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Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit is a racing game where you can play as cops and wreck racers or play as racers and try not to get wrecked by cops. I really would love to say a lot more about that, but that's more or less it. I'd love to be able to give a full review, but there's not really all that much to expound on, but I'll do what I can here.
During the racer "missions" (scenarios, whatever you want to call them) you have one, obvious objective- finish first. Sometimes they add in police that can deploy spike strips and roadblocks, but their presence isn't all that pronounced, even in the later, more difficult scenarios. The AI also isn't all that bright, but the biggest disappointment from something that was billed as an NFS game that played like Burnout is that it doesn't really play like Burnout. As a racer, when you hit other racers you get the sim effect of slowing down and grinding against them; nobody goes flying, nobody does spectacular flipping and exploding wrecks, even the turbo hardly feels like turbo.
Though in contrast, during the police missions, when you take out the racers they do sorta slide around and do flipping crashes...if you wreck them sideways at precisely at the top of a hill. The weapons that are at your disposal as a cop actually kinda suck, to be honest. The spike strip is a waste of time because as soon as you get in front of a racer they hit some magic warp strip that slings them a few hundred yards past you (no joke); the roadblocks are set up with a beyond obvious hole near one edge or the other, and even crashing through the police SUV's doesn't seem to damage or really slow anybody down; the helicopter is supposed to get ahead of the racers and drop a spike strip for them to run over, and while I'm in favor of the spike strips being noticeable, the flashing lights make them too obvious and they're also far too narrow (they would've worked better as part of the roadblocks); the EMP works as a kind of front-facing cannon that has to take a second to lock-on, but it only does minimal damage, not making it worth the effort.
There is an attempt in variety with time trial missions, but so much as brushing the wall costs you 2 seconds while you're expected to keep a constant breakneck pace. And there are two kinds of racer busting missions, one type has one car with more health and a slightly enhanced AI, the other type packs a field with 4 or 6 cars with slightly less health and slightly less intelligent AI. Not really a whole lot of mix-up, and the actual racing is fairly standard fare, no crazy Burnout-style catch-ups possible with ridiculous takedown bonuses or screen-melting turbo.
The visuals are nice, but that's just not enough with games anymore. The audio is generic and forgettable, not adding anything to help you feel the pressure of hunting down a speeding Corvette or running from a black-and-white Viper. There is an inclusion of a snapshot function to take a picture at any time by clicking in the right stick, but the delay is too long (I had an awesome shot of busting somebody by powersliding into them and took the picture right when it happened, but the image showed him already slid down the road and my cruiser straightened out; bummer). They also include the EMP cannon and spike strip as gadgets during racer gameplay, and while the EMP cannon is still fairly pointless, the spike strip is slightly more effective.
The much hyped Autolog function is something that didn't add anything for me. The idea is to set up competitions and beat the records of your friends, assuming you have a bunch of people on your friends list who were also playing Hot Pursuit. I don't, so I didn't really get the full-effect of the feature, but I'm sure it's nice for groups of friends who like to one-up each other.
Hot Pursuit isn't a bad game, it's just not what it was billed to be. It doesn't have the Burnout gameplay style that was constantly promised, the Autolog function is only useful for people who have plenty of friends to compete with, and the gameplay itself was the epitome of mediocre. Criterion didn't deliver on all of its promises, giving us a pretty racing game that didn't do anything really interesting or amazing. The cars are cool, and they look great, as do the environments, but it's kinda lost in the banal gameplay.
Last year, Assassin’s Creed II improved upon the gameplay of the original and enhanced the storyline further, expanding both the past and present lives of Desmond Miles. This year, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood was released amongst a bit of concern as to the quality and length of the single player element, and mixed emotions over the multiplayer modes. Brotherhood does not disappoint and rises easily to meet and even exceed expectations.
The single player mode puts you back in the Animus and once more into the life of Ezio Auditore da Firenze, this time needing to dismantle Rome from within the city walls. Most of the gameplay occurs in Rome, and bring along the investments elements from the villa in AC: II, increasing your wealth and wrestling Rome from control of the Borgias at the same time. A new antagonist is introduced, one whose lust for blood and power made him a perfect fit, as well as logical considering the point in history, and any fans of the era will have more reason to enjoy just how well Ubisoft has designed, scripted, and utilized the ambitious Cesare Borgia. The campaign offers many of the same offshoot missions as before in order to continue renovating Rome, and along with the return of the feathers and flags and cryptic messages from Subject 16, adding to total well over 18 hours of playtime. But a simple story mission only playthrough will still take 6-8 hours, depending on your style.
The gameplay mechanics from AC: II remain and have been upgraded, most noticeably to make the freerunning more seamless and eliminate most of the “wait I didn’t aim for that” moments that plagued the series up to this point, as well as increasing the pace of the climbing, swinging, and the use of the hanging baskets. The combat is much, much more fluid and bring the AI into the fight more quickly, leaving none of the standing around waiting to counter as you will have to be on the offensive as much as the defensive. One added element to help the combat situations is the killstreak mechanic, letting you flow from the current kill to the next one by aiming the analog stick and a quick button press. Another more enhanced piece is the use of horses, both in travel and in some very slick assassinations. You will use horses more frequently, as although most of the game takes place in Rome, the city is a massive location, the biggest of any city by far in Assassin’s Creed.
The graphics are a slight enhancement from AC: II, which means that the landscapes are even more rich, the character models more detailed and precise, and the cinematic moments of viewpoint synchronization are even more breathtaking than before. Likewise Jesper Kyd’s score is largely similar in style and quality, fitting in beautifully with each different scenario, and I’ll never get tired of the majestic crescendo at the top of a viewpoint. The voice acting is all well-delivered and with perfect lip-synchronization, continuing to make the characters more alive.
Then we come to the multiplayer, something that many people questioned not only whether or not it could be executed well, but whether or not something like this was even necessary. I wondered how Ubisoft would pull off the multiplayer, and the more I saw, the more I kept thinking that it was simply “kill somebody and then try not to get killed in the meantime”. It does boil down to that, but the way it’s presented and how much fun it is shows that they knew just what they were doing here.
The first gameplay mode is “Wanted”, and plays very simply: you’re given a picture of what character you’re looking for (and the selection is quite impressive with more than 15 characters) and a compass at the bottom to point you in the right direction that glows when your target is in sight and grows wider when you draw closer. A chase mode begins if you’re not stealthy enough in hunting your prey and you now have to catch them before they escape, or you lose the contract and they score an escape bonus, providing a little bit more incentive. Highest score wins, with bonus points being included for killstreaks, aerial assassinations, killing your prey in midair, and for how stealthy you were in each kill as well as a bonus for escaping a chase. An “Advanced Wanted” mode is unlockable, which is essentially the equivalent of “hardcore” mode.
The second gameplay mode is “Manhunt”, or a team version of “Wanted” and also plays simply; two teams of four, one being hunted by the other. The goal of the prey team isn’t to fight back, but to hide and not be killed, simple enough. There are two rounds per game, with team roles switching at the begging of each round. Scored the same way, bonuses and all, as “Wanted”, highest team score wins.
The last gameplay mode is “Alliance”, and is a more interesting mode in which players are paired up to kill the same prey and have to watch each other’s backs. It’s just like “Wanted”, but with a partner, which adds an unexpected depth to the gameplay. Highest scoring pair wins.
There are plenty of unlockables, from characters to clothing colors to gameplay items that unlock as you level up. There are quite a few items to use, like the “disguise” ability which changes your character, or the “morph” ability which can only be used in a crowd and changes them all to match your character, or my favorite, the “hidden gun” which adds an element of long-range assassination at the cost of the stealth bonus. There are twelve different active abilities, each of which can greatly alter the gameplay dynamic, and are also upgradeable themselves (for instance, the “hidden gun” can be unlocked to upgrade to firing faster and reloading faster). There is also an upgradeable killstreak bonus which adds more a larger bonus to your score after a killstreak of 3, and a few extra abilities to either reset your active ability cooldowns or double your score should you fall into a loss streak.
All together, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood is a fantastic package with an engaging and full single-player mode as well as a simple, yet tremendously well put together multiplayer section. There is more than enough content in a campaign mode that also takes a little time showcase more of Desmond’s emerging talents as an assassin to make it a tremendously satisfying title by itself, but the amazingly well designed and implemented multiplayer make this an awesome experience and a triumph for the Assassin’s Creed franchise.