I recently finished Assassin's Creed III, and I thought I'd take a few minutes to share what I liked most about each of the past AC games. Nothing special, just thought I'd post something positive on Destructoid for once. There's far too much negativity out there these days; a newcomer could be forgiven for reading all the comments and thinking none of us actually enjoy playing video games.
Assassin's Creed (2007)
The first game in the series lacked a lot of features they added in the later games, but it did have one advantage over the rest: planning out each of your kills. I loved completing all of the investigatory missions, using the information I had gleaned to lay out a plan of attack, and plan an escape route passing by citizens I'd saved, before finally heading out to kill each Templar. It's something I've never seen in any other games, really. I would love this sort of gameplay to return to the series.
Assassin's Creed II (2009)
The second game added an economy, which made the game world feel much more alive. However, what sets it apart from the later games, I feel, is the presence of Leonardo da Vinci. Using his inventions made the game feel more interesting to me, because I've always been a fan of speculative fiction.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010)
The third game's biggest improvement was the main enemy, Cesare Borgia. He's the kind of character I love to hate. In comparison, I can't remember any of the targets from the first, second, or fourth games. Also, Renaissance Rome was more fun to explore than any of the other cities, simply because it had more landmarks that I was able to recognize (of course, other people may feel differently).
Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011)
Revelations had three high points for me. The mission where you have to protect Suleiman without him knowing while you are dressed as a bard, poorly singing tales of Ezio's past achievements to distract the guests while your comrades take out Templars was amazing. The ending was actually a happy ending with finality. It actually made me smile to realize Ezio got a "happily ever after," which is unusual in video games. Also, Ezio is like sixty years old in Revelations and is still the deadliest guy in Europe. The entire game was like Red where you play as Bruce Willis.
Assassin's Creed III (2012)
The best part of the latest game is the revamped combat system. No more waiting to counter, not to mention having to deal with enemies shooting at you by using human shields. Combat simply felt more, for lack of a better word, kinetic. That said, it's still my least favorite of the series.
So, I've noticed a lot of negativity about the video games industry in general, especially here on Destructoid. A lot of commenters enthusiastically responding to news of falling sales figures, cynical views of developers and publishers, that sort of thing. I've read countless articles and opinion pieces all over the internet about how console gaming is going away because people are switching to mobile games and browser games (take the NY Times' write-up on the Playstation 4 announcement for example).
I'm not refuting the fact that the industry is in decline in terms of money made. Figures and statistics are figures and statistics, and to argue with them is to argue with mathematics. I'm also not saying that I am pleased with publishers like EA and Activision/Blizzard. Some corporations in gaming have simply become cartoonishly evil caricatures, and when I picture their CEOs in my mind they look like male versions of Mom from Futurama.
Pictured: Bobby Kotick
However, there are some things I feel like I need to put out there. Screaming out my window about it would probably not be very productive, or appreciated by my neighbors, so I've opted to write a blog about them.
If you read the article I linked from NY Times, granted not exactly the first place I go to for any kind of tech news, you probably got the feeling that its writers weren't exactly gamers. Two passages in particular nauseate and confuse me, including this one:
[i]"...These and other new features cannot hide the fact that PlayStation 4 is still a console, a way of playing games on compact discs that was cool when cellphones were not smart.
Much of the excitement in video games has shifted to the Web and mobile devices, which are cheap, easy and fast."[/i]
I don't know anyone who thinks that there is really any comparison to be made between mobile games like "Angry Birds: Basically the Same Game as Before but with New Cute Sprites" and browser games like "BoringVille: Sending Annoying Invites to Your Friends is Now a Gameplay Mechanic" with full PC/console titles, or even games on dedicated mobile platforms like the 3DS or Vita. Yes, they're cheap, but I get more entertainment for the same price from eating a sandwich. I've installed a number of games to my phone, only to delete them to make room for music after noticing just how badly phone games still suck.
Who thought this was a good idea? Who?
With all that said, I think one of the reasons the industry as a whole is selling less games and less units is simply because the Wii fad is over. I mean no offense to Wii owners, but most casual gamers were only drawn to the Wii because of the novelty of motion control. Now the novelty has worn off, they don't really care anymore. Eventually, the novelty of smartphone time-wasters will wear off, too, at least for the most part.
People are still going to want to play real games, with stories, depth of gameplay, decent graphics, and actual content. Just because YouTube exists doesn't mean people won't still pay to watch TV shows and movies.
Looking at a recent decline in sales of console games and an increase in mobile game sales is not necessarily representative of what gaming will be like in a year or two. Statistics cannot always be extrapolated.
From XKCD, my favorite webcomic
On a slightly unrelated note, I don't think I've ever seen an actual hands-on kiosk of the WiiU in any store. One where you can actually play demos of actual games, instead of watching trailers and looking at screenshots. I work at Target, and I know we don't have one. A hands-on demo kiosk for the PlayStation Vita got me to buy one when I was just curious about it. It seems silly, but the WiiU's sales would probably be less crappy if they actually tried selling them.
There are a lot of people who hate Rock Band and Guitar Hero, for one reason or another. Phrases like "learn to play a real instrument," "stupid plastic instruments," and "when will this fad be over," are constantly thrown around. Some people even complain about their favorite bands "selling out". I'm here to say that, at least for me, Rock Band is not about playing make believe and pretending to be a real rock star.
The first and most common complaint I've seen, especially on YouTube, is deriding people who are good at the games and telling them to learn to play a real instrument. Many of the people who are really good at the game, like YouTube users guitarherophenom and IBitePrettyHard, actually already do play real instruments, and quite well. Other people, like me, don't care about making music. If I wanted to learn to make real music, I would learn how to play the guitar for real. You'd have to be a complete dumbfuck to think that playing Guitar Hero is anything like playing a real guitar (Nobody does. At least I hope nobody does. People's stupidity has surprised me before, though.).
For me, the appeal of Rock Band is in skill progression. Rock Band and Guitar Hero are the only games I have ever played where I actually got noticeably better over time. I started out playing Guitar Hero III at a friend's house in the summer of 2008. I played on easy and missed about a third of the notes. I kept going over to play the game (he lived across the street from me), and eventually I was able to play on medium, then hard. Then, at the very beginning of this year, I moved away, getting my own copy of Rock Band 2 with a guitar and drums as a late Christmas present. By the end of this summer I had beaten Green Grass and High Tides and Painkiller on expert guitar, things which I wouldn't have stood a whelk's chance in a supernova of doing a year before.
No other game has ever done that for me. Playing something like Call of Duty 4 on veteran difficulty wasn't really challenging to me. Tedious, but not challenging. I had gained nothing in the way of actual skill by the time I had finished it. My aim was no more accurate, my reflexes no quicker than when I had started the game. The only reward was the ability to say that I beat the game on Veteran. Something I probably could have done when I was ten if I had had a strategy guide. Whoop-de-fucking-doo. It just felt like a complete waste of my time.
With Rock Band, it was really easy to notice how much better I got. My ability to process the notes coming down the screen got better and better with practice, as did my fingers' ability to hit the buttons in time. I learned tricks like anchoring my index finger on the green for songs like Painkiller, Panic Attack, and Get Clean.
I've noticed a lot of people talking very favorably about Demon's Souls' difficulty. Specifically, about how it encourages the player to keep going despite the immense difficulty, how it's always fair, how rewarding it is to advance, and how you actually get better at the game by the time you finish it. Every single one of those perfectly describes Rock Band.
My sense of rhythm improved drastically. I listened to music differently, hearing each instrument track as a separate entity. The game introduced me to Metallica, who I had previously thought to be terrible. Now they're one of my favorite bands. I gained new respect for AC/DC after playing through a few of their songs (they're my second favorite band now, after Pink Floyd). In general, I grew to love music even more than I had before, and the music I listen to is of a much wider variety, directly because of music games. Now, I'm even thinking of getting a real drum set and learning how to play for real.
I guess the point of this post is that, if you're put off by RB/GH because you think it's only about make believe, then there's a different way of looking at it and a completely different appeal. Also, if you like difficulty and feeling rewarded, then there is nothing more rewarding in my experience than finally beating a song like Battery or Green Grass and High Tides on expert difficulty. Nothing.
I recently had to do an assignment for my video game design course where I had to come up with an idea for a vehicle-based game. What follows is the result.
My vehicle game is a sort of arcade mech combat game. Players take control of giant mechanical war mechs in the likenesses of figures from classic literature (i.e. robo-Okonkwo, robo-Huckleberry Finn, robo-Dr. Frankenstein, robo-Lenny, robo-Beowulf, robo-Macbeth, robo-Winston Smith, robo-Odysseus, robo-Jabberwocky, etc.) and fight each other with lasers, rockets, melee, and other weaponry commonly associated with war mechs. The game has no story mode, instead focusing solely on multiplayer and skirmishes. The game also has no real setting, instead having various themed arenas where up to eight characters can fight in team battles or deathmatches. Each arena reflects a major setting of one of the works of literature each character is from, so there’s a level for Of Mice and Men set in a wide open field of wheat with a few farmhouses scattered around, and so on.
The view is in 3D to better display the absurdity of each of the robo-characters. Each character has strengths and weaknesses, except for Robo-Frankenstein, who has no strengths and is in fact a gag character. When players pick up certain pick-ups, they have the ability to activate their character’s super move, which is unique for each character.
For example, Robo-Frankenstein’s super move is to huddle in a corner and mutter to himself. Robo-Okonkwo’s is to hang himself, which does massive damage to all of his opponents. Robo-Odysseus can blind his enemies. I don’t have them all fully worked out yet.
I actually have a sort of working title for it: Hyper Ultra Robot Wars Turbo Classic. The soundtrack is composed mostly of J-pop.
I just thought I'd share this with the Destructoid community.
The V8 in front of me roars as I slam into a hunter, the force of the impact killing it instantly. I take a quick glance at the radar screen on my dashboard; another one is behind me. I slam on the handbrake and do a 180 degree turn, before activating the turbo and running over the second hunter. Roughly a hundred yards ahead a strider is making a beeline for the main silo.
I kick in the turbo again, just to hear the engine's magnificent howl, and rush towards the five-story tall tripod. I hop out of my stripped '69 Charger, grab the Magnusson from the rack attached to the rear bumper, punt it at the strider, then pull out my pistol, take aim, and fire at the device, destroying the strider.
A siren wails, signalling that another strider is already close to the silo. I get back in my Charger and drive towards a giant red circle on my radar. By the time I reach the strider, it is charging up its main gun in preparation to destroy the silo. Acting as quickly as possible, I grab another Magnusson device and launch it at the strider, which is now within a second of firing. I pull out my pistol and shoot the device, saving the day with literally less than a second to spare.
Another time, another place, another universe.
Commander Arkhon Shepard, having talked Saren into killing himself, enjoys a well-deserved moment of rest. There is little for him to do now; any moment the Alliance fleet will barrage Sovereign with everything they've got, and the crisis will be averted. Around him fires cast an orange glow throughout the council chamber, and all is at rest.
But what is happening now? The walkway he is standing on collapses into the small garden below. Saren's corpse lights up red. As Shepard looks on, Saren is somehow brought back to life by something.
Bryce thinks to himself, "What the hell? You just killed yourself. This is fucking stupid." He sighs and Commander Shepard proceeds to kill Saren. Again.
There are few things I can think of that ruin my immersion in a game more than having a final boss. There's nothing like a boss to remind you that you're either watching a bad kung-fu movie or playing a video game. Bosses are so incredibly cliche'd by now that I was surprised nobody took this topic for this month's musing.
Don't get me wrong, I love Mass Effect. Its ending is just incredibly stupid. Far too many games have end bosses just because gamers seem to feel a need to have a final entity to kill, usually one that must be hit three times (always three times) in its weak spot, which must be exposed by attacking another thing, which makes no sense at all.
That is of course my second point: end bosses make no sense. In HL2: E2, players see a large Combine force en route to White Forest. At the end of the game, players must defend the base against that force. It makes sense.
Why, in all of the rest of Mass Effect, did Shepard never encounter another indoctrinated person who could magically reanimate? Obviously, if Sovereign can do that to one of his followers, he can do that to many, so why wouldn't he? And how come Saren gets a neat hover board, while nothing else in the entire game does?
Why, in Super Mario 64, does the game completely abandon all the gameplay mechanics that made the rest of the game fun when Mario is fighting Bowser? And what the hell is Bowser doing on a floating platform with spiked bombs attached to the edge? You'd think he'd have those spiked bombs removed after being thrown into them twice before. Furthermore, how can Mario throw Bowser? Why is Bowser just sitting there, waiting for Mario, when he could be sending out groups of his followers to attack the plumber?
Why does the Nihilanth from Half-Life attack in such a predictable pattern? Something as intelligent as it clearly is must surely realize that a better strategy would be to attack randomly. Why does it just float in place, instead of moving around to get a clear shot at Freeman? Why is Freeman even trying to kill it?
Why does the fight with Skorge in Gears of War 2 completely abandon the cover-based gameplay that the rest of the game is based around? For that matter, why does the battle with the giant fish do the exact same thing?
But all of that pales in comparison to the biggest argument against end bosses: they're nowhere near as exciting as that final battle in HL2: E2. Or the final stages of Left 4 Dead, where players must defend an area against huge waves of zombies until they can escape. Large groups of normal enemies are far better for end battles than a single unique enemy.
Throughout the course of Half-Life 2 and its episodes, players get accustomed to how powerful and dangerous striders and hunters are. At the end of Episode 2, players know exactly how fucked they are. The same goes for the ends of Left 4 Dead campaigns. With any end boss battle, there's simply nothing to compare the end boss to. It's the difference between "Yay I just killed some lizard thing by exploiting a weakness" and "Holy shit I just survived being attacked by ten tanks in a row."
When done well, end bosses can be good. When done well, large-scale end battles can be great.
My last video game purchase was the Xbox 360 version of The Orange Box in February/March of this year (I can't quite remember which) , based largely on the fact that it was twenty dollars and I had immensely enjoyed Portal when I had played through it on my dad's computer, so I figured Portal alone was worth the money. Before this, I had known nothing of Half Life, its canon, or really Valve Software even.
Half Life 2 and its associated episodes are now some of my favorite games of all time, and certainly the best PC-type shooters I've ever played. So I decided to play through the original Half Life and the Gearbox expansion packs Opposing Force and Blue Shift, and I really have to say that I'm really underwhelmed.
The environments made me sick of corridors. The entire game takes place underground in a series of corridors, with a few levels on the surface and some genuinely interesting alien environments at the very end. I was so happy when I got to the chapter "Surface Tension" that I almost cried from joy at not being in yet another dark hallway.
The game has no characters apart from the un-named government guy, who is actually quite interesting. Every other person the player meets is nothing more than an extra. This was one of my biggest disappointments with the game, especially after all the likeable characters from Half Life 2.
The game also has basically no story. Essentially, you play as a scientist by the name of Dr. Gordon Freeman working in a stereotypical top-secret underground research facility, when some experiment goes stereotypically wrong and aliens start to appear out of nowhere, and then the story pretty much disappears altogether as players can spend really long periods of time in between major plot points, so much so that I often could not remember what my objective was, and the game provides no reminders either.
The weapons are nowhere near as cool or useful as the ones in HL2, with the possible exception of snarks, which are awesome and should be included in every shooter ever made. The SMG is less satisfying than its HL2 counterpart. The crossbow is much less satisfying than the HL2 crossbow; superheated steel rebar is much cooler than poison darts (that can somehow render automated turrets completely inoperable in one shot).
I would also like to take this opportunity to point out the fact that WASD was made for typing, not platforming. If I wanted to jump from moving platform to moving platform, I would be playing a platformer. On a console.
Opposing Force, an official expansion made by Gearbox, was much better. After growing to hate the HECU soldiers over the course of the first game, it was interesting to play a game from the enemy's perspective. The night vision goggles were a very welcome replacement for the piss-poor excuse for a flashlight that Gordon Freeman had. The weapon design was much more interesting, with the barnacle easily the coolest among many very cool organic alien weaponry. The portal gun was very inventive and is now one of my favorite video game weapons of all time.
I remember starting it up and immediately noticing how much better it was than the base game. The first such revelation was at the very beginning in the Osprey, when I remember thinking, "Holy shit, some actual exposition!" There were actual characters who appeared more than once! There were plenty of outside levels! There was a simple, overarching goal that I never lost track of! The game had some substance!
The levels were designed better, the firefights were more fun, the jumping puzzles were less dreadful, other puzzles were much better; in short, the game was more fun and had more substance, despite being shorter.
Blue Shift, another Gearbox expansion, was also better than the original game. It made players weaker with the loss of batteries and HEV stations to regain protection, the lack of really good weapons, and the return of the worthless flashlight, which was an interesting design decision and one I really liked.
What's more, it introduced an actual named NPC, Dr. Rosenberg. It was also nice to not have a traditional final boss fight like in Half Life and Opposing Force.
I am actually very glad that Half Life existed, and sold as well as it did, because without its success there would be no Half Life 2, and I love Half Life 2. That said, playing it was the most dreadful gaming experience I have ever had, and I don't think I will ever be able to bring myself to play through it again.