Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Sixth Entry

There tends to be one question many people ask upon completing Assassin’s Creed: Revelations: What was the revelation?

The premise that Assassin’s Creed: Revelations would not only end the Ezio storyline of the series, but also simultaneously reveal the franchise’s secrets to the player, was a lofty goal. To a certain point of view, Ubisoft achieved that goal. It all just depends on which secrets you’re talking about.

The main narrative Revelations, Ezio traveling to Constantinople in search of a way to gain access to Altair’s library, gives good closure to the character, setting up for a big reveal of what secrets the library holds. However, after finding all the Masyaf keys and opening the library only to discover it’s not a library, but a vault holding the body of Altair and another apple of Eden, Ezio turns back saying he’s “seen enough for one life.” The fact the vault holds another piece of Eden isn’t much of a revelation as we saw at least 28 pieces of Eden spread across the world at the end of the first Assassin’s Creed.

Maybe it’s the reveal of who Desmond Miles actually is. Through the collection of animus data fragments and the animus island, I was able to dig deeper into the past of Desmond in what seemed to be an animus data construct. Sadly, this section of gameplay was probably the worst part of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, combining a first-person perspective with platforming to complete what felt like test chambers from Portal. It doles out bite-sized pieces of backstory, most being what one could extrapolate from the first few conversations Desmond has with Lucy and Warren at the beginning of Assassin’s Creed when he says things like, “I’m a bartender, for Christ’s sake! What do you want me to do, teach you how to mix a Martini?” and, “I'm not an Assassin... not anymore.” It’s ancillary information, but nothing too shocking or surprising.

Looking at it from an unlikely approach, could the explanation of subject 16 in the Lost Archives DLC be the big revelation? Before Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, players only knew him as subject 16, the person who explored the animus before Desmond. But this is the first time we have a name and face to connect to subject, let alone an entire backstory for him. It might be a nice chunk of story for Assassin’s Creed fans, but I hardly think Ubisoft would relegate the subtitle of a game to part of its downloadable content.

When the credits finally rolled on Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, I realized exactly what the revelation was. It wasn’t the reveal of a second apple of Eden, or that the library was actually a vault. It was the discovery of the vault of the first civilization. That may not seem like much to the player, but for the characters of the series, this is what the assassin’s order was looking for since the first game. The ones who came before worked on projects to stop to incoming solar flare, but they proved fruitless. The result of those projects where transmitted to a central vault underground somewhere in America, where the series picks up for Assassin’s Creed 3.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Fifth Entry

At the end of Assassin’s Creed, Altair is a strong, stoic, idealist. He is the type of person who would make a great teacher. He was born into the assassin’s guild, and it’s surrounded him his entire life.

Ezio, on the other hand, is a charming, funny, and energetic person. Loyal to the core, he’s someone who you’d want to have as a childhood friend. If you were in trouble, he’d always have your back.

As I trek through Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, and having just recently finished the first Altair memory, I finally agree with the consensus that Ezio is the better character of series. That’s not to say Altair isn’t an interesting character, but Ezio is more relatable, likeable, and shows more emotion, giving players a reason to care.

I say finally agree because, having an outside perspective from not playing the series at the time, it seemed like Altair was swept under the rug. To me, it was odd Ubisoft would drop Altair as a character so quickly after only one game. Through some misguided and unfounded loyalty, it felt like a betrayal to a character they established and then left out to dry. However, writing these diary entries and playing through the series back to back shows how wrong I was not only in character development, but also in narrative.

While he may not have been the main playable character, Altair didn’t leave the series at all. In fact, since the first game Altair has become almost legend in games’ narrative. In Assassin’s Creed 2, Mario, Ezio’s uncle, tells him of Altair’s armor, and how only someone more powerful than he could claim it. The entire plot of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations revolves the secrets inside Altair’s vault.

Returning to play and learn more as Altair feels a bit like coming full circle. I started the series with him, and now I finally get to see the conclusion of both his and Ezio’s story.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Fourth Entry

I finished Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood last week and have spent the time since thinking about how I wanted to discuss it. On the surface, Brotherhood is better than it deserves to be. It’s a game that epitomes the phrase, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Many look at Brotherhood as the best game in the Assassin’s Creed series. I may not agree with them fully, but the important aspects are worth pointing out.

In that time I’ve spent thinking about Brotherhood, I looked at it from both a narrative and gameplay perspective.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The charm of Rayman Origins

Rayman Origins is a fantastic game. The art and animations are smooth and fluid, and the music is fun with its integration of the often seldom-used digierdoo. But what makes Rayman Origins enjoyable to play the most is its sense of charm by rewarding for using the path of least resistance.

The path of least resistance in platformers tends to be the bottom lane, to borrow a term from MOBAs. This path is easier, faster, and usually more fun, but gives less rewards in the form of coins, rings, or whatever thing you’re trying to collect. The more rewarding path tends to be the upper lane, where you have to jump from floating platform to platform. You’ll find more power-ups on this path, but also run into more enemies and movement won’t be as fluid.

Looking at what I consider the two biggest platformers in history, the Super Mario Bros. series and the Sonic the Hedgehog series, these paths fit near perfectly.

cashshopIn Super Mario Bros., the bottom path moves quickly and, while filled with goombas and turtles, your ability to jump makes the obstacles trivial. As long as you can get a running start, most jumps are easy to maneuver. The upper path often takes the form of clouds or small platforms that don’t allow for distance jumping, and flying turtles can easily block your way requiring the timing of jumps to be more precise.

Sonic the Hedgehog had the same approach. With its loops and fast-paced gameplay, racing to the end of a stage using the lower path was usually a lot more fun than taking the higher ground and bouncing off enemies to make the long-gap jumps.

shoppinglistRayman Origins takes both of those lanes and puts them on the same path. The same route that moves you quickly through the level or stage is the same one that puts the least amount of obstacles in your with the fewer amount of enemies. The video above shows how the lums are placed specifically where you will be running. At 20 seconds, in any other platformer the lums would line up in a straight line up the wall. Rayman Origins recognizes how the player will move up the wall and arranges the Lums in a vector in line with the player’s movements, making sure each one is collected.

These subtle placements of collectables, power-ups, and extra lives makes Rayman Origins not only a fun game because of its presentation, but a charming game because it caters to the player, doing everything it can to help the player along the way.

My hope is that its sequel Rayman Legends, which is due March 5 for the Nintendo Wii U, doesn’t lose this charm in its implementation of the all-controlling gamepad player.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Diary of an Assassin – Third Entry

I can see why people often recommend starting with Assassin’s Creed 2.

First off, Ezio is a much more likable character than Altair. He’s charming, humorous, less dogmatic, and unafraid to show the spectrum of emotions. The cities feel more vibrant and colorful thanks to the renaissance backdrop, and the narrative is more expansive with less repetition. Lastly, and I believe this may be appreciated more now than when it first released, the music is amazing. While Jesper Kyd has a resume of composing music for games starting back in 1989, I don’t think his talent was as highly regarded as it is until his work on Assassin’s Creed 2. Like the themes from other game themes including Battlefield, Mass Effect, and Uncharted, the Assassin’s Creed theme will be one I remember for years.

However, I believe starting with Assassin’s Creed 2 depreciates its value. The Twitter pitch is everything is better; combat is smoother and gives more control, climbing up buildings is faster and traversal on rooftops is even more fluid, and the story is interesting enough to make you actually want to learn more about the characters. Skipping the first game and jumping directly into Assassin’s Creed 2 doesn’t give the player a position to see the leaps and bounds of change, both literally and figuratively. Assassin’s Creed may be a repetitive game, but it will give you a much bigger appreciation of the things added and changed in Assassin’s Creed 2.

And without rehashing what’s already been said about the ending, it is indeed spine-chilling when Minerva looks directly at the camera and utters the name Desmond.