Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Video Games Reviews - Oblivion & Fallout 3

Hey, let's play a game. It's called, "name that game!". I'll describe a game, and you guess what it is!

Ok, ready? What game was made by Bethesda Studios in the 2000s, reviving a series that hadn't had a game in several years, and featured, while having a slow start, some excellent questing, and a massive free roaming world the scale of which has been hard to match by any game since.

Did you get it? The answer was Oblivion. And Fallout 3. Because they're the same freaking game.

No really. They are.

After being in production for 4 years, The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion was released. The absolutely breathtaking visuals, great questing system, and just the free-ness of the game really give the game a feeling that few others have ever captured, even though it certainly had it's fair share of problems.

At the start of the game you find yourself in prison for a crime that's never adequately explain, when suddenly Captain Jean Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise is escorted into your cell by two guards, and you find out that there's a secret passageway as an escape, and that there's a hit out on him and blah blah blah he dies five minute later anyways.

Anyways, after the Captain is assassinated by a guy with magic armor or whatever, the guards get really depressed and let you walk free, because... Why the heck not. They're not very good at their job.

From there, you can go do... Whatever the heck you want. You can do all sorts of stuff! You're a warrior? Go join the warriors guild! You're a thief? Go steal stuff! You're an explorer? Go explore! The world is massive and you were given little to no direction. Sure, you CAN do the main quest involving demons invading the kingdom, and finding Picard's last heir, but really, if you are playing Oblivion and only doing the main quest, you're missing the point. Go explore! There's all sorts of nifty things out in the world! You can find all sorts of awesome stuff! So go level up, explore, grow your magical powers, steal stuff, kill people, do what you wish!

Speaking of killing people, another unique thing Oblivion did is give you the power to kill pretty much anyone. There are a few "essential" NPCs you can't kill until you've finished their part of the main quest, but hey, other than that, you can mindlessly slaughter most of the kingdom if you want.

Also, not only can you kill everyone in the game, but unlike many games, you can actually, y'know, take what they had on them. For example, you kill a guard? You can loot a dead guard, for example, and get his armor. And his sword. And his money.

What if you find out the guy you just killed was part of a quest two days later? Well, if that happens, you're screwed! But the sheer number of quests will make sure you never run short on things to do. Go buy a house! Go get the unbreakable lockpick! Go curse a town with a plague of flaming dogs raining down from the skies! Enchant your armor to make you completely invisible! Get a mask that bends the very fabric of reality! Go become champion of the Imperial City arena!

That said, while the game is definately one of my favorites of all time, it certainly wasn't without it's problems. The main quest, unlike pretty much everything else in the game, is very bland. In fact, I've never finished the main quest in Oblivion on any character. Every time I make a character I soon lose interest in saving the world, and instead decide I'm going to go do something more... Um... Fun.

And one of the most annoying things in the game is the lack of voice actors. You will hear the same two or three voice actors doing various accents for every character in the entire freaking game. And it does get very annoying before long.

Not to mention that, while the graphics engine is gorgeous, and Oblivion is still, in my opinion, one of the best looking games on the market today... It can bug fairly easily. And the graphics don't always scale well on every machine.

In fact, the entire game can bug fairly easily. Not to mention there are some fairly game breaking design flaws, such as the ability to become 100% invisible if you enchant your gear right, making not only your sneak skill epically insane, but the enemies unable to see you, and thus you able to KILL THEM ALL!

But these are just tiny blemishes on the great game that is Oblivion. A classic game, that any true RPG fan should play.

The level up system is far different from other games, in that you don't get experience points, you level up each skill individually, by using that skill. Level up swords by hitting things with swords. Level up athletics by jumping.

Meanwhile in 2008, someone at Bethesda said, "Hey guys, you know what Oblivion really needed? GUNS!"

And so Fallout 3 was made.

The Fallout series, for those who don't know, is set in an alternate universe, where after World War 2, America never progressed forward socially, thus staying in a 1950's culture. Maybe they didn't have enough snobs, who knows? Either way, in 2077, Earth nukes the crap out of itself. Oops. Luckily, a few groups of humans sealed themselves away inside underground vaults, safe from the nuclear fallout. (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

Eventually, all the Vaults opened up. Except of course for Vault 101, which never opened, and that's where our story begins. Heh. 101. I see what you did there Bethesda.

Ok, now, let me just say now, Fallout 3, technically speaking, is the superior game. Almost every bug or quirk Oblivion had no longer exists in Fallout 3. There are more voice actors, so that's better, the graphics engine isn't quite so buggy any more, and it's just TECHNICALLY, a better game.

However, it's hard for me to define one or the other as BETTER, when really they're just very DIFFERENT.

Sure, it's easy to say, "it's Oblivion with guns" and knock off this review, but that would be giving it FAR less than it's due.

The first big difference, aside from the guns, of course, is the inclusion of the Vault-tec Assisted Targeting System, or V.A.T.S.

V.A.T.S. lets you zoom in to target specific points of your enemy and shoot them using a resource known as "Action Points". You can target legs to cripple the speed of the enemy, arms to cripple the enemies accuracy, guns to knock them out of the enemies hands, torso because why the heck not, and head to do more damage and get a satisfying bloody explosion when the final shot is fired.

You might think it would get old slowing down time and shooting people up, but it NEVER DOES! EVER! There's just something AWESOME about it! Maybe I'm just sadistic. I dunno, either way V.A.T.S. is awesome.

Now, I gotta say, the main questline in this is infinitely better than Oblivion's, I.E. it's actually good. It all starts with you inside of Vault 101 growing up. It starts with you at 1, and then skips forwards a few time until finally, you're 19! Hooray! And guess what? Your dad abandoned you and left the vault! And now the Overseer sent guards to kill you! Time to KILL THEM ALL or maybe that's just me. I dunno.

In any case, you escape the vault, and go to the nearby town of Megaton to see if anyone knows where your dad went to. Oh and did I mention that there's a LIVE ATOMIC BOMB IN THE CENTER OF TOWN?!

Let's see if you can guess where this is going.

Anyways, after talking to this one guy, you find out your dad went to the host of a popular radio show Galaxy News Radio, and a man approaches you and makes you an offer. Blow up megaton, and profit.

Of course, you COULD choose to disarm it and let a hundred or so people live but c'mon, you can NUKE THE TOWN.

Speaking of radio stations, another one of my favorite features in the game is the inclusion of Radio Stations you can listen to and hear some pretty nice 50's music.

And it's FREAKING AWESOME. Seriously, it's just awesome. Wandering the wide open expanse that is the Capital Wasteland, listening to 50's tunes? It's incredible.

And, the Capital Wasteland is amazing. It's huge, it's fun to explore, and it's just plain cool. The downside is there's much less emphasis on quests, and more on just exploring. That's not to say that there's a lack of quests, but there's definitely less than there are in Oblivion.

It's also populated by a lot of interesting creatures, and characters. Ghouls, Deathclaws, Super Mutants, all sorts of awesome stuff.

So overall, which game is better? Well, honestly, I don't know that I could choose. Both are great games, two of my favorites. Both have strengths. I suppose though, Fallout 3 has less weaknesses. If someone who had played neither had asked me which to get, I would probably say.... Fallout 3. Just because it has a better plot, better UI, and better overall gameplay. But honestly? Both are incredible games. Incredible. And you should get both of them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So ARE All Forms of Socialization Equal?

So. Yesterday I tackled the topic of the stereotype of gamers having no life.

I ended that post with a question. Is social interaction through the internet of less value than other forms. This is quite a big question. Many people have given many valid opinions on the question. It's not quite as clear or easy as other topics such as "are games art?" seem to be to me. That's because it's a really hard question to ask. "Is the internet valid social interaction?"

What is social interaction? In yesterdays post I said that "having a life" was just having lots of social interaction, but really, what does that mean? Quite simply it is interaction between people. From the earliest of times, people have had to interact just to get by. As society has progressed, people have interacted in various other ways.

These ways have gotten to a point more and more technological over the years. Speaking became letters, letters became telegrams, telegrams became phone calls, and now, phone calls have become a whole plethora of internet related means of socialization. Perhaps that's why the internet falls into some skepticism? There are so many means of communicating over the internet, how can they all be as valid as speaking face to face?

Ah, but therein lies the faulty logic. People always go back to face to face interaction as being the "true" form of socialization. And why shouldn't they? Being next to someone and speaking to them face to face introduces a near infinite number of other variables to them interaction. Facial tics, tones, the way a person carries themselves, these can all tell you something about the other person that won't come across in a letter, phone call, or e-mail.

But I think the question we need to ask ourselves is really, "why isn't the internet a valid form of social interaction?" Phone calls have been considered a valid form of social interaction forever, and yet if I talk to someone through a vent server on the internet, suddenly people tell me that "those aren't REAL people."

I'm sorry, but how does talking to someone over the internet as opposed to over a telephone line suddenly make that person less real? That's just stupid.

Well I'll tell you where this comes from. A basic fear of the unknown. The internet is new, and you know what? It's a great way to meet people with similar interests. But it's new. And people don't understand the new. Therefore it's unknown, and scary. Everyone is convinced that absolutely everyone on the internet is some crazy stalker, murderer, or rapist. Or all 3.

Now, don't get me wrong, those people absolutely do exist on the internet. And it's very important to be careful who you give information about yourself to. You should be careful. But there are also great, harmless, fun people on the internet. And you know what? You're cheating yourself if you have an irrational fear of every single person on the internet. Not every guy on the internet is The Slender Man people.

Google it if you dare, people.

Anyways, that's why the internet is frowned on as a "real" social interaction. Because you're not talking to "real" people. You're talking to fake usernames. It's easy for a lot of people to forget that there are "real" people behind those usernames.

Well people, I hate to tell you, but that's stupid. People on the internet are every bit as much real as people on the phone.

So the big question, is internet interaction equal to other forms?

In my opinion, yes. It is. It is different, but equal. Chatting on the internet is just as valid as texting. E-mail is just a faster form of writing letters, and yes, voice chat is just as valid as talking on the phone.

I suspect eventually people will realize this, and hopefully, stop treating it like a lesser form of interaction. But at this point, one can only wait until then.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Stereotypes Do, Stereotypically, Exist for a Reason Though

So, I really really want to see Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. I think it looks like an awesome movie, and I fully plan on seeing it while it is in theaters sometime in the coming weeks. Like many do, I pay attention to reviews for movies that I plan on seeing. For example, I really wanted to see the Percy Jackson movie, since that's based on a series of purely AWESOME books. Once I saw the reviews however, I noticed that they listed a lot of changes that were made in the movie that sounded atrocious to me. And they were. And that movie was awful. Eugh.

But while viewing an article about the disappointing opening weekend for Scott Pilgrim, I found the opening line of one newspaper's review of the movie.

"First of all, I'm not a video gamer. I have discovered more appealing ways to not have a life."

Cue the nerd rage.

Gamers are thought of in this way, far too often. I mean, this isn't by a long shot an isolated incident. Gamers, far more so than any other genre of hobby, are portrayed as anti-social angry haters of all things good and holy.

So, let's look at why this stereotype exists. I mean, why is it that gamers are portrayed in a manner like this,

in the first place? I mean, film lovers aren't portrayed as antisocial, although movie watching as a hobby isn't exactly the most social of experiences. I mean, the first result you get on google images when you search "gamer" is this:

Not exactly flattering. I mean, even comic book lovers aren't portrayed quite as anti-social as gamers, with TV shows often showing a comic book shop as having a tight-knit group that goes there regularly, and where absolutely everyone is on a first name basis.

What do we mean when we say that someone doesn't have a "life"? We aren't referring to a dead person. We're referring to someone who, plain and simple, doesn't get a lot of socialization. This, is probably why games are thought of as an anti-social experience. I mean, when you think of video games, you think of Mario. Zelda. Half-Life. All sorts of great... Single-player experiences.

But, Mario always had Luigi. Games are quite possibly the most social art form. Books aren't social. When you're reading a book, you're interacting with absolutely no one. Sure, you can talk about the book later, but really, you're not interacting with anyone WHILE READING THE BOOK. Movies are the same, you don't exactly interact with anyone while watching a film. Again, any social aspect comes afterward. I suppose you could argue music can be a social experience, but.. Even that's a bit of a stretch.

But games, games can truly be a social art form. The very existence of multiplayer shows this. The fact that with games like Team Fortress 2, you can actually interact with other real people, that makes it more interactive, and yes, social, than movies, literature, or music. The fact that there is more interaction than just discussing it, to actually be interacting within the medium, makes it more social than any other media.

Now, it's true, most of that interaction does involve watching the other players head explode as you get sweeping headshots on him and his buddies, but hey, anyone who doesn't understand the interaction that comes from that sort of interaction, can't truly have it explained to them. They must experience it for themselves.

Let me take an example from my own life. A couple of good friends of mine (who yes, I only know through the internet) and I used to play the free FPS Combat Arms quite often. Most of the time, however, we wouldn't play with anyone but the three of us, in a deathmatch mode. In voice chat. And you know what? There was trash talk. There were laughs. There was a sort of social experience gotten from that, that I don't think could ever quite be matched by watching a movie, or reading a book.

I have great memories of exploiting the terrain, and falling onto a small ledge and sniping one of them with a pistol, that certainly couldn't be matched by a movie, at least.

But there's way more interaction than that. There's a sort of teamwork gotten from gaming that can never be matched. With the advent of online gaming, there's great teams being formed to do impossible tasks, on a daily basis. Take the game Borderlands (review coming soon... probably.) which features 4 player co-op. There's levels of teamwork needed in that game, and there's truly social entertainment that can't be matched by a movie. A movie can't recreate the social experience that is Borderlands. Having one guy distract an enemy while the other shoots him/her/it in the butt, that's entertaining, and it's SOCIAL.

Beyond that, there's games that take that on a HUGE scale. Take World of Warcraft for example. World of Warcraft is infamous for having many "no-lifers". I mean, we're talking about the game people have literally died of, because they didn't want to stop playing to eat... Right?

Well yes, but those people are crazy. What most people don't notice is how social WoW is. I mean, there's very little you can do without the help of other players at endgame. Once you reach level 80, you pretty much need to group up with 4-24 other people in order to progress. There's different paths, PvP, 10-Man raiding, 25-man raiding, but still, they all take various levels of OTHER PLAYERS (real live people) to do.

Guilds (groups of people who form a kind of club in game) have a sort of community in them that's unmatched by many experiences outside of games. Good ones, at least.

The point is, gamers get plenty of socialization, and for a large part, do have lives. The thing people fail to understand is that gaming is part of their lives. A big part. And until people do understand, and accept that, the stereotype will stick. People fail to accept that killing bosses in WoW is as much socialization, as going to the movies with a group of friends is.

Ah, but the real question is, is it as valid a form of socialization? That, unfortunately, is a question for another day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movie Review - Planet 51

So. I recently had the experience of watching the movie "Planet 51". And it certainly was an experience. This movie was made by "Ilion Animation Studios". If you don't recall all of the classics by Illion, don't feel bad since this is Illion's FIRST movie.

The movie is a sort of reversed E.T., taking place on a planet called [insert planet that is never named here] inhabited by [insert species that aren't ever named here], with a friendly but incredibly strange alien calling himself a "Human" coming from a planet called "Earth", crash landing and befriending the main character, Lem, and trying to get home.

All in all not a bad premise. In fact, a reverse E.T. is a... GOOD premise! A REALLY good premise. I'm actually surprised that hasn't (to my knowledge) been done before! This movie could actually be AWESOME! It all comes down to the execution. And I mean, c'mon, what are the odds that some movie studio I've never heard of could screw up such an excellent- Ok, I'm going to give up the false pretense. Yes, the movie didn't live up to what it could've been.

But this is a movie for KIDS. This isn't a Pixar film, or Disney Classic, it's a KIDS movie. So how does it hold up as a KIDS movie?

It's... Adequate. The premise is REALLY REALLY GOOD. The film is basically, like I said, E.T. The movie does this pretty, well, decently. The first 20 minutes are your typical "showing the main character's life before everything gets turned upside down" scenes, combined with showing the WACKY ALIENS!

...Wacky aliens that... Have a culture identical to 1950's America. What? Ok. I'm sorry but this was my major complaint with the movie. I can understand having the aliens look humanoid, or having a certain numbers of similarities, but it's TOO CLOSE. SOCIETIES DO NOT PROGRESS SOCIALLY IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. NOT ON EARTH, AND CERTAINLY NOT ACROSS THE STARS.

I know I should really be more forgiving of this since it's a kids movie, but the degree to which they do it is just... BAD. I mean... There's a monster movie coming out in the film called "HUMANIACS". Really? Coincidence of the century? NO. IT GETS BETTER. THE MONSTER LOOKS EXACTLY LIKE A NASA ASTRONAUT.

Essentially the only difference between 1950's America and "Planet 51" is that the cars have one wheel which goes around the whole car, and you see some kids playing hopscotch with, wait for this, CIRCLES INSTEAD OF SQUARES! Shocking I know.

I mean, a few more differences would have made sense, and made me enjoy the film a LOT more. The scene where the astronaut (Chuck) meets the main character (Lem) was the worst of all where they BOTH HAPPEN TO SPEAK ENGLISH. AND THEY ACCEPT THIS INSTANTLY.

What was the rational behind this? THERE WAS NONE. THERE IS NO RATIONAL WHY EVERYTHING IS SO DANG SIMILAR. Why 1950's America? Why not Renaissance Italy? Why not 1800's Japan? Why why WHY?

...Or perhaps this goes deeper than I thought? Perhaps this movie is saying that our technological, and sociological progress is so rapid, that a mere 50 years makes things seem alien? Perhaps it's a commentary on how we should aspire to the bold future shown via the bold astronaut, going beyond the reaches of the known universe, but still remember the mistakes of the past?

Or maybe it's just crap. Probably that one.

Essentially, this movie is harmless. It's not great, it's not terrible, it's just... Adequate. Some of the jokes do hit the mark, but all of the characters are flimsy and one dimensional, and the humor also seems to fall flat a lot.

For example, there's this running joke about an alien dog. (Who looks like an ALIEN from a certain other series of ALIEN movies featuring ALIENS)

The dog pees acid. Which, I'll admit, was mildly amusing the first time, but they use that same joke no less than 4 times, in ways that don't even make sense. For example, a mail man mocks the dog because it's on it's leash... And the dog pees on the leash, freeing itself, attack the mailman. Wouldn't the mailman know not to mock something that capable?

On planet 51 it rains rocks. Why? ....Because shut up, that's why. Also, one character says "It's raining rocks and dogs." which makes no sense. I mean, we don't say "It's raining water and dogs."

Overall the movie is adequate, and if it's on, and you have nothing better to watch (as happened to me), then you could do a heck of a lot worse than Planet 51. Now someone do this concept again as a drama please.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Video Game Review - Psychonauts

Phew. After my hate-filled review of Assassin's Creed, a game that I really did enjoy, but thought could be a lot better, perhaps it's time I wrote a positive review? And what better game to talk about how much I love than Psychonauts.

Psychonauts is a very polarizing game. If you're the kind of games are art guy that I am, you will love it. If you're stupid, you won't. You might think I'm being extreme here, but this is one of my favorite games, and it's really a shame that hardly anyone bought it. When it released it was critically beloved and commercially bombed. It has a tragic story from that point of the price slowly dropping, until finally the great Tim Schafer has gotten to the point of saying they make more money off the sale of Psychonauts T-Shirts than they do the actual game.

Then again, it kind of makes sense that the game bombed, because on paper the premise is weird. Heck, off paper, the premise is weird. It's about a young boy named Raz who runs away from the circus to a summer camp for psychics. And yeah, it's strange. That's part of what makes it so amazing.

Each level takes place in the mind of a different person, and the setting reflects the personality, and psychology of that specific person. The opening level, basic braining (it's a pun) takes place in the mind of Coach Oleander, and it's a battlefield, since he is a grizzled war veteran. Party girl Milla's mind is... Well... A party!

But it goes deeper than that as you search for memory banks that show you brief glimpses of the past for each person who's mind you're in. These range from touching (Milla's Children) to just plain mind screw (The world shall taste my eggs!).

But what really makes this game is the humor. Let me put it this way. There is a level in which you are a Godzilla scale monster, and you rampage through a city populated entirely by talking fish.

It's amazing. And even better than that is my personal favorite level "The Milkman Conspiracy" which takes place inside the mind of an insane conspiracy theorist. I'd tell you more, but it would ruin the level.

Now, the graphical style is very cartoony and strange, it looks like something Tim Burton might created if he had a day that he took a particularly large amount of drugs, but in a good way.

The characters themselves look very strange, and some people think of the graphical style as a setback, personally though I love it. The characters are all greatly exaggerated, which gives them quite a bit of personality, and instantly help to define the characters, even before they say anything.

And the characters are awesome. Every character is given an interesting background that you can find out simply by searching for memory vaults and viewing a brief slide show. Each character is interesting, and unique.

The humor in the game is spot on, and almost every joke hits the mark, with only a very small percentage, if any, failing to get the laughs. In the video game industry today, where games humor tends to be... Bad. Just bad... It's great to see some really fresh and entertaining, and unique humor in games.

That said, the game is not perfect. The platforming can be a bit clunky at times, and all the content outside the main storyline are just scavenger quests, not to mention at one point it pulls the old "You cannot continue the storyline until you have bought this item from the store which costs an absurd amount of money, so get to it!" card. And the last level will have you wanting to slam your head against the wall, because it feels very poorly constructed, and... Just hard.

But these are all such minor complaints that it's hard to even, well, complain about them. Psychonauts is an incredible game, and you can get it for $10 on Steam, so if you haven't played it yet, go buy it now. NOW. I DEMAND IT. You will not be disappointed.

Buy this game if:
You like unique, fun, games that are exactly what the video games industry needs to make more of.
Don't buy this game if: You're stupid.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Video Game Review - Assassin's Creed

Sigh. Here's the big one I've been "foreshadowing" for the past few days. Assassin's Creed.

Now, I've already touched upon two of the major flaws of the game, and if you'd like to have them expounded upon, then read the full articles, but the main character Altair is winner of the blandest character ever award, and the voice acting was pretty repetitive. And bad.

But let me talk about what the game is actually about. The game is set in the 12th century Holy Lands during the crusades, and you play an Assassin named Altair. Only that's a lie, because you're ACTUALLY a bartender named Desmond Miles. I automatically associate the name Desmond with my third favorite character from Lost (Brotha') so that distracted me only momentarily from learning that the plot is ACTUALLY that you've been kidnapped by a shadowy organization using a machine called the Animus to have you relive your ancestors "Genetic memory" so they can learn a hidden secret. Which I have to admit, is one of the coolest plot devices I've EVER seen in a game. It actually explains why you are able to take so many hits before dying (you didn't actually get hit, you're just remembering it wrong and being "desynchronized") and explains things like the lock on system and just in general a lot of really good explanations implied by the Animus.

So you're reliving the memory of "Altair" resident jerk of the Assassin Brotherhood, and at the start of the game you break the "Assassin's Creed" (the rules which the Brotherhood live by) and are demoted to the lowest rank Assassin. You have all your weapons taken away... And your physical skills. Wait what? Ok, I get taking away weapons, but HOW can being demoted take away, for example, my ability to DODGE? Or to TACKLE someone? Sigh... I really hate when games do that.

Anyways, you're sent on a quest to kill nine dudes who need killin' to earn your rank back. And thus begins your quest to go to Damascus, Jerusalem, and Acre and kill 9 noteworthy guys, and about 8 bajillion guards.

Which is really unfortunate because the sword fighting is really really... Mediocre. It's not the WORST sword fighting I've ever seen, that honor is given to the 2008 Prince of Persia reboot, but it feels extremely stiff. Basically every sword fight will end up with you pressing L1 (I was playing on PS3 not 360.) and then holding R1, and hitting X every time you see a guard about to attack you. Then you do a counterattack that will either knock the guard back, or if you're lucky do a one hit kill. A very bloody one hit kill. Lather rinse repeat until you've killed every guard in Jerusalem. You can also opt to flee from battle if you're a sissy coward girly man, and run until none of the alerted guards see you and then sit down on a bench. No, I'm not kidding, you're apparently invisible when you're sitting on benches.

"But," I hear you saying, "this is a stealth game! Certainly the best way to go about it is to just avoid killing people at all, or committing any sort of crime?" You'd like to think that wouldn't you? But not so! Apparently it was against the law to run in 12th century Jerusalem, or to stand anywhere near a guard, or to be pushed into someone by the THOUSANDS OF LEPERS WHO WILL PUSH YOU INTO PEOPLE. Or to walk at slightly faster pace. Huh. Learn something new every day.

Basically, unless you're holding the X button to blend the entire time, you will be attacked by guards. Oh, and I ask you, how does this make any sense, you've killed a guy, and everyone is running, yet for some reason if YOU run, the guards automatically notice you're the murderer, however if you WALK VERY SLOWLY through a crowd of people RUNNING, you are blending in. What is this I don't even

Oh, and by the way, game makers need to learn the difference between having a CLIFFHANGER ENDING, and NOT INCLUDING AN ENDING. There is a difference. I would have been really ticked if I hadn't already bought the sequel, and thus been able to immediately continue when I finished the first game.

The missions you do to "investigate" people you're going to assassinate are repetitive. For each of the 9 assassinations, you do the same 4 missions over and over and over. You are either pickpocketing a map, interrogating a guy for information, eavesdropping on some people, or performing missions for other assassins. They aren't bad, but by the end of the game, you'll be getting sick of them.

At this point most of you are probably saying "Wow, he really hated this game. He wrote two seperate articles about why it sucked, and then bashed it in a full review!" so what I'm about to say may surprise you... I actually do give Assassin's Creed a recommendation. And the weird thing is, I'm not exactly sure why. The story... Stories? I dunno, either way, both the past and present stories are predictable and rather "meh", but for some reason I was still engaged by them both. The combat is repetitive and annoying, but that never managed to turn me off from the game in general. The mission variety is tiny, but what they have is actually very entertaining.

I think the reason I recommend this game is because.. Well.. There's just something really really COOL about it. I don't know how else to put it. Maybe it's the graphics (which are pretty good) or the setting, a semi-accurate portrayal of the Holy Lands in the 12th century, or maybe it's just the Assassination Missions, where you slowly take out guards one by one, and then stalk your victim, before finally striking, and killing him. It was incredibly COOL. And you know what? It was fun. Even though every few minutes it would annoy me with combat, the counterattacks you do look freakin' sweet, dodging past someones blade, cutting his leg, knocking him to the ground, and finally finishing him with a satisfying stab to the chest, all in one sweeping motion. Or the one where you dagger a guys foot, and when he looks down and cries in pain, you slit his throat.

Maybe it was the "leaps of faith" in which you fall from absurd heights, only to live by falling into a tiny pile of hay? Maybe it was the stealth missions, to kill multiple people without anyone catch you, within a matter of minutes.

I don't know, but the point is, I really enjoyed Assassin's Creed. I might not have enjoyed it quite as much if I had gotten it at launch, but I paid $8 for the game, and you know what? I liked the game. It was fun, sneaking around and stabbing guys, throwing knives at any archers who caught me on a roof, and pickpocketing thugs.

Therefore I give Assassin's Creed a recommendation. It's far from the best game I've ever played, it's not even in the top 20, but it's not a bad game, and it entertained me.

Buy this game if:
You're willing to ignore a few blatantly bad design points, to get to the good bits, which are absolutely amazing.
Don't buy this game if: You have to pay more than $20 for it. It's bargain bin material, nothing more.

Monday, August 9, 2010

How Not to Do Voice Acting, As Displayed by Assassin's Creed (And Fat Princess)

"No YOU don't understand, I have nothing!" ~ Every dang beggar woman in the whole freaking game.

"Altair, it seems my students do not fully understand how to wield the blade... Perhaps you could show them what you know?" ~ That stupid swordsman EVERY TIME YOU GET A NEW WEAPON.


"*Crying tears of rage*" ~ You, after about 15 minutes of playing Assassin's Creed.

Ok, Allow me to explain. In the game Assassin's Creed, there were a few problems. I already mentioned how Altair is the worst character since ever. But you know what annoyed me even more than the fact the main character had all the personality of a brick? The fact that it was he was surrounded by characters I wish were VOICE ACTED by bricks.

Now, let me say, the actual CHARACTERS were usually pretty ok. It was a little weird that the main character (Altair) had an American accent, but I chalked that up to not even bothering with the accent, and for the most part the accents were good. I actually quite liked the voice actors for the characters, and heck, they had Nolan North! Voice of Nathan Drake, the Prince in the latest Prince of Persia, and dozens of other games. He's one of the best VAs in the industry? So what's my problem then?

Every. Single. Non-major NPC. Said the same few lines. OVER. AND OVER. AND OVER.

"God save him! He's out of his mind!"

"You should stop acting like a child!"

"What would posses someone to do that?"

"Have you ever seen someone do that? I haven't."

"He's going to hurt himself... And when he does I won't help him!"

Oh and not to mention that each of the three cities has a unique guy publicly speaking, shouting for several blocks. The same message. Over and over. For the entire game. And did I mention that each town has more than one guy yelling that exact same message? ARGH.

It's so repetitive that by the end of the game you WILL TAKE THE HEALTH HIT TO ASSASSINATE THE STUPID PEOPLE.

Oh, and don't get me started on the beggars and lepers.

So, you're walking down the street, killin' some dudes, when all of the sudden...


So then she does. She stands in your way, blocking you from killing the dudes that need killing, until you give her a coin. Of course, you can't give her a coin because THERE IS NO FREAKING MONEY SYSTEM IN THE GAME. YOU HAVE NOTHING? GOOD, BECAUSE I HAVE NOTHING ALSO. GRAAAAAAAAAAAGH.

And then when you finally escape the stupid beggar woman.... You find a mad old leper. He pushes you. Anytime you get near him. And I swear they travel in packs. And push you into each other. It's Altair tennis. And they win by pushing you into a pack of guards. Who then get mad at you and try to kill you.

Another game that suffered from the exact same problem of repetitive voice acting was an indie title on the Playstation Network, called Fat Princess. Oh. My. Gosh.





"THEY'RE IN OUR BASE! KILLING OUR NEWBS!" (Nice way to be relevant game. [/sarcasm])




ARGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. You know what? If game companies won't record enough lines to keep me from wanting to kill myself while playing said game, then they should just go die. Seriously.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

How Not to Write a Character, As Displayed by Altair

*Warning, the following will contain clips from the M rated games Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed 2, and Mass Effect 2. These scenes may contain language, violence, and blood. It will also feature heavy spoilers for Assassin's Creed, and Mass Effect 2, and minor spoilers for Assassin's Creed 2.*

I've spent the past week and a half or so playing the game Assassin's Creed. I finally beat it today, and while I will most likely review both the game and it's sequel, today I must comment on something specifically. That thing, is how Altair is exactly how NOT to write a character.

Let me give you an example.

That monotone voice, that cold, calculating attitude... These are things that, at first glance, you might think perfect for the character of an Assassin. It's not though. I know exactly what they were trying to get at here, they wanted to make Altair a, shall we say, bad"butt" (keeping it PG rated here.). They failed miserably. He doesn't seem like that because of that, in fact he seems like he's trying really really hard to SEEM like one. To borrow a quote from Mass Effect 2, "In my experience, the most dangerous people are the ones who don't act like it."

Let me now introduce Ezio, the main character of Assassin's Creed 2. Ezio is a young man (at the start at least, I'm not very far into AC2) who actually has a personality. Now, he's not going to win any awards for best character any time soon, but he's likable! He's your typical troublemaker. But you know what? He actually shows some sign of emotion. Including, obviously, when his family is hanged. He actually feels it. Unlike Altair, who shows absolutely no emotion at the end of the game upon learning that his master has betrayed the Assassins and been using him all along. He's just like, "Ok. Killing time."

But, surely, I hear you saying, I can't be complaining that the character of an Assassin is cold and calculating? Yes. I can. There's cold and calculating, and then there's robot. Let me give you an example of an Assassin who's a much better character, a much more human character, interesting since he's not a human at all.

Thane Krios. What a character. I suppose that's to be expected since it's a character from a Bioware game, and Bioware games writing is to normal games writing what the complete works of Shakespeare are to Twilight. Thane is an Assassin. A cold hearted (cold blooded, HEY-O!) killer. But he's also a complex individual. For one thing, he considers himself wicked, as you saw in that video. He considers himself a necessary evil, of course, but an evil nonetheless. He justifies what he does as that he's just a tool, a weapon, and that you don't blame a gun for shooting someone, you blame the person who uses it, and yet you have to wonder from his attitude whether he really believes that himself. He kills and he knows that what he does is wrong, but he's a very religious person as well.

Plus he's just plain cooler than Altair too.

Not to mention his relationship with his son. That's just... Well... Just watch.

Ok, c'mon, Captain Bailey is in this game for like 8 minutes, and he has more interesting of a character than Altair.

Thane is a complex multi-leveled character. He's not what you expect, and he surprises you time and time again. Thane is a good character. Heck, Thane is a great character.

Also, since I'm talking about ME2, I have to post this even though it's completely unrelated to anything.

In short, a good character is interesting. You can make almost anything a good character, and there's no excuse for not doing so. An Assassin can be cold and calculating, and still feel very human, and very sincere. Altair, however, feels like a robot. A robot with an American accent. In the 12th century holy lands. But that's a different rant altogether.