Saturday, September 3, 2011

Assassinating the Summer with gaming

With Summer almost at an end I find myself looking forward to several upcoming titles.  Uncharted 3, Skyrim, Rage, Resistance 3, Batman Arkham City, Assassin's Creed Revelation and holy crap this list just keeps getting longer and longer the more I think about upcoming games.  I'm a bit of a gaming completionist.  Yes I love gaming to collect trophies (although my hobby looks like a tiny pebble compared to some folks), but I'm a completionist more in the sense that once I've started a game for a story I want to continue playing new games that continue a storyline.

In 2009 Ubisoft published Assassin's Creed 2 to much acclaim and accolade.  It was certain well deserved.  The game play was refined from the first title, the story was rich and intriguing, and it was a game that I absolutely couldn't put down once I opened it on Christmas morning that year.  In the summer of 2010, Ubisoft announced that they would be releasing the followup to AC2 that fall with Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.  In the announcement, the only thing in announcement, hell in all of the announcements up until almost a week before the game was released, was how ACB had a fantastic multiplayer mode.  Very little was said about the continuing saga of Ezio.  The end of AC2 was such a dramatic cliffhanger that all the talk of multiplayer and no mention of the single player story frankly turned my own excitement into a meager flicker, relegated to the column of well I'll either get the game at Christmas from someone outside my immediate family or wait for the price to drop.

I ended up waiting for the price to drop.  So for my birthday this year I picked up a new copy of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.  The end of AC2 was a distant cloudy image, but the second I started up ACB I thought, hey I remember this.  I remember how I got here.  Just as many reviews stated last year when ACB was finally released and ground through the many review and media outlets, the game picks up immediately from where AC2 finishes.

Gaming and muscle memory are a funny thing.  You play something for 20 to 30 hours, and your hands instinctively just know what to do.  Even after a year and a half of not playing AC2, my hands just picked up on how to move and attack and jump and manipulate the camera.  Of course this could be put back on the developers of the game, making additional refinements to an almost perfect game play mechanic.  When something works, don't break it by changing shit.  Instead, the fine team from Ubisoft enhanced the game play by making combat work better.  Or so most people would say.  Yes you play and assassin.  Yes you kill people because you are an assassin.  But the hook of the game is that you sneak around and assassinate folks typically in a one on one scenario.  The "enhancement" to combat in ACB was to fix the moments where many, many, MANY, (too many?) guards would rush around you and (if you were lucky) you could fend some off,  take down the guards eventually, or escape.  This didn't happen too often in AC2, but there were definitely some times (intentionally of course for trophies) where the odds were stacked against the player in a combat system that wouldn't necessarily help the player.  If I wanted to play a game like that, I'd play Batman Arkham Asylum, God of War, Bayonetta, Darksiders, Enslaved, or Wolverine, hell any game with the combat built for such overwhelming odds stacked against you knowing that you are a badass and you can handle hordes swarming against you.

Mind you the combat isn't bad in Brotherhood, it just isn't an "enhancement" that I felt was necessary.  Sure you can dodge enemies that you see are coming up from behind swinging a broadsword or mace, but as I mention above, I enjoyed the stealthy bits, the moving across the city on rooftops, avoiding combat over directly confronting guards.  But because Ubisoft "fixed" or "enhanced" the combat to allow for better group battles, the game tends to force you to have to play that way.  Fortunately my muscle memory learned really quickly how to use the medicine that Ezio carries if I was ever caught in a battle that felt a bit over the top with too many overly armored guards with big swords or long pointy spears (I'm sure there is some hidden joke here about what those guards are compensating for).

Anyway, Brotherhood picks up immediately from the end of AC2 and quickly unfolds more layers to the crazy twisting past of Templars and Assassins, all via the ancestral bloodlines viewed through the DNA of Desmond Miles with technology stolen from Abstergo.  Makes sense right?  So much of this game is tied to historical events skewed with artistic flair to make any conspiracy theorist question whether any of the events could have actually happened.  Of course it is just a game, so many of the key moments that are tied to historical events are played with an over-the-top, OMG, I can't believe I just did that style of play.  Sneaking through actual landmarks in Rome is amazingly realized in Brotherhood.  Parkour jumping, climbing, and swinging through rafters of old abandoned cathedrals, hidden temples and lavish palaces revive that spark of joy I had playing AC2.  Unfortunately Brotherhood takes place in Rome.  Only in Rome.  There are a few flashbacks of Ezio as a younger man in Florence, but the rest of the time the game is set in Rome.  That's not a bad thing, but to me, there was nothing that really distinguished one part of the city from the next.  The map and the way point marker system was something I used more often than I felt I should have needed to in order to get around.  All the buildings felt the same.  Sure there are more open expanses to ride around on a horse this time, but you can't parkour leap from building to building on a horse.

I guess what I'm getting at is that while I have enjoyed my time with ACB, it just doesn't leave me with the same gamecrush that AC2 gave me.  Combat in Brotherhood is okay, but adds a little more of what I don't want to experience.  The world, while richly designed, detailed and beautifully rendered, just felt too samey from one part of the map to the other.  The overall experience was worthwhile but I just wish there was less of some game bits and more of others.  Fortunately I came to Brotherhood looking for a continuation of the great story told from AC2 and the game delivers.  Delivers to such a degree that I uncontrollably, yet completely under my control with no other choice, had to finish the game.  Finished the game with a crazier, "can't wait to play the next game" cliff hanger ending.

Ubisoft has announced that Assassin's Creed Revelations will complete the stories woven from Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed 2, and Assassin's Creed Brotherhood.  Of course they've also announced that ACR will include multiplayer again.  Admittedly I have not played any of the multiplayer in Brotherhood, but that's not why I wanted the game and it's not the reason I'm looking forward to Revelations.  I hear the multiplayer is good, but I can wait for a price drop, or someone to give it to me before finding out what revelations are revealed in the next and final chapter of Ezio and Altair and the continuing saga of Desmond Miles.

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