not quite. Even if there are good, previously unused ideas and concepts left, they just aren't enough to carry this game. Once again, my expectations for God of War: Ascension went down by a small notch.

Why is it that everywhere this guy goes, there's
From a technical standpoint, God of War: Ghost of Sparta represents the best of the PlayStation Portable. It pretty much sucks it all in, kind of like God of War II did on the PlayStation 2 back in the day. There ain't a lot of new music here, unfortunately - all of the most essential bits of the soundtrack were introduced in some other game. Most voice actors remain, but I'm a bit confused of Mark Deklin taking over for Elijah Wood as Deimos. I guess Wood was just way too expensive for a production of this size. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any special love for the guy, but I guess it would've been kinda cool to have him since he's not done much voiceover work (his stint as Spyro the Dragon can be all but forgotten for all I care).

God of War: Ghost of Sparta sees Kratos on a very personal trip, which kinda makes it different. This time, he's not working for anyone or anything else besides himself. There are no secondary agendas, he's just out to find his brother, actually against the gods' wishes (more like commands). This personal trip takes him through Poseidon's kingdom of Atlantis, the island of Crete, Sparta (finally!), and ultimately, Thanatos' domain of death. When it's all said and done, you should understand God of War, the whole series, a little better. It's no secret we'll be having a lesson in Kratos' origins and finally figure out how he originally got so "comfy" (term used loosely) with the gods. The story's got surprises in store - not many, even less essential ones, but it's entertaining.

Since the beginning, God of War's leaned on more QTE than any other Sony franchise - with the exception of Heavy Rain, of course. Even so, God of War: Ghost of Sparta seems to be stuffed with set pieces more than any other God of War game. (Personally, I dislike the term "set piece" 'cause many critics are throwing it around a little too much nowadays. Just sayin'.) It might be just me, but I find myself less in control of Kratos than in any other installment thus far, especially since there are close to no puzzles in this game. It's more or less a tube run, with the occasional quick button press required. Kind of ironic, thinking about what I said just now about a personal trip. Even the killing's not as fun as it was before, since the weapons besides Kratos' always efficient blades are kinda lame in theory AND practice, and in accordance to tradition, they're variations of old. Once again, exceptionally lame variations. Let me tell ya.

The new sex minigame? Thank heavens, no.
I'll try not to spoil the sources of these weapons, since you can rest assured that you cannot let this game pass if you're a fan. First up, since there's no way the PSP could have a Rage trigger if something else was not sacrificed entirely - you probably noticed that there was no Rage ability in Chains of Olympus either - they came up with "Bane", an artifact that imbues your blades with fire by using a self-replenishing meter. By pressing and holding R1 while you attack, you'll be able to add a little heat to all of your combos. You can increase the maximum of the fire meter with Minotaur Horns, the very same you saught after to increase your yellow item meter in God of War III. The Bane is pretty useful, I just wish it worked consistently. It's very capital that you press R1 down first before starting up a complex combo, else you're fucked against powerful, armored enemies whose armor withstands everything but the Bane's fire. Capital, but hard to remember in a tough fight on a tough difficulty level.

Then there's "Eye". It's pretty much the same as Poseidon's Rage in God of War or Kronos' Rage in God of War II, just that it's a beam instead of an AOE-type of attack; a beam you need to control yourself by using the analog disc/stick, which tells exactly how comfortable it is to use in practice. "Scourge" allows you to create "dark voids", which will do constant, yet minor damage to enemies for a brief while and also - when the game feels like it - they might restore your health. Even a whole bunch of health orbs doesn't do much, by the way, not on Hard at least. "Arms" is your alternative melee weapon this time around, and the most useless one in the history of God of War. Even more useless than the spear or staff in God of War II. You need the spear and the shield of the "Arms" on a few specific occasions, which are pretty much thrown into the game just to make some use of those damn things. Finally, there's "Horn". Yeah, it's just what it sounds like, a horn. You can swing this around to do cold-based damage to enemies and even freeze them - happens very rarely to stronger enemies though, and this cunt of an item drains your whole damn mana meter from 100% to absolute zero in a heartbeat.

So, there they are. A couple of more problems, and I think we're done. I've always thought God of War as one franchise that has truly benefitted off a fixed camera. Well, here the problems that always were, start to flourish; the camera completely obscures certain non-audible attacks made by certain enemies, which renders them completely unpredictable and unblockable. You need either luck or some really cheap tactics, or both, to merely survive many encounters on the higher difficulty levels, while the game overall is once again not that hard. The final boss is a pushover in comparison to every other epic dude and gal we've faced off against, especially since about half of the battle against him is dictated by your success in quick time.

Kratos doesn't like it when someone farts on the
elevator. Even if it's an ancient one, with lots of
space and breathing room.
For the first time, beating the game doesn't actually unlock anything extra - except for the Temple of Zeus, which is like the Krypt or Nekropolis in Mortal Kombat. Every unlockable item is stored in this temple. Sounds like collector's heaven and you'll think that right until you cross the threshold to this house of doom and ridiculous bullshit. First of all, there's just a bunch of concept art and short films there. No, not bad at all, what's the harm, right? Well, it all costs thousands of red orbs, and even if you've played the game right, you won't have more than 4,000-5,000 to spare after one playthrough, which means you'll have to keep hacking through the whole game over and over again to unlock everything here. What's the point, you ask? Well, I asked the same thing, then I found out about a Gold Trophy waiting at the end of the rainbow on the PS3. Ahhhhh!!! ...Not worth it, fuck this shit.

The game truly isn't that difficult at all by the usual God of War, but more challenging than Chains of Olympus - the graphics are better, too, but that's where the line is drawn. I simply found Chains of Olympus a better game. God of War: Ghost of Sparta is a good, enjoyable game, and definitely a worthy PSP title, but it's amazingly stale in storytelling and gameplay. It could even pass for a great game in my books, if it wasn't in such decorated company and be expected to meet a whole variety of standards.

+ The graphics are some of the PSP's best
+ More challenging than Chains of Olympus
+ The sex minigame's never been this over the top, and probably never will be again
+ It's still basically God of War

- It's still basically God of War
- Aside from a few well-placed revelations, the story's placement in the timeline isn't that solid
- Each game takes control away from the player by a larger amount
- No puzzles
- Lame weaponry
- The Temple of Zeus and its price list are ridiculous
- The camera obscures incoming attacks worse than ever, often making them outright impossible to dodge or block
- A few lethal glitches, and occasionally ridiculous checkpoints

< 7.8 >

sunnuntai 25. marraskuuta 2012

Looking back and going there

"I say we're growing every day, getting stronger in every way
I'll take you to a place where we shall find our roots, bloody roots."
- Sepultura

My queen.
I'm sorry about the vagueness of the last update, I was in a hurry. Now I have a few minutes to spare and continue where I left off. So, I got a "new" console. Actually, I didn't get it quite yet, and it's far from new; my girlfriend went and bought me a working NES unit for Christmas, bundled with a bunch of mystery games. I love that girl. I wasn't supposed to find out about this purchase of hers, but she has a tendency of leaving her e-mail wide open on her laptop (she bought it from an online auction). Of course, I couldn't shut up about discovering her scheme, but she made it clear that I'm not getting to polish that treasure before Christmas Eve. I guess VGArchive will have to wait a while, 'til I know what games I'll be getting.

Bragging about how much more awesome my girl's than yours, and how much more awesome this Christmas present is than your Wii U, is a perfect intro for what I'm about to lay down. That Sepultura excerpt, too, although I hate Sepultura. It's all about the roots.

Same old song, maybe. But that song is "Bloody Tears".
Enough said.
The year's been seriously tough on this blog, and on many occasions, I have wondered aloud whether it would help to go back to where it all started, to the roots of inspiration. Well, now I'm finally going to grab the bull by the horns and take the blog back to those roots. I have one more God of War game to review, then the 007 marathon, and from there on out, we're going to tie loose ends as long as there are some left. Classic franchises: Mega Man, Castlevania, Metal Gear, Metroid (Super Metroid has been there in wait for follow-ups for who knows how long, it was the first review I ever wrote). Even Donkey Kong and Mario, who were supposed to be completely dealt with, will return in some capacity. Of course, the recently halted Legend of Zelda marathon will come to a head in the near future as well, it's as much of a loose end as the rest of 'em. Also, there will be late updates to some of my most exhausting marathons such as Star Wars and Disney. And, what would a loose end killing spree be without going into some games that I know to have absolutely no potential to be worth the media format they're printed on? Finally, I have lots of interesting marathons in mind for next year. None of them involve any recent releases, but I think some future releases will inevitably end up being hyped to hell and back on these pages, and taking up a lot of my time. Nevertheless, now I have a clear plan where I'm going for the first time in months, and I think it will be a fun trip, a reminder of what made blogging great in the first place.

I don't think I'm doing anything "special" for Christmas, except for a collection check (VGArchive will probably still not be in a viewing shape by then) and I think there'll be one truck of an article on the NES for some odd reason. Other than that, I'll stick to writing reviews, hopefully lots of 'em. The final count on the 007 marathon stands at 12 titles, released between 1985 and 2003. So, go see Skyfall if you haven't already - even if you're not much of a Bond fan, you will probably enjoy the movie - and get ready for some hardcore 007 nerdiness, right after I've finished with God of War: Ghost of Sparta, thus taking care of that loose end.

lauantai 24. marraskuuta 2012

REVIEW - God of War: Chains of Olympus | PSP | 2008

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 4, 2008
AVAILABLE ON: PS3 [God of War Collection Volume II / God of War Saga], PSP
DEVELOPER(S): SCE Santa Monica Studio, Ready at Dawn Studios
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

I've been down with an angina and a high fever for the last four or five days - lost count at some point on Thursday, and blame the painkillers - and haven't been able to begin work on the new marathon. I wanted to deliver at least something this weekend, and it seems that whenever I'm in the middle of something I can't really finish at that exact moment, I turn to a pet franchise - namely God of War. Back when I reviewed the magnificent God of War III, one of the main things that drove me to criticize the game a little was closure and continuity to storylines that a lot of players were not familiar with - ones that were introduced in the 2008 handheld game Chains of Olympus, which served as a prequel to the very original God of War. Some other odd scenes turned out to be teasers for yet another PSP exclusive called Ghost of Sparta, which on the other hand was a prequel to God of War II. I, for one, was enraged and pretty sure I'd never get to see those games myself. May the god of war bless Santa Monica Studios, who made good by listening to the fans and re-released both PSP exclusives on the PlayStation 3 in late 2011, as two halves that make up for the God of War Collection Volume II (a.k.a. God of War Origins Collection). The path is finally open to see if these two games were ever worth the hype. First up, God of War: Chains of Olympus - played on the PlayStation 3, but reviewed from the perspective of a guy who's spent quite a lot of time with the PSP in general. In other words, this review is a mix of both - the handheld, and big-screen HD versions of the game.

Breaking the chains

TC Carson : Kratos
Debi Derryberry : Calliope
Marina Gordon : Persephone / Female Greek
Dwight Schultz : Charon / Helios / Male Greek / Fire Guard
Fred Tatasciore : Atlas / Persian King / Soldier #1
Erin Torpey : Eos / Athena
Brian Kimmet : Soldier #2
Don Luce : Soldier #3
Andrew Wheeler : Soldier #4
Linda Hunt : Narrator / Gaia

Helios disappears, which results in the sun plummeting from the sky and all of the land and Mount Olympus itself succumbing to the eternal night of Morpheus, god of dreams. Growing weary of the gods' demands, their champion Kratos reluctantly agrees to find Helios and restore the sun. However, a more personal task once again tempts Kratos to care little for the needs of others.

Can't bode well for the ugly.
Let's start with a really positive note, 'cause it's been a while. God of War, man, God of War! Ever since I first caught wind of the mere plot and setting of God of War when it entered the last stages of production in late 2004, I knew it was destined to become one of my favourite video games, and it did, it absolutely did. It took the best of every 3D action-adventure that came before it - most notably Devil May Cry - and cleaned 'em all right off the table with unparalleled presentations of epic sceneries and over-the-top graphic violence. Kratos was a whole new kind of protagonist, always putting his needs above others' - if he was asked to save the world, fine, but he did it on his own terms and for his very own reasons. If he had to kill a few innocent people to get to his goal, he didn't mind. If the stakes were torn between his peace of mind and peace all over Greece, he chose himself and his personal needs. As Kratos would put it, "he cared little for the world and its problems". God of War turned out a masterpiece, one of PlayStation 2's finest. God of War II turned out even better. God of War III was at the very least on par with the first two games, and it stands as one of the PlayStation 3's flagship games two and a half years after its release. In the between, there was God of War: Chains of Olympus, and it was greatly received by critics; some even went to the no-zone and named Chains of Olympus the best game in the franchise.

You're not going to hear that from me, but God of War: Chains of Olympus is a very good game, and one of the best handheld games ever made, no matter how conflicted it might feel like on the outside. Let's think about it as a part of the timeline, first. Chains of Olympus is a prequel to the first God of War game, so up 'til the release of God of War: Ascension next spring, it chronologically stands as the first chapter in Kratos' saga. God of War was all about doubt; how could a mortal kill a god? You could ask this question and promotion for the first game would be all done - it sounds awesome. It is awesome, everything about how it unfolds is awesome. In the end, Kratos kills Ares and due to a "loophole" in his contract with the gods, he is denied the prize he fought for and decides to end his life. The gods deny even that relief from him, and instead, crown him as a successor to Ares, setting the stage for the next chapter. That is so epic. And so doubtful, that what could Kratos possibly have done to shine half as bright before all this happened? Leave that for Santa Monica Studios to work out, and you've got a plot in which Kratos investigates the apparent abduction of a god, and in the process, is led to believe he is able to save his daughter - whom he "accidentally murdered" - from the afterlife. Does that work for you? It does for me, and after seeing this game to the end (twice), I have no doubts that Santa Monica will come up with another satisfying prequel story for Ascension.

I have to be honest. God of War: Chains of Olympus is exactly the same as any other God of War game. But, when you think about it, that's a true accomplishment. Keep in mind that it's a PSP game. I liked Crisis Core very much - would I like to play a port of Crisis Core on the PS3? No. It would only bring out the worst in the game. The Grand Theft Auto games released on the PSP were formidable handheld entertainment, true Rockstar quality in that small format, but the PS2 ports sucked, although they were exactly the same; they simply didn't live up to the major platform standards of Grand Theft Auto in any way. God of War: Chains of Olympus, however, is a full-blooded God of War game - an experience any long-time fan of the series will surely enjoy. The control scheme is just genius, as the developers seriously sacrificed a minimal amount of any features you'd have in any major God of War game. Visual presentation's a different thing, but an area that lacks both understandably and tolerably.

There's ALWAYS time for love.
Not very many epic boss fights against giants to be had here, and just about any character notably larger than a human - the kind we've grown expecting to see in this franchise - is either a part of the background or cutscene, or a very brief QTE scene. In addition, Chains of Olympus looks very bland - not ugly, but bland, and a bit "fuzzy", despite the surprisingly thorough rendition for the HD collection. The way it sounds is far from bland. There's a mix of tunes from the first two games, and new songs from Gerard Marino, who worked on the previous in some capacity. It's just as epic as you'd expect, and there are audiovisual surprises and treats throughout that will remind you where this game spawned from, you can count on that.

As I said, God of War: Chains of Olympus is a full-blooded God of War game, despite the fact that it was originally a handheld exclusive AND that the violence that was probably quite impressive and oochy on the PSP ends up lacking a lot of punch on the big screen. Were it not for the severely downgraded graphics, you wouldn't know the difference between the first God of War game and this one in any average scene taking place during the first half of the game. All of you who've read this review this far probably know what God of War's all about as a game - killing, and puzzles. Yes, there are both of them present here, more of the killing though. No boss fights against gods or titans, but a couple of yummy ones for the history books. Let's get to the points that truly annoy me about this game before wrapping it up.

I've never been a sworn enemy of Quick Time Events - God of War basically popularized them, and had a huge flaw in its QTE scheme, namely analog prompts. They never worked right, especially not in the first game. Well, just imagine analog prompts on the PSP, which has a disc instead of a stick. I can't imagine - or actually, I CAN imagine - how they must feel on the PSP. Luckily, most analog prompts in this game are "completely optional" (you guessed it, not for Trophy hunters they aren't), but they are a tide-turner in one of the boss fights. No, the analog prompts don't work too well for the port, either. Luckily, ferociously wiggling the analog stick back and forth to shake off an enemy is completely replaced by alternating between L1 and R1. That is one common prompt I've always hated in every game - I've lost many controllers to this scourge during the last decade. I'm so glad it isn't here. Since we're talking positives here, remember the walks on narrow walkways and how annoying they would be in a PSP game? Well, get ready for a positive surprise after completing one in the PS3 version.

The temple of Helios. A little too much light for
my taste.
Other things that might annoy at least some folk are the simplicity, easiness, and once again "ugliness" of the game. I'm there with you with the simplicity and easiness. Chains of Olympus is a handheld, very basic God of War game, and nothing more, BUT you've got to give credit to it as the PSP showcase Santa Monica originally wanted delivered, that they managed to fit the challenges and all that here. But, it is easy. It's almost as lengthy as the first game, but very easy - on the usual high standard of the God of War franchise, so don't go thinking it's a walk in the park. The collectables are easy to find (and there are plenty of spares), all weapons and equipment are easy to upgrade to the max by the end of the game, enemy and boss strategies are easy enough to learn, the PSP's capacity doesn't allow huge, neverending bedlams (or they didn't dare to try 'em out) and everything's just generally lax, probably in thought of PSP user comfort. Beating the game on Hard yields the Trophy "Getting Your Money's Worth", which probably reflects on the fact that Hard is pretty much what most God of War games are on Normal. There are some really hard and frustrating individual scenes in the game, and the challenges are as brutal as ever, and there's that one Trophy which requires you to respond to the analog prompts a lot more often you'd want to, making the Platinum Trophy that much more of a mere flicker of light in the distant horizon.

God of War: Chains of Olympus was a very positive surprise. I honestly didn't expect enjoying it this much, let alone going at it twice in a month. It's a brilliant handheld game, an exceptionally brilliant port and alone serves as great proof that a God of War fan and PS3 owner will certainly get his/her money's worth with the second God of War collection. I'll get back to you with Ghost of Sparta in a couple of days.

+ A surprisingly full-blooded God of War installment with minimal sacrifices made to the traditional gameplay scheme
+ Kratos
+ Great music and a familiar, comfortable atmosphere

- The story is good, but it lacks the epic drive and crazy twists of the major timeline
- The analog prompts suck
- The divide between combat and puzzles is not as even as I hoped
- It's a bit easy on the usual scale, partly due to understandable issues with the capacity
- You can't skip cutscenes on the first playthrough, not even on the 23rd viewing (the final boss gave me a little bit of trouble on the first run)

< 9.0 >

lauantai 17. marraskuuta 2012

007, VGArchive and more

Hi everybody!

So, the year 2012 is coming to its end on this blog, meaning there are no more big releases to first draw a lot of attention and then leave a long pause at their wake. I've recovered well from the Assassin's Creed III slump and while I am replaying some more or less recent games right now - Dragon Age II in particular, I'm attempting to plat the game and I'm not too far off either - I think I'm ready to get back to work on what I've promised, and what's long due. They're separate things this time around.

I was browsing through the X-files of my blog archive and I was kind of disappointed in myself when I found three incomplete, and naturally unpublished reviews. Saved them up on my hard drive for further research and eventual completion. There were also a couple of unfinished DLC Guides there, which means I must've really suffered from a severe writer's block a few months back - I usually love doing those, even more than I love doing reviews. Well, but all of this is up for a rain check - I promised to deliver you some James Bond and that I will, starting next week.

Iconic. Iconic.

I have a wide array of 007 games of different nature, for different platforms, at my direct disposal. This makes the 007 marathon the most interesting marathon for me to write since Star Wars and Disney a long while back (in case you haven't heard, those two things walk hand in hand nowadays... blech). Although 007 Legends would be the perfect game to cap off the marathon, it's too new (read: expensive) and it hasn't piqued my interest enough to find its way on my shelf. Even the newest game in this bunch is at least ten years old, which means I will follow up on the retro theme faithfully - although not by intent.

I've been asked about VGArchive, why it's looked like ass since I announced to have created it, and why updates stopped turning in several months ago. I've never liked the look of the site (I didn't have a problem with it when I was writing the material, though... happens all the time), and I have spent some small hours in recent weeks with the intent of completely redesigning the whole site to a much better look, and moreover, a complete site equipped with everything that's supposed to be there. I'm currently transferring my review backlog to the archive, which is one of the final stages of this new design process - in other words, you might see VGArchive in all the glory that was always supposed to be, as early as next week.

Oh yeah. Today, my console collection grew by one, and my game collection by ten. I'll proudly spill the details at a later time. :)

tiistai 13. marraskuuta 2012

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed III | Xbox 360 | 2012

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 2012
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Annecy, Ubisoft Singapore

We've reached the end of a long route. Straight after the release of the 2009 surprise megahit Assassin's Creed II, Ubisoft's Montreal, Annecy and Singapore branches each began work on a different part of what was to become Assassin's Creed III. However, these branches, as well as a few others, worked on two more appetizers in the between, to repeat and expand the successful Assassin's Creed II formula. While Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood was commonly regarded another great game to solidify a great legacy, Assassin's Creed: Revelations proved to be a severe disappointment for many. It had a stale, hopelessly strange story that lacked in spirit as well as true growth, and the steps taken forth in gameplay were always countered by a few steps back. In my view, the Assassin's Creed franchise took a huge fall with the release of Assassin's Creed: Revelations. Running on a whole new engine, Assassin's Creed III was brought to us to redeem the franchise - set on the U.S. East Coast during the American Revolutionary War, the game introduces us to Native American warrior Connor Kenway, a young man on a quest to avenge the wrongs committed against him and his family by ways of the Assassin's Creed. Sounds very familiar, but it's not. It's much like what we've seen of this franchise thus far, but then again, it's not. It's a new era of Assassin's Creed, and while not quite in league with what Assassin's Creed II was when it came out, it's a welcome sight to behold.

Assassin's Redemption

Noah Watts : Ratonhnhaké:ton, a.k.a. Connor Kenway
Nolan North : Desmond Miles
Neil Napier : Charles Lee
Robin Atkin Downes : George Washington
Roger Aaron Brown : Achilles Davenport
John de Lancie : William Miles
Danny Wallace : Shaun Hastings
Eliza Schneider : Rebecca Crane
Phil Proctor : Warren Vidic
Adrian Hough : Haytham Kenway

They look ready enough to bring this confusing
journey to a head.
Desmond Miles leads the Assassins right on the doorstep of the Grand Temple, but finds out via the Bleeding Effect, that to open the final door standing between them and the hope they believe to find within the confines of the temple, they need a special kind of key, hidden somewhere on the U.S. East Coast by one of Desmond's ancestors. Growing weary of the Assassins' demands of him but still determined to do the right thing, Desmond enters the Animus one more time to explore the memories of one Ratonhnhaké:ton, an 18th century Assassin of Native American origin and once holder of the aforementioned key. When Ratonhnhaké:ton is five years old, his village is attacked and burned down by British soldiers. Watching his mother die, the boy swears revenge, and leaves his village in his teens to join the Brotherhood, seeking for the core group responsible for the attack. During his hotheaded march for revenge, the boy now known as "Connor" inadvertently gets mixed up with the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

My expectations for this game were very mixed between the reaction I originally had with the first and fourth major games in the series, and the reaction I had with the second and third ones. The Assassin's Creed franchise has spawned great games - wonderful games, some of the best ever - but also disappointing, lacking games without true content, not to mention some really crappy portable iterations (or so I hear). Assassin's Creed hasn't been nearly as consistent as Metal Gear was from its original, classic MSX debut up to Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, or as Grand Theft Auto has been from Grand Theft Auto III to this day. Besides, the last couple of years have brought us some (very) good, but ultimately disappointing major installments in stellar franchises. Dragon Age II, Mass Effect 3, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Dead Space 2, and most recently, Resident Evil 6. And, lest we forget, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the last major game in this very series. It almost made me forget all about getting Assassin's Creed III before the game was even properly announced. The thing that made me return to the twisted political conspiracy of Assassin's Creed after the very disappointing debut, and paved the way for my fruitful relationship with the second game, was the incredible story they began telling in Assassin's Creed, and the fact it was to continue right where it left off in Assassin's Creed II. Well, that story is still going on, and supposed to come to its epic conclusion in Assassin's Creed III. There's a new, improved engine, and a new pseudo-protagonist, so I need not to worry about having to endure another Revelations or having to control an 80-year old Ezio Auditore. This is like a new beginning... and an end, at the same time, if this is really the end of Desmond Miles' journey. Of course I was ultimately led to expect an everlasting impression, the kind of which Assassin's Creed II left me with back in the day. That, I didn't get. But, I got a fabulous game which is a huge improvement over the previous installment - I'm quite happy with it. Not balls-off ecstatic, but happy.

It might sound like I have nothing but dirt to shove at Assassin's Creed: Revelations. That's not true, but I've got to say, that during the first four or five hours of Assassin's Creed III - which are widely considered the most boring in-game hours of this monster, mind you - I was beginning to think I was too SOFT on the game back in the day. Sure, in the long run the game's prologue turned out to last way too long, and a bit tedious, but it was STILL a better use for my time than any hour I spent with Revelations. The thing that made the prologue shine for me, at least on the first time around - is the fact that the fabulous story started five years ago is back on track, spot-on. It's filled with jaw-dropping twists and turns, the first major one of which comes in the end of the prologue, throwing you off the ball for as long as several minutes. It's just SICK, and offers up just the boost we fans needed to survive the slump. I'm not taking anything away from the intro of the game, showing off what they can accomplish with AnvilNext - which is surely a visual treat, but long-time followers and students of the Assassin's Creed story will have to wait for the tides to turn for those few hours - once again, it depends on how eager of an explorer you are. You can explore from the very beginning of the game, and the exploration data stays with you until the end despite the big turns in the story, and that's great. Exploration is very limited within missions, and there's no clear cut between them, but you'll get used to the game's rhythm in no time. You'll get used to a lot of things. In turn, you MUST get used to some less desirable things, unfortunately.

Look around, fool.
If there's one guy who defines Assassin's Creed, that's Ezio Auditore da Firenze, the way he was in Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood - no-one wants to remember what he became in Revelations, a monotonic, too serious and even somewhat ugly version of himself. He was an extremely loveable, well-written, multilayered character, one of the best in the history of video gaming. It's no wonder Ubisoft found it so hard to let this guy go that they made a short animated movie to kill him off, since they didn't do it in Revelations, unlike they did to Altaïr - he was just too awesome at his best. He's also way too awesome to replace - which lands a whole bulk of expectations on Ratonhnhaké:ton. Like we followed Ezio from the cradle to the grave, we follow this guy from his tragic childhood to his mid-20's, and Ubisoft clearly saught after a sweet spot by making him a Native American, a representative of a group not seen in many games of this commercial caliber (if any) and equipping him with an authentic talent for the Mohawk language, as well as a deadly tomahawk. Everything about Ratonhnhaké:ton ("Connor" from now on, OK?) looks cool on the outside. As a child, he's probably the first, last and only child character ever to strike a good nerve as far as my personal preference is concerned. As an adult, he has some extremely epic moments to share with us... but in the end, he's just as cold and monotonous as a realist can expect from a character of his ethnic background. He's way too serious, has about two different facial expressions, and he misses out on a huge deal of what are supposed to be overtly dramatic exchanges. There were a lot of predictable - and expected - moments, that had all the potential to be some of the most epic moments ever seen in Assassin's Creed, and they turned out some of the most disappointing ones ever seen in Assassin's Creed.

Aside from some choice main villains of the game - many of which are once again based on real people to keep the tradition going - my favourite character in the game would have to be Connor's mentor Achilles, whose only crime is to be developed so hastily. There's a lot to his backstory I would've liked to hear, and although I would like to tell you details as well as the reason why, I choose not to spoil anything. Anyway, Achilles serves (among other things) as the spearhead of the game's underlying theme of racism. Being an elderly African-American in 18th century America, teaching a Native American child the ways of the Assassins, makes Achilles a good ally for Connor in terms of storytelling.

My conclusion of how this year's Animus bedtime story was pulled off? Well, Ubisoft promised us a personal story, and Assassin's Creed III tells a personal story - but only from the beginning to a certain DNA Sequence, between 6 and 9 (there are 12 in all). In the end, Assassin's Creed III leaves the taste of being a semi-fictional history lesson of how the Revolutionary War began, and how it ended - and how there was some nameless, faceless native in the midst of the events, and how he triggered some of the most important ones with his actions. Connor becomes more and more of a side character on the go - the main character is the war itself.

Mmm. I smell rabbit stew.
Then, there's Desmond. Finally, they made good use of him. I'll not spill too much details, but you're going to be playing as Desmond for a good while. No walking around a single room, checking for hotspots. No mere climbing around a storage room or beating up folks with generic combos while invincible. No exploring a historical site in the confines of a set piece platformer. And finally - most importantly - no Desmond's Journey or any of the kind of fuckery to be endured. No, this time it's the real deal. You're going to need a whole variety of skills in a few levels that make up for about one or two hours of the game's total length. There are even a few "boss fights", in the style of the franchise. This has been a long time coming, and I sincerely enjoyed playing as Desmond at certain points of the game. How Desmond's story continues and finally concludes is fascinating, but of course, I'm a little disappointed, especially with the conclusion. Once again, I can't help but think how leaving Revelations unwritten would have affected the plot in a positive way. It's not the worst conclusion ever, and I was near to applaud some certain aspects of it. Will there be an Assassin's Creed IV judging by the ending? I'm pretty sure there will. Will I buy the game? I'm damn sure I will.

The Xbox 360 version of Assassin's Creed III sports two discs, and the graphics are so phenomenally great, that I kind of expected it. However, all of it fits one disc - the second disc is for the multiplayer game, which means I have no use for it since I will never become a permanent Gold member, and I'm not a big fan of online multiplayer in general. This was just a sidenote, as I only meant to comment on the graphics. Indeed, the game looks simply superb. There are some problems with the draw distances and the thick fog present in all environments regardless of the season was obviously added in to cover up mistakes, but the facial scans, character movement, close distance environments... all phenomenal. The line between the previous games and this one is quite clear, although they weren't ugly by any measure, not even Revelations - only the facial scans sucked. Desmond looks a lot more like his counterpart in the first three games than he did in Revelations. Skinnier, though, which kind of makes sense since we've never seen him eat or drink, or do much besides strolling around in the Animus. This is getting out of hand...

The music is equally phenomenal. Lorne Balfe, who worked as Hans Zimmer's assistant on the bombastic soundtrack of The Dark Knight Rises, and also assisted previous series composer Jesper Kyd with Assassin's Creed: Revelations, returns as the only composer for this mix of epic and awesome, not to mention fitting. The same can't be said for all of the voiceover work. Nolan North rises from his slump as last year's iteration of Desmond Miles back to the top of the heap and delivers a performance even stronger he delivered in Brotherhood - he's not quite on the Nathan Drake level here, which is understandable since he adlibs most of Nate, but close. Adrian Hough and Roger Aaron Brown, quite the unknowns in the world of voiceover work, make good of their parts as Haytham Kenway (Connor's dad) and Achilles Davenport, respectively. Then we have Connor himself - Noah Watts. I'm impressed by his talent for authentic Mohawk, he drives most of the common dialogue just fine, but like I said, he misses out on some obvious, important cues by being so cold and monotonic throughout the line. They didn't even give him a signature like Ezio's "requiescat in pace". The character is not quite what I expected, and his voice doesn't make things any better. Finally, random NPC dialogue strangely reverts back to the quality of the first Assassin's Creed game: generic, repetitive and poorly performed. I lost count on all the "everlasting gratitude" I got from recipients of my deliveries. There was a lot of it. I felt like the person with the most everlasting NPC gratitude in history.

Assassins of the Caribbean.
At this point, it might be relevant to talk about the game's localization and how it drags the experience down. Why in the hell did they localize this game for so many languages? Did they really think that having Finnish subtitles would make the plot any easier to understand? If they did, they were all wrong. It's the complete opposite, especially with all the ridiculous typos and awkward dialogue that shifts in and out of context. You can switch the subtitles to another language of your preference or turn them off completely, that works, but even if the subtitles are in a language of your preference, the tutorials and info boxes still follow the regional settings of your console. That makes the game all the more confusing, so I chose to endure the ridiculous Finnish subtitles... but I don't want to see them ever again. Get this through your skulls: a game with an age-rating this high does not need localization. If we were stupid enough not to understand the English subtitles, we would surely be stupid enough not to understand the whole damn plot.

Time and time again, Ubisoft have claimed that the resemblances between basic exploration in Red Dead Redemption and Assassin's Creed III are of pure coincidence, as Assassin's Creed III was already under development when Rockstar's Wild West masterpiece came out. I don't believe any of it, but whichever the way the truth is, it's fun to experience a mix of one of the greatest games ever made and Assassin's Creed. The most notable difference is the transition between "levels". Red Dead Redemption didn't have any, it had a totally open world, while Assassin's Creed III reverts to the very roots of the franchise, giving us the "Frontier" which serves as the hub kind of like "Kingdom" did in the first game. A lot more interesting, though. Although the Frontier lacks specific landmarks, it has plenty of things to do. You can hunt animals in a very RDR-ish way, and sell their skins and valuable body parts for a lot of money, in another RDR-ish way. You can also use them to craft special items when you get to a more personal hub, which is your Homestead. More about that later; the point is that this is what RDR lacked, and it's a welcome addition... for a part, at least. There are also a lot of challenges and side missions waiting to be discovered, just like in the cities. You're going to spend a lot of time in the two hubs of the game - probably even more than in the cities.

Throughout, Assassin's Creed III is vertically very different from any previous installment. Sure, there are viewpoints, but at first it seems to lack extremely crazy ones like the ceilings of the Sistine Chapel or the Pantheon. Things get pretty crazy on the climbing front, believe me - well over the top - but indeed, most of the viewpoints are churches of regular size or high trees. Climbing is not such an important deal anymore. Which is good, 'cause the controls have the tendency of taking multiple dumps right on your face. Controls have always been a bit of a problem in this franchise's case, and just that the game's been heavily simplified by terms of the AnvilNext engine, does not mean it's constantly co-operative. Connor might refuse to climb altogether, as well as refuse to sprint or jump on cue. Oh well, at least this game never shoved the everlasting wall kick problem in my face, nor did any combat controls ever really have any holes.

Dynamic combat in the vein of recent Batman
games might not be to everyone's liking, but it
DOES look good. Extremely good.
Combat and stealth tactics are two gameplay features that have gone under serious improvements. Basic combat works pretty much the same it has since Brotherhood, but it's even smoother once you get hang of the rhythm for effective combos (which you'll need, 'cause you might be fighting tens of enemies at the same time!). Guns have become common weapons over the centuries between the Renaissance trilogy and this game; not only will you have a gun holstered up for some long-range mayhem, you also have to dodge enemy bullets regularly, or grab the nearest guy for a human shield whenever you're in the crosshairs of a whole firing squad. You can also disarm a soldier armed with a musket and use it to either blow his head off or stab him in the gut - even two guys at the same time, if they're attacking from both sides, prompting you to do a double counter in the vein of Batman: Arkham City. (The coolest stunt you can do with the musket is stab a guy and shoot another guy through the first guy's gut. You'll even get an Achievement for it.) There's a whole variety of weapons at your disposal as it is; knives, tomahawks, swords, axes, clubs, you name it. Not to mention environments that could turn out hazardous if taken the right kind of advantage of. Or rope darts, which you can use to either strangle or stab an enemy on your ground level, or hang them from trees - dastardly!!! Be creative. You must, if you're going for 100% completion.

Stealth tactics rip a page off Snake Eater's playbook, and even the playbooks of earlier Metal Gear games; abilities which should have been introduced to the franchise long ago. Everything you were able to do before works. You can start riots to gain vigilante assistance, you can blend with groups, take a seat on a public bench, hang on the inside of a well, all that to hide from enemies, but you can also parkour through open windows and doors of houses to throw enemies off the search, crawl through bushes and grass, and whatnot. Once again, the game will inspire you to be creative. Especially since you simply won't survive without learning at least half of these stealth tactics. Although combat and many aspects of the game are as easy as ever, remaining incognito is much harder than ever. Which means that for many players who treat this as a casual game will get their asses handed to them by the optional objectives of more than half of the missions. This time, there are more than one per each. Sometimes, they're really vague, and at more times, the game even forgets to mention them, and at even more times, they're made near-impossible to complete due to technical issues. Just something you must get used to, one of the less desirable things.

What's great, but also a bit illogical since Connor himself is far from a mentor, the Brotherhood returns with the strength of six recruitable Assassins. The very personal and unique training side missions were probably the best part of Revelations, and one of the only things improved upon between Brotherhood and Revelations - here it is improved upon once more. There are three individuals in different parts of both cities of the game - Boston and New York - fighting for liberty (and justice for all). They're regular folk that need your assistance in unique problems related to whatnot, like a pox epidemic or soldiers harrassing poor citizens desperately trying to make ends meet. When you've done enough for them, success in one last mission which usually involves getting rid of threat X once and for all blesses you with an Assassin recruit. Each of the six Assassin recruits brings in a unique talent. They can start riots on your behalf, disguise themselves as enemy soldiers and take you "hostage" for a sick prank for the ages, manage ambushes, and do old-fashioned stuff like bodyguarding and plain old killing. As always, you can send them out to different cities along the East Coast to do missions of their own for experience, items and money. Shops aren't that relevant, you can often craft better items than what they've got for sale, and you'd be amazed how far you can go with weapons you can get early on. There's no more property to buy - which is a relief, 'cause shit got ridiculous in the previous game - and no more armour sets to collect. There are several alternative outfits for you to collect to the basement of your mansion, won by advancing in the storyline, managing all challenges for a specific guild, managing a certain amount of optional mission objectives, etc. Assassin's Creed III is a very rewarding game. You'll feel good for your hard work, and it's not just because of concrete Achievements or Trophies. This is something that's been missing from a few recent genre games.

This is my boomstick.
On to the Davenport homestead - one place you'll be spending a whole lot of time in, more and more as the game presses on. The homestead starts off as a derelict mansion on a hill, but grows to a whole community as you hire more folk from all around the game - working men, such as farmers, blacksmiths, innkeepers, even a priest to offer moral support. All of the characters you bump into and offer a home to, have their own special side missions that serve a purpose. By utilizing their different talents, and upgrading them by doing further missions for them, you can craft just about anything from furniture to toys to food to medicine to the things that directly matter to you: weapon and equipment upgrades. The rest of the stuff can and should be sold to merchants around the coast. The crafting system is very complex and confusing at first, even frustrating, but I'm sure a lot of people will get a lot of kicks out of it. A variety of well known minigames such as morris and draughts aside, there's one new, prominent gameplay feature that caught my attention from the beginning, and it can be accessed from the homestead. I'm really surprised to say this myself, but I REALLY dig the naval missions.

Whenever I hear the words "naval mission", I immediately think of some real-time strategy game on the waves. Or better yet, the naval battles in The Curse of Monkey Island, which were that game's only low point, but which turned out pretty popular and ended up influencing just about every naval gameplay feature in any following game. Yeah, well, there's something oddly familiar about these missions as well, but they're fun as heck, at least in the beginning before they seriously start to repeat themselves. (As for the rest of the game, it doesn't repeat itself at all, it's very well balanced.) You gain access to a ship named the Aquila early on in the game's storyline, and you can use it to take the battle to the Templars on the high seas in several missions that usually don't involve anything more delicate than sinking a lot of ships with cannon fire. Which is fun, at first at least. The missions become more challenging on the go when frigates and man-o-wars are thrown into the mix, but not too different. The same tactics work throughout, and the expensive upgrades to the Aquila aren't worth it - as long as you have the basics of naval warfare covered, you'll do just fine. Even if the naval missions get a little stale towards the end, only a few unlock at a time, at just the right pace, so you might not even notice their increasing staleness before finishing the game.

The greatest flaw of Assassin's Creed III? If this was the final version of the game, I'd have to say the glitches. Glitches galore, everywhere, from amusing graphical errors such as Connor jerking off on top of a viewpoint - double the amusement if the viewpoint animation gets stuck on a loop - to devastating bugs that might utterly destroy your mission progress, or your chances at nailing some optional objective, if you're going for those. Ubisoft invested a lot in this game, so I believe it's going to be patched until it's just right, so I won't go into the glitches any further. The greatest flaw of this game is that there are absolutely no puzzles at all. Subject 16 is dead, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have come up with some loophole or new plot twist to add some great, creepy puzzles which were some of Assassin's Creed II and Brotherhood's best moments. What makes things worse is that they kind of promised something of the like. Connor tracking urban legends as inspired by frontiermen isn't the same thing at all. However, Ubisoft also promised to deliver us levels inspired by Assassin's Tombs and similar levels featured in both Brotherhood and Revelations. That they did. What's involved and what the levels are like are things I choose not to spoil, but I guarantee fun times and perhaps a few blown minds. They're kind of short, though, and perhaps there are a little too few of them altogether.

Rowboats didn't actually make the final cut, but
this is a good promotional picture nonetheless.
All of this is just a fraction of all the things you can do in Assassin's Creed III. It's an immense game that requires approximately 55 hours of gameplay to be fully completed - I got 96% in 50 hours, more or less sharp. Just when you think you've done all there is, another side mission, challenge or objective pops up, and it's heavily recommended to check each city and spit of land between each DNA Sequence. There's always something new, and at a lot of occasions, it's something exciting and inspiring. The most exciting and inspiring thing about this game is the storyline, even though it lacks some expression - it's the one thing that always changes, and the most consistent and balanced feature in terms of gameplay. Since you can continue to dash through the side missions after you've completed the game, it's perfectly understandable if you want the best the game has to offer out of the way first, but that way, you might see the side missions in a very different, repetitive light. Find your own pace and order for things - even though the game seems to limit your opportunities at first, you'll get your shot at perfect freedom in no time. If you're going for Achievements, the game willingly hands well over a half of them over on the first playthrough, although they're not quite as easy to get as in Assassin's Creed II. Even though multiplayer is made such a big deal, there aren't that many multiplayer exclusives, which is a good thing.

Control issues, glitches and repetition in certain areas, as well as the lack of dramatic sense summon frustration to the mix, but never manage to ruin what is a great game and a huge improvement over the previous installment in the Assassin's Creed franchise. Assassin's Creed III is a very good game that only gets better towards the end, as you get used to its pace, certain quirks and figure out the secrets of advanced gameplay, obscured by the useless and dumb localization for the longest time in my case.

+ The game is a true treat to look and listen to
+ The story's back on track
+ Two cities, two hubs and the ocean make up for an immense, immersive world with tons of stuff to do; side missions, collectables, guild challenges, minigames, property upgrades, hunting, you name it
+ The homestead and all that comes with it
+ A good pace and balance
+ Simplified controls, with a minimal amount of sacrifices
+ Improved stealth tactics
+ Combat is ultra-violent, diverse and fun, complete with blood effects/stains à la Dragon Age
+ The naval battles are fun, albeit a bit repetitive
+ Fans will love Desmond's present-day adventures
+ The game just keeps getting better towards the end...

- ...Which also means it's quite a slow hook
- Connor is all right, but he's no Ezio; he, above all, misses out on a lot of emotional cues, making the basically awesome twists feel less awesome
- The menus are confusing
- Deliveries, liberations and several side missions on the frontier are fun, but they tend to repeat themselves; even the naval battles turn out guilty of repetition towards the end
- The localization makes no sense, not as an idea and not in practice
- The controls are still problematic at times
- Rocks on the frontier lack highlighted edges and gaps, you can't always be sure if you can climb 'em or not
- Finally, glitches are bound to be spotted everywhere - from amusing ones to ones that have the potential of ruining your mission

< 8.4 >