Sunday, November 25, 2007

Assassin's Creed = meh

So I finished "Jade Raymond's" Assassin's Creed the other day. Let me just say this first, I am so tired of Jade Raymond. Ubisoft has been pushing her on us for the better part of 2 years and we get it. She's a very attractive woman working in games, yet kind of nerdy, and she gets all the fan boys hot. Its hard to hate on Jade, she is an accomplished and a legitimate developer, not some marketing figure head, but what about the 150 other people on the project? Jade Raymond herself did not create Assassin's Creed. There was a huge team that worked on it. Its the same thing with CliffyB (Cliff Blezinsk) and Gears of War. Cliff was the front man and it seemed no one else got any light besides Tim Sweeney because he's the major engineering force behind Unreal Engine 3. I think Bungie does it right spotlighting the studio, and several members from the team. It's Bungie's Halo and not one person. In the end individual game development super stars irk the hell out of me, Cliff irks me more than Jade because he just lives for the limelight, and Gears of War is better than Assassin's Creed.

This leads right into my review. WARNING, this does contain spoilers. Stop reading if you don't want spoilers. So Assassin's Creed is not a bad game, but its not good either. Its just average. Its does a few things exceedingly well, I mean like no one else does it better, but it does so many other things wrong. Here's the break down.

WHAT WENT RIGHT
1. Visuals
Assassin's Creed absolutely nails the visuals. The cities are just amazing and put together with pain staking detail. Climb to one of the high points of the level and you can see everything flawlessly and seamlessly. A great technical feat. Down on the street level, everything is very detailed and gives the feeling that the city you are in is truly alive. Its such an accomplishment to take on a vast city and craft it with such care that the player actually feels they are in ancient Jerusalem and not boxes on a flat plane.

The animations are truly great, as Altair bounds, grips, climbs, and swings are around. His cloak flows around him and truly looks deadly his is movements. The first time you kill someone with the wrist blade, just awesome.

One area that could be improved are the NPCs. They seem kind of stiff and lacking detail, but its minor in the grand scheme of things. For everything else Assassin's Creed nails, the NPCs can afford to be overlooked.

2. The Crowd Simulation
What really makes the cities feel alive are the people that live in it. The city is bustling around with citizens and soldiers alike. Merchants are hawking their goods, fanatics lecturing, and guards patrolling keeping the peace. They react to your actions as well; scattering if a fight breaks out, getting knocked over if you barrel through them, and make note of your odd behavior when scaling building faces.

3. Controls
The controls are a little awkward at first, but simple, yet make you feel like an expert navigating around 12th century cities. You control Altair with the left stick and the camera with the right. Bounding around is as simple as holding RT and A at the same time, and just make sure you're pointing in the right direction. Altair bounds around seamlessly and fluidly and you feel like an acrobatic master.

4. The Story (sort of)
The story doesn't set any gold standard, but it kept me intrigued and motivated me to push through the monotony that set on early in the game. Right off the bat their is a twist, you're actually in the future, having been captured by a shadowy organization. The organization has a machine that can play your ancestors memories. You are an ancestor of the elite assassin Altair, and contain memories with information crucial to the organization that is holding you captive. So you get this nice dual story, one of Altair as he proceeds through his adventures and the other of your imprisonment at this organization. It does get preachy at times, but that can be overlooked.

WHAT WENT WRONG
1. No Depth
This game is the definition of a shallow game. There are 5 gameplay scenarios that take place.
  1. Interrogate
  2. Pick Pocket
  3. Informant
  4. Eavesdrop
  5. Assassinate
There are 3 cities, and each city has 3 people to assassinate. Each target becomes available at different times throughout the game, and can only can be assassinated after gathering intel. You gather intel by doing the first four actions. Interrogate requires you follow someone and beat them for information. Pick pocket has you go pick pocket an NPC's fanny pack and if you fail you just elude the guards and try again. Informant is a little fun as sometimes you're suppose to stealth kill a number of targets in a given time or run around and collect flags in an acrobatic time trial. Eavesdropping is probably the dumbest since you just sit on bench, listen in on a conversation and you're done. These 4 intel gathering techniques are used over and over again and never change. Its sucks.

Also, can't forget the assassination scenario. This usually ends up being a big build up, a big fancy cut scene that just comes down to a monkey shit fight when trying to kill the target. All the big assassination scenarios just always seem to start out with the guards alerted to your presence. Once and only once was I able to stealthily kill my target and it was the very first target of the game. Everyone there after was this huge combat engagement that was just a total pain in the ass.

2. Combat
Combat is cool at first, but then becomes a chore. The counter move is overpowered, pretty much guaranteeing a kill. There is a pretty cool kill shot with the counter move, but it gets old fast. The combat never changes as well. You just enter engagement, run or fight, and that's it. Nothing varies, nothing is different. Its like a bad beat 'em up where you can just abuse one move the entire length of the game.

3. Stealth isn't that important
As an assassin you'd think stealth would be incredibly important. Well its not, unless its a requirement to complete an objective. Each assassination of one of the Templar is just a muddled mess that boils down to whiping out your sword, fighting a dozen of so guards, and then killing your target. I can see not handcuffing the player with stealth only game play, but perhaps providing a reward system that encourages the player to play as an expert stealth assassinate would help. The player could play gun-ho style, but if they chose to play stealthily, they are rewarded.

4. The homeless NPCs
OH MY FUCKING GOD. I hated those NPCs. They were useless, annoying, and just got in my way at the most inconvenient times. The wonder the city begging for money just in like Central Square in Cambridge. The worst are the crazy homeless people that actually push you and knock you into guards at the most inopportune times. It sucks when you're trying to slink away from a kill and one of these people either stop you from escaping successfully and you have to repeat the whole objective. I want to play Assassin's Creed, not Central Square Creed DAMN IT!

And thats it. Assassin's Creed is fantastic visually and pulls off a technical feat with the crowd simulation. Other that than its shallow, easy, and repetitious. The game feels as if it were made as a tech demo, and not a full fledged game. It demos well, but after about 2 hours, probably and hour of actual game play, it just utterly falls apart.

Well the game is selling well, there probably be a sequel, and hopefully they can fix some of the poor and boring game play that plagues the game in its first attempt.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

No Patriots Football today

No New England Patriots football today. A bye week for my favorite NFL team. Still it was a good weekend.

Friday (Nov 9th) was the Rock Band release party. Harmonix, once again, hosted one hell of a release party. It was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Faneuil Hall. Demos of Rock Band were going on in one room, a full bar in another, and in a third room local bands made up of Harmonix folks were playing all night. I am so happy and proud for Harmonix. They are on the cusp of delivering their third killer product in 3 years (last 2 years were Guitar Hero I/II), and Rock Band is poised to their best yet. With BioShock from 2K Boston (Irrational) and Rock Band from Harmonix this year, I think the Boston games industry is about to turn a major corner. We are getting more and more respect, and no longer will Boston area developers get the "they make games in Boston?" Hopefully the talent will grow here and we can rival the West Coast in game development poweress.

Other than that, not much else going on. Call of Duty 4 shipped last Tuesday (Nov 6th) and has completely lived up to the hype. I was part of the multiplayer beta, and even now I still enjoy the multiplayer with its MMORPG-esque leveling mechanics. Its addictive as hell. The campaign was short (5 hours for me), but it was so well done, screamed high production from wire to wire. However, I think its time Infinity Ward implemented a cover-system like R6: Vegas and Gears of War. A semi-tactical shooter with out a peak-and-lean is frustrating and difficult since you have to expose half your body from cover to get a shot off, and if that half get hits by 2 or 3 shots you're dead. The AI opponents/friendlies take cover, blind fire, and etc. The player should be able to as well. Still a small gripe for a great game.

Also, Rock Band release party pics will be forth coming soon.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

So where have I been

So where have I been and why did I not post for 9 months. I guess it starts back in Feb '07 where I got really sick and hospitalized for an extended period. It was nothing serious, just an intestinal problem. I missed some work and had to catch up on that, and I just lost motivation to blog I guess. Well now I'm back to and trying to make an effort at it again.

So, past 9 months I have been working on Brothers in Arms for the Nintendo Wii. Its a port of the older Xbox games. The game hasn't shipped yet, but its coming out soon. I can't say when exactly, but before the end of the year. A game I did work on shipped back in early September, Medal of Honor: Airborne (MOHA). Game turned out okay. I think "okay" is a pretty fair assessment cause its a pretty damn mediocre game. At least the multiplayer is glassy smooth. Go Demiurge! Well I doubt anyone is playing the multiplayer since the launch of Halo 3. I also did some work on yet-to-be named project and also just started ramping up another project. Sorry, I can't say more details than that on those 2 games.

What else did I do? I went on a Caribbean cruise with friends from college. It was an awesome time, got to see some beautiful locations, partied it up, and got to reconnect with people I hadn't seen in along time. We also met some great people on the cruise and are still keeping in touch with them even now.

Other than that, not much else exciting has happened. The PS3 has been tanking, but I predicted that awhile ago :) The Wii has been far more successful than I ever expected its just loaded with crap software. The Xbox 360 keeps humming along with Halo 3, and Call of Duty 4 next week.

Also, how about them Pats! 9-0 baby! It was a nail biter in Indy, but in old fashion Patriots style Tom Brady lead a dazzling 4th quarter comeback.