Will Preston

Tag: Ubisoft

When in Rome…get someone else to do your dirty work for you

by on Apr.20, 2011, under Review, Video Games

I’m not the one to complain about the atmosphere of Renaissance-era Italy, but there is a reason why Thomas Cook does four night breaks and not four month ones. In Assassin’s Creed 2, I pretty much got the jist of this time period, with its fancy architecture and snazzy puff pants. So there should be no need for this to be covered further. Well, not unless there is something really important that was left out. And what could be more important than minor plot progression and a surprisingly good tacked on multiplayer?

Ubisoft's nomination for most obvious location

Yes, it seems that the Assassins Creed series is going to hang around the life of Ezio Auditore until the number 87 bus arrives to take us to the next major period of human history. Ah well, better find something to do in the meantime I suppose. Following from the last game, Ezio escapes the Vatican in Rome after unleashing a massive spoiler that I don’t have the heart to ruin for everyone. Aren’t I nice. This leads to his home villa being turned into a rather Italian language version of Helms Deep, which provides the game with a well timed revenge plot. Don’t worry though, the sneaking comes later. Ezio and co set up new digs in Rome and sets about renovating the city without a permit whilst training chimpanzee sounding assassins, just in case he gets a stitch during a particularly routine contract.

Assassins Creed Brotherhood almost a dull carbon copy of the previous game if it wasn’t for some redeemable features. First off is the combat. Two major things have been overhauled for the 16th century assassin. Instead of taunting armed guards until they swing at you, Ezio can take the Eric Cartman method of kicking the opponent in the balls to effectively drop their guard. Seriously, the amount of times I abused this new skill, it was little wonder why the guard force didn’t research into some kind of armoured spiked codpiece to come between my toes and their dangly parts. The other good fighting technique is also a bit of a handy timesaver. Instead of having to work away at each person until you can execute them, you can perform chain executions. Providing you don’t get hit in between of course. It does get a bit embarrassing when the rest of the group of attackers stand and watch whilst I dervish my way through their skulls, as if they have come to accept death at my unforgiving hand.

Remember, this is technically a stealth game...

Alright, so the AI hasn’t improved that much since the last game. In fact, they have done bugger all with it, which is a shame. One thing that seems to feel a bit lacking are the graphics. Maybe it’s just me, but the visuals in Brotherhood seem to be a bit washed out in comparison, almost as if they’ve been left in the hot Italian sun between releases and it’s yet to hydrate itself in time for the launch. The same could be said about the horse riding. That sun must have tired them out I guess as I can only manage a modest gallop instead of the Lone Ranger levels of speed that the last game seemed to spoil me with.

But, ironically, one of the games new improved features could be its downfall. I mentioned the chimpanzee sounding assassins earlier. Well after a certain point in the game, you start your own Rome based creed, as if starting something like this is as easy as setting up a group on Facebook. You find assassin’s on the street (as you do) and then assign them to missions, which train them up in the process. When not dealing with cross-European slaughter, you can whistle the assassin’s in to dispatch the enemies for you, which can take all the challenge out of the game. Why bother burning calories to move the thumbstick AND press the X button to take out one person, when multiple enemies can be annihilated by pressing the left bumper and walking away. The text adventure style mission management of the assassins is a bit addictive, although it doesn’t really offer too much of a challenge and becomes tedious once you’ve mastered it. Not that it takes long to master.

I try not to think what could be going on here

And then we come to the multiplayer. It’s never a surprise for major games series to cave in and design an online multiplayer mode for their fans to screech at each other on. Brotherhood’s multiplayer redeems the game by being original and clever…and based on an idea that I had around ten years ago. But I’m not going to sue. Funnily enough, it’s the multiplayer mode that features more stealth than the single player for once. You assume the role of one of eight types of people and are then thrust into a crowded place where all the NPCs are one of the eight types of people to play as. And you’re mission? To find your target and kill them, but before you are killed yourself by another assassin. It’s pure gaming deception at its finest. You gain points for killing the right person, with bonus points awarded for stealthy stabs, rather than my favourite method of running and screaming. Assassinating take a lot of skill, considering that there is a lot more pressure to blend in and throw potential pursuers a red herring. It’s tense, tactical and tickles me every time I get my man.

Whilst it’s not really that much of an improvement, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood is worth the full price for the multiplayer alone. The single player is restricted to one city and can be licked in a week of intense play, despite the abundance of side missions and hidden items scattering the streets. Now where is that time travelling bus? I was hoping to get off at my next stop: Victorian London.

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No time for sneaking in today’s stealth games

by on Feb.23, 2011, under Review, Video Games

Patience is not something that we all have. Waiting is another hard thing to do in today’s fast paced, instant download and web shopping orgy. It just doesn’t happen. If you want something now you get it. This made me wonder about the fate of the stealth game, a genre comprising mostly of patience. It’s been about four years since the last Hitman game and the Splinter Cell series now as about as stealthy as Jack Black with tourettes, so I’m forced to give the new saga a go.

The, ahem, 'double hander'

Instead of starting from the beginning of the Assassin’s Creed series, I took the lazy option of reading the story for the first game and getting the second one for a tenner. Hearing nothing but how improved the second game is, I would have been saving time. The story seems pretty straightforward once you get past the fact that it’s comprised of utter spasticated conspiracy theory horse shit. You are Desmond Miles. Well you are for a bit before you play as his distant Ancestor Ezio Auditore de Firenze who travels about his day across rooftops whilst the rest of the squares walk around at ground level like the safety conscious pricks they are. Oh, and why are we playing as his ancestor?

Well Desmond was captured by a large company (Abstergo) and hooked up to a machine that lets them receive his ancestor’s memories through his, ahem, ‘genetic memories’ in order to stop the end of the world, or something. Not a biology major amongst the team at Ubisoft. Not that you’d even need to be one to point out that the concept is just silly. Even time travel or quantum leaping would have made more sense. Luckily the gameplay is enough to distract you from this scientific black hole. You play through a series of memories (missions) throughout Ezio’s life with occasional commentary on historical figures and architecture from the historical expert from the other end of the Animus (that’s the machine that makes all this happen. It’s most likely powered on sunshine and hope for all I know).

No, you aren't see things...

The period that Ezio resides in is renaissance Italy, a time when civilization was changing and De Vinci creates a load of projects that no one understands fully. Another odd point was Leonardo himself popping up in the game to help in what is a more ridiculous moment then JFK talking at you in Call of Duty Black Ops. Traversing the cityscape is more than just running to a flashing symbol on your radar. Ezio is skilled in the way of free running. Free running involves using buildings and street decoration to climb. See that slightly bumpy wall with various window ledges and a gutter? That’s a ladder for Ezio. It’s the games main feature and what astounds me when I climb buildings is the amount of detail that has gone into making it as real as possible. Hands go into cracks (stead on!), beams can be run across and Ezio always finds a way to make even the smallest jut of a wall climbable. It’s especially handy when faced with a crowd of angry guards, which happens quite a bit.

Now for what is technically a stealth game, there is little sneakery involved. Only half a dozen missions in the game require you to find a sneaky path, while the rest gives you enough freedom to boisterously run into the targets lair, attracting infinite guard attention, kill the target and run away from the pursuing crowd like The Beatles. This made the game a little too easy in some places. No longer would I have to plan ahead where I need to move to cover, I would now simply wing it. And that’s a great element lost. The planning ahead in a stealth game puts the right amount of pressure to do make the right choices and leads up to a more satisfying experience when the target drops dead. Very early on in the game, the amount of tutorial missions starts to make you wonder if the game will ever start.

It's an architectures wet dream

However, once the story started rolling along, and I was given my first assassin contract, I started to have fun. Early on in the game, you are forced to flee your hometown of Florence and you run away with your family to a villa with a surrounding town. In move similar to Fable, you can get an income off of the town’s economy. This income can be raised by a short list of renovations. Thing is, once I finished off improving the town I was getting more money than I knew what to do with. This lead me to buying all the weapons and armour in the game, despite me not needing them. Ezio now no longer had a concept of economy as he simply got what he wanted when he wanted it. As soon as I had everything, the game became a smooth sail, right until the end where the plot gets far weirder than previously thought.

Whilst it’s a bit too simple and action orientated for a stealth game (you’re forced to swordfight on several occasions), there were still times when I was doing what I can to not get spotted out by guards, despite the fact that I could take on about a dozen of them single handed. Assassin’s Creed 2 is a very pretty game with a focus on fancy finesse, rather than using your noggin, that will last over a week of casual play. Is that fast paced enough for you?!

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Sam Fisher’s only conviction: He could be a vampire?

by on Apr.25, 2010, under News

Splinter Cell Conviction - 3

Sam Fisher: About to suck someones blood through their neck? Almost...

There’s one thing that me and Sam Fisher have in common; we both do our Splinter Cell-ing in the dark. When I Splinter Cell (verb) it’s in the dark confines of my room in front of the XBOX, mind. Everyone’s favourite Solid Snake for people who don’t like ‘Metal Gear Solid’ returns in the second game to the series to actually have a storyline. I was shocked myself. Whilst the first three games were generic and concerned itself with an over arching mission than a strong narrative, ‘Splinter Cell Conviction’ gives a progressing story with some indulgent cinematic moments. The whole game plays out like a long episode of ’24’ rather than a typical Tom Clancy game. The story continues directly after the last game, ‘Double agent’, where Sam has left his NSA branch Third Echelon due to frankly being fed up over the death of his daughter (run over in a drunken hit and run accident), as well as shooting his long running boss, and “friend”, Lambert in the face.

Now on the run from Third Echelon and other forces of interest, Solid Sam finds himself in Malta after getting a tip about more information on his daughters killer. This cues an intervention from being bullet ridden dead by Anna Grimsdottir (“Grim” for short), a long running character who will be as familiar to players of the series as a picture of the New York sewer system painted pink. So we no have a guy constantly using his mobile phone in pursuit of a killer whilst a tech support girl yells things at him down a phone; yes, it’s basically the new series of 24, complete with added “interrogation scenes”. And by “interrogation”, I mean “torture”. And by “scenes”, I mean “mini-wrestling match”. Even Michael Ironside’s vocals for Sam bear a slight resemblance to Jack Bauer. Thank go he wasn’t chasing a bomb as well. Actually he kinda was, but it was an EMP weapon. Does that still count?

Anyway, away from potential copyright infringement and onto the game play. It’s rare that a sequel to a game is made simultaneously simple, yet difficult. Gone are the gadgets that made every single level of previous games a walk through if you knew what you were doing. Also gone is the light sensor. Instead, if you enter pockets of darkness, the screen turns black and white whilst enemies stand out brightly in colour, something that reflects on Sam’s trained ability at hiding in shadows and working in the dark. Which brings to question about previous games: Why did he even uses the night vision goggles as all? I was never able to enjoy the graphics of the early ‘Splinter Cell’ games due to viewing every level in grainy black and white “enhance-o-vision”. The levels could have been rendered on a an Atari and I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference due to the fuzzy vision and the screen being 80% pitch black. But now that graphics have improved to such an extent, the developers couldn’t bear hiding their lubberly rendered work behind Sam’s shite-vision goggles. The graphics do look nice, but nothing much has improved since ‘Double Agent’. Except maybe a tweak on frame rate. But really there is no dire need for a major graphic overhaul.

There has been a gameplay overhaul, however, in the form of the “mark and execute” mechanic. Now instead of aiming clumsily to take out a group of bad bastards in a hurry, you can plan ahead and let Sam do the rest of the work. He’s nice like that. The only eyebrow raising aspect of it is that Sam needs to perform a hand to hand take down in order to “store” an execution. The executions themselves are fantastic, providing you have “marked” a good amount of enemies. It’s got the same appeal as the VATS system from ‘Fallout 3′; an option to automatically kill your enemies stylishly without having to worry about direct input. Sam’s new super power hasn’t bored me yet. So he’s hiding in the dark with super-human vision and gaining superpowers by doing unspeakable things to peoples necks? Is he a vampire? No. Not yet. I think they’ll save that for the next one. Hopefully.

After completing the twisty-turny-twentyfour-y plot, the game treats you to more extra co op and skirmish missions than any other splinter cell game. The only thing lacking is a sufficient multiplayer death match mode. Mano a Mano is the flavour, but you can choose to have grunts litter the place with snappable necks. The co op missions themselves follow a prequel leading to the main story. With a friend, you take the role of two other splinter cell agents with action man faces and an alternative costume wardrobe that questions how seriously they take their missions. You can infiltrate a heavily armed Russian embassy in your bloody jeans and tee shirt. I’m not complaining about the casual nature of the clothing, but if you’re going to offer an unrealistic alternative costume, then why not go the whole hog and allow you to engage in a gun fight dressed as Adolf Hitler in a nappy. I refuse to buy another Ubisoft game until my suggestions are taken note of.

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