30 September 2012

Assassin's Creed Week: Assassin's Creed 3 Preview

Ubisoft are faced with a situation very similar to the one which confronted them when set about making Assassin's Creed 2: how do take a new assassin, coupled with a new setting, and grow the franchise?

By choosing the American Revolution Assassin's Creed has moved into the era that - to date - is the one most people will some knowledge of. With historical luminaries such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin providing gravitas and one in the most dynamic settings in human history there's a lot to be intrigued by.

But there is a problem too, namely this, to date the vast majority - if not all - of Assassin's Creed 3's marketing has featured our new hero, Connor Kenway (Ratohnake:ton by his Native American name), killing British troops, not once has he been seen slaying an American. Ubisoft have insisted that he does but they've yet to show; fueling fears that the game will be a case of 'America f@%k yeah!'. 

Even if it does come down to that there will be no impediment upon sales which should be suitably massive. Ubisoft are spending £4 million (€5.02 million) on advertising in the UK alone - their biggest ever marketing push which is up there with the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield. 

And as with Assassin's Creed 2 there appears to be a major upgrade of both the core Anvil Engine and as well as the gameplay. We're assured the former has been rebuilt from the ground up. As for the letter with smaller cities and the broader streets in the colonial settlements trees - not to mention the abundant forests we've seen in the trailers - are fully climbable  As easily scale-able as any wall in a previous game. Indeed it seems like such an obvious feature one wonders way it hasn't been present before. 

Another aspect which has been introduced is the ability to enter buildings. Not merely those were designated missions happen but any you should choose to. 

Obviously the American Revolutionary War necessitates the inclusion of the major battles which occurred during the conflict and as the below trailer illustrates it certainly shouldn't be shy in that regard:

There were major battles in the previous entries in the series, particularly Brotherhood, but they were principally sieges and often set pieces. This is full-on open warfare. And there is a key difference this time round, everyone has guns. 

But what of Connor himself? Half British - Half American Indian he is a character who retains the quintessential assassin look while remaining appropriate for the era. Whether or not he will be as spirited and likable a character as Ezio remains to be seen though there is a significant imperative for Ubisoft in this regard who have admitted that he will only feature in future titles if he proves to be as popular as his Italian ancestor. 

Regardless Connor will be confronted by challenges his forebears never were, the naval battles revealed at Sony's E3 media briefing spring to mind.  

Assassin's Creed 3 launches a month from today. It is already the biggest game in Ubisoft's history, it also has the potential to be their best. If they can achieve all that they want to than gamers could be filling Connor's shoes for many years to come. 

Is there a threat that the game will be too one-sided? Yes but a great game is a great game & there's no way to know until it lands along with Vita title Liberation on October 30th. 

In the meantime here are two more trailers to whet your appetite:

My Leviathyn & NewGamerNation Posts This Week (Sep 24-30)

For NewGamerNation:

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita Review [link]

For Leviathyn:

Platinum On Japanese Dev 'Decline' And The Studio's Greatest Failure [link]
Kid Icarus Uprising Listed For Wii U [link]
Xbox Hiring For Next Forza [link]
Mass Effect Trilogy Announced, Original Finally Coming To PS3 [link]
343: There's "No Scope" For Kinect In Halo 4 [link]
Joe Danger: The Movie Coming To PS3 With Ten Hours Of Extra Content [link]

28 September 2012

Assassin's Creed Week: Dissecting The Creed: Assassin's Creed Revelations (2011)

(Note: This feature was written as part of Assassin's Creed Week, previous entries on Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed 2 and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood are also available on the blog.) 

Assassin's Creed Revelations featured an older Ezio, now in his fifties the master assassin was in search - not of revenge - but of answers. And while age may not have tired him Revelations nonetheless felt tired. It's not a bad game by any means but it felt like a minor upgrade compared to the sweeping improvements between Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed 2.

Even Brotherhood had seemed more a jump forward for the series. Revelations brought two primary new elements to the series. Firstly the zip-line. Istanbul was at least as large as Brotherhood's Rome and more urbanised with the option of riding through the city removed players needed a new way to navigate the Gateway to the East. 

The zip-line was the solution, by replacing the right hidden blade with a hook Ezio was able to traverse the rooftops of the city almost a third faster than had previously been possible. 

The second addition was an extension of the Borgia tower dynamic introduced in Brotherhood. This time Byzantines (who replaced the infamous Italian family) could fight back and wrest control of an area you had previously captured. While not a bad idea on paper in practice gamers were forced to defend their towers in poorly implemented tower defence style mini-game.    

After the initial (compulsory) tutorial mission in this mode they became significantly harder (or at least I found them too). As soon as your tower fell, which it often did, you could simply recapture it again using the franchises traditional gameplay methods. 

The only way to permanently protect an Assassin's Den was to train a recruit to level 15 and station them permanently in a den. It was a rather clunky and time consuming endeavor which was quite out of touch with the rest of the game, and the series.

Another notable feature of Revelations was Ezio's ability to access the memories of Altair. Yet these sections were sadly underused as was the underground city of Cappadocia. 
Revelations had two legendary assassins.
Altair's memories, accessed through the Keys scattered throughout Constantinople and needed to access the Assassin's Vault in Masyaf. 

Yet the Medieval killer's memories were woefully neglected and could have had far greater scope or at the very least have lasted somewhat longer. Though this time around Altair had a more appropriate accent than the American twang he utilised throughout the first Assassin's Creed.  

Ultimately Revelations was about resolution and perhaps that would have been a more fitting title. It was the conclusion of Ezio and Altair's stories. It was story of Ezio finally finding love and settling down (though he temporarily returned to the fray in Assassin's Creed Embers, an animated short). 

While Desmond's story told through his collapsing mind in the Animus White Rooms were a commendable tribute to fans as we discovered more about both Subject 16 and Subject 17. The art style of this section of the game - modern and monolithic - was a notable standout and while the gameplay in these sections may have felt clunky at times Ubisoft told Desmond's tale in a way few games have tried before. 

And any game that tries to push the boundaries of storytelling in this medium are to be commended, even if they don't quite achieve what they set out to.  

Both the initial carriage race and the concluding one, as well as Ezio's very long tumble off a cliff seemed unnecessarily dramatic and unrealistic (even for a series where hay will save you from a height of any jump). But that's besides the point, there are two parts to Revelations: the story and the gameplay.

And while the latter has to take precedence the former did all that it set out to do - pave the way for a new era and a new assassin.

27 September 2012

Assassin's Creed Week: Dissecting The Creed: Assassin's Creed Brotherhood (2010)

(Note: This feature was written as part of Assassin's Creed Week, you can also read the first and second entry on Assassin's Creed and Assassin's Creed 2.)

Brotherhood was the first 'primary' entry in the Assassin's Creed franchise to see protagonist make a return (Altair had previously appeared in both Assassin's Creed Bloodlines and Assassin's Creed Altair's Chronicles). 

An older and wiser killer Ezio takes his war against the Templars and the Borgias to Rome. The Eternal City,  of which you only caught a brief glimpse at the conclusion of Assassin's Creed 2 became the biggest setting to date and marked a formidable area to traverse. 

Most notable perhaps about modern Italy's capital city is the dilapidated state Ezio found it to be in the early 16th Century with many of the ruins, the Coliseum for instance, being far removed from the city. Unlike today. The scale of both the ancient arena as well as other noted Roman landmarks (the Pantheon and Castel Sant'Angelo) both spring to mind) while embellished proved an enjoyable playground gamers.

The size of the city and its environs necessitated the addition of horses within the cosmopolitan area - previously players had to dismount in order to enter urban settings - as well as fast travel via the city's many tunnels. 

But the most notable addition was the Brotherhood itself. Ezio's ascension to Master Assassin brought with it the ability to recruit and train members of the fraternity. The capacity to macro-manage the fight against Templars by sending trainees off to far-flung locations marked a gentle addition of real time strategy elements while the capacity to unleash these assassins in combat often proved an alluring prospect though arguably made some confrontations too easy. 

Regardless this process of raising recruits through the ranks was accompanied by an even greater new gameplay component: multiplayer. 

Brotherhood marked the addition of multiplayer to the series. 
One of the more innovative takes on the genre this mode was complimented nicely by the fact that it fit - and made sense - within the Assassin's Creed universe. 

Though many were initially dubious by the announcement (compounded by the fact the game was released only a year after Assassin's Creed 2) it proved to be an effective new game type wherein Abstergo used the ancestral memories of Renaissance Templars to train their modern day counterparts in the same way that the Assassins were using Ezio's memories to train Desmond - though as with everything in Assassin's Creed they got more than they bargained for. 

This, in retrospect, was clearly the plan at least since Assassin's Creed 2 in which Desmond and Lucy pass through a room of Animii (the former asks what the plural for Animus is (I'm assuming that that's the spelling on Animii which is the correct form)) in Abstergo as they make their escape. 

Those who spent much of the Assassin's Creed 2 rebuilding Monteriggioni will no doubt have felt a little pang as the town was razed to ground at the start of Brotherhood but Ubisoft gave players a much bigger template - the city of Rome.

The ability to take on Borgia Towers and wrestle control of a region marked a tactical incentive to explore (primary missions were easier in regions where Borgia control had been eliminated) and the capacity to upgrade and receive rents proved necessary to purchase the extensive array of equipment on sale. 

 This aspect of the game arguably got out of hand in Revelations' hack-handed tower defence mini-games yet  in Brotherhood it was a welcome refinement. Ultimately that's what Brotherhood was, a refinement. In terms of combat, gameplay and more. But it was an excellent addition to the franchise nonetheless. 

26 September 2012

Assassin's Creed Week: Dissecting The Creed: Assassin's Creed 2 (2009)

(Note: This feature was written as part of Assassin's Creed Week, you can read the first article 'Dissecting The Creed: The First Assassin's Creed here.)

For the sequel Ubisoft knew it needed to fix the flaws that many had attached to the original: lackluster combat and repetitiveness.

They did so aplomb. With a dynamic new setting in Renaissance Italy the story of Ezio took the foundations of Assassin's Creed and ramped them up with style. By choosing this period Ubisoft not only selected one of the most exciting and revolutionary periods in human history they were also given licence to incorporate some of the most renowned characters of that period. People far more widely known than many of Altair's contemporaries in the original. 

Certainly Assassin's Creed boasted such noted historical figures as Richard the Lionheart but the reality is that the Crusades are studied in far less detail than the Renaissance. Even if you'd never heard of Niccolo Machiavelli, Lorenzo di Medici or the Borgias you almost certainly had heard of a certain Leonardo da Vinci. 

And though there were more locales in Assassin's Creed 2 the one that most reflected how the series had progressed is, I think, Venice. 

The island city proved a playground for the developers, as well as for Leonardo and Ezio. The development of the glider, the new weapons at your disposal and the scale made clear that this was a game that had learnt its lessons. 

Fluid (comparatively) new combat which would form the basis of further refinements in Brotherhood and Revelations and a wide array of mission types accentuated the differences and paid testament to that quality of videogames so rarely reflected in other mediums: listening to the fans. 
Venice proved to have an alluring effect.
For taking these steps and representing the biggest single step forward for the franchise (to date) Assassin's Creed 2 is arguably the best game in the series.

While its successors - Brotherhood and Revelations - took elements of this title and improved upon them Assassin's Creed 2 marked the greatest advance over its predecessor. Adding to this is the plot which again is arguably the best to date.

Yet Ezio, the new protagonist, proved to be as significant a part of the series' progression as any of the other technical, narrative, or gameplay advances.

Charismatic and charming where Altair had been cold and aloof the Renaissance killer delivered a marked difference to his Medieval ancestor becoming so popular in fact that he would spawn a trilogy. Indeed Ubisoft have admitted that the future sequels starring Assassin's Creed 3's Connor Kenway will only occur if he matches the appeal of Ezio Auditore da Firenze among fans.  

With a wider range of missions than previously the game also revealed a significant amount concerning the modern day Assassin order and neat historical touches (the unfinished ceiling of the Sistine Chapel for instance) created a story that, while complex, was certainly intriguing. Similarly the prominence of the Apple of Eden and Desmond's (via Ezio) first real contact with Minerva and the First Civilisation expanded upon the mythology of the Assassin's Creed universe. 

This facet of the Assassin's Creed story is perhaps best illustrated by The Truth video pieced together by Desmond by solving all of the glyph puzzles dotted throughout the Animus:

The Truth, while not essential, illustrated the true extent of humanity's connection to Those Who Came Before and demonstrated Ubisoft's attention to aspects of their eon spanning plot.  

A particular aspect of Assassin's Creed 2's new elements that is notable is the village of Monteriggioni. By opening up the capacity to rebuild this dilapidated town and see revenues in your bank explode the more you invested there's was a rewarding quality to taking the time to do so. While both Brotherhood and Revelations expanded upon this principal Monteriggioni's reconstruction was the simplest and perhaps the purest.

As an example of a game that took aboard criticisms leveled against it's predecessor and handled them adeptly Assassin's Creed 2 proved to be the best all-rounder in the series. With a plot that expanded on the vision laid down in the original and an  exciting new setting this remains the high-point of the series. At least until Assassin's Creed 3.    

25 September 2012

Assassin's Creed Week: Dissecting the Creed: The First Assassin's Creed (2007)

The game that started it all Assassin's Creed introduced an assassin, Altair, and the foundation to a much bigger story. That of the ancient war between the Assassins and the Templars. 

Altair was notable for two core points, first for inventing an American accent centuries before American accents even existed (though in Revelations he did speak in a more appropriate tone) and because of the work he did to revitalise the Assassin's Brotherhood after the taint of Al Mualim. 

This leader of the Assassin's fraternity was an enigmatic for much of the series with more information becoming available on his outlook initially in Assassin's Creed Bloodlines and latterly in Assassin's Creed Revelations. 

Regardless Altair proved pivotal in both protecting the future of Creed and expanding upon it's tenants his cold demeanour, at least initially, meant that while an iconic figure was created in the shadow of the Third Crusade he would be eclipsed by his Renaissance successor, Ezio Auditore. 

Nevertheless it is notable that many of the achievements Ezio accomplished were partly, or entirely, due to the work done centuries before by Altair while the Creed, interpreted and quantified by Altair in the Codex and the Three Ironies, proved to be both a moral compass and a functioning work ethic (so to speak) for Ezio.

In this regard Altair should not be judged too harshly on how he might have been interpreted in the first game. He was a catalyst for future events and as with both Ezio and Desmond serves almost entirely as a tool of The First Civilisation (or Those Who Came Before). In the context of his larger role of safeguarding the Assassin's Creed and Brotherhood Altair was more than simply an adequate protagonist.   

There were however criticisms. The most central was this, every primary mission in Assassin's Creed was fundamentally the same. In other words it was somewhat repetitive. This was not an unreasonable assessment. With limited weapons and a somewhat weak combat system the game struggled to offer much variety in this regard.

Indeed, this problem was accentuated by the decision near the end of the game to have you fight through many waves of Templar soldiers. Considering that until this point players had generally either stealthily made their way around enemies or simply run from major confrontation if detected this was a difficult decision to comprehend from a gameplay perspective as it focused attention of the game's weakest aspect - the combat.

Thankfully Ubisoft recognised these failing and corrected them both in Assassin's Creed 2 which I'll talk about in a post tomorrow. 
Cities have always been important in the Assassin's Creed series.
However, I believe the game benefited from the largely unique setting and backdrop. Ultimately the cities were part of the appeal and have always been - yes being pushed around by a group of madmen, and then being harassed by musicians in Assassin's Creed 2 and Brotherhood, could sometimes be annoying but they added a character to the setting rarely seen in videogames (and at very least we got our revenge on those pesky musicians in Revelations). 

Whether Assassin's Creed 3, with it's smaller New World settlements can match the feeling created by wandering the streets of the major cities represented in the series - beginning with Damascus, Acre and Jerusalem in Assassin's Creed - will not be known until it is released. Ultimately vibrant cities have been part of the Assassin's Creed template since the beginning and while it would be a shame to see that facet diminished it will not be to the detriment of the series if Ubisoft can create a similarly dynamic setting in the settlements and forest of colonial America.  

Desmond interrogating by Abstergo meanwhile was an effective way to illustrate that the Templar - Assassin war continues to this day and the Animus proved a highly effective tool. Consider that there are very few button markers or gameplay prompts when Desmond is left to his own devices thus reinforcing the idea that the Animus is different from his regular reality. 

Assassin's Creed did a fine job of bringing a game to our screens that had a complex back-story and historical setting which appealed to millions of gamers and spawned a series larger than anyone in 2006 thought it might grow to be. If there is an overarching criticism of the Assassin's Creed series than it is this: it's too complicated. 

Is it? Perhaps but how many games have a plot sophisticated enough to make you think about it? If anything I wouldn't say it's a criticism at all. Ubisoft created a franchise with a deep narrative and they started it all, quite successfully, in Assassin's Creed.  

24 September 2012

A Witch And A Pirate: Dragon Age's Morrigan and Isabela

(Note 1: Last week I wrote about Mass Effect's Miranda Lawson which seemed quite popular so here's my take on Morrigan and Isabela, my primary love interests in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 respectively.)

(Note 2: There are spoilers for both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, you have been warned.)

The Witch of the Wilds.

Morrigan: "Beauty and love are fleeting and have no meaning. Survival has meaning. Power has meaning."

Quotes like this make it easy to form a view of Morrigan that's both unfavourable and dismissive. Unfavourable because, taken on it's own, this quote does not generate a particularly attractive picture of the woman who said it. While attitudes towards Morrigan can be dismissive essentially because it can be assumed that this is who she is. Or is it?

Maybe, but I would argue that there's more than meets the eye. Morrigan had a harsh life - that much at least is difficult to dispute - growing up in the Korchari Wilds with no-one bar her mother for company cannot have been an appealing childhood. 

Keep in mind as well that Flemeth raised Morrigan so as to take control of her (thus continuing Flemeth's immortality of sorts). Is this an excuse for her harsh outlook? Perhaps not entirely, but it goes a long way towards explaining it. 

Morrigan I knew would be my love interest early and I freely admit her rather impractical attire may have contributed to that decision but there was more to it before long. This particular quip for instance:

"We now have a dog and Alistair is still the dumbest one in the party."

Many were surprised by the quality of the banter between companions in Origins though I think Morrigan perhaps had the sharpest tongue (and I do appreciate an acidic humour) and Claudia Black did a fine job bringing Morrigan to life as her voice actress. 

Even so when the Witch of the Wilds espouses tales of her friendless youth and her trips into 'civilisation' coupled with her continued unease and unfamiliarity with the urban centers of Ferelden it is perhaps understandable that she withdraws into herself - to the extent that even her tent is more outside the Warden's camp than it is within it. 

Let's not forget that at the climax of Origins she comes to you and offers to save your life. Her plan may seem mad but how many went through with it? How many gave her an Old God as a child? Morrigan, as anyone who has played Origins knows, flees and even the Witch Hunt DLC does not lead to a permanent reunion but the fact is she came to the Warden and saved his life even if you didn't romance her - that, I think, speaks of a character who is more than she might initially appear.

Of course, it could be part of some scheme in her war against Flemeth but still, it was a brave decision to take the soul of an Old God and place it in her own child.  

Morrigan's absence in Dragon Age 2 was grating and while I do expect her to return in Inquisition it will likely not be as a romance-able character (I suspect BioWare will have some sort of show-down between her and Flemeth and there is the issue of the god-child if you went along with her plan). 

Morrigan can seem both cold and heartless, I can (and do) appreciate that viewpoint, but as with many of BioWare's characters there's a lot going on if you dig deeply enough.
So yes, this happened...
As I've said I would have liked to continue my relationship with Morrigan in Dragon Age 2 but that of course wasn't an option and so my FemHawke turned her eyes to the Rivain Rogue Isabela.

If you've played Origins chances are you'll have already met Isabela in the Pearl but here she's a full companion. I think perhaps one of the most telling moments in the relationship between Hawke and the pirate queen of Thedas comes after the death of Hawke's mother.

She's uncomfortable offering you her sympathies - that's immediately apparent - and Hawke knows it too. Yet she offers her condolences nonetheless. Isabela is well aware of what's expected but I think it speaks volumes of the bond between them that even in her despair Hawke is aware of how uncomfortable her partner is. I think it's also reasonably safe to say she's never been quite so unsure of herself as she is with Hawke.

The relationship between the two characters is generally not as clear cut however as it is in that moment. Upon entering the fade in the side quest Night Terrors Isabela succumbs to the allure of a desire demon who promises her a ship. 

"I like big boats and I cannot lie. You fade demons can't deny!" she exclaims in reference to Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot.

And while she later apologises to Hawke the incident did occur nonetheless. Yet I think her return when you're fighting the Arishok makes clear that - if you're in a relationship with her at least - she is committed to it. Yes Isabela can turn almost anything into an innuendo and flirts outrageously with almost anyone but that's her character, it's who is she and neither Hawke nor anyone else should expect her to change. 

There is another incident I think that proves she values her relationship with Hawke more than she might be willing to admit. In the Mark of the Assassin DLC Hawke can casually flirt with the elf Tallis, if so (and you're playing as FemHawke) she'll remake "so the rumours about you were true." 

"Well, there's a lot of Hawke to go around. You just have to ask me nicely," is Isabela's reply which I believe demonstrates a form of relationship 'ownership'. If Tallis wants Hawke she has to go through Isabela which I believe reveals a relationship deeper than the pirate would care to acknowledge. 

As with Morrigan I do hope Isabela returns in Inquisiton and there is some sort of resolution. I no not expect her to be a romance option again or even a companion, which is a pity, her earthy humour was appreciated as much as Morrigan's cutting remarks.

Maybe I'm wrong about these character but they were well crafted and while they both might belong to certain stereotypes they are ultimately greater than the sum of their parts. In any event I'm looking forward to Inquisition and the companion my character will meet and fall in love with, whoever that will be, I just hope she (or he) can match those who have come before.   

23 September 2012

My Leviathyn and NewGamerNation Posts For The Week (Sep 17-23)

For NewGamerNation:

LittleBigPlanet PS Vita Review [link]

In other NGN news there are now forums on the site so join up! There are some nice people over there. ;)

For Leviathyn:

GameFreak On Why Pokemon Hasn't Arrived On 3DS [link]
There's Life in Wipeout Yet [link]
Sony Developer Insists The Last Guardian Is Still Alive [link]
Sony Expects Game Division To Post A Profit This Year [link]
Gaymercon Gains EA's Backing [link]

22 September 2012

Mass Effect Re-imagined

A different type of post today. Here I've collected some of the interpretations and reinterpretations of Mass Effect I've come across including magazines, books, movies and games & more!

(Note: I don't own any of the images and if you do, or know who does, and want to credited or have the image removed either leave a comment or email thevideogamedynamic@outlook.com)

Mass Effect 

Band of Brothers


Back To The Future

Iron Man

Max Payne 

Star Wars

The Godfather 

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Tron Legacy

Ocean's Eleven

Quantum of Solace

Dragon Age

All of the above images in this section are by GeekTruth64 on deviantART.

By Nobumaga-Chan on deviantART.

 By ZigEnfruke on deviantART.

Assassin's Creed

Desperate Housewives 

Avengers Assemble
By True Prince on deviantART

Vanity Fair

The Three Musketeers

The Last Supper

Les Hasards Heureux de l'Escarpolette (a.k.a. The Happy Accidents of the Swing)
By MoonEcho on deviantART.

Liberty Leading The People

Mr & Mrs Smith 

All images in this section are by GeekTruth64 on deviantART.

The Creation of Adam

Myth Busters

The Complete Idiot's Guide

And finally...