keskiviikko 19. marraskuuta 2014

The Inquisitor

I probably don't need to tell you which game's on the plate right now. Thought I'd post this pic of my character - it's already pretty evident that BioWare's character editor has improved a lot in the last couple of years, but the image doesn't do it enough justice. It's great. The game itself feels really good, too, but let's save the rest for another time.

Based on an old school photo of me, Even I couldn't tell the
difference from afar - the editor's amazing.

REVIEW - Assassin's Creed: Rogue | Xbox 360 | 2014

GENRE(S): Stealth / Action
RELEASED: November 11, 2014
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
DEVELOPER(S): Ubisoft Sofia, Ubisoft Singapore, Ubisoft Montréal, Ubisoft Quebec, Ubisoft Chengdu, Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Romania

Just to avoid any accusations of self-repetition, let's start this year's (first) Assassin's Creed review with a LESS known fact: "rogue" is one of my favourite words in the English language. It's just so smooth: "...rogue." Now that we got that tidbit out of the way, let's move on to the usual statement. My history with Assassin's Creed has been more colourful and unlikely than with any other franchise. It all started about four years ago. My friend had busted his PlayStation 3 and put most of his games in my care, including the first three Assassin's Creed games. Back then, I hadn't even played the first one, and up 'til that point I had close to no idea a third game had already come out. I had wanted to try the first game for quite some time, but I was afraid to fall in love with it if sequels were truly spewing out at such a fast pace - I hadn't the resources to start collecting a new series. What if the fourth game came out just when I had squeezed enough spare dimes for the third one? Well, I have often said how it turned out; while I hated the first game, the second one already made me a fan. It made me such a huge fan that I was able to tolerate almost anything up to a certain limit, and no major game in the franchise has come close to that limit, not even the fourth game Assassin's Creed: Revelations in all its staleness. Unfortunately, no game in the franchise has come close to Assassin's Creed II and its first direct sequel Brotherhood, either, and every year when they unleash a new game, I'm sitting tight on the computer, refreshing GameRankings over and over again, with a pure 50/50 mindset - it could either be the final nail to the franchise's coffin, or a truly good game. You can't really tell, beforehand. So... here we have TWO games instead of just one. The first - both chronologically and spiritually - is a reward, so far exclusively dedicated to those players who have kept with the series from the beginning, but are not yet ready to move on to the next generation. It's called Assassin's Creed: Rogue, and regardless of how this review is going to end, I think it's safe to say that it should not be avoided by any means by any true Assassin's Creed fan.


Steven Piovesan : Shay Patrick Cormac
Roger Aaron Brown : Achilles Davenport
Adrian Hough : Haytham Kenway
Julian Casey : Liam O'Brien
Tristan D. Lalla : Adéwalé
Richard Dumont : Christopher Gist
Shawn Campbell : James Cook
Patricia Summersett : Hope Jensen
Andreas Apergis : Juhani Otso Berg
Lucinda Davis : Violet de Costa

Orphaned as a teenager, 21-year old Irishman Shay Patrick Cormac has served the Assassin Order faithfully - but when a personal mission of his results in the gruesome slaughter of several innocents, which is of course completely against the Assassin's Creed, Shay becomes disillusioned with the Creed, most of all his mentor who could care less of the consequences of Shay's actions when he sees a higher cause. Shay himself becomes the victim of an assassination attempt; after recovering from his wounds in the care of a Templar family, Shay reluctantly begins to hunt down his former friends and allies - or as he sees it, a quest to save the world.

Shay starts out young and fiery...
Initially, Rogue's worst enemy is the Assassin's Creed series itself. Only the most casual of the most casual, and misinformed players would buy this game if they didn't have every major game in the series already. Picking up exactly where the previous game left off has been one of the strengths of the series from the beginning, but now, with the absolute majority of the commercial focus on a separate next-generation title that is promised to be another fresh start for the series, Rogue in all its copy-paste being is bound to get flamed by someone; be it a consumer or a critic, or a whole group of representatives from either side. You all saw Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag last year; how could they squeeze out any more out of the PlayStation 3 or especially the Xbox 360 which turns ten next year? How could they improve on the gameplay, A.I. and all that? Actually, how can they afford to make a decent last chapter for the seventh generation while they're obviously focusing on the eighth? Compare the amount of news, trailers and gameplay videos posted for these two games. Hell, Rogue wasn't even properly announced 'til three months back, and until that, most of us thought it'd been vaporized. Once it WAS announced, I don't think anyone ever expected anything great or thought too highly of it. ...Let's get back to the real world, here: the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 are still very much alive, well, and kicking like a couple of mules. They might not be able to run a much bigger and better game than Black Flag, but the most important question is this: did they focus on this game? The second most important question is: is it at least as good as Black Flag? The third: is it RELEVANT? Or just another filler game that would've been better off on a handheld system? Well, before I go any further and deeper, I'll answer these questions as I see fit. Rogue is a full-fledged Assassin's Creed game, and from several points of view, almost as good as Black Flag. As far as relevancy to the whole story goes, it is extremely relevant assuming you're interested how things went from Black Flag's bad to Assassin's Creed III's worse... and what sort of twists you can expect from Unity. And, if you want to experience the life of the best Assassin's Creed protagonist this side of Ezio Auditore, you've come to the right place. Uh, game.

Chronologically, Assassin's Creed: Rogue is the middle chapter in the trilogy of the colonial era, which started with the last: Assassin's Creed III. (I just realized a connection to GTA in this sense.) The game is set in the mid-18th century, during the French and Indian War, mostly just some time before Connor's birth and his childhood. So, you can safely expect - without any spoilers that the trailers haven't already provided - returns from many familiar characters, from both Black Flag and Assassin's Creed III. Also, the historical part of the story is, in a clever way, a prologue to the historical events depicted in Assassin's Creed: Unity, which takes place in a whole other country and time. So, all these things considered, I don't see any reason why you should let Rogue pass if you've followed the series like a puppy from the beginning; and what I'm going to say next is something even better.

"May the Father of Understanding guide us."

...To end up more mature, with a heart of cold
stone. And with a neat-ass scar on his face.
For the very first time in the series, and I doubt it'll be the last, you are a Templar. Or, "the bad guy". Or, what's that word? Oh yeah... "rogue". The colonial trilogy and its spin-offs have been all about teasing a side change. First, there was that thing with Assassin's Creed III; what happened after the first few chapters was a total jawbreaker. You just didn't see that coming. In Assassin's Creed: Liberation, Aveline turned against her mentor as advised by her Templar mother, but she never really became a Templar - it was more of a personal issue and the main antagonist was still a Templar, who she had an even bigger beef with. In Black Flag, Edward just pissed on people who pissed on him, and most of those people just happened to be Templars - he wasn't really a fan of the Assassins, either, but ended up working for them, mostly by coincidence. Well, now there's no question about it - after the first few storyline sequences, you become a full-fledged, dedicated Templar, and if it wasn't clear to you long before, there really is no good or evil in this set-up. The total lack of sense in this rivalry that has lasted since the dawn of time is exploited further than ever before, and it's a real treat to someone who has followed the story from the beginning to see it through the eyes of a representative of the side considered an enemy until now. And what a story Rogue has in store, really - the storytelling is indeed in a zone it hasn't been in for years. After Black Flag's deliberately warm, tongue-in-cheek approach - which was great in its own way - it's still good to be back on track, in depths even darker than some of Ezio's darkest. Shay might not strike you as the most memorable Assassin's Creed protagonist at first, but wait 'til he gets to the point where he really starts putting things in focus, already having abandoned his former cause; it's really hard when all the people you once considered your best (and only) friends are now your worst enemies. Unlike you might've read, Shay's metamorphosis ain't all that quick and easy. He's one of the best and most multi-layered main characters across the whole franchise, I think; at the very least one of the most interesting ones.

The story is all about Shay, and accommodating the two previous titles; there are no high-profile additions to the historical cast of the game, and there's no historical event to build upon here, the Seven Years' War is just a red herring. However, amidst the completely fictional new faces and the freeform timeline, there are some brief cameos from less prominent figures of the actual past, usually there to get stabbed through the neck, gut or eye. I'm a bit torn between saying that it's good to have a wholly personal story for a change, or saying that such a story doesn't do enough justice to the whole franchise. I'll go with the first option, it's that good. And, there are a few notable historical events here - such as the one that causes Shay's final breakdown. After witnessing that, I can't say I blame the dude for losing his faith.

Back to the future... I've gotta say it seems I'm one of the few fans who actually enjoy the modern-day side of Assassin's Creed. I always have - it's the side that kept me wanting to muddle through the first game, and return to the next, in which Desmond's story just blew me away with the rest of the game. The new modern-day approach they first tried with Black Flag worked for that game in its somewhat humoristic fashion - but now, it's starting to get lame. Or at least it is lame in this case. As far as the modern-day story goes, this game is another take at Revelations in the sense that it just works to confuse you and does it in place, without evolving at all. Basically, you start about a year from where the previous game left off, although it's made clear pretty early on that "you" are NOT the same person who worked the Abstergo desk in Black Flag - which takes away the rest of the already severely lacking immersion, You're still "doing developmental research" for Abstergo in the Animus, when your progress is interrupted by a "glitch"; this glitch presents itself in the form of the genetic memories of Assassin Shay Cormac, who none but the most well-informed Abstergo agents know by name. While your supervisor is working on a way to override the mysterious "virus" and locate some "real" files for you to run, climb and stab through, one of the head honchos at Abstergo takes an interest in Shay and convinces this bitch to let you view his genetic memories in peace. Nothing serious involved - it's the most filler modern-day sidestepping thus far, even worse than Revelations actually. Storywise, I mean - the first-person puzzle levels in Revelations are still the worst thing ever seen in the whole franchise, in my honest opinion. The lack of a modern-day draw is expected, really, since Rogue is not the main product here, but it's none the less disappointing. And one side to it is even outright enfuriating...

Life under the northern lights.
Abstergo executive Juhani Otso Berg has made a few subtle appearances in the franchise. I first caught a mention of this guy in one of the data packs in Black Flag, but he's also appeared as a character in multiplayer modes for Brotherhood and Revelations, it seems. What struck me as an obvious point of interest in this guy is that he's my countryman. a very rare sight in domestic fiction. I have seen and heard ridiculous depictions of Finnish characters in domestic products before, but not on the scale of a primary antagonist. First of all, no Finn speaks English in such an accent - though I guess we're lucky he HAS an accent. He sounds more like a German dude (actually, he's French... I knew it!). What really grinds me is the way he pronounces Finnish words. I'm a bit of a patriot, I know - usually these kinds of things do not bother me, but when we're this close to home, I take great offense. Would it have been so hard and expensive (I HIGHLY doubt it) for Ubisoft to hire a Finnish voice actor? I bet there'd been dozens of guys glad to take the job. Well, at least they didn't translate the game's subtitles to Finnish this time around - that, I ironically can't stand.

Let's get to the game, then. Since I just shed some light on the "developments" in the modern-day "story", let's complete that circle first and discuss the actual game for the rest of the review. What you'll be doing during these sequences - if you want to - is exactly the same you did in Black Flag - if you wanted to. You zoom around the Abstergo offices picking up lost communicators, and breaking into computers. This time you're trying to fix them, not hack them, but it still plays out exactly the same. A simple hack puzzle later, you're rewarded with a data pack, once again shedding some light and new views on the game's events as well as the events of the whole damn Assassin's Creed timeline, from the first game all the way up to Unity. Of course, they don't tell a whole lot of what we don't already know about Unity, since I guess they're kinda expecting the most Creed-faithful consumers and gamers to play through Rogue first. These packs are still very interesting, and work towards what I guess is one of the game's goals, to blur the line between friend and foe, quite damn fine. It's just too bad that you have to tolerate the muddy, non-sensical and irrelevant dialogue to get to them. And it's also too bad about 99% of them relate to Berg's career and findings, from long before and after the legend of Desmond Miles.

The game looks exactly like Black Flag, only in Assassin's Creed III's surroundings with the icy North Atlantic serving as your naval playground, and the biggest key city from the latter game making a return, packed with sandbox "goodies". Special animations from Black Flag are also carried over, such as side mission triggers and stuff like that. It looks like Black Flag meets AC III meets Red Dead Redemption - Shay looks quite a bit like John Marston, and those animal-skinning animations don't change that view one bit. Altogether, the game feels like a long-ass (and much more gory) expansion pack to Black Flag - not that it's a wholly bad thing, much less any surprising. Once again, how could they have done better? Different, maybe, but better, nah. The music, composed by series newcomer Elitsa Alexandrova, is quite good, but why oh why did they use a remix of "Ezio's Family" from Assassin's Creed II as the title theme? OK, it's fantastic, and the most popular song the franchise ever spawned, but it held special meaning and was associated with Ezio - it simply doesn't belong here! Just think of the mere TITLE of the song, God damn it! (What I know of Unity this far is, that game's theme song is yet another remix. What the deuce?) Numerous sea shanties from the previous game are remixed to a more audible form, and several new ones are included; the actual connection is a little hard to make without any pirates in the game, but to hell with that, I love 'em shanties. The voiceovers are great, of course - many artists of days past come to reprise their roles one more time, and as for Shay, Canadian actor Steven Piovesan passes for an Irish dude damn well.

The seventh generation still knows how to
make a flash.
So, if you're fresh off Black Flag, or its Freedom Cry expansion, you're in for easy access - mechanically, Rogue is a carbon re-print of the game. It's just more compact, and definitely harder. Naval combat, for example, is extremely hard in the beginning of the game. You need to make a severe amount of progress in the game just to meet the requirements to unlock weapons on all sides of the ship - I'm actually really bothered by how the game's wide open from the beginning, but it makes next to no sense to go for a sandbox adventure since you can't fight properly and completing most locations in terms of collectibles and side errands is outright impossible up 'til a certain point. Ironically, some very early storyline missions require you to search for collectibles and raw materials to upgrade your ship before you're ready to take them on; well, that's never been a problem for me since I'm the kind of sandbox gamer that avoids making progress to the last. In this particular game's beginning, I was really eager to make progress instead, just to be a little more ABLE (and since the story's the most interesting part here); but it's really disheartening to vacuum a large settlement far out on the sea out of all its collectibles and then find there's one collectible or side mission there you can't reach before making actual progress. And, it just so happens that the materials you actually need are under the blackest stone. Rogue muddles a lot, I'll give you skeptics that much. But it gets better; moreover, quicker, once you let go of your sandbox mentality.

As far as story missions go, they're expertly written, longer, more diverse, and as I said, harder, than in Black Flag. Just the most basic mission in the game has an average of three different sequences, sail-tail-kill for an easy example. Stealth is more important to your success than it's been in a while, for both the conclusion and reaching it. In turn, the game doesn't really offer the most interesting sandbox experience around. Assassin's Creed has always been made by its story, here it's more evident than ever. Collectibles are severely of quantity over quality, and the level design simply isn't quite as interesting as it was in Black Flag. Again, I'm the type of sandbox gamer who enjoys going out there and avoid the main destination at all costs as long as he can. It has been more interesting in the past. Removing underwater levels altogether doesn't really hurt the game all that much - I wasn't that much into them due to the quirky controls that have always been the franchise's darkest scourge - but I'm pretty sure I ain't imagining when I say nearly all forts, fortresses and small forests in the game are designed 95% identically. There are hundreds of Animus data fragments and treasure chests hidden around the world, even in uncharted locations and hidden inside icebergs, and halfway through the full collection, it feels like there's nothing else. As you make progress through Shay's fantastic story, it all feels less necessary. You just want to see the story through; not necessarily to be able to finish the game and move on, but to see what's next for our antihero. Each time I switched to the modern day, I felt like muting my TV, running between all the unlocked computer terminals, and return to the Animus as fast as possible. Never happened before. Thank you very much, Otso fucking Berg. Seriously... if they go to so much trouble making Italian and French characters sound like Italian and French characters, even if the voice actors were British, Canadian or American, why not go to such lengths to have a Finnish character who could at least be taken seriously? I feel like calling Ubisoft and demonstrating what the word "perkele" REALLY sounds like - numerous times, 'til they get it right. Or until I've made a point. Perkele!

There are no huge changes to anything; I can't think of one thing different enough to make Rogue feel any less like a (particularly long) expansion pack to Black Flag. Except for Shay, who comes complete with a few, simple side mission types that you couldn't imagine doing as an Assassin - such as actually defending an assassination target by scoping out your former allies stationed around 'em and eliminate them before they can launch their assault. However, if you liked Black Flag's advanced features, I can't see why you wouldn't like Rogue, 'cause all that's concretely missing is that wide array of underwater levels. Nothing else. The remote naval missions are still exactly the same, although again, it will take a while before you can afford a chance against something bigger than a schooner and add it to your fleet. Building renovation returns quite like it was in the renaissance trilogy; luckily, you don't have to travel to a random bank and back to cash in on your steady income. Instead each of your safehouses, including the captain's cabin on your ship, is equipped with a desk that magically stores all your money, and you can pick up your hard-earned cash there any time. In a worse bit of news, the renovations require the very same raw materials and huge amounts of money as the upgrades to your ship - which are the only truly essential upgrades in the game. So you decide what's important; it's not a very uplifting thought to go blasting away at whole fleets for several hours in a row just for a bit of cloth and metal, or wood, which you need the most and which is the hardest material to find. Or it might be, on paper, but try it out for yourself. Or think what it would've been like a year back, that helps too.

It's like riding a bike.
The last thing on my list is Shay's weaponry, which is the same as ever but has one addition quite different than anything you've seen before - while the poor Assassins struggle and try to make the best out of age-old weapons, excusing their lack of resources with "tradition", the rich Templars are fascinated with the future of warfare. FAR future, as seen in the inclusion of grenade launchers; quite primitive ones, to make their mere existence remotely believable. It's actually funny that Shay is seriously puzzled by the discovery of a silenced rifle, but has next to no reaction towards this powerful new weapon. Well, the grenade launcher is pure gold, it packs one hell of an oomph, and just the tutorial mission linked to the weapon and its three different types of ammo was enough to convince me that I was going to have much fun with it. So, no gripes here - the killing's still fun, and there's something notably different to that one practical element of Assassin's Creed. Could we actually ask for more? Sure we could. But would we?

Even the Achievements are pretty much the same as before, there are next to no surprises in that field. I suppose the Achievements provide enough incentive for you to keep on collecting shit - that one time. You will actually very likely want to play the story again, but there's absolutely no good excuse to go for another hunt for the ugly alternate attires and useless weapon upgrades that the game offers up on one huge platter for a second time. The game generally offers up more challenge and more diverse missions to go with it than Black Flag, and just because Rogue is arguably a little less self-repetitive than its predecessor when it comes to the story missions, the optional objectives sound more fun and substantial.

It's far from the best and most important game in the franchise, but far from the worst as well, seeing as the story holds meaning; it's a good stand-alone product, not to mention a solid, interesting part of the colonial saga, unlike Assassin's Creed: Revelations was in its time. In the end, I seriously believe that Assassin's Creed: Rogue could not have turned out any better. I seriously didn't believe it could be this good. It's cramped with unnecessities, it's severely unchanged, Mr. Berg can pull a leap of faith straight into the sidewalk for all I care, but it has a very interesting and different, character-driven story, and it makes good use of the very basic Assassin's Creed formula within that storyline. For that one last hail and farewell, Rogue is just fine. As far as Unity is concerned, I'm expecting "a bit" more.

+ Follows a great game, in mind, body and spirit...
+ ...With the exception that it's darker and more violent, the way I personally like my Assassin's Creed
+ Great story with a standout lead character
+ Fun missions that ring of the best in all past games; I can't really think of one that I really hated, actually

- Feels a bit too much like a year-late expansion pack from time to time
- Not the most interesting, least repetitive or fruitful open-world experience we've had; repetitive side missions, boring collectibles. Desperately looking for even the lamest possible treasure does not quite feel the same as a vengeful Templar as it did as an adventureous pirate captain.
- Apart from about a half of the "hidden" data packs, the modern-day setting (which I've usually enjoyed very much) is a wet fart, especially its main antagonist

< 7.5 >

tiistai 11. marraskuuta 2014

Brushing off the October rust and dust...

A couple of weeks ago I did a little rant on my back problems and gathered I would be done with them in a few days, but obviously that wasn't the case and Halloween went to the shitter as far as the blog's concerned. Well, time to look forward, and I've got a few bits of good news. First, and foremost from all views concerned, I'm healthy again, and I'm ready to start whipping it. Of course Halloween came and went, so the Monster Mash might not have as much meaning now, but it will continue right up 'til the planned end.

I'll have to put it on hold for a few weeks though, 'cause as you know, as far as new releases go - the kind of releases I simply MUST review as quickly as possible - the rest of November is just crazy. Unforgiving, and insane. Tomorrow night I will head to GameStop to pick up my copies of both Assassin's Creed: Rogue and Assassin's Creed: Unity from the midnight launch. Whether or not you've read the first reviews of either one of these games, one thing's for certain: we're in for a long trip with these two games on this blog. Originally, I didn't have much faith in either one of the games; Rogue is like a last hurrah for the systems that spawned the franchise, and while it might've been a noble idea from Ubisoft, they were not expected to really put their hearts into it. Well, apparently they did - Rogue is described as a full-fledged Assassin's Creed experience with a great plot. Extremely similar to Black Flag, yes (well, how could it be much different?), but a good play nevertheless.

Let's leave it at that for now - Rogue is, of course, first on the list of reviews, 'cause Unity is THE product, another rebirth of the Assassin's Creed franchise, possibly the first part in a new sub-series. Now with this game, I originally had two huge gripes; the plot setting, and the focus on co-operative play. These last few days have brought a lot more information to the table than I expected to hear from the game before actually playing it, and I'm starting to feel like Unity could be an excellent game after all. Sure, the ratings have been great, but that doesn't affect me in this game's case at all. What does is the written content of the reviews. But, let's leave that too, all for the gigantic review coming up, hopefully and most likely as early as next week - depending on how big of a slice Rogue cuts off my spare time. Well, either way, at least one of these games will be reviewed very soon.

In a bit of a surprise moment, I woke up this morning and checked my phone if there were any official reviews of either one of the Creeds online - sure there were, but what caught my attention was the flurry of reviews already online regarding Dragon Age: Inquisition, with the game's North American release still a week off. I'm surprised EA didn't force an embargo on the game, and why should've they, since apparently the game is fucking excellent!? I've read professional reviews stating the game's length to surpass both previous Dragon Age games combined (!!), and solid comparisons to Dragon Age: Origins and moreover, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Finally, LittleBigPlanet 3 is coming up in the end of the month.

Regardless which game you're most waiting for, the rest of this month will be pure heaven, or hell. Or both. I have four games to get prepared for, so if you'll excuse me. I'll get to these subjects as soon as I can.